Category Archives: Oxford: The Perspiring Dream
Manifold things in life amaze me. Many things in life amuse me. But quite why anyone would want to re-print an hundred year old undergraduate thesis is quite beyond my ken. However, those nice people at the Folio Society have produce a sneaky 240 page edition of T E Lawrence’s lesser known work; Crusader Castles. And it is is a thing of some beauty.
As an undergraduate at Jesus College in 1909, Lawrence travelled through Britain, France, Syria and Palestine to research his thesis on ‘The Influence of the Crusades on European Military Architecture to the End of the Twelfth Century’.
After visiting the major sites in England and Wales, Lawrence decided to cross Ottoman-controlled Syria on foot and by bicycle. He wanted to prove that, contrary to the received wisdom of the time, the castles built by the Normans during their campaigns were not influenced by Byzantine architecture, but conformed to a purely Western model. In 1909, Syria and the Holy Land were remote and dangerous destinations, and few historians had actually seen a crusader castle. His 1,100-mile journey was arduous in the extreme, but Lawrence succeeded in seeing 36 of the 50 castles on his itinerary, and acquired a taste for adventure. Letters home express his thrill at travelling incognito and immersing himself in Arabic culture. ‘I will have such difficulty in becoming English again: here I am Arab in habits, and slip in talking from English to French and Arabic unnoticing.‘
It seem that many of the hallmarks of his later career were already stamped this precocious undergraduate. I have always wanted to go and see the crusader castles of Syria and the Holy Land, but for some reason Becky does not seem as keen. Who knows, she might be more excited by my idea of going on holiday to the salt marshes of Iraq? Maybe?
Oh, and by the way, his painting still hangs in the dining room at Jesus College (see below), and the Bod still has his original thesis and notes (MSS. Eng. c. 6743, e. 3301)… if you can’t afford the Folio Society’s nice reprint.
“To call a man a characteristically Oxford man is, in my opinion, to give him the highest compliment that can be paid to any human being. I fear I do not and cannot accept such a compliment. But one part of it I will accept, and it is this, that, apart from every subject of controversy, there is not a man that has passed through this great and famous University that can say with more truth than I can say, ‘I love her from the bottom of my heart’.”
Mr Gladstone at the Union, February 1890.
What with all the recent revelations to come out of the Panamanian Mossack Fonseca data leak, and the plight of the troubled British steel industry, there is currently a lot of attention being focused on exactly how much of GB PLC is owned and registered abroad.
Those cunning and clever people at Private Eye (pick up a copy at all good newsagents) have created a searchable map of properties in England and Wales owned by offshore companies. Using Land Registry data released under Freedom of Information laws, and then linking around 100,000 land title register entries to specific addresses, the Eye has mapped all leasehold and freehold interests acquired by offshore companies between 1999 and 2014.
There is an 8MB database available, but the real joy comes from the searchable map… while London is awash with foreign registrations, Oxford escapes only lightly. I was interested to discover that of the seven flats in the converted pub I live in, two are owned by the Jersey based Eurocomm Holdings. They also seem to hold a number of other houses and flats in Oxford and beyond! Have a look a see who owns what near you using this link.
Thirty years ago no man was ever seen in the streets of Oxford after lunch without being dressed as he would have been in Pall Mall. Tail coats were sometimes worn in those days in the morning, and the fast men still wore cutaways. But the correct thing for the quite gentlemanly undergraduate was black frock-coat, and tall hat, with the neatest of gloves and boots, and in this costume he went out for his country walk, the admired of all beholders, as he passed through Hinksey or Headington. In the same dress he usually went into hall, and appeared at wine-parties. Now, I believe, shooting-jackets of all patterns…have taken the place of this decorous garb in which every one looked well.
T.E. Kebbel, the National Review of June 1887
It’s not often that I sleep next to man. It’s even rarer that he is taller than me. I have never before slept next to a 6’6″ man who has been dead for over 600 years. But then again last night was different… but I can explain…
I hate my birthdays, have lost count of them, and find that I get grumpy being the centre of attention. So this year I decided to do something different and spent the night in Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford. I find it sad that poverty still blights British society, and this Advent I have decided to try to help. Thousands of us, often very close to home, are struggling with debt, homelessness, isolation, depression, addiction, abuse, or violence. I have also been deeply impressed by the work of Church Urban Fund and wanted to support them by raising money as part of Christ Church’s Advent Sleepout Challenge. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of my friends and family when I asked them, rather than buy me a pint, to contribute to the CUF’s appeal. If you would like, you can still contribute here.
It was a really exciting experience, with a great group of friends. I found a spot on the floor next to a tall chap called John de Nowers. While I had opted for a red sleeping bag and hoodie, John had chosen a coat of chainmail, broadsword, tilting helmet, and had by his feet, his pet lion. But then again he died in 1386.
And here is the fantastic video that those nice people at the Church Urban Fund have made about all the fun we had!
All you London based culture vultures might want to check out two interesting exhibitions in our fair capital over the next month or so.
The first is called ‘Enduring Eye: The Antarctic Legacy of Sir Ernest Shackleton and Frank Hurley‘ at the Royal Geographic Society. The Enduring Eye exhibition will open to the public on Saturday 21 November, exactly 100 years to the day that the crushed Endurance sank beneath the sea ice of the Weddell Sea, and run until 28 February 2016.
The RGS website describes how, as one of the first truly modern documentary photographers and film-makers, Australian born Hurley hoped to have his images seen at as large scale size as possible. 100 years later, this intention will be honoured with giant dimension prints, some over 2 metres in width and height, at the heart of the exhibition, providing viewers with a sense of awe and wonder.
In addition to the newly digitised images, the exhibition will include a number of ‘precious survivors’ – personal artefacts that were carried through every stage of the successive journeys for survival from the Weddell Sea to Elephant Island and onto South Georgia.
More than 100 objects owned by Sheikh Hamad Bin Abdullah Al Thani, a member of the Qatari royal family, have been loaned to the V&A for the show, which explores 400 years of Indian jewellery. It is being exhibited as part of the museum’s India festival.
As well as the objects from the Al Thani collection, our Queen has lent three pieces from the crown jewels including the spectacular “Timur ruby”. This ‘ruby’ is a source of much intrigue since it was never actually owned by Timur and is not even a ruby. (It is in fact a very large, 352-carat spinel, a type of red stone found in Badakhshan.) The spinel was owned by Jahangir in the 17th century, and in 1851 it was given to Queen Victoria after the British annexed the Punjab. It seems a trifle odd to me to have your country ‘annexed’ only to then send a whacking great jewel to your new Empress, but it’s a nice touch.