Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Oxford weekend

On a rare weekend when my brother doesn't have to work on a Saturday we visited Oxford. The main attraction is probably the Ashmolean Museum and Art Gallery. Interesting but useless fact - Elias Ashmole, the founder of this collection, was born on the same street (Breadmarket Street) as Samuel Johnson in Lichfield.

The Ashmolean has recently re-opened after a massive refurbishment and has now literally doubled in size. The emphasis is now on the influence and interaction of Near Eastern and Western cultures. For example in the new main entrance a Boeotian (Macedonian cavalry) helmet is on display next to items from Egypt and Rome. I couldn’t see the several beautiful (probably only one of the few military objects that can be described as such) Greek Hoplite helmets I recall seeing on a previous visit.

Disappointingly the Roman room was temporary closed. The famous Cast Gallery is due to reopen this time next year. The Alfred Jewel is one particular highlight in the largest display of Anglo Saxon objects outside of the British Museum although when the Staffordshire Hoard goes on display this may change.

If you need to kill of a few brain cells after all this exposure to high culture, then there a number of interesting pubs nearby to the Ashmolean. First visited was the Eagle and Child. This pub is famous as the meeting of the literary group called the Inklings, members included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. They met in the Rabbit Room, which at the time was the private room at the rear of the pub. The pub is full of character but unfortunately fails at the first hurdle - the beer. Even thought the pub displayed the Cask Mark my pint of real ale displayed clear sighs that the pipes hadn’t been cleaned for a while. Actually my brother pointed this out only after I’d nearly finished my pint. Not realising it, we emulated the Inklings by crossing the road to the Flag and Lamb pub. They switched venues in 1962.

The Flag and Lamb pub is a very welcoming pub serving when we were there Skinners from Cornwall and Palmers brewed in Bridport, Dorset. This seemed appropriate as the famous Dorset resident Thomas Hardy set a part of ‘Jude of Obscure’ in this pub.

If you’ve walked through Oxford then there is a far chance that you passed this church, St Michael at the North Gate. It is the city's oldest building. Originally built around 1000–1050, for a small fee you can climb the tower dating from 1040. The church and tower formed line with the town’s Saxon defense wall. William Morris, best remembered now for his textile designs married Jane Burden here in 1859.

View from the tower looking north towards the Ashmolean. and the site of  where the Oxford Martyrs were burnt at the stake.

View looking east to the Radcliffe camera (central domed building the distance)

The Oxford Martyrs Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer, were tried for heresy in 1555 and were subsequently burnt at the stake for thir religious beliefs and teachings.

The martyrs were imprisoned at the former Borcardo prison near St Michael's church (at the north gate of the city walls).

The door of their cell in the tower of the church.

Rather than paying to go into one of the more famous colleges I’d recommend visiting Merton College
as it’s free to enter, the porters are friendly and helpful and there are numerous medieval buildings to look at, in particular the chapel and quad buildings.

Famous former Mertonians include:
John Wycliffe, theologian translator
Sir Thomas Bodley founder of the Bodleian Library, Oxford
Roger Bannister first man in history to run the mile in less than 4 minutes
Kris Kristofferson, actor and musican
Frank Bough, dodgy British television presenter (remember him?)
T. S. Eliot, poet
J. R. R. Tolkien, author and Merton Professor of English

View taken from outside Merton College.

Date of visit: 12th December 2009

First thing Sunday I attended the Wargamer show in Birmingham, the last show of the year. I thought the show was disappointing with only a few big dealers in attendance. There were several empty gaming tables but this probably reflects the economic climate. I managed to walk round the show three times in less than twenty minutes (I like to browse).

I was quite restrained and 'only' bought a set of Foundry paints (buff for the ECW cavalry) and a box of the new Perry plastic WoTR range. These are a very nice with plenty of scope for modifications. I’m sure some people will moan about the having to assembly them (heads, limbs and weapons are separate) but these will give you almost limitless variations (slight exaggeration) especially when the metal range is launched. Picked up two books; one is a very interesting ACW book 'Battle of the Civil War - Generalship and Tactics in America 1861-65' illustrated by Peter Dennis which details the actual mechanics of a battle. It does exactly what it says on the tin. The other is Warlord Armies by Tim Newark with plenty of illustrations by artists like Angus McBride and Richard Hook. Next show I hope to attend will be at Alumwell in March.

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