A new chess set, celebrating the longstanding rivalry between Cambridge and Oxford, has been launched via crowd-funding website Kickstarter after three years in the making. Each piece is based on a prominent figure or landmark from one of the Universities.
By Alison Boulton
When German architect and designer Matthias Weichert arrived in Cambridge eight years ago, he and his American engineer wife Stephanie were struck by the beauty and elegance of both university cities.
‘Although my wife was studying for her PhD at Cambridge, we visited Oxford very often. The combination of history, amazing buildings and secret quadrangles and courts in Oxford and Cambridge intrigued us,’ Weichert says.
While appreciating the cities’ rich architectural heritage, Weichert read widely about the universities’ greatest intellects. He noted the Prime Ministers, Nobel Prize Winners and Olympic Medal winners. He identified the greatest benefactions, and researched the characters of those who had given so freely over hundreds of years. In this way, he could put names to statues, donors to new buildings and departments while better understanding the contribution to the world of Oxbridge learning, research and influence.
There was more. Oxbridge wasn’t only about achievement; it was about a wider striving for excellence. ‘The cities weren’t just about sitting on past and present laurels. There was – and continues to be – a vibrant atmosphere of competition’, Weichert said.
Although the Boat Race was well known, Weichert was struck by the range of varsity sports, the academic league tables, the keenly contested research funding and ambitious research projects. Even in the competition to secure the goodwill of future benefactors: it was all there to be discovered. Rivalry was centuries old – and ongoing.
As keen chess players, the idea of an Oxbridge chess set began to take shape. The Weicherts agreed that the playing pieces should consist of prominent figures and landmarks, but which ones to choose? There were only six figures to create and every College exceeded that number offering potentially interesting choices.
‘We chose major benefactors from each University for the king and queen pieces: Oxford’s King is William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke (Bodleian), its Queen is Caroline of Ansbach, Bishop is John Locke and Rook is Carfax Tower. Cambridge’s King is King Henry VIII, its Queen is Lady Margaret Beaufort, Bishop is Sir Isaac Newton and Rook Great St Mary’s Church. The Knight and Pawn are common to both Universities: the Punter and Graduating Student respectively.
The board is two sided: squares of immaculately mown lawn surrounded by a gravel footpath on one; marble courtyard on the other.
‘It depends on the day which side you want to play: outside to enjoy the sun, or inside to avoid the rain. Both cities share a high rain forecast. That doesn’t change too much over the years’ Weichert said.
Sculpted and scaled according to size, the Weicherts were playing with their own prototype three years after their original idea. Now the sets are in commercial production.
‘The idea is that chess lovers can not only enjoy the intellectual rigours of the game, but also relive a magical period in their lives which Oxford and Cambridge evokes for so many students who have been lucky enough to live and study there’, Weichert said.
A set of figures costs £165.00 and a full set including board £178.00.
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