A formal undergraduate dining club at Corpus Christi
By Olivia Williams (St Edmund Hall, 2006)
Undergraduates have known since time immemorial that the most diverting way to pass a cold night in Oxford is a warming alcoholic concoction. The question is: which one to go for?
A nineteenth century cocktail guide, Oxford Night Caps: Being a Collection of Receipts for Making Various Beverages Used in the University by Richard Cook provides an insight into how undergraduates may have wet their whistles in Michaelmas terms gone by. Oxford Night Caps was such a hit that it went through numerous editions from 1835 until 1931. Cook opened his compendium by quoting Horace, perhaps hoping to add some scholarly weight to the frivolous proceedings:
What cannot wine perform? It brings to light
The secret soul, it bids the coward right;
Gives being to our hopes, and from our hearts
drives the dull sorrow, and inspires new arts.
Members of St. Edmund Hall's Billiard Club at The Octavian Club Dinner of December 1911
Also recommended to get gatherings off to a flying start was his Hot Gin Punch, made with two bottles of gin mixed with boiling water, the juice and rind of lemons and oranges, liquid calves’ feet jelly, white wine and capillaire (a medicinal syrup made with maidenhair fern). The elaborate nature of the recipes in Oxford Night Caps suggests that students put plenty of careful consideration into their tipples of choice.
Skating on the frozen Thames at Port Meadow in 1890
Images © OU Images and Shutterstock