Saturday, March 25, 2017

High Table at Magdalen College, Oxford University


Magdalen is my favorite college at Oxford University. The name is pronounced "Maudlin," and the grounds are open to visitors for a fee. It's especially beautiful now with all the daffodils.

My husband attended the neighboring Oriel College, but his great-great uncles were Magdalen alums whose names (the Cattleys) were carved into a wall memorializing graduates who lost their lives to war. The plaque is outside the chapel, which hosts a lovely candlelit evensong.

Magdalen College Chapel, Oxford University


Magdalen is known for its gargoyles.

Another personal connection is our old friend Stewart Wood from our Harvard years, who is now a Magdalen fellow and a politician. Stewart's service to the Labour Party earned him an honorary title and a seat in the House of Lords. The day after the horrific terrorist attack on Parliament, Steward traveled up from London to teach politics and to host us for high table. He spoke of the courage of the security team, who ran towards danger, and the camaraderie among friends, rivals, and strangers during the lockdown. We always enjoy comparing notes on American and British politics.


In front of Stewart's campus office building grows a mighty oak that hatched from an acorn in 1660!


Magdalen's extensive grounds include a deer park and a canal. It's hard to believe you are still in the city of Oxford. The campus was extra peaceful since the students are on spring break.


Had it been term time, students would have been dining at the lower tables. Only the senior common room and their guests dine by candlelight at high table, a step above the rest.

A different wine accompanied every delicious course, and I drank sparkling water from a tin cup forged in 1888!

By happy coincidence another guest, Matthew Skelton, wrote kid lit too. I felt like a character in a novel myself.



After a three-course dinner we walked through the cloisters... 


...to the senior common room for a second dessert of fruits and chocolates.


Our chairs were arranged in a semi-circle before the fire. By tradition, port and madeira are always passed to the left. In front of the fire was a contraption for ferrying the decanter to the other side of the hearth, manned by an Islamic Center fellow and by Stewart on the receiving end. Okay, this must be a steampunk novel!


Several famous children's authors hail from Oxford. Magdalen has a book of wagers including one by C.S. Lewis, who taught English and always won his bets, that time a bottle of port. You can tell who dined at Magdalen high table since guests are weighed on a jockey scale and their weights recorded.

At our last Magdalen high table, we walked across the cloister roof from the smoking room to the dining hall. The smoking room is currently closed for renovations, which were delayed after a medieval skeleton was found under the stairway. Archeologists believe the remains to be from the Jewish cemetery that predated the college. Oxford can be stranger than fiction.


On that chilling note, we bid goodnight to Magdalen College. I may revisit in a novel set there.

8 comments:

Cynthia Newberry Martin said...

Sarah, this is one of my favorite posts of yours--the photos and all the fascinating details. Loving these posts on the colleges. I can see why you feel like a character in a novel!

Sarah Laurence said...

Cynthia, thanks! I feel like I've come full circle, returning to Oxford for sabbatical, since many of my earliest blog posts were from my first sabbatical here. Living abroad is the best stimulation for me as a writer.

troutbirder said...

How fascinating but oh my it truly seems like another world. History, learning, tradition, famous writers and a beautiful spring day with daffodils...:) I love it.

Petra Pavlátková said...

Sarah, this must have been a special occasion to enjoy. Oxford colleges feel otherworldly, don't they? Having lived their own lives for centuries...

thecuecard said...

It looks like part of a novel -- or a great setting for one. Nice tour once again. I'd like to drink water out of cup from 1888, wow. I was horrified by the attack on the bridge ... and the loss of lives there. Oh it was so awful and senseless. My thoughts go out to Londoners and those in the UK.

Amanda Summer said...

What a magical place, with endless things to stimulate the imagination. Lucky you to be treated to such an evening!

Stacy said...

I am loving all of your Oxford photos! I was there in 2009, when my younger cousin was studying there, and I was so jealous of the students who get to attend university in such a wonderful spot.

Donna said...

I love everything about this post and your other recent posts about England. I'm a little obsessed with England. You're living my dream!