Brookes Society Event Reports

Reports from the latest Brookes Society events

Christmas lunch, Thursday 5 December 2019

Ten of us met for a merry Christmas lunch at Brookes Restaurant. The food was delicious as always and the service was exemplary. The picture below shows the Christmas chocolate torte before it was devoured.

Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, 12 November 2019

The long awaited visit to the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies finally took place with 21 members who were absolutely delighted to listen to the introductory talk and go on the tour of the building, courtyards and gardens.

We were welcomed by David Graham, the Chief Projects Officer, who had helped to facilitate the meeting. He gave us an introduction to the centre in the Malaysian auditorium thus named because it had been funded by that country. The backdrop was a beautifully carved wooden screen that ran from ceiling to floor and which had been made in Malaysia and sent over to the UK where it was left for some time to settle before putting into place.

The background he gave before we began the tour was incredibly helpful and interesting and explained so much of what we had seen grow over the years. He told us that various parts of the Centre had been funded from different countries. This was one of the reasons for the length of time it took to build as the finances were made available at different times. It also accounts for the mish mash of styles within the Centre, for example the mosque was financed by Egypt and the stone comes from Yemen and see above for the Malaysian auditorium.

The building work began in 2003 on land that belonged to Magdalen College (and the President remains a Trustee of the Centre) and was finished in 2016. It was opened on 16th May 2017 by the Prince of Wales who is a patron of the Centre.

Mr Graham explained that the Centre has a formal relationship with Oxford University but is not part of it. Their full Academic Fellows are mostly members of various OU departments and have an affiliation with the Centre, working on three areas of research: Islamic Finance; History Projects; Muslims in UK and EU. Many of the Centre’s seminars are open to the public, particularly at 5.00 pm on Wednesdays and all information can be found on their website. There is an outreach programme and they take part in Oxford Open Doors and the Literary Festival.

We were then walked around the building and gardens. We saw a large, beautiful piece of elaborate embroidered silk damask which was used to cover part of the cube (Ka’bah) that is the centre point of the pilgrimage to Mecca. It is kept at a special temperature behind one of the largest pieces of glass to be found in Europe to ensure it retains its beauty.

We visited the mosque, which is open to the public for daily prayers, and marvelled at the dome which is self supporting and were told that the British architects were not too happy about this concept so insisted on steel girders put in to support it – all hidden by carvings and prayers written in Arabic.

We saw one of the main dining halls and then walked around the enclosed garden which had passed its prime because of the time of year but you still got a sense of its beauty, peace and the use of water to create calm. 

Mr Graham told us that the Centre is still in its infancy having moved from office accommodation in George Street to this much larger purpose built premises and that they are taking their time to fill it. For example there are 54 rooms for resident students or fellows but to fill these would involve employing more staff for cleaning, catering and supervision so this will be done gradually. They are beginning with running residential conferences, exhibitions, seminars, workshops and lectures.

And so our tour finished. What a beautiful building - we always thought it would be from what we could see from the road but seeing it on the inside made us more aware of what a wonderful addition it is to Oxford. The attention to detail is amazing: the carving both in wood and stone; the stained glass windows; the peaceful courtyards; the marble; the wood are all a delight to behold.

As one of our members has written to me to say "the visit brightened up a dull day".

London Riverside Walk, 8 October 2019

Report by Barry Carter

It was with a keen sense of anticipation that Anne and I travelled across London to meet up with eleven fellow Brookes retirees and with Shaughan Seymour, our esteemed and familiar Blue Badge Guide. Shaughan and Cathy Tranmer had chosen the Founders Arms on the south bank by Blackfriars Bridge as our meeting point.

It was a warm enough afternoon for us to sit on the open-air terrace with grand views across the Thames to St. Paul’s and to the City’s tallest buildings. We ordered refreshments and several of us, tipped off by Cathy’s pre-tour publicity, enjoyed fish and chips.

As we rallied ourselves for the walk Shaughan explained that we were in Bankside, notorious in Tudor England for brothels, drinking houses, bear and bull baiting and, eventually, theatres and the acting profession! Wharves and warehouses here played their part in London’s growth as a great port but by the late 20th century the area was run down and had neither notoriety nor glamour.

Happily, individual and private initiatives together with an imaginative regeneration programme has produced today’s vibrant and popular district. Tate Modern, in its former power station shell, dominates the shoreline and is complemented by the slender structure of the Millennium Bridge that makes the area so much more accessible. People were flowing in and out of the Globe Theatre, for the reconstruction of which, the American actor and director Sam Wanamaker devoted much of his life.

Soon Shaughan led us by lanes and narrow streets into Bankside’s historic quarter. Surprise followed surprise – the replica vessel of Drake’s Golden Hind which itself has navigated the globe, the remains of the Palace of successive Bishops of Winchester who derived useful revenues from the notorious district, the site of the original Globe Theatre. the Rose Theatre, also Tudor, brought back to life as an exhibition space in recent times and vestiges of the major brewery, Courage Ltd.

Brookes Society in Southwark Cathedral

We went into the church of St Saviour and St. Mary Overie, more widely known today as Southwark Cathedral. St. Thomas’s Hospital, since 1871 in its splendid buildings across from the Houses of Parliament, originated here in the original 12th century priory. Shaughan drew us to the grave of Shakespeare’s brother Edmund, to Christopher Webb’s memorial window with its vivid depictions of Shakespeare’s plays and to the reclining statue of the Bard with its traditional sprig of fresh rosemary placed in one hand.

Time to pass two historic taverns, the Clink Prison now a museum, and Borough Market famed for its vast range of food offerings but scene, too, of a recent terrorist atrocity. All too soon we were in the vicinity of London Bridge station and the tour’s end. How we had enjoyed Shaughan’s commentary and his apt and sonorous quotations from Shakespeare’s works.

So, warm thanks to Cathy for bringing so many of us together again with Shaughan and for his highly enjoyable Introduction to yet another fascinating corner of London.

Visit to the Bothy Vineyard, 10 September 2019

This interesting visit was attended by 9 members, who enjoyed hearing the history of the sustainably run business and tales of its development since.

Having not taken notes I cannot inform readers much detail about the grape varieties grown there although we noted there are several, mostly producing white or rose wines. Surprisingly, in addition to the award winning white and sparkling wine produced, there is also a very drinkable dry red comparable to a Rhône. The ground is very friable and does not retain moisture, so dry weather is bad news for the crop.

Having seen the vines growing in the fields we then repaired inside to see how the grapes are pressed, strained and bottled. We also had a tasting of 3 or 4 of the most popular bottles, including the delicious gold medal-winning DR Bacchus white and the Cote Bothy red.

Owners Richard & Sian Liwicki (pictured, right) were extremely hospitable and informative, and revealed the Bothy’s bee-keeping activities as well. The vineyard, in Frilford Heath, is closely associated with Wild Oxfordshire, for which organisation Sian serves as Chair.

Several members subsequently bought bottles from the ‘shop’. For more details of the Bothy’s wines and the grape varieties used, please look at their web site

Summer Party, 24 July 2019

It was a pleasure, as always, to welcome about 30 members to the Society’s annual summer party hosted by the Vice-Chancellor and held at Headington Hill Hall. Getting to the Hall presented difficulties in terms of temperature and traffic queues from the Wheatley end of the city but we were pleased to see those that did get there, and it seemed, from the usual buzz of conversation and the disappearance of all the food and drink, that everyone enjoyed themselves.

For the second year in a row the weather was very hot and we had the opportunity of looking at the gardens which seem to get prettier with every passing year.

Professor Fitt joined us for over an hour, giving us an update on various aspects of the University, as well as talking to many members. He told us what is going on with the building works on the HHH site; the unveiling of the Kenneth Weare building; the renovated Cosmos working piece of art; the Wheatley campus and rankings. According to the Times Higher Education Young Universities Brookes is No 1 for Research and no 2 for Teaching and is the only UK University in top 50 of world universities under 50 years old.

It was, as always, good to see him and to hear of his continuing support of the Society.

Guided Penicillin walk round Oxford with Doctor Jeffrey Aronson, 11 June 2019

report by Sandy Oldfield

On a drizzly day in June, a small group of us had a fascinating tour on the history of penicillin in Oxford, led by Dr Jeffrey Aronson, consultant physician and clinical pharmacologist at the University of Oxford. Jeffrey had tremendous enthusiasm and knowledge about this subject. We discovered many new things about Oxford scientists’ roles in the discovery of penicillin and its early practical applications. Seeing the places where these breakthroughs happened, coupled with Jeffrey’s personal knowledge of some of the scientists, certainly made his stories come alive. Having passed by these familiar locations on many occasions, few of us had previously noticed the interesting and informative plaques about these pioneers and their discoveries, nor known the stories behind them.

Most of us had previously believed that Alexander Fleming had discovered penicillin, but in fact he knew only about the mould’s antibiotic potential, and hadn’t been able to extract the active ingredient. Interestingly, Jeffrey also told us that, even earlier, the potential of the mould (from hyssop) for wound healing had been referred to in the book of Leviticus in the Bible.

Our tour started on South Parks Road, stopping outside the Inorganic Chemistry Lab, where there is a plaque in honour of Dorothy Hodgkin, the only British woman to have received the Nobel prize in any of the three sciences. She pioneered the use of protein crystallography to identify the structure of penicillin, which was essential for its practical applications.

We next stopped at the Dunn School of Pathology, where another plaque honours Howard Florey, Ernst Chain, Norman Heatley and others. There, they were able to extract penicillin from the chemical broth of its mould and learned the nature of its antibiotic action. They had early discoveries in testing on mice, and later with two patients at the Radcliffe Infirmary. In 1945, the Nobel Prize for Medicine for penicillin discovery was awarded jointly to Fleming, Florey and Chain. It was interesting to hear that a large number of scientists at the Dunn School, including Ernst Chain, were refugees from Nazi Germany. Jeffrey recommended a book called Hitler’s Gift: The true story of the scientists expelled by the Nazi regime, about Jewish refugee scientists’ major contributions to the successful outcome of WW2.


After a brief detour into Holywell Cemetery in St Cross Road, where many notable academics are buried, we arrived at the entrance to the Botanical Gardens. There is a rose garden there, given by an American foundation in honour of those discovering the clinical importance and application of penicillin.

We finished our tour at the Radcliffe Infirmary, where the first two patients were treated with intravenous penicillin in 1941. The second of these patients had started to recover, but not enough penicillin was available to overcome the infection, so more was made from penicillin expelled in his urine, involving a device modelled on a bedpan with a spout! Unfortunately, not enough penicillin could be extracted quickly enough, and the patient died. Nevertheless, these were the first patients to have received systematic treatment with penicillin, acknowledged on a plaque near the entrance.

Overall, it was a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging tour, leaving us inspired to learn more! Jeffrey recommended some interesting books on the subject, including The Mould in Dr Florey’s Coat by Eric Lax, and Penicillin: Triumph and Tragedy by Robert Bud.

University of Oxford Arboretum at Nuneham Courtenay, 14 May 2019

Eleven of us met on Tuesday 14 May, a perfect spring morning, for a guided tour of the Arboretum. We were greeted (loudly) on arrival by several male peacocks, keen at this time of year to display their tails to attract a mate. The Indian peacocks and peahens at the Arboretum are not domesticated, and have lived there since their ancestors were introduced from the Indian subcontinent in the 19th century.

Our guides, David and Kate, began the tour by explaining that in 1835 Archbishop Vernon Harcourt commissioned William Gilpin to create an eight acre Pinetum and Serpentine Ride near Nuneham House which was occupied by the Harcourt Family. Oxford University bought the site in 1947 and it has grown to around 130 acres.

David pointed out an oak tree, roughly 400/500 years old, that had been regenerated by veteranisation following the gales in 1987 and 1990. This is a process in which branches are lopped in a ragged way promoting natural looking regrowth and providing habitats for many insects. It is thought that such an oak tree hosts around 300 species of wildlife.
We walked through part of the original Pinetum to the Bluebell Wood. These were coming to an end but the display and scent of Azaleas was spectacular.


Among other things we saw was the new composting toilet block, a barn which has been built using traditional techniques with the majority of the timber coming from the Arboretum and an area where the Arboretum staff make charcoal over a 36 hour period, using the barn for shelter overnight.

We then saw a pig with her piglets. These were Oxford Sandy and Blacks, also known as the 'Plum Pudding' or 'Oxford Forest' pig and they have red-orange hair with black spots. It was time to move on once the sow had finished feeding her piglets and started to snore. The pigs’ enclosure is moved around the woodland which enables the pigs to root around, thus regenerating naturally the woodland floor.

Finally, we walked past a meadow which has not been cultivated for 400 years and boasts many species of wildflowers.

Following the tour a few of us enjoyed a light lunch at the Seven Stars in Marsh Baldon.

Visit to Christchurch Art Gallery, Monday 8 April 2019

Eight of us met our guide Linda for a fascinating tour of the collection which is housed in a purpose-built Gallery. General John Guise bequeathed his collection of over 200 paintings and almost 2000 drawings to his former college, where it arrived after his death in 1765, (against the wishes of his family). There is a portrait of the General by Joshua Reynolds in the Back Gallery.

The tour started in the ‘Red Gallery’ where many of the paintings came as a gift from W. H. T. Fox-Strangways and reflect his taste for 14th century Italian art, a preference which was unusual at that time. Many of these pictures had been removed from altar pieces or been cut from larger works. Linda explained some of the methods and imagery used in these paintings, including The Wounded Centaur by Filippino Lippi and Five Sibyls Seated in Niches by Botticelli and Lippi.

We moved on to the Back Gallery to see a statue of General Guise and the Butcher’s Shop by Annibale Carracci which had hung previously in the College’s kitchen. We also saw The Scullion by John Riley, a painting which at the time was unusual, as it is a portrait of a servant, and was hung in the Masters’ Dining Room.

Once the tour had finished, we were able to stay on to revisit some of the pictures which we had seen and also to explore the selection of drawings that were on display.

Report on AGM and Spring Party – 14th March 2019

Around 40 members attended the AGM and Spring Party held at Headington Hill Hall on Thursday, 14th March. The afternoon began with the AGM at which the committee reported on the various events that took place last year and thanked Sue Piggott and Laura Spira for their time on the committee as they have both stood down. There were various discussions in AOB about what members may, or may not, have access to within the university and these are being checked and will be circulated, if there are any.

Clare Fox, Chair, reported that a new “ordinary” member is needed to join the committee as with the standing down of Sue and Laura, there are only 2 currently. She also said that the 3 current officers, Chair, Secretary and Treasurer will also be standing down at the end of their period of office in 2021 so, as a matter of urgency, there is a need for others to volunteer to ensure the continuation of the Society.

It was with sadness that the passing away of Professor Derek Elsom earlier this month was reported. Amongst his roles at Oxford Brookes, Derek established himself as a leading international authority on urban air quality management and undertook research into severe weather. He was conferred with the title of Professor by Oxford Brookes in 1994.

Derek was appointed Dean of the School of Social Sciences and Law in 2003 as well as Dean of the Westminster Institute of Education in 2009. In 2010 he became Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences until his retirement in September 2012. Many of those at the event knew and had enjoyed working with Derek over his time at Brookes.

Brookes Society AGM 2019

The meeting was followed by the Spring Party and, as always at these events, there was a happy buzz of conversation as members chatted over the prosecco, sandwiches and cakes. During the party Professor Anne-Marie Kilday, Pro Vice Chancellor for Staff and Student Experience, spoke on behalf of the Vice-Chancellor and gave updates on campus developments, the latest round of University rankings, the staff and student experience, the effect of the uncertainty around Brexit, the Augar review and the University’s future priorities. It made for interesting listening and discussion afterwards, and members came away realising that it seems the same priorities and concerns are still uppermost within Brookes.

Clare Fox – March 2019

Visit to Ardley Energy Recovery Facility, September 10th 2018

Twelve of us met at Bicester Park and Ride for our visit to the Energy Recovery Facility at Ardley. Because of parking restrictions at the Centre, we car shared the last few miles as we had been asked not to bring more than 4 cars. Once there we regrouped in the Visitor Centre under a huge recycled Dinosaur called Meg.

Whilst we drank some very welcome tea and coffee in the teaching room , we listened to a briefing by the Centre’s Learning and Visitor Centre Manager, Jessica Baker-Pike on the various ways to recycle or reuse waste. This was followed by a tour of the facilities decked out in in high visibility coats, safety glasses, hard hats, safety gloves and headphones.

Ardley Recovery Facility

Our first stop was the Control Room where a bank of computers were being used to monitor every stage of the process inside the facility – from the delivery of the rubbish, the lifting of the rubbish with giant grabbers, to the production and filtering of gases, the production of ash and aggregate for the construction industry and the electricity generated which is fed into the National Grid.

Apart from the giant storage area at the beginning of the process where the rubbish was deposited, the rest of the process took place within metal pipes and cylinders so not much of the process was visible. However, we learnt a huge amount about waste disposal –either to be recycled, incinerated or for composting.

Particularly impressive is the generation of electricity which is now able to power 38,000 homes in Oxfordshire. A far cry from the old days when waste disposal was largely deposited in landfill.

Midsomer Murders Guided walk round Thame, Wednesday, 20 June

At 11.30 am on 20 June, 12 of us gathered at Thame Museum to meet Tony Long, our guide for the Midsomer Murders Walk around the town.  He is one of 6 volunteers that undertake these walks that can all be booked at the museum (along with other guided walks) with the small charge they make going to charity  All 6 are members of the Thame Players and his acting enthusiasm was evident with his entertaining repartee as he escorted us around the town. 


He began, in the museum, with an introduction to the town and Midsomer Murders.  There have been 118 episodes of the television series which began in 2001, and there will be 4 more this year.  They have been watched by over a billion people in 100 different countries.  An actor called Elizabeth Spriggs was in the first episode and she came from Thame and is buried in St Mary’s churchyard, along with Robin Gibb of Bee Gees fame who was a resident of the town.  His home, the Prebendal, has been used in a few episodes of the series. 

We were shown various locations used around the town, including the lane to the churchyard, the cricket pitch and different shops in Buttermarket and the market square which had their frontages changed.  The public loos have quite an imposing entrance which had also been used for different scenes!  We finished at the Town Hall which even has its own sign for the series! 

As well as the buildings used for the series Tony talked about the history of others, including the Bird Cage pub which had been in existence since the 1400s where at one time leopards were kept in the attics, and later on Napoleonic prisoners of war in the cellars.

An enjoyable and informative way to spend an hour and a half and we finished with a delicious? lunch in The Black Horse, a local pub recently taken over by the Raymond Blanc group (he of Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons fame).

A Jewish Tour of Oxford

On 23 May, 17 Brookes Society members met at Pizza Express for lunch and, after a brief introduction to the Jewish history of mainly medieval Oxford, went with our guide Pam Manix, on a 23/4 hour walk around the city.  We were almost overwhelmed with information, Pam certainly knows her stuff. As the Project Historian, of the Oxford Jewish Heritage Committee, she leads these walks regularly, and also conducts her own research into this area of history. She was able to give us chapter and verse about many buildings and their inhabitants particularly round the St Aldate’s area, and on our way we visited the Town Hall, and Pembroke College. We also walked along the notorious Dead Man’s Walk in Christ Church Meadow, which was the route taken by Jews to bury their dead in the Jewish Cemeteries, the first at Magdalen College, later replaced by the one where the Botanic Gardens is now situated.  The walk was very enjoyable, although a bit tiring for some of us old lags. For those who are interested and didn’t come to this event, you can go to, where you can find a self guided walk, and discover the guided tours available by Pam and her colleague.

I attach a picture taken at Carfax of Pam with her rapt audience!