A plan to visit a member, who had recently moved to Oxfordshire, soon expanded from a coffee morning into a fascinating day out. 10 members from Sutton Coldfield set off in a minibus on a lovely Autumn day. Coffee and homemade cakes were very welcome on our arrival, where we soon fell in love with her new home in an attractive Cotswold town. However there was no time to dawdle as we were off in the minibus to the heart of Oxford, and meeting with other local BFWG members. Lunch was held in the vaults of the original University church, St Mary’s, the site of the first congregation of the University Court held in 1320, and a good meeting with student life of 2018.
A number of options were open to us. One we all visited was the Exhibition on “Women Who Dared.” which was a fascinating, comprehensive coverage from Sapho to more recent Suffrage movements, based on objects from the Bodleian Library. Archives.
There was so much to see of the struggles, the marches, the fights , so many brave women, from wealthy and poor backgrounds, who achieved. Fascinating newspaper accounts, photographs and concrete examples of women’s handicraft over the centuries:- Jane Austen’s earliest novel, written in her beautiful hand writing at the age of 11, Elizabeth I’s gift of a book to her step-mother, Katherine Parr, that she had translated from Latin, and then bound and finally covered with an embroidered cover, all at the age of 17! This, was an exhibition with a difference and much appreciated.
Next was a tour of the Old Bodleian Library. First opened to scholars in 1602, it incorporated an earlier fifteenth century library housing the 281 books given by Humfrey, Duke of Gloucester. A walk through the quadrangle, into the Divinity School, through the Proscholium and up the staircases to the buildings of 1610-12 founded by Sir Thomas Bodley, brought us in to a long, light room with its panelled bookcases reaching to the timber tie-beam roof above, painted with ‘grotesques’. These original buildings are still used by students and scholars from round the world. We saw how the lower shelves had originally contained chained folio books, which were read at the desks in front of them.
The impact of printing was brought home when we realised that the original total 281 books remained almost unchanged from the fifteenth century until 1610, when Bodley entered in to an agreement with the Stationers’ Company of London under which a copy of every book published in England would be deposited in the new library. Now there are more than 5000 new books each week, along with donations, necessitating almost continual expansion of library buildings and storage space. But what a wonderful collection of not only books, but priceless manuscripts, pictures, sculptures, coins and medals, and objects of scientific, exotic or historical interest! There is even a stuffed crocodile from Jamaica!
Time marched on! Bookshops were visited, Christmas shopping started, and all too soon time for a quick drink, before boarding the minibus for our journey home. A different, interesting coffee morning, and one to be repeated, we hope!