Monday, 14 June 2021

Caversham Heights Society

DURING October, members enjoyed two very different, but equally fascinating, talks.

DURING October, members enjoyed two very different, but equally fascinating, talks.

The first was on the “History of the Oxford colleges” by Alastair Lack, although in reality it was as much about their relationship and interaction with the university, the city of Oxford, the Crown and the Church as it was about the colleges per se.

Very much as Eton College became academic, teachers began letting out rooms to students, often in their early teens, in their own houses from as early as 1167.

The first colleges were founded in the 13th century — University (1249), Balliol (1263) and Merton (1264), thus making Oxford the oldest university in Britain and one of the oldest in the world.

Apparently the university church is the most visited church in England owing to the large number of tourists as well as students.

The reasons for the growth and importance of Oxford relate to its proximity to London, location on the River Thames (Isis in Oxford) and proximity to the royal hunting lodge at Blenheim.

The colleges were essentially set up by a king or a bishop for the training of civil/royal servants or clergy.

One result of this is that the university’s most noted area of learning has been the humanities/arts.

Even so, the university has produced 54 Nobel Prize winners in the sciences and it boasts one of the largest chemistry/biochemistry departments in the UK.

It has also produced 70 gold, 50 silver and 40 bronze medallists in various Olympic Games.

Balliol College has produced more than 40 MPs and four viceroys of India while Christ Church can boast 13 prime ministers!

The Bodleian Library is one of the greatest in the world and houses at least 13 million books, while the Ashmolean Museum (1683) is the oldest museum in the  country.

Each college is unique in the way it was established, its charter and architecture and its employment of staff, the courses it can offer and the right to award its own degrees.

In reality, many of these are now awarded by the university to which each college is affiliated.

This was a most interesting and illuminating talk.

It is worth pointing out that Reading University began as an offshoot of Oxford University’s extramural department and the two institutions still work closely together in running courses.

The second meeting was about the other extreme from the gleaming spires of Oxford, both socially and culturally.

Jeff Rozelaar enthralled us with his experiences as a poor Jewish boy growing up in the East End of London in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War.

He also revealed the Jewish sense of humour which has been honed in spite of, or maybe as a coping mechanism because of, the issues of anti-Semitism.

His talk was entitled “Bacon and bagels” to illustrate both the cockney and the Jewish influences on his life.

He pointed out that Jack the Ripper, Harold Pinter, Lionel Bart and Barbara Windsor all grew up in his part of the East End.

He described how everyone shared open public baths because private bathrooms were unavailable in most properties and how these were directly hit by a German V2 rocket.

He also told how the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police used to treat drunks by placing them in the other’s territory, how a number 78 London double-decker bus jumped across Tower Bridge as the two sides were being lifted up and how Dr Rhodes Boyson broke the power of Teddy Boy gangs that were disrupting life in one particular school and helped to raise the standards of this failing school.

All in all, it was a humorous and interesting talk on a subject that few, if any, of the audience had any knowledge about.

Society meetings are held on alternate Wednesday evenings at 7.30pm in Caversham Heights Methodist Church hall in Highmoor Road, Caversham.

New members are welcome and enquiries should be addressed to Jill Hodges on 0118 959 5307 or by email to

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