e-Matters 16th December 2020

Amongst our membership lies great experience, wisdom, and insight, so rather than stay silent (not a modus to which the Development & Alumni Relations Office subscribes!) we thought we should bring you some thoughts and reflections from our own broad community. These pieces are also featured in our regular e-Matters newsletter. If you would like to sign up to receive e-Matters please contact development.office@chch.ox.ac.uk

Dear Members and Friends,

Herewith the last e-Matters newsletter of 2020 and, not surprisingly, our pages give way to articles and news where Covid features prominently. It’s a year all of us will look back on with a variety of emotions; as such we are preparing an edition of Christ Church Matters which will reflect on this particular year in the life of the House. You’ll see a request in this edition of e-Matters for contributions.

We have also reached the end of Michaelmas Term with all our junior members who can do so safely having returned to their families and homes. It has been like no other term but significant efforts by everyone at Christ Church have ensured that academic life has continued in earnest and, as best as possible, students have been able to enjoy being a member of this special college community. Thank you for the help from members who have generously supported our Covid Student Support Fund which, to date, has raised more than £55,000 of funds. Of course we now have to prepare for next term, so we will continue to seek whatever contribution you might be able to make.

From all of us here, enjoy the variety within this e-Matters and accept our best wishes for a joyous, peaceful and safe Christmas and New Year.

With best wishes from us all,
Mark Coote
Director of Development 


News from the House

Alexander and FriendsChrist Church Cathedral Chorister wins BBC Young Chorister of the Year

The Christ Church Cathedral Music Trust is pleased to announce that a former chorister, Alexander (right on the picture), has been named BBC Songs of Praise Young Chorister of the Year 2020. Congratulations to Alexander from all of us at the House! 

Christmas preparations are well underway at the Cathedral. A timelapse video of the Cathedral being prepared for the Christmas season can be viewed here. A recording of the Cathedral Choristers singing Advent carols can also be found here and a recent Advent service by the choristers of Frideswide Voices can be found here.. Alumni and friends are also welcome to join us for festive organ music on Wednesday 16th December. The livestream for this can be found by clicking here.

To find out more about the Christ Church Cathedral Music Trust, please contact Music Trust Development Officer, Micah Mackay (music.trust@chch.ox.ac.uk). 



Professor Edward Keene: Admissions in the Time of Covid-19

Portrait of Edward KeeneIn an ordinary year, the House is a bustling place during weeks nine and ten of Michaelmas Term. The Lodge sees a stream of applicants checking in and checking out. Cheerful student helpers in green Christ Church jerseys lead tours for small groups of candidates. Individuals pace around Tom Quad to pass the time before their next interview; on every staircase someone is waiting nervously outside the door to a tutor’s room, about to experience what could be a life-changing moment.
This year, of course, all of that has been replaced by the virtual hum of almost a thousand Microsoft Teams meetings. Interviews are being conducted remotely via the internet. So, while a visitor might find the College unnaturally still and silent, the Admissions Office and our tutors have been working to solve an entirely new set of challenges, on top of all the usual business of shortlisting, interviewing, and deciding on offers of places.

Most tutors are pretty familiar with working on Teams by now. Nevertheless, the sheer number of meetings, each of which must be kept private and confidential, has required ingenious new IT fixes. Several of us have had to learn how to use virtual whiteboards, or solving problems with a tablet and stylus, because these are now essential to the proper conduct of assessments in certain subjects. Timetabling has been more complicated than ever: the fact that candidates do not have to be physically present in the College frees us from the constraints of our accommodation capacity, but on the other hand we have had to create many extra contingencies to allow for rescheduling when dropped connections occur. Those cheerful student helpers are still leading tours of the college, but now they are doing them online. Most important of all, those life-changing moments are still happening.
In the face of all this, as a newly installed Tutor for Admissions at the beginning of the Term, I have to express the deepest gratitude for the sterling efforts of the team in the Admissions Office: Ana Hastoy, our brilliant Admissions and Access Manager; Gabe Bather, our unflappable Admissions Officer; and Matthew Adrian, our ever-helpful and versatile Access and Schools Liaison Officer. Supported by numerous others in the College’s Academic Office, they have worked incredibly hard, with tremendous dedication and teamwork, to make this admissions round possible.


Judith Curthoys: Christmas Traditions at Christ Church

Portrait of Judith CurthoysMost of the undergraduates have always gone home for Christmas but, just like now, with some stuck here because of Covid restrictions, there were always a few left behind to keep the Dean and Canons company.  And myriad events took place in the run up to Christmas.


Manciple's purchasing in 1577/78Cardinal Wolsey knew that food was important – all the pictures of him suggest that he was partial to a hearty meal and a drink or two – and so the kitchen and the Hall were the first two buildings to be finished, in time for Christmas dinner in 1526.  The Manciple shopped throughout the holiday; even on Christmas Day itself supplies came in to ensure that everyone resident was properly fed and watered.  According to the accounts for 1578, we know that the kitchen prepared brawn, and roasted woodcocks, snipe, and a new arrival, turkey.  Henry VIII is said to have been the first monarch to eat turkey on Christmas Day but, by the 1570s, it was becoming quite common.  It’s not impossible that there was swan – Christ Church had its own swans on the Thames – or venison supplied by one of the richer tenant farmers.  One thing is for certain, no-one would have gone hungry and, for once, no-one would have needed to eat fast to escape the cold of the Hall.  Christmas was one of the rare occasions when a fire would be lit and the men could sit after their meal and finish their drinks.  The canons had muscadel, claret, and sack (similar to sherry).  Everyone else drank malmsey (madeira).  Occasionally, too much alcohol must have been imbibed; Richard Geale foolishly proposed a toast to the King’s health in 1647.  Unsurprisingly, he was not much longer in residence.



Philip and Mary Tudor's decree on playsPlays were performed in Hall in the sixteenth century too.  We know this because Mary Tudor clamped down on them, permitting only two comedies and two tragedies.  The budget for the tragedies was twice that for the comedies!  But she wasn’t a complete killjoy; in 1554, the Dean dined in Hall on Christmas Day and was entertained by four pipers.  On New Year’s Day, Sir Thomas White, preparing for the foundation of St John’s College, and Alderman Atkins from the City, were guests to dinner.  The pipers returned and brought with them a trumpeter.  Perhaps they accompanied the main course through the Hall to High Table.  In later years, Christmas plays were staged in the Upper Library.  These were much lighter and would definitely not have gained Queen Mary’s approval.  The University authorities were not desperately keen on such frivolous productions such as My Dress Boots (by Thomas J. Williams), The Maid and the Magpie (by H.J. Byron), and A Thumping Legacy (by John Madison Morton) but the Dean and Mrs Liddell liked, and even encouraged them!

As well as plays, there was, of course, cathedral music.  Special events included a performance of Bach’s Christmas Music in 1873 with the choirs of Magdalen and New College, but our choir sang throughout the season with the now traditional Service of Nine Lessons and Carols apparently beginning rather late, when compared with other cathedrals, in 1939.  Interestingly, rather than taking place just before Christmas as it does now, the service was held on Boxing Day.

Christ Church Theatricals in 1865

One serious event that took place annually was the election of the Students and college officers.  Business barely stopped for the holidays, and this most important of proceedings took place as close to Christmas Eve as possible.  It was at Christmas when it was decided whether Students should progress up the ladder of seniority or be held back for misdemeanours or failed examinations.  They were often given six months to put things right on pain of expulsion in the summer.  On election day, the graduate Students had to give complimentary orations to the outgoing censor and failure to ‘bury the censor’ appropriately could result in a reprimand from the Canons.


Inner page of Christ Church Theatricals in 1865One advantage of there being fewer residents over the Christmas holidays was that repairs and maintenance could be done.  In 1892, the whole of Christ Church’s drainage system was redesigned and modernised, beginning as soon as the students had gone down at the end of Michaelmas term.  In 1720, however, work was created for the college staff when the choir boys, helping to take down the Christmas decorations, managed to set fire to the Hall roof.  It was not until 1881, in spite of reservations from much of Governing Body, that an annual ‘thank you’ Christmas party was established for staff.  In 1791, the under-Treasurer (or college accountant) was given a Christmas bonus of £10 (about £1200 today).  A Christmas custom that perhaps is ripe for revival?!

Housekeeping and Catering during COVID

Cleaning stairsChrist Church's Steward, Pauline Linières-Hartley, gives us an overview of the current housekeeping protocols at the House during Covid times:

"You may be forgiven for thinking this is a hospital or even a department of virology. But no: it’s the new housekeeping protocols in action at Christ Church. Our hard-working housekeeping team have been adapting to new cleaning regimes which are de rigueur during the pandemic. The staff have adjusted their home lives to work in shifts: early mornings, afternoons and evenings; seven days a week - all to ensure that our junior members and staff stay safe and well during these difficult times. The housekeeping team headed up by Camilla Mirto, Karen Fisk and Sophie Durham (the trio in the photograph below) have been terrific and deserve our grateful thanks! "

Picture of the cleaning team


Pauline also describes in her blog the challenges and pleasure of catering during Covid:

"This term started like no other: floor markers; chairs spaced out at two-metre intervals; separation screens; temperature checks; one-way systems; masks and visors – all this so as to comply with pandemic protocols and risk assessments. But there was even more: the increase from two to six dinner-sittings to accommodate socially-distanced meals; ‘grab and go’ breakfasts, brunches and lunches; and the delivery of meals to students (some 91 at peak demand) who were self-isolating."

Click here to continue reading Pauline's blog.




Oxford Researchers Make Breakthroughs in Parkinson's Disease

Portrait of Stephanie CraggPortrait of Richard Wade-MartinsA new collaborative study from the Oxford Parkinson’s Disease Centre led by Professor Stephanie Cragg, a Christ Church Tutor in Medicine, and Dr Bradley Roberts, has revealed that GABA transporters on astrocytes, the brain's lesser known yet critically important cells, support dopamine release and are sites of early dysfunction in Parkinsonism.

Click here to read full article about Professor Cragg's research.

Other research led by the Oxford Parkinson’s Disease Centre, which is headed by Christ Church’s Professor Richard Wade-Martins, and involving collaborators at the University of Bordeaux, the Universidad del País Vasco, and the University of California, has shown that tiny compounds known as molecular “tweezers” could become a promising therapy to slow Parkinson’s. This new kind of drug works by pulling apart toxic clumps of protein that form in the brain during Parkinson’s.

Click here to read full article about Professor Wade-Martins' research.

Portrait of Leah BroadDr Leah Broad: Quartet

Dr Leah Broad, a Junior Research Fellow at Christ Church, authors her first book Quartet.

Her debut, Quartet, is a radical feminist history of four "trailblazing" women composers, slated for publication in spring 2023.

The synopsis explains: "In their day, Ethel Smyth, Rebecca Clarke, Dorothy Howell and Doreen Carwithen were celebrities; now, they are ghostly presences in our music histories, on the margins of the classical canon. With a panoramic sweep – encompassing the suffragette movement and two world wars, from London to New York – Dr Broad's majestic group biography resurrects their extraordinary lives and music for a new generation."

Click here to read the full book announcement.

Leah has also recently published an article in the Guardian about Ethel Smyth, one of the country’s most famous composers:

"In 1934, all of musical England gathered to celebrate the 75th birthday of one the country’s most famous composers – Dame Ethel Smyth. During a festival spanning several months, audiences crowded into the Queen’s Hall, London, to hear her symphonic cantata The Prison, or settled in at home to listen to the BBC broadcasts of her work. At the festival’s final concert in the Royal Albert Hall, the composer sat beside Queen Mary to watch Sir Thomas Beecham conduct her Mass. By this point, Smyth was nearly completely deaf, and could barely hear a note of her own music. But she could understand the uproarious applause that surrounded her when the concert ended, acknowledging the lifetime she had given to music."

Click here to read the full article.


Portrait of Robin ThompsonDr Robin Thompson: COVID-19 Research

Dr Robin Thompson, a Junior Research Fellow at Christ Church, who has been keeping us up to date with his research throughout the year, will, sadly, be leaving Oxford at the end of the month to take up a permanent position at Warwick. We wish him well!

Robin has continued conducting infectious disease modelling research into the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as leading a team of expert who are reviewing COVID-19 modelling analyses for UK government advisory groups.  

A software tool that Robin and his collaborators developed for estimating changes in transmissibility from case notification data has been used worldwide to guide public health measures during the pandemic (for further details, see https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1755436519300350?via%3Dihub).

Robin has recently been modelling how an individual’s infectiousness changes through their course of infection. This is important for assessing the effectiveness of interventions such as test and trace.

For more information about how mathematical modellers develop infectious disease outbreak models, click here to see Robin’s public lecture from earlier this year.

Judith Curthoys: Cows and Curates
The perfect Christmas gift for family and friends

Old Members now enjoy a 20% discount at Christ Church online shop.

Cows and Curates: The Story of the Land and Livings of Christ Church, Oxford, the latest book by Judith Curthoys, College Archivist & Library Manager, together with the other three books in the 'Christ Church Saga' are now available in Christ Church Online Shop.

Please click this discount link to visit the online shop or enter discount code "OM20" at check out. 

Flyer of Cows and CuratesFlyer of Judith's books


Upper libraryFrom the Library: Update on New Bodleian Platform

The Library is happy to report that the new and much improved interface for Digital Bodleian has been running from Tuesday, 24 November 2020, replacing the old interface.

Digital Bodleian is the platform on which all digitised items from Christ Church Library can be viewed.  Many thanks are due to the Bodleian Digital Library Systems and Services team who worked so hard to make all this possible. You will see how much appreciated the collaboration with Christ Church Library is, judging by the layout of the home page.
For further details, please see https://www.chch.ox.ac.uk/library-and-archives/digital-bodleian-2-release


Emily's Wine Blog

A Christmas wine-list, according to Charles Dickens 

Portrait of Emily RobothamMany of our established Christmas traditions, including the central role of roast turkey at dinner, owe their significance to Charles Dickens’ 'A Christmas Carol'. But what was he drinking at Christmas? Dickens possessed a prodigious cellar: just before he died in June 1870, he took a stock take of his cellars and counted 30 gallons of Scotch whiskey and 43 gallons of brandy, as well as rum and sherry. Here, by piecing together mentions in his novels and letters, I imagine what was in Dickens’ glass in December. 

If you’re starting early in the day: Champagne’s the thing. You may end up with toothache from the chill, like Miss Tox in Dombey & Son, but Champagne accompanies breakfast in Little Dorrit, and gets the party started in Nicholas Nickleby. 

Next: sherry, lots of it. Sherry, appearing in 12 of Dickens’ novels, appears to be Dickens’ favourite tipple. In his final cellar, he still had a quarter of a cask of ‘very old’ sherry. Though he also mentions the ‘pale’ fino style, I would think for his Christmas dinner he’d favour a rich, nut-brown Oloroso. To modern tastes, I would begin with a slightly lighter, complex Amontillado, lightly chilled to go with roast turkey. 

Then: Claret, old Port, mulled wine, just stay off the Chablis. Any good dinner party in Dickens luxuriates in a variety of options, but Dickens is a red wine man overall. At the awful dinner party in Our Mutual Friend, the butler warns everyone off the Chablis: ‘You wouldn’t if you know what it’s made of.’ 

At Christmas, there’s no room for snobbery. In 'A Christmas Carol', the scraping of Marley’s chains is first heard in the wine cellars, while the only wine drunk is served hot and spiced, including the ‘smoking bishop’ (mulled Port) with which the reformed Scrooge toasts Bob Cratchit. 'A Christmas Carol' reminds us that wine isn’t meant to be serious, pedantic and miserly. 

And if you do indulge a bit too much, try this excuse from The Pickwick Papers, where the ladies find the gentlemen in an atrocious state: 
“'It wasn't the wine,' murmured Mr. Snodgrass, in a broken voice. 'It was the salmon.' (Somehow or other, it never is the wine, in these cases.)” 


Jim Godfrey: Trying Times

Portrait of Jim GodfreyWesley Memorial Methodist Church has published a fundraising book of humorous cartoons in perfect time for Christmas.
Jim Godfrey, Cathedral Verger at Christ Church, has drawn a cartoon every 7 days since late March for the church’s new newsletter, the Wesley Mem Weekly. The first 32 of these cartoons have been put together into a book, spanning the period from the beginning of lockdown to Hallowe’en. Inspired by faith, they are somewhat irreverent and highly amusing.
Front Cover of Trying TimesJim Godfrey spans two of Oxford's main church traditions - working in the cathedral at Christ Church, whilst leading the worship band at the Methodist Church. His cartoons chime with all.

Inheriting his ability to draw from his father, Jim was keen that profits should go to Action for Children, a charity with Methodist roots, which support vulnerable children and their families. Wesley Memorial’s new minister Rev Peter Powers was delighted:
“As a church we are deeply concerned about the impact that the pandemic has had on the most vulnerable in our society. Buying copies of Trying Times not only gives us a good laugh, which we sorely need, but more importantly will help youngsters who through no fault of their own are having a really tough time. Well done Jim!”

‘Trying Times, cartoons for a pandemic’ costs only £5 including p&p within the UK. Orders can be delivered to you at home, sent by the church to your friends and family or a mixture of both.

For a booking form see the church website www.wesleymem.org.uk or call 07979 767630.

Cartoon in Trying TimesCartoon in Trying Times


Christ Church Matters: A request

For the forthcoming Christ Church Matters 45, Michaelmas 2020, we intend producing a social history of the Christ Church community throughout the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. This will reflect the importance of what we are currently going through, both from the viewpoint of the institution itself, and through the eyes of you, the alumni. We aim to cover all aspects of life at the House: academic, administrative, financial, social, environmental, etc. It will include pieces from academics, staff, students and alumni. It will not just be about the House but about our alumni’s experiences across the Globe. It will be not just a magazine and a good read, but an archive of the Christ Church’s experience during the year.

If you would like to submit a piece to be considered for inclusion please email anna.port@chch.ox.ac.uk with your proposal. All submissions will be added to a digital archive recording people's experiences of 2020, and a selection will be published in CCM 45.


News from Alumni

Portrait of Chris Howitz MBEChris Howitz MBE (1992)

Congratulations, albeit belatedly, to the Reverend Christopher Jonathan Richard HOWITZ, Anglican Chaplain, Muscat, Oman. We have just learned of his MBE award in the recent Birthday Honours List for services to the British Community in Oman.

Chris read Engineering Science at the House between 1992 and 1996.



Professor A.E. Dick Howard Reflects on Virginia’s Constitution 50 Years After Leading Revision

Portrait of Dick HowardIn 2021, Virginians will mark the 50th anniversary of the Commonwealth’s present Constitution. Professor A. E. Dick Howard (1958) of the University of Virginia School of Law reflects on progress made 50 years after he helped draft the state constitution and looks ahead. 

In this Q&A article, Howard talked to UVA Law about how the 1971 constitution took shape and outlined constitutional questions Virginians face in the future.

Click here to read full article.



Andrew Chamblin Memorial Lecture 2020Portrait of Andrew Chamblin

The 2020 Andrew Chamblin Memorial Lecture, entitled "Infinite Phase Space and the Two-Headed Arrow of Time", will be given by Professor Alan Guth at 5 pm GMT on Friday 18th December online by Zoom with a Q&A afterwards.
Admission is free, but booking is required.
The Zoom details will be sent to all registered attendees the day before the Lecture.

Andrew Chamblin, an old member of Christ Church (1991), died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2006 at the very early age of 36. A brilliant theoretical physicist, Andrew was additionally distinguished as an organist and harpsichordist with a passion for Bach. Given Andrew's own accomplishments as an organist and great appreciation of organ music, friends and relatives of Andrew have joined together to commemorate his memory by forming the Andrew Chamblin Memorial Concert Fund. The intention is to fund an annual organ concert to be given in Christ Church Cathedral.

Click here to learn more about Andrew Chamblin Fund and make a gift.


Elm trees in the MeadowCall for Information on Elm Trees at Christ Church

Julianna Piat, a PhD student at Oxford, is curating a new exhibit on Dutch elm disease for the Harcourt Arboretum. Dutch elm disease wiped out most of the British elms in two epidemics in the 1920s and the 1960-70s.

Christ Church had an avenue of ancient elms that were unfortunately felled because of the disease. If any Old Members have any recollection of the events, stories about local elm trees and memories of the Dutch elm disease epidemic in Oxford, please do contact Julianna by email at julianna.piat@plants.ox.ac.uk. She is also interested in personal stories, photos and drawings of local sceneries from before and/or during the epidemics. 

Postcard with the image of elm trees in the MeadowJudith Curthoys, College Archivist, wrote about the elm trees in the Meadow and their replacement in her book Cardinal's College:

"Bad weather and bad luck were always threats to the Meadow. After seven inches of snow and 20 hours of rain on 4 February 1865, anxious measurements were taken of the heights of the Cherwell and the Thames. In 1947, trees were lost in the gales and floods of that spring, and all the elms for which the Meadow was famous had to be taken down as a consequence of Dutch elm disease in 1975. The English elms planted along the Broad Walk by Fell had been interspersed, when the originals reached the end of their natural life, by Huntingdon elms, but neither was immune to the pervasive disease. Mr. Burras, the director of the Botanic Gardens, recommended the use of a number of different species to ensure the Meadow would never be so depleted again. Oriental planes were top of the list, to be interplanted with London planes and Ailanthus altissima (the 'Tree of Heaven')."


Women 40th Online Celebrations

Women 40th pin badgeWe would love to hear from all our alumnae about their experiences at the House, and aim to create a collage of photos, images and snippets, and an archive of written reminiscences, for everyone to enjoy at the September 2021 weekend. We cannot promise to return anything sent in so please only send copies to the Development Office at the address below, or digital copies to development.office@chch.ox.ac.uk

We will be thanking those who contribute by sending out a special 40th Anniversary lapel badge in return.


40th Anniversary Silk Scarves

Mandy with Women 40th ScarfA reminder that our limited-edition 40th Anniversary silk scarf can be ordered through the new online shop. To visit the shop please click here. 









Poem for the Fortnight

By Peter Wellby (1964)

Squadrons wing high above sea-cliffs,
bandits at noon,
a flight of feathered missiles
plummet from a hundred feet
to a geyser of spume-spray;
concussing sea at sixty miles an hour
they dive fathoms coursing sardine and squid.
eyes gimletting through pale blue spectacles,
stare-mad as herons, a focus so intent
they burn a flame with magnifying glare,
until the sea boils at their gaze
flashes white lightning.
Domestic, in their reeking colony
pairs clacket art-deco bills
like amorous castanets;
dumpy, draggled chicks, stinking guano,
the racket of their squabbles and trysts,
ciphers for nests: lumps of seaweed and dung,
like elegant horsewomen, groomed and plumed,
returning home to slattern sluttery.
When I see gannets set astride the wind,
cruising assertively,
I soar with them in their cool mastery
of the invisible mysteries of air,
join in breath-taking plunges from the sun,
chase tigered mackerel through the boisterous sea,
shadow their zig-zags with my poignard bill
and fathoms deep asleep, hunt with them still.


All members of the House are welcome to submit poetry. If you would like your poetry considered for feedback from the judges of our poetry competition, then please send your poems to development.office@chch.ox.ac.ukA poem will be selected every fortnight from St Frideswide's Well and the poet will receive feedback via email. Poems will also be featured on our website.

Alumni Photography

We encourage all alumni and friends to submit photographs to us inspired by the poems featured on our Alumni Poetry Page. Poems and photographs will be collected together in the coming months and will eventually form an online exhibition celebrating alumni creative work. 

To submit your photograph please: