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Pusey House, Oxford 1964

July 2, 2009

Keble College is now one of the biggest colleges of Oxford University and has recently built splendid new buildings to complement the original stately Victorian structure. But when I went up in 1964, there was a shortage of accommodation for undergraduates. Because of this, I found myself living in Pusey House in St Giles.

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Though at first I was sorry not to be in College, Pusey turned out to be a great place to live. It was built in 1884 to be a library where three Priest-Librarians would be a sort of Anglo-Catholic Chaplaincy to the University. When I arrived there, there were, as well as the three Librarians, twelve or thirteen undergraduates in residence. The House (known throughout Oxford as “The Puseum”) was built like a tiny Oxford College, with all the rooms looking either out into the world or into the cloister, and to this quadrangle was attached a magnificent chapel. Behind this main chapel was one of the loveliest Comper-designed Lady Chapels.

High Mass was offered every Sunday at eleven, and every term had seven or eight distinguished preachers on a single topic. It was always standing room only – unless you were a member of the serving team, in which case there was plenty of room at the altar. The Liturgy was that ingenious mixture of 1662 and the Roman Rite, where the celebrant said the beginning of the Roman Canon under the Mozart Sanctus, then said the 1662 words of consecration out loud, and then lapsed into silence for the rest of the Roman Canon, while the congregation sang (every single week!) the two verse hymn “Wherefore, O Father”. Enough to make academic liturgists shudder ( that’s easily done!) but a very effective Mass.

The Principal at that time was Canon Hugh Maycock, who was quite a character. He presided genially over meals in the dining room, which was big enough for us to ask friends as guests. He was not quite as eccentric as his predecessor, Dr Darwell Stone, who was noted for his silence and lack of conversational topics. When a nervous undergraduate told him  he had seen the Dolly Sisters during the vacation. Darwell Stone replied “That is a religious community of which I have never heard” – and that was the end of the conversation.

I once heard Canon Maycock solemnly tell a young visitor how he distinguished between breakfast and tea time. He said (no doubt with tongue firmly in his cheek): “When I wake up in my pajamas I know it’s time for breakfast, and when I wake up in my trousers, I know it’s tea time”. 

The great benefit of living at Pusey House was that I got to know a dozen people from other colleges and through them many more in these colleges, whereas if I had lived solely in Keble, I might have had a much more restricted group of friends. There was also the advantage of having one of the best Theological Libraries in Oxford under the same roof, and I made full use of it.

Pusey House continues its good work of learning and chaplaincy to the University to this day, and long may it continue.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Derrick permalink
    July 3, 2009 3:04 am

    Sounds like an ingenious way of going about things indeed. Love the Mozart and love the hymn! Oh, to have been at Pusey House 25 years before I was born!

  2. October 28, 2009 4:01 pm

    good to read, but I am trying to find out what it was like in the 20’s and 30’s up to the early 50’s when my mother was a domestic servant in service there.

    not having much luck with the archivist who doesnet appear to have any records of staff from those years, which seems a bit strange. I remember the mulberry trees in the quad which now belongs to St.cross college.

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