Principal's Blog: Mid-May 2019

blogBowerscrop1Best of luck to all those who are taking Finals. It must be tough seeing others enjoying themselves whilst you are doing the hard work.

College Ball:
On 11 May, I attended with some 1100 others the first part of the magnificent College Ball and presided at the dinner. The theme was “Electric Dreams” which was (according to the blurb) all about “embracing your confusion and exploring the electric possibilities of your sub-conscious”. Even after three hours, I was more in the confused than the exploring category.

It is not often you open your bedroom door and find a helter skelter just outside the Lodgings window. It took me back to growing up by the seaside in Cleethorpes where there is a very active funfair on the beach. The Ball revellers enjoyed two bands playing and lots of street food, three bars, a magician, jugglers and Willy Wonka’s sweet room. Lecture Room VII was turned into a giant ball pool and guests were entertained by such acts as “Artwork” and Abba Gold. 

I made a dignified exit (I think!) by ten so as not to embarrass anyone by man dancing (or similar). The event was a huge success. The Ball Committee did a great job on the night as did Andy Talbot who led the security detail and Gill Walker and her team who managed to keep on top of clearing up and dealing with the hundreds of balls from the ball pool that spread around college! I want again to thank everyone involved in making this such a success.

President Santos visit:
On 13 May, we had the great pleasure of hosting for a second time President Juan Manuel Santos. He is the former President of Colombia, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and OPHI Visiting Professor and he discussed his latest book La batallasa por la Paz with Jonathan Powell and Joaquin Vallalobos, two former international advisers to the Columbian Peace Process. Our own Golding Senior Research Fellow Prof Eduardo Posada – Carbo, Director of the Latin America Centre, chaired the event. President Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 for bringing the Colombian civil war to an end after it had lasted for over fifty years.

Asked why he wrote a book rather than just tweet, he quoted Churchill who said “if you do not write your history someone else will and will write it wrong”. He chronicled the fraught history of the peace process in Colombia and what lessons it may contain for other conflicts. One of the key and most unusual elements was the transitional justice which provided for reparations to be paid rather than specific punishments being administered. He also spoke of the importance of back channels to the guerrillas which was echoed by Jonathan Powell’s experience in Northern Ireland. This concept seeks to balance the rights of pasty and future victims.

The topical issue of referenda to support the peace process also invited parallels between Northern Ireland and Colombia (and Brexit!). In the former case the referendum legitimised the peace process but Jonathan said he regretted advising Pres Santos to do the same in Colombia where it backfired since the first referendum resulted in a shock defeat, caused as Pres Santos put it by the spread of “fake news”. It was a really good event.

Gill Hornby:
On 14 May, an alumna Gill Hornby (1978, Modern History) joined me for a Principal’s Conversation as part of Arts Week. The main theme was her forthcoming book on the relationship between Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra. Set in 1840, the novel focuses on Cassandra’s search for a cache of letters by Jane that Cassandra knows must be found and destroyed. The book which is due to be published in January delves into the siblings' relationship and posits a reason for the burning of the letters (no spoilers here).

Gill also shared with the audience the key elements of her career which has taken in TV, reviewing and now novels. She advised the audience not to fear rejection (she took up novel writing after she was dismissed as a columnist by the Daily Telegraph) as this may propel one to greater things. She also described the process of researching and writing her books.

We also spoke about her best-selling first novel The Hive which I read and very much enjoyed. It follows a group of mothers at a primary school and Gill admitted that some of it was based on her own experiences at the school gate (without saying who!). It includes the concept of the muj (made up jobs).

This event was part of the Students Arts Week which is always an excellent and varied event with three or four events each day during the seven days.

Jubilee Lunch:
On 10 May there was a truly joyous Jubilee Lunch for those who matriculated before 1959. Many of them put the rather younger of us to shame by their vitality. I picked out various parts of the Brazen Nose for their time at Brasenose and embarrassed not a few of them by picking out sporting (and other) achievements of many who were in the Hall. They were a very distinguished group.

After I had said final grace Bruce Kent (whom I am delighted to see has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize) yanked the microphone from my hands and embarrassed me by leading a chorus of For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow. It was a great lunch and I received several letters of thanks after it.

These are some of the extracts to which I referred:

1946, Vol VIII, Nos 3 & 4

p. 1 “A Service of Commemoration for Brasenose men fallen in the war was held in the College Chapel on March 16th, 1946.”

p.2 “To Mr. Platnauer, as Mr. Stocker’s successor in the office of Curator, all members of the Common Room extend a very hearty welcome.”

1947, Vol VIII, No. 6

“We congratulate Dr. N. Kurti on his election to a Senior Research Fellowship, and Dr. J. A. Barltrop, Lecturer of the College, on his election to an Official Fellowship.”

1948, Vol III, Nos. 7 & 8

p.1 “The proofs of this [copy] were ready for the Press when the news was received of the death of the Principal. As all those who see the English newspapers will know, he was found dead on the railway line near Iver, Buckinghamshire, in the early hours of October 28th. He had been in London for a meeting of the University Grants Committee and, after dining at the Middle Temple, had left Paddington by the midnight train for Oxford. He was travelling alone, and it is thought that he mistook the outer door of his compartment for that leading into the corridor. His partial blindness had caused him to make a similar mistake on another occasion recently when, however, others travelling with him were able to warn him in time.”

“A notable event in the Trinity Term was the visit of H.R.H. Princess Elizabeth to Oxford. The Vice-Chancellor entertained the Princess to luncheon in Hall. […] Coffee was taken afterward of n the lawn of the Old Quadrangle.”

“The opportunity was taken to restore to the Old Quadrangle its window-boxed, to plant a border of geraniums in the Deer Park, and to improve the appearance of the New Quadrangle and St. Mary’s Entry with large tubs filled also with geraniums. A great deal of hard work also went to cleaning up the paths, and repairing many minor arrears of ‘tidying-up’ left by the war.”

p.2 “We also welcome the return to the North bay of the Hall windows of the stained-glass medallions which were removed for safety in 1939.”

1949 Vol IX, No. 1

p.1 [The Principal’s] funeral took place on November 1st. After a few prayers in the College Chapel the coffin was carried in accordance with tradition round the Old Quadrangle. The funeral service in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin was conducted by the Chaplain of Brasenose […] Cremation followed, and the ashes were placed in the College Chapel at a Memorial Service on November 3rd, which was attended by many past and present members of the College.”

p.2 “On November 27th last […] the Fellows proceeded to the election of a new Principal. The choice fell unanimously upon Hugh Macilwain Last, Camden Professor of Ancient History and a Fellow of the College since 1936. […] Though one of Oxford’s most famous scholars, he is not aloof from the world […] His colleagues at Brasenose have often spoken of his almost incredibly conscientious devotion to College business, whether academic or not.”

“This has been a bad year in Cuppers. Brasenose lost the Association Football and Athletics ups and failed to regain those for Rugby and Hockey. The Swimming Cup, however, returned to Brasenose after an absence of twenty-five years. […] On the river our fortunes were mixed. The First Torpid went down two places, but the second and third boats both went up.”

1949, Vol IX, No.2

“We welcome as Lecturer in Philosophy Mr. G. J. Warnock who takes up the burden of teaching laid down by Mr, Spalding.”

 “[We have received] a gift by Mr. C. C. Eley for the embellishment of the quadrangles. In September the first part of the work was completed, and now, thanks to the generosity of Mr. Eley, the New Quadrangle presents a changed, and, we think, greatly improved, appearance. The previously irregularly shaped lawns are now rectangular and the lop-sided circle in the middle has gone, leaving a straight path from St. Mary’s Entry to Staircase XI. The space which has thus been gained along the West wall of the Chapel has been used to create a flower-bed. It is also intended that other flower-beds shall appear, together with some flowering trees in the quadrangle. All this will, we hope, soften the rather gaunt appearance of the buildings.”

p.3 “A start was also made during the long vacation in the transformation of the ground floor of the New (JCR) Staircase, the whole of which is to be devoted to ‘public’ rooms. In particular there is to be a room in which undergraduates will be able to entertain their friends to such modest meals as are possible at the present time. It is hoped that this will to some extent made up for the unavoidable disappearance of that entertainment in private rooms which was a part of undergraduate life before the war. The alterations have not yet been completed, but the pantries and service arrangements are there and at the same time additional washbasins and lavatories have been provided. The opportunity was also taken to move the telephone from its very public, cold and noisy position to a less draughty and more discreet position further in.”

1950, Vol IX, No. 3

“In 1948 the law books in the College Library were given a home of their own in the small Lecture Room on Staircase XI – a temporary home until a better could be found or built. This room has since then been called the Law Reading Room. The bequest of the late Principal’s law books has, however, given us a very fine law library, though not yet in a really suitable room. The name has therefore been changed to The Stallybrass Law Library.”

p.3 “Although the Soccer and Hockey Cups remain in other hands, we reached the semi-final in both competitions.”

1950, Vol XI, No. 4

“We record with much pleasure the election to an Official Fellowship of Mr. G. J. Warnock, who came to the College as Lecturer in Philosophy a year ago.”

p.2 “A happy ceremony at the end of Trinity Term was that of the presentation made by the Clubs to E. King to celebrate his completion of 55 years’ service on the College ground. There can be few Brasenose men who can remember a time when King was not groundsman and not many for whom he was not an already established institution – ‘old King’.”

“The beauty of Old Quadrangle, as seen from the Lodge, has been marred by the addition of a storey to the Lincoln building behind it. Whereas before one could enter the College without any visible reminder of our neighbours to the west, one’s eye is now met by a large expanse of wall rising up behind the gables of Nos. 2 and 3 staircases and breaking the unity of that side of the quadrangle.

        Against this can be set the banishment from the Old Quadrangle of the bicycles which have in recent years increasingly disfigured it. Covered bicycle stands have been put up in the space between the Baths and Nos. 14 and 15 staircases.”

p.3 “The misfortune of Torpids were repeated in Eights. The 1st VIII went down a place every night and finished tenth on the river, the 2nd VIII made a bump on the third day but was itself bumped on the fourth and sixth days, and finished at the head of Division III. The 3rd VIII bumped once, was itself bumped three times, and now lies tenth in Division IV. The 4th VIII fell from sixth place in Division V to the bottom of that division.”

p.37 from the JCR Report: “The most outstanding improvement in the year to the JCR facilities has been the new dining room and kitchen, hewn out of the ground floor of the New Staircase […]. Snack lunches for out-College members are provided and the place for eating teas has been raised to the new room from the depths of the beer cellar. More particularly a really good dinner, better than that provided by any Oxford hotel, can be eaten for 4s 6d.

For the new dining room, and also so that people can have a glass of port after Hall dinner, a JCR wine cellar has been installed on a  ‘sale or return’ basis. Wine can be bought almost at cost price, by the bottle for table wine and by the glass for port. There are 14 kinds of table wine ranging from Graves at 7s per bottle to vintage Champagne at 23s. 6d; the cellar was only started after the beginning of Trinity Term 1950 but the turnover for that term was over £100.”

1951, Vol IX, No. 5

“Rugger, however, again provides a set-off to disasters on the river. The cup remains in Brasenose, New College having been defeated in the final by 25 points to 5.”

1951, Vol IX, No. 6

p.2 “Another small change in the fabric of the College has been made. The windows of the West side of the Library were blocked up on the inside in the eighteenth century to make room for more bookshelves. The result […] was to make the Library dark, and to give its outer face, seen from the Deer Park, a blind appearance. As an experiment, the window nearest the chapel has been uncovered and restored. The appearance, and, it may be added, the usefulness, of the far end of the Library has thus been much improved.”

“This has been the best year since the war in the Schools. There were six Firsts, two in Mathematics and one each in Law, Physiology, Chemistry, and Forestry.”

1952 Vol IX, No. 7
p.1 ‘The War Memorial [….] was unveiled by the Visitor, the Bishop of Lincoln, on December 20th, 1951, in the presence of members of the College and relatives of the fallen.”

P.2 “Brasenose holds the Rugger Cup for the third year in succession.”

1952, Vol IX, No 8

  1. p. 1 “We are very sorry to say goodbye to Mr. G. J. Warnock, Fellow and Lecturer in Philosophy since 1950.”

1955, Vol 10, No. 2

“On March 31st, 1955, E. King completed 60 years’ service as College groundsman.”

“C. Southern, the senior of the ‘scouts’, completed his fiftieth year of service to the College”.

 1955-6, Vol 10, No.3

  1. p. 100 Plans to build a joint boathouse with Exeter were drawn up.

P 121 “The JCR had a peaceful year; we have had few meetings, partly because we have not wanted them, and partly because the Boat Club stole the Minute Book.”

1956, Vol 10, No. 4

 p. 145 Principal Last resigns due to ill health.

  1. p. 146 “On July 30th in accordance with statue, the Fellows met to elect a new Principal. Their choice fell on Mr. Platnauer. After 34 years as Fellow and 20 as Vice-Principal, the new Principal can need no introduction to Brasenose men.”
  1. p. 149 Ale verse:

“A bevy of Firsts

Affects not our thirsts

Nor erudite thought

Nose’s prowess in sport.”

1957, Vol 10, no.6

 p.253 “The adaptation of Staircase VI as the new Principal’s Lodgings is now complete, and is, we think, surprisingly successful. Thurs after nearly 200 years, the Lodgings have returned to the Old Quadrangle, though not quite to their original site.”

  1. p. 286 The beer cellar is to move to the cellars of Staircases X & XI [where they are to this day!]

1956-57, Vol 10, No. 5

  1. p. 228 “Members of the College were favourably affected by two entries in the statute book… Not only were gate fines abolished but also the rules which governed the entertainment of ladies in college during the evening were revised.

1957-8, Vol 11, No. 1

 p. 2 “The Schools results last summer were rather disappointing. There were four Firsts… This puts us low down in the list of Colleges….. This year Hockey Cuppers were played in Michealmas Term…. With four Blues… our hopes were high this year…..”

1958, Vol 11, No.2

 Work began on the new boat house to be shared with Exeter. Brasenose provided £10,000 towards the works, half of which was bequeathed by Fellow, W. N Stocker on his death

1958 was the year that the first Summer Dance was permitted in College by the Governing Body. The tradition of a Dance in Trinity Term has continued and tomorrow the 2017 Summer Ball will be enjoyed by students and guests.


The Stallybrass Law Library opened, converted and equipped using the Stallybrass Memorial Fund and named in honour of the former Principal.

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