Posts tagged ‘Oxfordshire’

Blenheim Palace

I’m still catching up on photo shoots from 2012 that I didn’t get round to posting at the time.

For those of you that have been following my blog you will know that we visited Oxford for a few days back in September. On the way home we took the opportunity to call in at Blenheim Palace, just a few miles north of Oxford in the quaint village of Woodstock.

Blenheim markets itself as “Britain’s Greatest Palace” and it is easy to see why. The palace was a gift from Queen Anne to the 1st Duke of Marlborough following his famous victory at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. It is a masterpiece of the English Baroque style of architecture with parkland landscaped by the world-renowned “Capability” Brown. Winston Churchill, cousin of the 9th Duke, was born at Blenheim in 1874 and it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

As you can see from the images above, the day we visited was a perfect Summer day and as I’ve said before good weather is often the deciding factor for a successful day-trip in the UK. However Blenheim Palace is a truly magnificent stately home and I suspect would be well worth a visit whatever the weather. 

Copyright: © The Photography of Mark Simms (2012). All rights reserved.

Oxford 9 – Random Images

For my last post on our visit to Oxford, I thought I would share with you a few random images from the trip that I like, but couldn’t really make fit into the more structured themes of the previous posts. So in no particular order here are what I consider to be the twelve best of the rest: 

Actually I really deliberated over a couple of these. I like the shot of the covered market, but I am concerned that it doesn’t really have a strong focus point – a fact emphasised by the need to use a pretty wide aperture (and high ISO) to get a hand-holdable shutter speed. The point of sharp focus is actually on the floor, where in retrospect I think I would have been better trying to focus on the young woman walking away from the camera. But the light on this shot is appealing and it was one of the places we really enjoyed strolling around – so I had to include at least one shot!

To a lesser extent the shot of the woman walking along the cloisters suffers from a similar issue – I would have been better focusing on her and not the wall! However, again I like the light in this image so it stayed in.

The other image I have a slight issue with is the one of the punts – the light was just so flat that I’ve had to work pretty hard in post processing to get any semblance of contrast. However like with the covered market I couldn’t not (please excuse the double negative) include at least one shot of them – Oxford (and Cambridge for that matter) are pretty famous for their punting. Also I do like the composition of this shot – filling the frame with punts – I could see that as a large arty canvas on the wall of some Oxford coffee shop.

Copyright: © The Photography of Mark Simms (2012). All rights reserved.

Oxford 8 – Magdalen College

Magdalen College (pronounced maudlin) was founded in 1458 by William Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester and Lord Chancellor of England. Of the three colleges we visited it was my favourite.

Occupying a lovely spot down by the River Cherwell (encompassing arguably the finest cloisters in Oxford, a water meadow and deer park) the area it covers is large and sprawling – but it still manages to feel homely and welcoming.

If I had been clever and/or fortunate enough to study at Oxford University then Magdalen is the college I would have chosen. Had this been the case then I would have followed in some impressive footsteps including Cardinal Wolsey; Oscar Wilde; C.S. Lewis; Sir John Betjeman and no fewer than 7 Nobel Prize winners in medicine, physics, chemistry and literature.

Copyright: © The Photography of Mark Simms (2012). All rights reserved.

Oxford 7 – Around The Bodleian Library

The buildings that surround the Bodleian Library – the 17th century Sheldonian Theatre designed by Sir Christopher Wren; the early 18th century Clarendon Building, one-time home to the Oxford University Press and the early 20th century Bridge of Sighs, inspired by its much more famous Venetian namesake – are all fascinating pieces of architecture in their own right. However it’s the main Bodleian Library building itself that is truly magnificent and is without question my favourite of all the places we visited in Oxford.

The Old School Quadrangle completed in 1619, is simply one of the most atmospheric and evocative buildings I have ever had the pleasure to experience. Standing in the middle of the quad it just felt natural to imagine what it must have been like some 400 years ago as a privileged young boy scurrying across the courtyard from one school to another. The subjects taught in each of the schools can still be seen today painted above each of the doorways around the quad – they represent the curriculum of the early 17th century – the seven Liberal Arts (Logic, Grammar, Rhetoric, Arithmetic, Astronomy, Geometry and Music); the Philosophies and Languages. Those particularly gifted (or fortunate) scholars went on to study one of the three higher academic callings – Law, Medicine and most importantly of all – Divinity.

The Divinity School, begun in 1424 and apparently taking 60 years to complete, is a masterpiece of late-Gothic architecture – with quite possibly the most stunning ceiling I think I have ever seen – an elaborate, yet perfect design incorporating vaults, pendants and no fewer than 455 bosses. I could have quite happily stayed there for hours just looking up at a little piece of stone-carved heaven, probably getting a stiff neck as a result….but believe me it would have been worth it. The two photos below don’t really do it justice! Incidentally, the School of Divinity has been used as a film location on a number of occasions – most famously perhaps as the Hogwarts’ Infirmary in the Harry Potter movies.

Above the Divinity School, is the famous Duke Humfrey’s Library built between 1444 and 1488 and originally designed to house manuscripts only. Unfortunately it quickly fell into disuse and neglect until it was restored by Thomas Bodley (hence the name Bodleian) in the late 16th century. Photography is not allowed inside the library itself, so you won’t find any shots of the interior in the group above.

The Bodleian, as one of six copyright libraries in the UK and Ireland, is obliged to house a copy of every book, pamphlet, magazine and newspaper published in Britain. As you can imagine that requires an awful lot of ever-expanding storage space. Consequently the Bodleian Library now encompasses nine sites throughout the city (some connected by a network of underground tunnels) as well as a host of facilities outside of Oxford itself.

If you ever find yourself in the tragic position of only having a couple of hours to spend in Oxford, and you’re trying to decide out of all the wonderful attractions which you should visit with your precious time and hard-earned cash – then to me it has to be the brilliant Bodleian Library…..:0).

Copyright: © The Photography of Mark Simms (2012). All rights reserved.

Oxford 6 – The Botanic Garden

As if Oxford doesn’t have enough going for it already, it is also home to the oldest Botanic Garden in England. Now run by the university it was established in 1621 and is still enclosed by its original high wall. It’s well worth a visit even if just to escape the hustle and bustle of Oxford’s city centre for a couple of hours.

I know I’ve been a little self-indulgent including three shots of lily pads in this set of images, but I couldn’t make up my mind which to drop so I decided to include them all.

Copyright: © The Photography of Mark Simms (2012). All rights reserved.

Oxford 5 – Views From St Mary’s

In my previous post on Oxford I mentioned that we climbed the 127 steps up to the narrow walk-way that runs around the outside of St Mary the Virgin’s church tower. The church itself, which mainly dates from the 15th century, was being extensively renovated both inside and out and as a result was closed to the public. Fortunately however the tower was still open, so we paid our £3 and ventured on up. It was money well spent in my opinion as the views were very impressive, as I hope you can tell from the photos below:

Oxford is known as the  “city of dreaming spires”, a term coined by poet Matthew Arnold in reference to the architecture of its university and college buildings. I think from some of the shots above, especially the one looking out across the roof tops of All Souls College, it’s pretty easy to see why.

Copyright: © The Photography of Mark Simms (2012). All rights reserved.

Oxford 4 – Radcliffe Square

Dominated by the mighty 18th Century Radcliffe Camera in the centre and then flanked on four sides by the Bodleian Library; All Souls College; Brasenose College and the church of St Mary the Virgin – Radcliffe Square in Oxford is quite simply stunning…..there is no other word for it!

The Radcliffe Camera (in Italian “camera” means room) is named after Dr John Radcliffe who was royal physician to William III. When the glory-hunting doctor died in 1714 he bequeathed a huge amount of money for the construction of a library in his honour. The result is the magnificent Italian inspired rotunda designed by architect James Gibbs that you can see below.

All Souls College, founded in 1438, is unique in that it has no undergraduates – it only takes in “fellows” (and outstanding ones at that) to conduct research in their chosen subject. As apparently only 2 or 3 fellowships are awarded each year (and to obtain one you either have to be elected or pass a particularly difficult exam) it’s likely that All Souls is one of the most academically elitist institutions in the world! According to our walking tour guide, it is also reputed to have the best wine cellar of any college in Oxford…..and I suspect that really is saying something!!

Brasenose College dating from 1509, has the dubious distinction (well in my political opinion anyway) of being able to name the current British Prime Minister, David Cameron, as one of its graduates. Fortunately the balance is addressed somewhat by the likes of John Buchan, Michael Palin and William Golding also having graduated from Brasenose.

Unfortunately I didn’t take any photographs of the church of St Mary the Virgin itself, because it’s undergoing a major renovation and is currently covered in scaffolding and plastic sheeting. However we did venture up the 127 steps to the top of the tower to take some shots and they will form the basis of my next post. Not surprisingly this will also include images of Radcliffe Square and its surrounding buildings, especially the Camera, Brasenose and All Souls…..but this time from above.

The same is true for the Bodleian Library – as it’s probably my favourite of all the places we visited in Oxford I thought it deserved a post all of its own. So you’ll have to wait a bit longer for those images as well I’m afraid…..;0).

Copyright: © The Photography of Mark Simms (2012). All rights reserved.

Oxford 3 – Christ Church College

Christ Church College, which stands on the site of the 8th century priory of St Frideswide, was first founded by Cardinal Wolsey in 1525, and then re-founded by Henry VIII. It is the largest and arguably the most prestigious of Oxford’s 38 colleges.

No fewer than 13 British Prime Ministers were educated at Christ Church, as were Albert Einstein; Christopher Wren and Lewis Carroll. It has both the largest quad and largest refectory hall of any in Oxford. It also has a college chapel that just happens to double as Oxford’s Cathedral!

If that wasn’t enough, Christ Church College also keeps its own local time – 5 minutes behind GMT. The “Great Tom” bell rings out every night at 9:05pm and all services in the cathedral start 5 minutes after the advertised time.

In order to get half-decent shutter speeds for hand-holding in the frankly dingy lighting conditions, for all of the above indoor shots I was forced (as I didn’t have my tri-pod with me) to use higher than ideal ISO settings, coupled with wide apertures. I hope that image quality hasn’t suffered too badly!

Finally, Harry Potter fans may be interested to note that the staircase leading up to the hall (covered by the magnificent early 17th century fan-vaulted ceiling) was used in the film “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” for the scene where Professor McGonagall welcomed Harry and his classmates to Hogwarts for the first time. The hall itself (which I haven’t included a photo of above, because to be honest none of them were very good) inspired the appearance of Hogwart’s Hall with its three long dark-wooden tables. Look out for more Harry Potter references in future posts of our trip to Oxford…..

Copyright: © The Photography of Mark Simms (2012). All rights reserved.

Oxford 2 – Exeter College

Exeter College founded in 1314 by Walter de Stapeldon, Bishop of Exeter, is the fourth oldest of Oxford’s 38 colleges. It was the first of three that we visited during our trip, the others being Christ Church and Magdalen which I’ll post on separately.

The layout of Exeter college is fairly typical of all the others founded in the pre-Victorian era. That is to say that the main buildings (gatehouse, Porter’s Lodge, chapel, hall and residential rooms for both staff and students) are arranged around a quadrangle or “quad”.

Of all these buildings (examples of which are common to virtually all Oxford colleges) my favourite has to be the beautiful present chapel. Designed by the renowned architect George Gilbert Scott in the 1850’s it is a wonderful example of the Gothic Revival style of architecture, with a particularly fine set of stained glass windows.

Exeter has the distinction of being the first Oxford College to elect a female Rector, Professor Marilyn Butler in 1992…..not bad when you consider that women undergraduates were only admitted to Oxford for the first time from 1979!!

Arguably, Exeter’s most famous former student was J.R.R. Tolkein, author of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord Of The Rings”, who gained a First in English in 1915.

Copyright: © The Photography of Mark Simms (2012). All rights reserved.

%d bloggers like this: