Surviving Freshers Week in 1660

First Written for

James Duport’s Guide to Surviving Freshers Week 1660

In 1660, James Duport, a fellow at Trinity College Cambridge compiled a list of 149 handwritten rules aimed at new students. In doing so he established a tradition of advice-giving that has endured over the centuries. Each new academic year, students are inundated by a plethora of do’s and don’ts; covering a wide range of issues such as studies, sex and alcohol. So how similar are Duport’s rules to those given out today and what do the 149 items tells us about students through the ages?

The most unsurprising rule urged students to “forbear wine and tobacco”. Students have always been associated with heavy drinking and the endless rounds of parties and drunkenness that haunt parent’s dreams. Even in the sixteen hundreds, it seems that there was concern about the role of alcohol in student’s lives.

Following on from this there was a desire for students to focus more on their studies. This was developed on with the rule: “never go into the town, except, to ye Church or Schools or Book-seller or Book-binders shop”. By today’s standards this seems extreme however Duport was writing immediately after the end of Cromwell’s Puritan time of rule when taverns were widely frowned upon as dens of sin in which a good man could come to harm, financial ruin or succumb to the influence of ‘loose women’. Bear in mind that the carrying of arms, daggers and such, was relatively common and minor arguments could easily escalate. In 1593 Cambridge alumni Christopher Marlowe had his life and stellar career (he was a spy, playwright, atheist and early contemporary of Shakespeare) cut short when a tavern brawl got out of hand.

It seems that Marlowe was one of the many who did not follow the rule to “beware of riot, excess & intemperance, which hath drown’d & devoured ye most pregnant parts & choicest of witts.” When away from home for the first time parents often worry that their children will be drawn into a life of excess and idleness in which riotous behaviour can bloom. One only has to look at the antics of the infamous Bullingdon Club in Oxford to understand the fear. Perhaps it was with behaviour such as this that encouraged Dupont to write the rule “take heed how you spend your time”.

Students were also given advice about what to wear and how to behave. “Wear no boots, nor powder your hair, let yr Garb be grave & sober, yet cheerful & pleasant.” After the Reformation the study of canon law declined in Universities and courses were increasingly preparing students for careers in the priesthood of the national church, in which outward presentation would have been considered important. This point is particularly interesting when you remember that in 1610 few people actually went to University, and those that did tended to be young, well off men often from high ranking families. Yet there have always been set ideas of how students should behave and dress. In turn this implies that there were also common ideas about how students should not dress and behave. This is something current students will be aware of when they go on pub crawls, fresher’s parties and end of term balls.

The complete set of 149 rules only came to light in 2013 when they were published in a Cambridge Bibliographical Society. This is the first time that the rules have been printed in their entirety after being prepared for publication by Dr Preston and Dr Oswald. The first known version of the rules have been held in the Wren Library, until recently when the missing page was located. In a post publication interview Dr Preston summed up that: “The rules are fascinating – they build up a picture of what was going on in the university at the time, and show how parents were anxious that their children be properly looked after”.

Although the rules are over three hundred years old tips such as rising early, making use of local book shops and avoiding the perils of binge drinking are still given out today by worried parents as their children are branching out on their own for the first time. These rules help to show that going away to University has always been a rite of passage, eliciting excitement and nerves in equal measure. It is interesting that the list focuses more on the social and practical side, rather than the academic, of being a student, expressing the fears of parents and guardians throughout the centuries. Who would have thought that the beliefs of a seventeenth century scholar could have so much resonance with twenty-first century parents who given the chance would often love for their children to “forbear wine and tobacco” and focus on their studies rather than socialising.

Top 10 Things To Do If You’re A Postgrad In Oxford

First written for blog 2016

Recently I have written a few pieces about being a postgraduate student for Here is my first offering: a top 10 of things to do in Oxford, UK. Hopefully there are a few things that you haven’t previously thought of and there are many ideas for tourists and residents in search of something new!

Top 10 Things To Do If You’re A Postgraduate Student In Oxford

So you have made it to the city of the dreaming spires and are about to embark on the most fulfilling academic projects to date – a postgrad program at the University of Oxford or Oxford Brookes University. But in amongst the hustle and bustle of student life in this glorious city you need to make sure you have time to relax and explore the historic streets of Oxford.

Here are our top 10 things to do in Oxford.

1. Punting

Hire a traditional punt for you and your friends, then lie back and enjoy the feeling of floating down the river without a care in the world. You could even treat yourself with a chauffeured punt and tuck into a picnic, keep going until the sun is about to set. This is the most relaxing day you can possibly have in Oxford.

2. The Divinity School

With your university pass you will have a rare opportunity to visit some of the most extraordinary places in the country. The Divinity School, a part of the Bodleian Library, the Sheldonian Theatre and All Souls College Chapel are some of the highlights. For fans of gothic architecture these are not to be missed.

3. The Covered Market

The Covered Market is, as the title suggests, an indoor market. Located just off Market Street, it has been open since 1774, although it’s image has changed somewhat over the years. This is where Nigella Lawson stocked up on basics when she was a student at Oxford, but now it is home to more boutique stalls offering vintage clothing, jewellery, artwork and flowers. However, there is still a smattering of food stalls and gentle surprises that make sure this becomes a regular haunt for all those staying in the city.

4. C S Lewis Nature Reserve

Oxford is one of those rare UK cities with ample green spaces. Nearly all of the colleges have their own gardens, but it’s outside of the centre that you’ll find one of the city’s secret treasures. The woodland that once belonged to writer and scholar C S Lewis is now open to the public. This urban wilderness is indescribably beautiful and includes a tranquil pond and many unusual plants and wildlife. It is said that CS Lewis wandered around this woodland while writing his beloved Narnia novels. Hopefully inspiration will find you too.

5. Blenheim Palace

Blenheim is still home to the 12th Duke of Marlborough and his family. The palace was originally intended to reward the first Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill, for his military triumphs against the French and Bavarians in the War of the Spanish Succession. Embedded deep in the Oxfordshire countryside, Blenheim Palace and grounds provide the perfect backdrop for any celebration or even a relaxing evening wandering through the park and gardens, stopping off at the variety of cafes on the way. The UNESCO world heritage site is also of note as the birthplace and final resting place of Sir Winston Churchill.

6. Christ Church College

Christ Church is the only college that is also a Cathedral. Home of the patron saint of Oxford Saint Frideswide, the main hall, which was used in the Harry Potter films, will take your breath away. Paintings and artworks that defined the Tudor era adorn the walls. This is a rare chance to get up close and personal to history. It is incredible to think that over the centuries students have dined in this place, under the watchful gaze of Thomas Cromwell and Elizabeth I.

7. Oxford Castle and Castle Mount

Oxford Castle is the one of the top tourist spots. The old gaol and castle have been converted into a museum that includes tales of darkness, daring do and ghosts! The mount outside is free to explore. If you climb to the top it gives you one of the best views of the city from all sides. Here you can look out over not just the centre and the dreaming spires, but also the south and west of the city that has developed and changed drastically over the centuries.

8. Christmas Markets and Vintage Fairs

Oxford attracts some of the country’s best fairs and markets. From the annual chocolate fair and Christmas market, held in Gloucester Green bus station, to multiple food markets throughout the year. At Oxford’s many markets you will be able to taste foods from all over the world, including Italian delicacies, crocodile burgers and boutique chocolates that melt in the mouth. Bon appetite. Follow this up by rummaging around one of the vintage fairs held regularly in the remarkable Town Hall.

9. Historic Drinking Dens

A Top 10 list wouldn’t be complete without a pub recommendation or two and Oxford has much to offer the casual drinker or pub-crawler, with its historic drinking dens offering a unique drinking experience. You can go to the Turf Tavern where Morse and Lewis pondered their mysteries before moving on to 13th century pub The Bear, one of the oldest pubs in the city, before finishing at The Eagle and Child a favourite haunt of C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien.

10. Make use of the great transport links

If you feel the need to get out of Oxford for the day it’s really quick and easy to jump on a bus or train to London or Reading. If it’s shopping you’re after, or even a trip to London’s West End they are all in easy reach with the added benefit that you will be able to make it back in time for morning tutorials.