Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday, 12 April 2010

The Cherwell valley in spring

A fine Sunday spring afternoon was enjoyed with a good pub lunch and then a drive around familiar haunts in the Cherwell valley with a friend. Spring does finally seem to have properly arrived in this part of England, and it was good to be able to enjoy it. Woodstock, Tackley and Rousham, Upper and Lower Heyford form a somewhat Betjemanesque litany of the English countryside. Whenever I go into this part of rural Oxfordshire I am reminded of the passage in R.V. Lennard's Rural England 1086-1135 in which he writes of these villages of the Cherwell valley, making the point - obvious yet so easily overlooked - that these settlements were, with odd exceptions, or ones which have disappeared, well established by the time of Domesday Book.

That is not just a point of interest to students of local history - it has wider implications. It is a reminder, and with an election upon us, worth reflecting upon, that we are an ancient realm and that essential continuities are things to be respected and treasured.

It is also a reminder as one passes, for example, the partially Saxon church at Tackley, that the church, and indeed the Church, have been central to the lives of those communities. Rural England is intimately bound up with a seemingly long lost Catholic England. But, look again, that Catholic England is still there, perhaps hidden and beneath the surface, but there, and quickened with the message of Resurrection. After all it was through this area that the young John Henry Newman walked to preach his first sermon at Over Worton, and the preparation of which had led to the first questioning of his Evangelical formation.

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