06 Jul Reflections on Wroxton College over 25 years
How does one even begin to attempt to sum up a place like Wroxton? It is a difficult task, particularly when it has played such an important part in ones life – and done so for a substantial part of ones life. There is always so much one could write – so self discipline will have to be vital! Let’s break it down and look at things under three distinct headings, namely, the place, the programs and the people.
The Wroxton Abbey estate is historic; beautiful; quite simply unique. The College is housed in a remarkably beautiful, fully modernized, Seventeenth century country mansion set in a 56 acre estate of lawns, lakes and woodlands in the heart of England. In the past the College – then a private house – was home to the North family, including such prominent historical figures as Francis North, the first Baron Guilford and the Lord Chancellor to King Charles II, and Lord North, between 1770 and 1782 ‘Prime Minister’ to King George III, and the man more commonly known in England as ‘the man who lost the colonies’. The Abbey has also played host to royalty – King James I, King Charles I, King George IV and King William IV – and Statesmen – including President Theodore, Prime Minister Harold Wilson, Taoiseach Dr Garrett Fitzgerald and Deputy Prime-Ministers Michael Heseltine and Geoffrey Howe. Other distinguished visitors have included Horace Walpole, Celia Fiennes, Henry James and Dame Judi Dench. To Henry James Wroxton was part of the essence of England:
“Everything that in the material line can render life noble and charming has been gathered into it with a profusion which makes the whole place a monument of past opportunity”.
It still is. Indeed, I clearly remember how I felt when I first say the Abbey; it is a feeling I still feel each morning when I take the short walk down the drive from the residence to the Abbey. At Wroxton the past permeates the atmosphere and reaches out across the ages and generations through to those at the College today.
Another feature of ‘the place’ is the College environment as it is one that is conducive to study, free from the pressures one can so often associate with large university campuses. Another feature – a bonus – is the intimate nature of the College environment, one which facilitates a strong collegiate atmosphere.
On I arrived at the College the Abbey consisted of 40 bedrooms and eight bathrooms; it was always interesting when everyone was all seeking to get ready at the same time – for an evening out at the theatre for example! During the latter part of the 1980’s we restructured the arrangements and upgraded the facilities so that, sine that time, the Abbey has contained 45 bedrooms, each with their own bathroom facilities. It was an interesting experience, not least of all because of the fact that the Abbey is a Grade I listed building – the highest grade historical monument you can get – so that permission needed to be sought (and obtained) in order to be allowed to do anything. I am glad to have had the experience of having done all of this – but would be quite happy never to have to do such a major project again! On the other hand, having responsibility for a building the oldest part of which dates back to 1217 – and the surrounding estate – means that there is never a dull moment (nor ever a time when something has to be done!).
The programs have certainly expanded and developed over these years also. When I first arrived at Wroxton the College hosted four programs over 36 weeks. The rest of the time the Abbey was locked up, shutters drawn, empty. This soon changed and, as an example, this year – 2010 – we shall be hosting 21 programs and will have students in residence over 47 weeks of the year.
As far as programs are concerned, one of the significant features we harness is the geographical location of the College. The fact that the College is located almost midway between Oxford and Stratford upon Avon, only 81 miles from the very center of London and just 40 miles south of England’s second city, Birmingham, provides an unmatchable dimension to what we do. For example, the closeness of Stratford, birthplace of William Shakespeare and home to the Royal Shakespeare Company and its various theatres, is a tremendous asset to our literature, theatre and drama courses. In January this year alone we have already taken three different groups to the Houses of Parliament for meetings with prominent politicians.
Our location also facilitates our providing a tour and activities program for our students – with trips each weekend throughout England, to Scotland, to Wales and even a long weekend through northern France and to Paris.
Other features include the focus on the traditional tutorial method of teaching – a system in which the exchange of ideas is valued more than the mere transmission of information; an environment in which the burden of achievement is on the student. It is a rigorous and demanding academic program which is, as a result, both exciting and rewarding.
Without doubt the best thing to come out of my having been at Wroxton has been some of the people I have had the pleasure and privilege of meeting and of getting to know, not least of all included in this are some of my students.
Indeed, the shared experiences – particularly during a 15-week long semester – have I believe made Wroxton forever a place that our students hold in their hearts; but it is not just the students of which this is true; I know it is true for me. We do not forget these days – for they are the sweetest of days. Semesters and programs do of course come to an end and in this perhaps I can quote Billy Joel:
Before we end (and then begin) we’ll drink a toast to how its been – a few more times than I can say ‘I’ve loved these days’
And I for one have certainly loved these days. But one must not be dismayed at goodbyes. A farewell is necessary before one can meet again. And meeting again – after moments or lifetimes – is certain for those who are friends because friends are not only together when they are side-by-side; friendship knows neither time nor distance; friendship is the strongest of bonds. It is through the bonds of friendship that the heart and soul find their morning and are refreshed. These are the bonds that bind me to Wroxton.