I had been eagerly anticipating this college tour: in June, we visited my own college – Magdalen, in all its splendour! Our guide was Prof. Laurence Brockliss, a history tutor at Magdalen, and the author of a very recent book, “The University of Oxford: A History” (2016). Prof. Brockliss took us to various places in the college that are not usually accessible to tourists, or even students: from the Muniment Tower to the Old Library, and beyond. The Muniment Tower, which is where we went first, is particularly interesting because it is the College’s original archive, housing around 12,000 medieval deeds that relate to the estates owned by Magdalen. The oldest deeds date back to the twelfth century, and they have been in the Muniment Tower since the second half of the fifteenth century, when William Waynflete founded the College and acquired lands for it. The most astonishing feature of the Muniment Room is that its interior has not changed over the ages: it is still fitted with fifteenth-century chests and cupboards! It was very exciting to see the college archivist reach into one of the cupboards, pull out one of the numerous wooden boxes full of medieval deeds, and finally show us one example of what these documents look like and how well they are preserved.
We then visited the New Library, which has just undergone major restoration, and now boasts a new modern extension. My favourite place in the “new” New Library is the top floor, where you get very close to the beautifully carved wooden ceiling, so I was glad that we climbed up there as well. But while the redeveloped New Library certainly is a very interesting building, it is even more impressive to visit the Old Library. The lovely smell of old books, the fossilized wig of one of Magdalen’s past presidents – a very quaint artefact! – and the knowledge that you are surrounded by insanely valuable old prints – all this makes for an unforgettable experience. But this was not the end of our tour: Prof. Brockliss then took us to the SCR, and showed us his favourite room in the college: a light and cosy room which, due to its location in between the two main quads, once allowed Magdalen’s presidents to observe everything that was going on in the college. Nowadays it is used as a small art gallery, and it is a gorgeous place to have your afternoon tea – as long as you happen to be a fellow at Magdalen, of course!
We finished our tour of the college by climbing Magdalen tower, erected in the early sixteenth century, and to this day one of the tallest buildings in the city.
Most Oxford students will have only seen it from the perspective of Magdalen bridge, perhaps listening to the college choir singing from the top of the tower on May Morning. But we had a chance to climb the increasingly steep steps, and even a ladder at the end, in order to be presented with a lovely panorama of Oxford once we reached the top. In my humble opinion, Magdalen is absolutely stunning, and I was very glad to see that even despite my constant (and possibly at times annoying) bragging about Magdalen’s beauty, everyone really enjoyed the tour!