Rose Macaulay as a caterpillar in 1903

In 1903 several students in their final year at Somerville got together to entertain their colleagues in College  with a ‘Going-Down Play’.  Dressed as an animal that they considered most closely resembled their nature, they appeared on stage whilst a master of ceremonies read out a verse or two describing the manner and customs of the creature.  Happily for posterity, an enterprising and artistic student captured the proceedings in watercolour and pen sketches which were pasted into a scrap book along with the appropriate verses.  The writer Rose Macaulay protrayed herself as a caterpillar   and pictured here are the sketches and verses that capture her at that time. 

The caterpillar is a long and wriggly creature often found in the garden.  It has been conjectured that this animal feeds upon leaves and grass but the shyness of its habits in this matter have hitherto defeated the attempts of the most scientific enquirers to discover the kind and quantity of its food.  One fact alone is certain ; the caterpillar is not carnivorous. It has been known upon one occasion to consume a whole banana but this can only be taken as an exceptional case for the animal eat (sic) nothing during the 24 hours preceding and following this phenomenal meal.

Evelyn Irons – War correspondent and Tennis Captain

Evelyn IronsReading about the recent untimely death of foreign correspondent Marie Colvin in war-torn Syria I was reminded of Somervillian Evelyn Irons .  Both women were fearless in their  determination to report from war zones and both were very often reported to be the first journalists into a war zone and the last to leave. Irons was a student at Somerville between 1918 and 1921 and a keen tennis player, captaining the University team in 1920.  She went on to become a journalist particularly a war correspondent during the Second World War, working for papers in New York and London.  In 1945 she won the Croix de Guerre for her work in France. She was one of the first reporters to reach liberated Paris and also one of the first to reach Hitler’s Berchtesgaden retreat.   Despite her fearless reporting, she is perhaps better known for being the lover of Vita Sackville-West for a short time in the 1930s.  Irons survived her wartime experiences, and lived until two months before her 100th birthday.  She died in New York in 2000.

First Graduation in 1921


A recent addition to the Somerville photo archive is this photo of Katherine Guthrie Wood who was a student at Somerville between 1914 and 1918.  She was amongst the first women students to receive their degrees in 1921 when the university regulations were changed to admit women as full members of the university.  Miss Wood married Sir Richard Robert Ludlow in 1919 (also pictured) whom she met whilst at Oxford.  Many thanks go to Ms Angela Ridge who contacted me with  photos of her grandmother and who has kindly given permission to use this one

Music in the Snow

In this snap from c 1924, four Somerville students are captured in the snowy grounds of Somerville, playing musical instruments, singing carols and in one case, smoking a cigarette! The photo was given to the College in 1980 by one of the girls, Edith Standen (1923) though we cannot be sure which one she is. As ever, if anyone has any information that might help us identify the carollers, please do leave a comment or get in touchgirls-in-snow-compressed

Mrs T H Green

Charlotte Green was a member of Somerville Council from 1884-1929 and its Vice-President from 1908-1926. She was the sister of poet and literary critic John Addington Symonds, the aunt of future Somerville Principal Dame Janet Vaughan, wife of philosopher T H Green (one of the founding members of Somerville Council) and champion of higher education for women.   At one stage she was considered to succeed Miss Shaw Lefevre as the second Principal of the college. There are two portraits of her in the College, in the Treasury Corridor in House and in the Senior Common Room.

Gilbert Murray

Last weekend saw the opening of Somerville’s new accommodation buildings for undergraduates by the Chancellor of the University Lord Patten of Barnes.  One of the floors in the new building has been named the Gilbert Murray Floor so it seems apporpriate to devote this post to Professor Murray and his association with Somerville.

Professor Gilbert Murray was both a great classical scholar and an influential internationalist.  Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford from 1908 to 1936,  he was also a founding member of the League of Nations Union in the UK and later three-times President of the United Nations Association.  Murray was a modest and moderate man (he twice refused a knighthood, was a vegetarian and teetotaller) but he nevertheless made a huge impression on all he met.

Murray first came into contact with Somerville College whilst an undergraduate at St John’s (1884-88) when he was invited to tea with the first Principal of the College, Madeleine Shaw Lefevre.     

He resumed his acquaintance with Somerville when he returned to Oxford in 1905 after a brief spell as Professor of Greek at Glasgow University.  His interest in Somerville stemmed from his conviction of the importance of higher education for women and he worked steadily to support this cause.  He was elected to serve on the governing Council of the College in 1908, chairing the library Committee throughout this period, and remained an active member until his death in 1957.  Always a source of wise counsel, he was delighted when Dame Emily Penrose, the Principal of Somerville helped steer Oxford University towards the awarding of degrees for women in 1920.

In this photo from 1920. Murray is pictured with Emily Penrose, Principal of Somerville following the first degree ceremony at which women received degrees at Oxford.  The degrees were awarded to the five heads of the womens Colleges, presented by the presidents of their Councils – a task which fell to Gilbert Murray. 

His involvement with the College consisted not only in the role he played in its governance: he also persuaded his wealthy mother-in law the Countess of Carlisle to endow a research Fellowship at Somerville, a fund that still provides Somerville Fellows with research leave to this day.  He often gave lectures at Somerville and in 1912 he helped the students to put on a production of Aristophanes’ play  The Frogs – a play that he had translated.  It was revived at Somerville thirty-four years later after the Second World War in 1946 with Gilbert Murray in the front row of the audience.


Opening of Darbishire (East as was)

As the opening of the new ROQ buildings grows nearer, it seems appropriate to show the opening ceremony of a Somerville building from years gone by.  This is an informal snap taken at the 1935 opening of the East Quadrangle (now know as Darbishire).  The ceremony took place at the Gaudy for that year, when Dorothy L Sayers happened to be Chairman of the Somerville Association.  She can be glimpsed, third from the right,  turning round to talk to someone in the back row.  DLS immortalised this particular Gaudy in her novel Gaudy Night written the following year,  which was set in  fictional Shrewsbury College – a thinly disguised Somerville!

Somerville Boat Club

Somerville boat club celebrates its 90th anniversary this year!  Here is a photo from its early days in 1925 with a boat crew being coached by ‘Best, the waterman’ in a flat cap. Crew members are:

Stroke: Dominica Legge (1923), [unidentified], Jocelyn Matthews (1924), Enid Jeeves (1924), Marjorie Seaver (1924), Lucy Sutherland (1925), Agnes Newbigin (1925), [unidentified].  As ever, any names or corrections gratefully received!

The Chapel

Chapel interior-1936

The College chapel (architect Courteney Theobald) was built in 1935 following a donation from former student, Emily Kemp.  However, as Somerville was specifically founded without religious affiliation,  some contemporaries saw the building of a chapel as contrary to this founding principle. Construction went ahead in spite of objections but the chapel was never consecrated and its one stained glass window (designer Reginald Bell) portrays  female figures representing Learning and Truth in addition to the risen Christ.  The  photograph above was taken shortly after construction and reflects the stark simplicity of the chapel which is retained today (below).