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Brookes Society Event Reports

Reports from the latest Brookes Society events

A visit to the BMW Mini assembly plant at Cowley

HG Wells would have loved it.  The aliens are building motor cars in Cowley!  That was the thought that struck me as I surveyed the 1,200 robots working energetically away in the vast BMW plant.  But to begin at the beginning.  A small group of Brookes Society members assembled at the BMW Mini plant visitor centre on a very wet November day. We were guided round the plant by Terry, a former assembly line worker, now retired, who was a mine of interesting information, tinged with humour.

The first stop on the tour was the huge fabrication building where the 1,200 robots are working away. For once, “awesome” is an appropriate word to describe the scene as the steel body parts are deftly brought together by teams of robots to form the basic “shell” of the Mini.  Each “team” of six or eight robots work in steel mesh pens (is BMW worried that they might make a run for it?).  They seem to be performing an elaborate ballet.  But this isn’t quite the Royal Ballet.  Their movements, though precise, are distinctly jerky.  But it is strangely hypnotising to watch a group of them twisting, ducking and weaving, never clashing, as they bring the parts together.

Once one team of robots has completed its task, the part-formed Mini shell is carried aloft through a hole in the ceiling onto a track (invisible to the visitor) which carries it along, shortly to drop down through another hole which brings it to the next robot team.  And so what is gradually recognisable as a complete Mini shell takes shape.  The 1,200 mainly Swedish robots are tended by fifty or so human beings who feed them with components and minister to them when they are under the weather.  Even robots, apparently, can have a bad day!

Next comes the assembly plant, with, on the face of it, a more traditional- looking assembly line with cars being carried along on moving belts while workers do the intricate work that robots (for now) find too challenging.  But the comparison with a traditional assembly line is misleading.  Henry Ford’s assembly line produced only black cars. The remarkable thing about the Mini assembly line is that no two cars being assembled are identical. Each car is being made to the specific order of a known purchaser, so the possible combinations of chosen options of colour, engine, transmission, seating, number of doors, and a legion of other features, are vast.

Recognition systems positioned at every point along the assembly line ensure that Mrs Jones’ sky-blue 3-door Mini is fitted with a petrol engine and automatic transmission, while the car immediately following, ordered by Mr Bloggs, is an estate version in bright yellow with sun roof, diesel engine and fancy alloy wheels. This individuality applied to mass production seemed to me quite as remarkable as the army of robots in the other building.  Both are amazing achievements of engineering production design.

The assembly line workers work in teams of 12.  The repetitious monotony of the line is relieved, at least to some extent, by the fact that each successive day the tasks are rotated around the team, providing a little day to day variety. The team also takes responsibility for identifying, reporting and where possible solving problems that may occur.  They are encouraged to take pride in their work. Around 4,000 workers are employed at Cowley, a big change from the 1970s when 28,000 were working there.So we finally came to the last stages of the assembly line where fully formed Minis are being checked, filled with petrol and driven away.  Even here there was something to surprise, for the car windows were moving up and down and the front wheels turning from side to side without any apparent human intervention!  Not magic, but remote control using wi-fi, our guide explained.

At the end of the hour and a half tour, I think we all felt admiration for what has been achieved at the BMW plant, currently the most advanced car making plant in the world. BMW has invested around £1.75b in UK manufacturing since 2000. It’s no surprise that the visit is highly rated on TripAdvisor!  A big thank-you to Catherine Tranmer for organising such an interesting visit.

Article by Sir Clive Booth


Oxford through the Eyes of Morse, Lewis and Endeavour – Walks on 13 & 27 September 2016

These interesting walks, each of which was attended by 14 members, were led by experienced Oxford tour guide Terry Bremble who met us at the Martyrs Memorial. Terry displayed an intimate knowledge of many episodes of these Oxford’s detectives’ stories, and led us to TV locations including the University Museum of Natural History, Wadham College, New College Lane and the Turf Tavern, the Bodleian and Weston Libraries, Brasenose Lane and the Covered Market. In both groups several people had their memories of the three detective series pleasantly jogged and were piqued by reports that only the week before filming for ‘Endeavour’ had taken place in the city centre. Ultimately we spent an enjoyable couple of hours inspecting plot locations although without seeing a single dead body.

Many thanks to Terry Bremble for her informative and entertaining tours.

Walk1


Report on the Society’s summer party

12 July 2016

 

The Vice-Chancellor’s annual summer party was held on the afternoon of Tuesday, 12th July in Headington Hill Hall. We were all pleased to be back in HHH, although the weather was not warm enough to go outside into the gardens which were looking well tended.We were very pleased that Professor Fitt came along, not only to give an up-date on what is going on in the university, but to spend time talking to members. He was telling us how this summer’s graduation ceremonies (just the 23 and he attended all of them!) were held in an internal marquee in the sports centre and the reception afterwards was in a marquee in the grounds of HHH. Apparently these were a huge success and many compliments were paid about the venues. This brought back happy memories for many of us who used to be involved in the graduation ceremonies when use of the Hall was the norm. The numbers at the party were lower than usual, although we had more than we were expecting as some arrived without registering for the event…..however the catering that Hilary Churchley had organised more than coped with the extra guests. Those that did come were treated to a lovely tea, including sandwiches, cream tea and delicious cakes, as well as prosecco…… more like the parties of the past.The atmosphere was convivial, with the usual buzz of conversation as members met up with old friends and colleagues. I am pleased to report that Laura Spira, from the Business School, volunteered to be co-opted on to the committee.


'Sod 70' lecture with Sir Muir Gray

4 May 2016

 

I was very pleased, as Chair, to have the opportunity to introduce, for the first time, our annual Brookes Society lecture on Wednesday, 4th May, which was attended by over 100 members, friends and supporters of Brookes. This year the lecture was given by Sir Muir Gray entitled “Sod 70! The Guide to living well in middle age and beyond”.

Sir Muir believes that many problems suffered by older people can be caused by lack of fitness, preventable diseases and the wrong approach to life. During his lecture he explained how steps we could take in late middle age can help us to live a longer and healthier old age. He argued that by keeping fit and keeping the brain active we will have a greater chance of living a rewarding and active life into our 90s.

His message of stamina, suppleness, skill and strength was delivered to us in a very entertaining way, no hectoring or indeed “lecturing”, he just gave us a much more positive way to look at getting older. He emphasised the need to keep fit to get fitter in both body and mind and that by following his guidelines many of us could look forward to staying healthier as we get older – providing disease does not affect us. So our future health is very much in our own hands and many invested in his book at the end to help us on our journey!

The lecture was followed by a lively question and answer session, which included a demonstration of dancing by one member of the audience, as well as Sir Muir’s co-author, Claire, talking about their new book Sod 60!

by Clare Fox, Chair of Brookes Society

Tour of Worcester College

14 March 2016

On Monday, March 14th twelve members of the Society gathered at Worcester College for a guided tour of the institution. The tour was led by our fellow member Anna Fraser who has a long-standing personal connection to Worcester.

Worcester College 1

Anna gave a potted history of the 300-year-old College, from its early beginnings as a religious foundation in the late thirteenth century, through its role as Gloucester College (hence the nearby Gloucester Green coach station), to the present Worcester College founded in 1714.

Worcester College 2

The College Librarian then joined the group to welcome us to the ancient library, with its fascinating historical records left by George Clarke. Clarke was the original designer of the key frontage buildings (library, hall, and chapel), all of which were constructed in the early eighteenth century. The library collection includes wonderful drawings, portraits, and financial accounts relating to the building programme, as well as important historical documents left by Sir William Clarke, the architect’s father.

Worcester College 3

Sadly, funding was a problem for the College at the time, so the dining hall with its impressive portraits of provosts, including recent ones like Asa Briggs and Dick Smethurst, is relatively plain. By contrast, the colourful chapel designed by William Burgess is a magnificent example of eighteenth century architecture. The chapel took some seventy years to complete, the end result being an impressive building with rich furnishings and vibrant stained glass windows. We gathered that the choir is excellent and the acoustics are equally magnificent.

Worcester College 4

Worcester College 5

We then went out past the old medieval 'cottages' decorated with bright heraldic crests into the gardens beyond. A wonderful series of gardens too, with spring flowers in abundance and even an early peacock butterfly. We took a walk round the extensive lake, admiring its lively bird life and nearby rural retreats; it is a most suitable location for theatrical performances in the summer months. What a splendid environment for students, we all agreed.

Worcester College 6

Worcester College 7

Then it was back to reality–overtaken by the present provost Sir Jonathan Bate, we moved past new College buildings. Currently under construction, they will provide additional opportunities for Worcester in the future.

Through ancient passageways we found our way back to the main entrance and paused for a group photo in the sun. There we bade farewell and thanked Anna for a perfect tour in pristine conditions. Just the right way to see an Oxford college.

Worcester College 8

Worcester College 9

(Worcester College and its grounds are usually open to visitors between 2 and 5 pm, but it is unlikely you will get such a wonderful guide as the one arranged through Brookes Society!)


Tour of OUP and Jericho

18 November 2015

A good size group, around 20 of us, gathered outside Oxford University Press (OUP) for a tour of the museum by a member of the archive team. We learnt that Oxford University became involved in the print trade around 1480 and grew into a major printer of bibles and scholarly works. OUP took on the Oxford English Dictionary, probably its best known work, in the late 19th century. The Press moved to its present site in Walton Street in 1830 when it outgrew its previous location in the basement of the Sheldonian Theatre. The printing house at Oxford closed in 1989 and its former paper mill at Wolvercote was demolished in 2004.

OUP is the largest university press in the world, publishing more than 6,000 new books every year and employing nearly 6,000 people.

The museum was quite small but the displays included a 19th century press and details of the early history of OUP. We were told about Theoderic Rood, the first printer associated with Oxford University, and the ambitions of John Fell, Dean of Christ Church and Vice Chancellor, who was responsible for drawing all printers working for the University onto one set of premises, the cellars of the new Sheldonian Theatre, in 1668. Fell also introduced new typographical punches and matrices acquired from the Dutch, which we were able to view and handle.

After the museum visit, we met with Alister Lack who guided our walk round the streets of Jericho to St Sepulchre’s cemetery, a hidden churchyard not visible from the road. We learnt that Jericho grew largely in response to the needs of OUP, providing cottages for those employed by the Press, as well as for canal workers and drovers associated with the city of Oxford. The name is thought to have arisen from the Jericho Tavern, a hostelry outside the gates of Oxford, which provided accommodation to those arriving at night when the gates to the city were closed.

Jericho or Walton Manor, as it is officially known, was for most of its history overcrowded and disease-ridden, becoming a very run-down red light area in the 1950s. It was earmarked for demolition in the 1960s, to be replaced by light industrial units and new housing. The area was saved due to local city councillor Olive Gibbs (after whom the Gibbs building at Brookes is named) and the Jericho Residents Association who campaigned against these plans. It is now a thriving community with a diverse population of students, young professionals and their families, and has become one of Oxford’s most sought after areas.

Despite the cold and the slight drizzle, it was a most interesting tour and we learnt a lot about the area. Towards the end, we stopped to look at the interior of St Barnabas Church next to the canal. The tour culminated in the visit to the hidden cemetery of St Sepulchre, rather muddy in this weather. At the cemetery we learnt the sad story of Frankie Taylor, a young racing driver who died aged 28 in 1934. He had only been married 10 months at the time and had promised his wife he would retire from racing. His wife, who did not remarry and was buried in the same plot, lived to be in her 90s, dying in 2000.


Tour of Blackheath and the World Heritage Site at Greenwich

17 October 2015

After all meeting up at Blackheath Vale, Richard Hayward opened the proceedings next to All Saints’ Church. Blackheath, first named Blachehedfeld in 1166, has been both historically and strategically important as a place of gathering, military manoeuvres, royal and political meetings, sports and fairs. The proximity of Watling Street (now the A2) which began as an ancient trackway, then a Roman Road with more than 2,000 years of history linking the Channel Ports and Canterbury to London, underlined the natural importance of the heath.

After crossing what, at 212 acres, is one of the largest areas of common land in Greater London, the party entered Greenwich Royal Park. There Pete Edwards took over the commentary, describing the origins of the park as hunting grounds stretching from the Palace of Greenwich Placentia to Eltham Palace to the East. With its Saxon burial mounds, Danish earthworks and Roman building remains at Maize Hill Gate, Greenwich Park is a high ground of significant archaeological importance.

Moving on, we passed the South Building and the modern Planetarium, before reaching the Old Royal Observatory and the spectacular view over the Royal Hospital Buildings, the Thames and on to Canary Wharf and the ancient City of London beyond.

From here it was downhill all the way, regrouping at the Church of St. Alfege. There we stopped to admire its spectacular panelled and Grinling Gibbons carved interior. Thomas Tallis, Father of English Church Music and Master of the King’s Music at Greenwich Palace, is buried at St Alfege.

We grabbed a quick late lunch before visiting the University of Greenwich’s new Stockwell Street Building, housing the new Library and the Faculty of Architecture, Computing and Humanities. Richard Hayward was able to give us an insider’s view of the genesis and development of this award-winning building and guided us through the main aspects of the campus facilities.

It then remained for us to travel back in time and visit the World Heritage Site’s historic buildings erected on the site of the original Greenwich Palace. Time constraints meant that we were only able to concentrate on the old Royal Navel College Chapel itself, rebuilt and redesigned after a serious fire in 1779. The Chapel’s interior is dominated by the vast Benjamin West altarpiece depicting St. Paul’s Shipwreck on the Island of Malta.

Our party finally sought refuge from deteriorating weather conditions which had curtailed our visit of the rest of the Royal Hospital and Naval College buildings. We retired to the no less historic Trafalgar pub and gave a vote of well-earned thanks to Richard Hayward and Pete Edwards.


Jewish Walk

9 September 2015

14 members met Shaughan Seymour, our Blue Badge and City of London guide (and actor, which became obvious as the walk went on!) outside Tower Hill tube station. He began by pointing out the old and new buildings we could see – the Tower of London and the Shard, indicating two very different eras and architectural styles, yet not the only ones we saw on our walk. Shaughan went on to relate how the Jews came over with William the Conqueror and were only allowed to be usurers and doctors. Later, Edward I expelled the Jews in 1290, although a few remained, allowed only if they converted to Christianity and were baptised. This banishment lasted until the time of Oliver Cromwell.

Jewish Walk 1

We walked on, via part of the old London Wall, to the Grade I listed Bevis Marks synagogue, the oldest of its kind in Britain, consecrated in 1701. The name Bevis Marks is thought to derive from the Abbots of Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk ("Buries Marks"), in whose ownership this part of the city was until the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The synagogue was begun after the Great Fire in 1666, as were many other churches (51 altogether in the City of London), and is the only place of worship in the city that has not been changed internally since – it still retains the oak pews that were installed when it was built, and all the other Queen Anne furniture. It is also the only one in Europe that has held continuous services for over 300 years.

As with all synagogues, it faces Jerusalem; and this one has a balcony for women, supported by 12 columns which represent the 12 tribes of Israel. There are 7 chandeliers for the days of the week; however, the largest of all is only lit on special occasions.

Jewish Walk 2

We were entertained by stories of the synagogue and of two particularly powerful Jewish figures: Sir Moses Montefiore and Benjamin Disraeli (born Jewish, although became a Christian). Sir Moses Montefiore, Baronet, was the most famous English Jew of his time – possibly of all time. Passionate in his beliefs, both as a Jew and as an Englishman, he became a legend throughout the entire Jewish world. He was a successful entrepreneur, becoming immensely rich before retiring at the age of 40. He then spent the rest of his life supporting charitable works in countries around the world. Respected by kings and potentates, Montefiore was venerated by impoverished Jews in the shtetls of Eastern Europe as well as by the mullahs of North Africa and the Middle East. He was born in 1784 and died in 1885, aged 100. His seat in the synagogue is marked with his name and cordoned off.

Disraeli was, of course, one of Queen Victoria’s Prime Ministers. According to a historical anecdote, he got increasingly tired of hearing about Prince Albert (long after the latter had passed) and on his own deathbed, when asked by his doctors if he would like the Queen to be informed of his imminent demise, responded, "No, don’t tell her, she will only come to give me a message for Albert!"

We walked on from the synagogue to the East End, and you can still see the difference between east and west by dint of architecture and types of shops (a sense of humour was evident!).

Jewish Walk 3

We passed an old soup kitchen (the words still engraved above the door), the site of the first school for Jewish boys (no girls allowed!) and on into the area around Spitalfields market (the name comes from the hospital and priory St. Mary's Spittel, founded in 1197).

Much of this area is now very gentrified but was not always so, a slum in Victorian times appearing in some of Dickens’ novels. It became a centre for silk weaving when the Huguenots came over from France and the rooms used for their looms are still clear to see on the top floors of many houses.

Jewish Walk

Shaughan was an entertaining and informative guide, often using his acting skills to enforce points he was making.


Headington Quarry Walk

6 August 2015

 

The Society organised a second walking tour round the Headington Quarry area of Oxford. This was led by Barry Carter, who taught European and Chinese history while at Brookes but has developed a passion for the local history of the area since moving there more than 40 years ago. The walk, which took a couple of hours, was attended by 18 members of the Society. Before we began walking Barry explained how the area originally developed as a quarry and talked about the life of the quarry workers and their families. He also explained the relationship of the area in the wider Oxford context, the religious developments in the area and the links with CS Lewis who was a regular attendee at Holy Trinity Church. We spent some time in the church, which, although looks as old as many churches do, was actually built in the late Victorian era. Barry told us more about the area and the different vicars, some of whom didn’t stay very long, due to the damp in the vicarage! We inspected the stunning modern stained glass window depicting Narnia and then went into the graveyard to visit C S Lewis’ grave, which is marked by an impressive marble stone, although strange to see his name given in full (Clive Staples) as he is known universally by his initials. The walk was followed by a splendid high tea provided by Barry and his wife Ann, and all the attendees agreed that it had been a very interesting and educational afternoon and is likely to be repeated in future calendars of events.

Many thanks to Barry and Ann.


Oxford Vaults walk

19 May 2015 – morning tour

 

This was an intriguing visit for anyone that lives in Oxford. The vaults are a warren of tunnels, some dating back as far as the Romans that extend from the Covered Market, between the colleges and as far afield as the former city wall.

The starting point for our exploration was the Covered Market. Accessed via four entrances on the High Street, via Golden Cross (from Cornmarket), and from three entrances on Market Street, the Covered Market itself has a long history. Designed by the architect
of Magdalen Bridge, John Gwynn, it opened on 1 November 1774 and has been trading for over two centuries. It was built as a result of the 'Oxford Mileways Act' of 1771, which was introduced to make the city's main roads safer, provide more space for traffic, allow for the demolition of the old city gates, the widening of the narrow streets and the construction of new roads. The old markets located in Butcher Row, Fish Street and St. Aldate's, which had survived since medieval times, were considered to have become messy, untidy and unpleasant and were condemned by the Oxford Mileways Act and relocated in the new Covered Market.

We assembled at the Red Post box in the centre of the market and met our guide George
Chesterfield. Then it was off to the vaults amid the sights and sounds of the market,then through the door and down the stairs.

The vault passages have store rooms leading off left and right (most with alarms linked directly to the police). Modern technology doesn’t always bring benefits though. Modern refrigeration units are creating condensation that is affecting the walls and in places crumbling surfaces were evident. In its earlier history, the vaults would be bustling with live animals, traders and porters. Many of the porters were children who would be sent off in total darkness to take the meat and other goods to colleges and hotels across the city. Now many of the passageways, though still in existence, are blocked off so it isn’t possible to pass freely underground as it once was. We had to return to the pavements to see further evidence of the vaults. Though not, thankfully, by the emergency escape ladder to the surface...

All over the city there are grills and covers signalling ventilation and access points...

Then it was back underground, from surprising locations, to see evidence of the medieval and roman vault architecture...

And they go further down...

Finally, at the Mitre on the High Street, after seeing the vaults there George took us upstairs to see the Churchill Room, now rarely used now.

The present Mitre Inn dates from around 1630, but there has been an inn on this site since around 1300. It has always belonged to Lincoln College, and its name probably derives from the college coat of arms, which depicts the mitre of the Bishop of Lincoln. It was an important coaching inn, and as early as 1671 there were coaches running between London and the Mitre on three days a week.

The tour concluded with lunch at the Mitre.

Sources:

*     Covered Market
*     George Chesterfield – Oxford Hidden Gems Guide
*     History of Oxford's Covered Market
*     The Mitre
Annie Thompson Lynch


Oxford Playhouse

15th April

 

A new event was tried in April – a theatre visit. 15 members went to the Oxford Playhouse on Wednesday, 15th April to see Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia. It had received rave reviews and all were keen to see it……..we had to concentrate hard……it was a very wordy, clever play……but we were helped by the subtitles placed either side of the stage. It meant we could check the actors knew their lines, but more importantly we could read them! There was no doubt the acting was superb but (and your reporter is showing age, or deafness, here) the annunciation of their words left a little to be desired! The general view was that the experiment was a success and we should try it again, but perhaps with a comedy next time!

Clare Fox


‘Not the New Year Party’

February 2015

 

There were several firsts that distinguished this party from its predecessors. We had a very new venue, The Terrace, i.e. the University’s new main restaurant with its panoramic views over green spaces behind the campus. It was the first time that the party was combined with the Society’s Annual Lecture, given this year by Sir Clive Booth. And to stay with the ‘new’ theme of the day the very new Vice Chancellor, Professor Alistair Fitt, took time from his many, probably more pressing, engagements to introduce himself to the Society and to express his support for the work it is doing. The well attended party saw the number of attendees up from last year i.e. from 65 to 70. After everyone enjoyed the excellent refreshments generously supplied by the University it was time for the Annual General Meeting. Sadly the Committee was having to say ‘good bye’ to three of its members who were instrumental in getting the Society started. They were thanked for their invaluable contribution and given small tokens of thanks. Geoff Bremble received a framed print of a J.H.Brookes drawing and Allan Headlam and Ann Edmunds received bottles of wine to thank them for their service on the committee. The Committee welcomed three newly elected members – Annie Thompson-Lynch, Chris Weavers and Rob Wondrak. Chris has agreed to take on the role vacated by Ann Edmunds i.e. the Committee’s Secretary, while Clare Fox, who was already on the Committee, is our new Chairwoman. A group photograph was taken and was circulated to all members of the Society. Sir Clive’s lecture that followed the party: “ From caterpillar to butterfly: how Oxford Poly became a university’” took us through his association with the institution which he headed at the time of its extraordinary transformation. He served first as a Director of Oxford Polytechnic and then as the first Vice Chancellor of the newly emerged Oxford Brookes University. His highly entertaining talk followed his carrier as it developed alongside the many twists and turns of both Labour and Conservative government policies on higher education. The 150 attendees enjoyed Sir Clive’s lecture that was accompanied by photographs reminding us all of the ‘good old days’ of student protests and glamorous visitors. The most enjoyable afternoon concluded with a drinks reception that that took place in the Abercrombie Atrium.

Have a look at the photos from the event

Anna Fraser


A Visit to the Houses of Parliament

Monday 3rd November

Houses of Parliament

14 members visited the neo-Gothic Houses of Parliament on Monday, 3rd November and it proved to be absolutely fascinating. The tour began in the 900 year old St Stephen’s Hall where our very informative guide gave us its’ history, before we moved into the House. This hall is the only surviving building of the original royal palace (Henry VIII was the last monarch to use it as such) and has been saved twice from fire. The foundation stone for the existing Houses of Parliament was laid in 1840; the Lords Chamber was completed in 1847, and the Commons Chamber in 1852 (at which point Sir Charles Barry, the architect, received a knighthood). Although most of the work had been carried out by 1860, construction was not finished until a decade afterwards.

When we visited neither the House of Commons nor the Lords were sitting that morning which meant we had no restrictions on where we went, other than the ones permanently in place, and we were told no photos were allowed. We stood in the opposition benches of both the Lords and Commons chambers and were told in no uncertain terms that sitting was not allowed for visitors. The Lords is very impressive with an ornate gold throne at one end where the Queen sits when she opens Parliament – we also saw the set of stairs she uses to enter, which were first used by Queen Victoria. The Commons is much smaller than it seems on television, with not enough sitting space for all the members, and we saw many landmarks which are so familiar to us all through watching the news.

The tour finished back in St Stephen’s Hall where we were able to take our time walking round it and looking at the many plaques on the floor marking such important historical events as Nelson Mandela making a speech, and the lying in state of the Queen Mother, King George VI and Winston Churchill.

At the end of our tour we took the opportunity for refreshments in the café before half of our party took a boat down to the Tower of London to see the poppies in the moat...although we all got soaked it seemed fitting to look at these in the pouring rain. A poignant way to complete our interesting day.

Clare Fox


A Visit to Westonbirt Arboretum

Wednesday 23 October 2014

On Wednesday 23 October nine members and guests of Brookes Society met at the Trout Farm in Bibury en-route to Westonbirt Arboretum. After coffee and taking the opportunity to admire the trout we meandered through the village (considered by William Morris to be the most beautiful village in England) before travelling on to the Arboretum. On arrival we were surprised at the number of vehicles in the car park even though it was outside school half term and the splendid new entrance hall, built since our previous visit two years ago, was universally admired. Byron Mikellides was our guide and after giving us an introduction to the history of the Arboretum we set off for a leisurely stroll round the old part of the Arboretum. We were fortunate to have caught the Acers in their full glory, the colours of which contrasted with those that would turn in the coming weeks. Byron provided commentary on the various species of trees, his knowledge having been honed by taking many cohorts of Architecture students on study visits during his time at the University. This provoked a most interesting discussion as to why these visits, the answer being to develop the students awareness of the contrasting shapes and colours and how, in the design process, they influence the choice of building materials and the structural beauty of buildings. Even though it was a cloudy day we were spared the rain while the display of foliage with its wide variety of leaves coupled with the light and dark of the sun and clouds left us with an indelible impression of the beauty of nature.

After around an hour and half we moved over to the Terrace for a light lunch where we were briefly threatened by a gentle rain before going on to a fascinating exhibition of artworks produced through the medium of cloth, paint, glass and wood in the Great Oak Hall. This was then followed by a visit to the gift shop before we returned to our cars for the journey home. Thanks go once again to Byron who made the arrangements for the visit that is rapidly becoming a popular bi-annual event.

Pictures to follow!


Albertopolis Tour

13 September 2014

After gathering at the Royal Albert Hall Coffee Bar at midday, Brookes’ Society members were given an interesting introduction to the early history of the original ‘green fields of Kensington’ site and to the underlying plan to develop a Cultural Quarter. This was to be based on the fact that the Royal Horticultural Society had previously been granted a short lease on the 20 acre site, installing a large conservatory looking out over extensive horticultural gardens surrounded entirely by garden colonnades. The RHS had opened these in 1861, vacating them finally in 1888, and the ‘footprint’ of these installations was to serve us as a template to follow throughout the visit once we had been given further historical information relating to the Great Exhibition site of 1851, the search for a valid way to spend the accumulated funds from this and subsequent exhibitions to develop an educational and scientific quarter to rival other European capitals and to serve to enhance the reputation of Victorian design, engineering, technology and architecture.

From the Albert Hall itself we moved on to visit the period mansion housing development in Kensington Gore, which was to prove necessary in order to fund the rest of the intended cultural facilities, before crossing to look in detail at the Albert Memorial. Returning to the main site we took in the modern Royal College of Art as well as the Royal Colleges of Geography, Music and Organists as examples of fulfilling the original brief to bring together learned societies and the great national and international collections in one locality. Imperial College, its history and architecture merited particular study before we moved on to admire its neighbours, the Science and Natural History Museums.

After noting the location of the South Kensington Tube Station, which finally opened up the area to mass public transport, a quick step across the Cromwell Road took us to a well‐earned break and lunch at the Institut Francais, itself a building of unusual architectural interest. We completed the visit with a return to Exhibition Road and an opportunity to learn in more detail about the development of the original Victoria and Albert Museum buildings and about more recent refurbishment now nearing completion.

Finally, our special thanks are due to our guide, Pete Edwards, for providing a comprehensive file of carefully researched photographs, illustrations, articles and architectural drawings of the period further underlining the different stages of this area of London’s development over a century and a half.

Led by Pete Edwards (School of Planning 1979 – 2007)


Vice Chancellor's Summer Party

Wednesday 23 July 2014

The Brookes Society had the opportunity to enjoy the new spaces at Headington campus last month for this year’s Vice Chancellor’s Summer Party. Around 75 members attended the event, held in the Abercrombie Atrium on a sunny July afternoon, and enjoyed catching up with former colleagues over afternoon tea.

June Girvin, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, welcomed guests to the event and updated them on all of the recent developments and news from around the University. There was also a chance for guests to view the 'Reminiscence' exhibition, displaying an outline history of Oxford Brookes in photographs.

Guests were also offered two tour options of the JHBB: Gavin Hodgson kindly led an energy tour highlighting the exciting low-carbon features of the new building and Dave Nolan and his team led a large group on a tour of the new library (see below report). Everyone in attendance was hugely impressed by the new buildings and is thoroughly looking forward to being able to use the new library and social spaces in the future.

See photos from the afternoon here.

We look forward to seeing you all at the next one!

The Alumni Team

John Henry Brookes Building - New Library Visit

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Three separate groups totalling some 35 Brookes Society members were escorted by very helpful Library staff and had the opportunity to range over five main areas of the new development including the ‘Forum’ area, the Basement, Level 4 with its amazing views and the ‘Platform’ and ‘HelpZone’ areas. These constitute an important part of the £150 million development, which is shared with the ‘Student Central’ area, Careers and Student Union as well as teaching and catering facilities. The Library and Forum take up 6,200sqm (of a total of 25,000sqm) and now house some 300,000 books and periodicals together with now co-located staff offices. We learnt that the move from the old Library was in fact achieved over a long weekend, closing at 8pm on a Friday and reopening at 8.30am the following Wednesday.

The groups enjoyed visiting several types of the 1,000 study spaces available and to learn that these have been designed to allow students to choose how, where and when to study, using either collaborative or individual quiet, or silent, spaces, presentation practice rooms and social learning areas. Many of these can be modified and zoned to meet student needs at different times of the academic year. In addition there is also a HelpZone tutorial area for coaching sessions and an Assistive Technology Centre for disabled or dyslexic students. We also visited training rooms for digital and information literacy development and presentation skills which completed our tour of these new high-quality facilities and which, together with 240 fixed computers and the self-service provision of Chromebooks, now benefit from 24/7 availability during semester time and which include self-service withdrawal and return facilities.

Judging by the many questions and requests for additional information throughout the visits and at the end of the session, the new Library visit was much appreciated by the members of the Society and our warmest thanks are due to all our patient and well-informed guides to a complex and remarkable facility, which indeed all members should remember are available to us to enrol for and use.

Allan Headlam

River Trip to Kelmscott Manor, the home of William Morris

18 June 2014

Twenty members and guests of Brookes Society set off for the Trout Inn at St John’s Wharf near Lechlade prior to a visiting Kelmscott Manor, the home of William Morris. We were met by Mike Breakell who had arranged for us to travel to the Manor on board the luxury launch Inglesham.

However, as we settled in for lunch and the time for us to board the Inglesham came closer the realisation dawned that a group of six travelling in one car had not yet arrived. After a couple of frantic telephone calls it transpired that that they were partaking of lunch at the Trout Inn near Bampton which fortunately is not too far from the ’designated’ Trout Inn. Also, as the Inglesham is restricted to twelve passengers the whole party had to be split into two, one group travelling to Kelmscott by car and then returning to the Trout by boat with the other group doing the trip in reverse so the ‘missing’ party were instructed to travel straight to the Manor and the day was able to proceed as planned.

Both the visit to the Manor and the boat trip took one and a half hours, timings which dovetailed nicely with each other. We were fortunate to have a sunny day and the leisurely time on the river, with Mike at the helm was a delight with multiple sightings of cattle, birds and other river traffic.

The Inglesham itself is operated by the Cotswolds Canals Trust Volunteers who also provided a discourse about aspects of the river and the workings of the volunteers of whom Mike is one. The Trust provides a great variety of River excursions for which further information can be found at www.cotswoldcanals.com.

Kelmscott Manor was the home of William Morris (1834 - 1896) who came to Exeter College in 1852 and with Edward Burne-Jones formed an undergraduate circle known as the Brotherhood from which the two of them, together with Rossetti and like-minded artists, later gained fame for establishing the pre Raphaelite movement. The 16th century Manor house was his home from 1871 to 1896 and although he died in London his body was brought down by train and wagon to be buried in Kelmscott churchyard. We were free to explore as we wished and so the time spent at the Manor was both informative and relaxing with sufficient time to partake of Cream teas on the lawn before leaving.

Thanks must go to Mike for arranging the trip and it may well be that a trip on the Inglesham may well be organised to other parts on the river in the not too distant future.

Geoff Bremble

Oxford Botanical Gardens visit

Friday 2 May 2014

For the Brookes Society visit to the Oxford Botanical Gardens, led by the very affable and informative Rodney Tulloch, the weather was kind to the nineteen members and guests who attended.

We began our tour by visiting the greenhouses to admire firstly the Lily House, with the Alpine and Insectivorous plants as well as the Fern collection, before moving on through the Palm House to round off the greenhouses in the Arid House.

Once out in the open air we ranged further afield taking in the Herbaceous Border, where unfortunately the tulips in particular had suffered from earlier bad weather, and then on to the newer, more experimental areas and the Merton Borders.

Finally we returned to the Entrance via the Rock Garden to enjoy the Walled Garden and more particularly the Botanical Family Borders and the Medicinal Plant Collection in the shade of a magnificent Magnolia Tree. A particularly momentous treat was the Handkerchief tree (Davidia) which was looking really good and elicited lots of Oohs and Ahs.

One surprising area was that given over for growing food during the war, a timely observation given all the WWW I and II celebrations being held at this time.

The visit was voted an interesting success and enjoyed by all those present with a surprising number saying that they had never visited the Gardens before and that they would be likely to go again. Finally, despite standing suggestively under one of the many mistletoe plants growing on trees, Rodney wasn't kissed by anyone.

Clare Fox and Allan Headlam

Annual Brookes Society Lecture fills new JHBB lecture theatre

9 April 2014

It was a buzzy evening with over 150 people arriving to hear the former Brookes lecturer and experienced mountaineer Albert Eastham talking about his adventures in ‘Climbing and Beyond’. A mixture of people arrived to listen to the lecture, including mountaineering enthusiasts, former staff members, friends and family of Albert and even a couple whom he met on the Mera Peak trek 14 years ago.

He recounted his expeditions which included climbing Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya; The Haute Route and Mont Blanc, The Volcanoes of Ecuador as well as Mera Peak near Mount Everest. His slide show gave an amazing backdrop to his stories, showing the real beauty of the mountains and his stories were punctuated with funny anecdotal memories of people he met and experiences he had, which gave the audience a real feeling of what it was like to be on the trek.


“Well done everybody, It was a great talk, well organised in a great new environment, with congenial company including many old timers!! You even impressed my daughter and son in law too".
Mike Breakell - a member of the Brookes Society

Watch the lecture here.

Backstage Tour of the New Theatre Oxford

13 March 2014

It was with great pleasure that I greeted eighteen members of the Society in the foyer at the New Theatre for a tour which included areas in all parts of the building.

We started in the Stalls bar, now a modernised area in which there is a press area to ensure good opening night reviews and a separate exclusive bar area that patrons can pay extra to enjoy.

We were then taken to the area which houses the dressing rooms for the lower members of the cast and to the wardrobe room right on the top floor which is thought to be haunted.

We then came downstairs, via the Stage Door, to view the area beneath the stage. The Theatre is unusual in that it had a revolving stage which was very rarely used. It is now completely de-commissioned but with the gear below the stage rather lovingly restored and cherished. We were told the revolve was operated manually but that was not so, it was electrically powered. We visited other rooms below stage and members were able to see the stream which runs under the theatre.

We were then taken to see the stage, passing the Star dressing rooms on the way which are named after Oxford University colleges. Walking on the stage was, I think, the highlight of the tour for the group. The vastness of it and the absolute muddle behind the scenes really surprised them but I can assure you it was quite normal for a show the size of Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. Alas the revolve is no longer visible from above, a new floor having been laid over the original stage. The flying scenery and lighting bars hanging above the stage,and how it gets there was explained and the floor thirty feet above the stage from where it is all operated pointed out.

The group were able to look out to the auditorium and see just how big the Theatre front of house is, some 1700 plus seats. The lighting control is now all done from a room at the back of the circle with the 'limes' or follow spots being visible right at the back of the balcony. The sound is controlled from a desk at the back of the stalls.

We finished in the stall with members asking many questions of our tour guide and finally broke up around Noon.

In all I think it was a very good tour for those who have never been in such an environment and I enjoyed being back there, I think all of my colleagues did too.

Mike McCluskey

Not so New Year Party

19 February 2014

Over 60 society members attended the annual Not so New Year Party last month in the lovely setting of Headington Hill Hall. The party also included the Annual General Meeting and annual raffle.

The chairman, Geoff Bremble, delivered his annual report during the AGM where he also thanked Rodney Tulloch who was standing down from his role as Secretary. Ann Edmunds was elected in as the new Secretary, Mike McCluskey was re-elected as Treasurer and Tim Bolton was elected and welcomed as a new committee member.

Leaving committee members Rodney Tulloch, Albert Eastham and Byron Mikellides were all thanked for their contribution and were presented with a small token from Ceri Butcher, the Assistant Development Director, DARO.

The party was rounded up with the annual raffle which included a star prize of £60 Blackwell vouchers, kindly donated by the Oxford Brookes Blackwell Bookshop, as well as a variety of other prizes donated by the University and Society members. The star prize lucky winner was former committee member David Mancey. The raffle raised a total of £131 which will go towards the Society’s activities.

See some photos from the afternoon on Flickr.


Merton College Library Visit

14 January 2013

Judging by the comments of the small group of 10 alumni who took part in the January visit to Merton College the visit was a success. We were being guided by a charming and very knowledgeable Australian doctorate student of archaeology, Amber Hood.

This year the College is marking the 750th anniversary of its foundation in 1264. That is a lot of history and our brief tour could not possibly do justice to the constant changes and developments that took place during all that time. However, we were given a wonderful opportunity to see many, usually inaccessible spaces, and get a feel what it must be like to be both an undergraduate and a Fellow of Merton.

The visit started outside by us having to wait for the magnificent Merton bells (recast in 1680 and the oldest complete ring of eight bells in existence) to finish tolling 2 o’clock. Amber then entertained us by a story of the sculptures that adorn the College Gatehouse. The panel above the door shows the story of St. John the Baptist and includes many symbols from the major doctrines of the Old Testament. The 15th Century stonemasons however also managed to sneak in two fierce-looking hounds that are taking great interest in a number of rabbits scuttling through a maze of rabbit holes at the feet of those depicted above.

We then toured most of the College quads and walked to the southernmost wall that separates the College from Christchurch Meadow before visiting the chapel. The Chapel contains some of the best preserved schemes of early fourteenth-century stained glass in England, a few of the earliest ecclesiastical brasses in England and a magnificent painted ceiling, as well as the Wren screen. The vast Chapel organ was throughout our visit played by a music scholar thus adding to the atmosphere.

So finally to the Upper Library, a small and intimate room lined with dark bookshelves with its floor worn by many centuries of feet. Records show that this is the oldest academic library with an unbroken tradition in the western world. There are simply too many features to be mentioned here starting with the fact that this was the first library in England to be using bookshelves. Prior to these books were kept in oak chests (one of which is in the Library) each locked by three keys held by three different people. It puts the accessibility of manuscripts somewhat outside today’s ability to get a book from Amazon simply by doing a few clicks of the mouse. We also saw the ‘Bodley Chest’, a sixteenth Century metal chest by Sir Thomas Bodley. Made in Germany entirely of iron and provided by an intricate locking mechanism this chest was used for safe keeping of College records. The Library also houses several magnificent astrolabes and globes. We were unfortunately not allowed to handle any of the books ourselves or take photographs.

The final stop of the walk was the Hall, a room not usually included in the tours. However, having made a special request the College allowed us to spend a few minutes in this wonderful space that is entered through an impressive medieval door.

There is clearly much much more to see and to learn but hopefully all went away happy with the brief glimpse of the College history we were allowed to see.

Anna Fraser


Renewable Energy from Waste - Innovative Solutions

8 October 2013

On 8 October a group comprising 16 members and guests of Brookes Society assembled at the Oxford City Recycling Centre in Cowley where we were met by Maria Warner (Customer Relations Officer, OCC Recycling Team). We then boarded a mini bus and travelled to the Cassington Recycling facility, where a further five Society members joined us, and where we were greeted by Debra Barnacle (Contract manager, Agrivert). After touring the site we then travelled on to the Ardley Recycling facility.

It was explained to us how Oxfordshire, in partnership with Agrivert, is working at the cutting edge of managing waste disposal with a 60% level of recycling waste compared to a national average of 43%. Oxfordshire County Council has a target for waste management to divert 22,000 tonnes of waste each year from landfill in order to reduce the emission of methane – a potent greenhouse gas that is 23 times more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. In addition to this the processing facilities at Cassington and Ardley produce further benefits between them by generating ‘green’ electricity and producing non-artificial fertilizer for agricultural use from this diverted waste.

Once at Cassington we donned our visible vests and moved into the delivery facility where every few minutes a lorry dropped its load of food and garden waste to be pulped down into a liquid soup which is then decontaminated, homogenised and pasteurised before being pumped into digesters for composting. During the compositing process methane-rich biogas is produced which is cleaned and fed into a gas engine which in turn powers a generator creating renewable electricity. The full composting process takes about 120 days after which the composted waste can be used as a liquid fertilizer for agricultural use.

The facility at Cassington commenced operation in 2010 and processes over 50,000 tonnes of solid and liquid wastes a year, generating 2.1MW of electricity, enough to power over 4,000 homes.

We then travelled on to Ardley which again had a seemingly endless procession of lorries bringing in waste which was mixed with straw and then shovelled by dumper truck into a closed tunnel. Under controlled temperature conditions the material was allowed to compost for 7 to 10 days then fed through a screening machine to remove any non-bio-degradable material such as plastic bags. Composting then continues in the open for a further 8 to 10 weeks by which time the compost is ready for the fields.

The facility at Ardley is being extended and will be fully operational by 2014. It has been designed to annually burn up to 300,000 tonnes of residual household, commercial and industrial waste and will have the potential to generate approximately 26MW of electricity (enough to serve around 25,000 people). It will also be designed to enable the export of low grade heat to nearby end users.

One of the most impressive facts was that in each of these facilities there were only 3 people on site with most processes being controlled centrally by computer. Another was the relatively clean environment and lack of malodorous smells at each facility. However the star of the show was the operator at Ardley whose control of the dumper truck was done with the speed and dexterity of an F1 driver that it left everyone in awe and wanting to have a go.

Thanks must go to Maria Warner and Debra Barnacle for a most illuminating visit and to Sue Piggott for organising the event.

Geoff Bremble


Hidden London tour

11 September 2013

On 11 September a group comprising 22 members and guests of Brookes Society assembled at Monument Tube station in London where we were met by Shaughan Seymour, a London Blue Badge Guide and actor both on stage and television with credits in shows such as Lewis and Midsomer Murders.

After coffee we set off from the Monument to the Great Fire of London where Shaughan pointed out some of the secrets hidden in the carvings round its base. We then moved down Fish Street Hill which in mediaeval times was the busiest street in London leading, as it does to London Bridge. It was here that we entered our first church, St Magnus the Martyr, which has some of the best carvings in the City and a detailed model of London Bridge in mediaeval times.

Our walk took us to another six churches, each with its own distinctive connection to the history of London: St Clement East Cheap, the church of the Oranges and Lemons nursery rhyme; St Edmund King and Martyr which is full of hanging signs of the banks that dominated the area; St Mary Abchurch, the plain exterior of which gave no hint of the treasure trove of 17th century craftsmanship of its interior; St James Garlickhythe which houses tables from the Marchioness Pleasure Boat as a memorial to the disaster of 1989; St Michael Paternoster Royal with its 1960’s stained glass windows including the Whittington window showing Dick as he is usually portrayed in pantomime, and finally St Bride Fleet Street, the steeple of which has served as the model for the traditional wedding cake, the latest Royal example being for William and Kate’s wedding in 2012.

Other fascinating sites included the London Stone, possibly of Roman origin but known since at least 1100 and which is said to have originally marked the exact centre of the City, but which has been moved three times since, and is likely to be moved again soon; the memorial to the London fire fighters of the Blitz which Shaughan linked to why so many of the famous London pubs survived the bombing while the buildings around them were burnt down (I’ll leave you to work out why!); the spectacular clock outside the Daily Telegraph Building in Fleet Street, comprising both hour times and the signs of the zodiac; the statue (photo  to the right) of a Swan Marker of the Vintners Company which annually records the number of swans on the River Thames up as far as Abingdon.

Finally we saw the statue of Samuel Johnson’s cat, Hodge, which of course caught the eye of one of our members. On the tour, during which we were able to catch glimpses of St Paul’s, we were regaled with anecdotes relating to the many famous people and events from the history of the City. Our final port of call was the Old Bank of England Pub on Fleet Street for lunch where we revived ourselves for the journey home.

Thanks must go to Catherine Tranmer for organising what was an informative and entertaining event.


Continuity and Change - A walk in Headington Quarry

1 August 2013

I have lived in Oxford since 1975, much of the time in Headington, and thought I knew the Quarry area quite well - including its pubs, if not its churches. But on this walk, and accompanied by nine other members of the Society on one of the hottest days of the summer, what was once familiar became uncertain, complex and by the end of the walk richer and more understandable. I even got fascintated and moved by its churches - including some of their links to Brookes.

To better understand these comments you need to go on the walk itself - and be assured you don't need to got the gym beforehand. It's a short walk at a gentle pace and Ann Carter, as well as providing support for Barry's commentary, then takes you to their home for tea, sandwiches and cake.

Keep an eye open for a re-run and make sure you get on it.

- Alan Jenkins


Oxford and Lord Nuffield - a walking tour of the city

17 June 2013

On a pleasant afternoon there was a party of twenty that assembled outside 48 High Street, which were the premises where, in the late 1890’s William Morris, Lord Nuffield, had his first Bicycle shop. It was here that our guide Ian Mitchell met us to take us on a guided tour through the heart of Oxford illustrating some of the history of Oxford while finding out more about Lord Nuffield and his contributions to the city. From our starting point we moved into Long Wall street and paused outside all that is left of William Morris’s first Garage where it was explained that above and behind this frontage was accommodation for New College students and is where the iconic initials MG was first coined. Moving on we walked up Holywell street and paused on the steps of the Sheldonian Theatre where Ian explained that the renovations to the New Bodleian Library opposite would be completed by 2015 providing better support for research and teaching, improved exhibition space, more accessible reading areas for users and a café.

We then walked through to the University Church, across High street and past the Bear, reputed to be the oldest public house in Oxford. Crossing St Aldates we found ourselves in the beautiful gardens of Pembroke College, one of the colleges that was a recipient of much financial support from Lord Nuffield where we visited the Damon Wells Chapel, the interior of which is ornately decorated and illuminated from outside by magnificent stained glass windows. We then had the pleasure of pausing on the new bridge, opened earlier this year, which links the gardens to newer buildings of Pembroke college and from which can be obtained a splendid view of the original city walls.

From Pembroke we walked down New Inn Hall street before proceeding to St Giles and so on to the Radcliffe Infirmary buildings, now sensitively and splendidly renovated and housing the Humanities Divisional office of the University. We were able to view a portrait of Lord Nuffield who donated generous sums of money for the building and development of the Infirmary. Interestingly, the amounts that he and other more modest benefactors donated were splendidly displayed on walls within the building and grew great attention. This part of the walk certainly stirred maternal memories for some of our party.

From here we moved next door into the Observatory, now part of Green Templeton College and whose Principal since 2010 has been Professor Sir David Watson who many will remember for his leadership of the Brookes Modular course in the 1980’s and 90’s. We were greeted by the Head Gardener, Mike Pirie, and escorted through more delightful gardens before taking well-earned tea and biscuits while being given the opportunity to view the splendours of the Oxford skyline from the highest point of the Observatory.

During the tour we learned of the many donations to the University and the city made by Lord Nuffield which has been estimated at today’s values as around three billion pounds. Amongst those donations was money for the founding of Nuffield College, for the sponsorship of nine Chairs of Medicine which enabled the formation of the University’s Teaching Hospital and associated research facilities and for the Nuffield Foundation which to this day enables students and researchers world-wide to come to the University to pursue their studies. We also were reminded that Lord Nuffield was a former student of the Oxford School of Technology and that in 1955 he laid the foundation stone for the Gipsy Lane campus.

In all an informative and enjoyable tour which left all appreciating the contribution Lord Nuffield made, not only to Oxford, but also the World.


Annual VC Summer Party

24 July 2013

The sun was shining for this year’s annual Summer Party which was held on 24 July at Headington Hill Hall. Around 60 guests attended and enjoyed sitting outside in the sun, admiring the beautiful gardens and views across the park, while catching up with former colleagues over wine, sandwiches and cream tea.

June Girvin, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, welcomed guests and informed them of the upcoming 150 years’ anniversary celebrations. June also invited people to let the Alumni team know of any interesting memories or stories which could contribute towards the commemorative book: ‘150 stories that make Brookes great’ (working title). Geoff Bremble (Chair) then thanked members for their continued support and highlighted upcoming events. Clare Fox also gave a very interesting talk on the history of Headington Hill Hall and there was a display of archive materials on show.

See photos from the day on our flickr account.


Visit to Chavenage House an Elizabethan Manor House

8 July 2013

Eighteen members and guests of Brookes Society made their way to Chavenage House, an Elizabethan Manor House near Tetbury Glos. where we were met by David Lowesly-Williams, the current owner who was to be our guide. The tour of the house took in a short history of the two families who have lived there since the reign of Elizabeth I. The main historical interest was centred around the English Civil War, including a tapestried room where Oliver Cromwell slept. At this time the house was owned by a Col. Nathaniel Stephens MP who plays a prominent part in the ‘Legend of Chavenage’.

In this legend the headless ghost of Charles I arrives at the house in a coach to collect the body of Col. Stephens and on departure disappears into a fireball at the gates of the Manor House, supposedly the fate of all owners of Chavenage to this day. Interspersed with all this history there were many family tales told, including the poignant story of the gun found by George Lowesley-Williams in 1990, at the site in France where his maternal grand-father had been killed exactly fifty years earlier; we were also told that  WG Grace and other members of his family played cricket in the grounds.The society members were informed of the many film and television legends who have been filmed at Chavenage House in the making of such productions as ‘Lark rise to Candleford’ and ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’.

The whole tour took just under two hours after which we gathered in the main Hall for a sandwich lunch before making the journey home with many memories from a most informative and enjoyable visit.

Thanks to Les Zieleznik for taking the photographs which can be seen on our Flickr account  here.


Brookes Society Lecture 2013

13 March 2013

This year’s Annual Brookes Society Lecture was given by Professor Simon Bearder who retired from Anthropology in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences last year. The lecture, entitled Voices in the Night: The discovery of unknown species in Africa discussed Simon’s years of research on nocturnal primates and how these primates were identified by recognising their different calls.


Not so New Year Party

15 February 2013

The annual Not so New Year Party was held last month in the lovely setting of Headington Hill Hall. Over 50 Society members attended the party and annual raffle which also included the first Annual General Meeting.

The AGM was a brief one where new committee officers were declared and elected and the chairman delivered his annual report. It was also noted that the constitution that was previously circulated was in full effect.

The party was rounded up with the now annual raffle which included a star prize of £60 Blackwell vouchers, kindly donated by Tom Osman, the new manager at the Oxford Brookes Blackwell Bookshop, as well as a variety of other prizes donated by the University and Society members. The star prize lucky winner was former committee member Kathy Mitchell (pictured), who was delighted with her win and is looking forward to using her voucher. The raffle raised a total of £112 which will go towards the Society’s activities.


Visit to Boarstall Tower and Duck Decoy

15 October 2012

 height=It is fifty years since the Schools of Technology Art and Commerce moved to our Headington site but it is seven hundred years since Sir John de Haudlo, having obtained from Edward II a licence to crenellate the house he had obtained by marrying the heiress of the Fitznigels, built the substantial gatehouse we now call Boarstall Tower. He seems not to have built any more defences other than the moat. The house it guarded and its defences were an important outpost for Oxford during the Civil War and changed hands more than once by storm and siege. The house itself was pulled down in interesting circumstances the year of American independence and the site and Tower, after various vicissitudes, passed to the National Trust after the Second World War.

Rodney Tulloch is one of the small team of volunteers who show the place to visitors on Wednesdays and Bank Holidays in summer and we were able to arrange a special visit for a party of thirteen members of Brookes Society on 15 October, after the end of the season. Some of us met for pub lunches before our rendezvous at the Tower. The group that lunched at the Mole and Chicken ate well at what has become celebrated as a gastro-pub.

The weather was dry enough to start the tour outside the Tower. The party was shown round by Rodney - corrected from time to time by Chris Weavers (not yet retired from Finance at Brookes)! The group declared themselves interested and said they enjoyed the visit to what is, after all, a fascinating place, the only surviving mediaeval fortification in Buckinghamshire. Perhaps distrusting the accuracy of his account, many of them bought the comprehensive descriptive brochure.

The next part of the visit was to the Boarstall Duck Decoy, where we were shown round the ingenious trapping system by Jim Worgan, the tenant, who demonstrated with his dachshund Maggie (in only her second week of training) how ducks on the open water would be lured by their own curiosity and desire to keep a potential predator in view into a curving and narrowing channel with net covering until the human catcher suddenly showed himself behind them - driving them further into the narrowing trap until the gate could be closed and they could be caught at leisure for the pot. The system, invented by the Dutch, who called it Endekooi (duck trap) was introduced to England at the Restoration. Charles II had spent much of the Interregnum in the Netherlands and had one built in St James's Park when he came back. Something of a status symbol, it was copied by many landowners. In course of time, the duck population was so reduced that Endekoois (shortened in English to decoys) became uneconomic and almost all were abandoned. The Boarstall Decoy went on providing wild duck for the table until the end of the war and, though still in use, is now used for ringing birds for research into migration etc.

Our thanks are due to Rob and Pam Dixon, tenants of the Tower, Jim Worgan at the Decoy and the National Trust.


Annual VC Summer Party

25 July 2012

Another successful Summer Party was held on 25 July with over 50 members attending the annual event. Member took the opportunity  to catch up with each other over Pimms and cakes, while also enjoying the wonderful gardens of Headington Hill. Ian Steadman, Development Director welcomed guests and Geoff Bremble (Chair) thanked the guests for their continued support as well as informing them of some upcoming events.


Visit to Kelmscott Manor

27 June 2012

On 27 June 2012 seventeen members and guests of Brookes Society arrived at the Trout Inn at St John’s Wharf near Lechlade prior to a visiting Kelmscott Manor, the home of William Morris. We were met by Mike Breakell who had arranged for us to travel to the Manor on board the luxury launch Inglesham.

However the previous day had been one of frenzied activity in that in the morning Mike had reported that the river was running high and red alerts had been posted on the river which meant that the Inglesham would be unable to sail. E mails and phone calls were used to alert members that we would now only be able to visit Kelmscott by car, a task completed by mid- afternoon only for the red alerts to be lifted late afternoon so the messaging process was put into reverse and the boat trip was back on. However by now seven of the original twenty five had made alternative arrangements.

Duly fed and watered at the Trout it was time for the journey to the Manor. The Inglesham is restricted to twelve passengers so the party split into two, one group travelling to Kelmscott by car and then returning to Lechlade by boat with the other group doing the trip in reverse. Both the visit to the Manor and the boat trip took one and a half hours, timings which dovetailed nicely with each other. We were fortunate to have a sunny day and the leisurely time on the river, with Mike at the helm was a delight with multiple sightings of cattle, birds and other river traffic together with a photo opportunity standing next to Father Thames on the Wharf at Lechlade. The Inglesham itself is operated by the Cotswolds Canals Trust Volunteers who also provided a discourse on the history of the Cotswold canals and the plans to restore the historic link between the River Thames and the river Severn.

Kelmscott Manor was the home of William Morris (1834 - 1896) who came to Exeter College in 1852 and with Edward Burne-Jones formed an undergraduate circle known as the Brotherhood from which the two of them, together with Rossetti and like-minded artists, later gained fame for establishing the pre Raphaelite movement. The 16th century Manor house was his home from 1871 to 1896 and although he died in London his body was brought down by train and wagon to be buried in Kelmscott churchyard. We were free to explore as we wished and so the time spent at the Manor was both informative and relaxing with sufficient time to partake of Cream teas on the lawn before leaving.

Thanks must go to Mike for arranging the trip which could well be repeated next year.



Oxford Olympic History Walking Tour

17 May 2012

The latest Brookes Society event, an Olympic History walk through Oxford took place on a very pleasant sunny afternoon and was well attended with 18 members and guests taking part. We met our guide, Alastair Lack, at the entrance to University Parks and he started the tour with a history of the Parks and its association with sport, mainly cricket.

It soon became clear that cricket was Alastair’s real love but he was full of interesting information about all the other sports, including that there have so far been about 300 sports men and women that have studied in Oxford and that have taken part in the Olympics. Not all of those quoted by Alastair represented Britain - many came to Oxford as graduate students from all over the world and return home to represent their own country. The Rhodes scholars certainly featured heavily in that list. Alastair also pointed out that according to official statistics of all the British athletes that take part in Olympic competitions 59% have a University degree!

It is not possible to name all those Alastair referred to but perhaps Matthew Pinsent with his 3 gold medals, Edward Eagan, the only person to get a medal both in the summer (boxing) and the winter (bobsleigh) Olympics and Mara Yamauchi, a St.Anne’s graduate, who has already qualified for the 2012 London Olympics women’s Marathon event are worth mentioning.

Alastair did not leave out Brookes, and stressed the outstanding success of our rowers. Seven Brookes rowers competed in the 2008 Olympics, winning one gold and three silver medals between them – truly remarkable achievement.

The tour took us from the Parks through Wadham, Lincoln and Exeter Colleges with Alastair pointing out their Olympic associations. Cutting through Univ we took in Merton College’s Real Tennis Court before finishing at Oriel Square.