Situated almost exactly at the centre of the College, the Beckington Room is deeply written into our historical memory and our recent life.
The Beckington Room
I first encountered the Beckington Room when I was interviewed for a Junior Research Fellowship in Hilary Term 1979. The experience of being faced by the whole Governing Body, including Vivian Green’s trousers, was terrifying. I seem to remember a contre-temps with the little table next to the chair in which I sat while surrounded by the Fellows at the horse-shoe table; it resulted in the spilling of water and the production of much embarrassment. Even the Rector, Lord Trend’s opening question (‘Do you plan to become an academic?’), designed to set me at ease, immediately put me at cross-purposes with him. Others have suffered in that room (Collections and worse); it is dark and cold in the summer, hot and stuffy in the winter. Governing Body has recently abandoned it for the airy delights of the Langford Room in the Berrow Foundation Building.
The room’s gloominess disguises one of the College’s greatest assets. It forms part of the original Rector’s Lodgings, built between 1465 and 1470 with £200 obtained from the executors of the will of Thomas Beckington (1390?–1465), Bishop of Bath and Wells. The two main rooms in the building are the Rector’s chamber or dining room on the ground floor (the ‘Beckington Room’) and the upper chamber, his bedroom. Both rooms were panelled (in pine), probably in around 1700. The Beckington Room’s chimneypiece is adorned with carved and gilt swags and festoons of leaves and flowers, which are described by Pevsner as ‘superb’. There is further gilt decoration around the ground-floor doors and covering the roof beams. These decorations were commissioned by Fitzherbert Adams (Rector 1685–1719). Walter Oakeshott (Rector 1954–72) designed and commissioned the horse-shoe table and the fine blue-leather chairs. The ‘LC’ cipher on the tables and chairs was the work of Oakeshott’s friend, the wood-engraver, Reynolds Stone. In the Fellows’ living memory, the rooms have always been painted.
The Beckington Room has been used for entertaining guests, luncheons, dinners, receptions, interviews, and, from at least the 1620s until 2015, College Meetings. The young Philip Sidney probably ate there when he visited Oxford in 1566 and stayed in the College. This was the room that Henry James described in 1869 as ‘the dark rich scholastic old dining room’, with ‘the languid old rector and his pretty little wife in a riding-habit, talking slang’. The ‘languid old rector’ was Mark Pattison who, with his wife, Emilia, also entertained George Eliot and G.H. Lewes there on their visits to Oxford. It was also the room visited by Benjamin Jowett, Walter Pater, and Cardinal Newman, who sought, unsuccessfully, to convert the dying Pattison, a former disciple, to Roman Catholicism. Situated almost exactly at the centre of the College, the Beckington Room is deeply written into our historical memory and our recent life.