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.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

A tour of Fifteenth century Oxford

This afternoon I gave a tour of fifteenth century Oxford for a group undertaking a course on the period at Rewley House, the Further Education department of Oxford University.

Beginning from their base at Rewley House I led them on a walk around the colleges founded in that century. The first we saw was St Bernard's. That was founded by Archbishop Chichele of Canterbury in 1438 for Cistercian monks, and designed to supercede Rewley Abbey - now almost entirely obliterated by the railway station and the Said Business School - as a house of studies for the Order. A victim of the dissolution of the monasteries in the later 1530s it was acquired by Sir Thomas White and refounded as St John's College in 1555, and the front quad is substantially pf the fifteenth century.

We then moved on to look at the three colleges founded in the period and with a continuous history to the present. The first both in date and on our walk was Lincoln, founded by "my" Bishop Richard Fleming in 1427, and finally put on a firm basis by Bishop Thomas Rotherham in 1480, just before he was translated to York. The front quad is again substantially fifteenth century, and I was able to point out the rebus of an early benefactor, Bishop Thomas Beckington of Bath and Wells.

We then walked on, passing the Bodleian and Duke Humfrey's Library commemorating his bequest of books to the University in the 1430s, to look at All Souls. This was founded in 1438 by Archbishop Chichele, modelled on New College his own alma mater, and intended as a memorial foundation to pray for the souls of King Henry V, his brother the Duke of Clarence and the English dead from the wars in France.

Our last college stop was Magdalen, founded in 1458 by William Wayneflete, Bishop of Winchester, and whose beautiful buildings speak so eloquently of the elegance and simplicity of late Perpendicular architecture.

When giving such tours it is not always easy to tell how much people are enjoying the walk, but at the end not only did the group make it clear that they had but their course tutor said it was just what they had wanted - and could she book me for next year's course on the early Tudor period to provide a walk through the Oxford of those years. Well I was n't going to refuse was I?

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