Corpus Christi College, Oxford
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Review of "Corpus Christi College, Oxford"
I have been a student at Corpus Christi College for just under four years now, studying Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry. I am now entering my final term and as such should really be studying instead of spending this much time on ciao; but I think I'd like to write about the place whilst my experiences of it are fresh in my mind and I think now the end is sight I'm getting a little nostalgic for it already. So I thought I'd put down my opinions of it now while the idea is still in my head. I hope it can be of benefit to those who may be thinking of applying to Oxford and are unsure of what the atmosphere would be or which college they should go for. Also I hope that some younger readers who may not have even thought of applying will think about doing so, you by no means have to be a genius to get in, some of the very thickest and stupidest people I've had the displeasure to meet, I met at Oxford and worryingly they did fine. I myself only applied at the last moment, the day before the deadline, cause a friend of mine had decided to apply. It's probably the luckiest thing that ever happened to me, as if I hadn't, I would have went to Queens, never thinking of what I had missed out on. I would have still had a great education I'm sure, I don't think that other universities are that much behind Oxford or Cambridge really, but the crazy mix of people I have met and the opportunities afforded to me have been so much more than I would have had in Belfast. I was the first in twenty years to get in from my school, though the fact that we were the first to apply in thirteen years takes the shine off that achievement somewhat.
I guess I should concentrate on the college as that is what this review is supposed to be about, so I'll stop writing what was rapidly turning into an oxford recruiting pamphlet and instead try to give a feel for what life is like in the college. It is the second smallest of the Oxford colleges with around 350 students (of whom roughly 220 are undergraduates). There are still large numbers of public school entrants to Corpus, though in my year, there was a large state school intake including myself It is tucked away in a side street off Oxford High Street, sandwiched between the much larger (and richer) Christ Church and Merton Colleges. It is a proper sandstone college, not a red-brick one, something which older people are still snobbish about (if you read Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy you'll get my meaning) but the differences between the two are purely aesthetic these days. Mostly… Being sandstone it is of enormous beauty, something which you sadly tend to overlook when you're there for a while. What are really extraordinary surroundings become normal but every so often I stop to take a look around and I find it hard to believe that I attend such a grand place.
The first steps you take into the college, you'll see wher over centuries the paving has been worn away by the coming and going of students, that ws pretty cool for starters. The main quad has a large central pillar covered in 22 sundials, making it a perpetual calendar, with a gold statuette at the pinnacle, which is of the college symbol, a pelican piercing it's own heart with it's beak. I believe this has a religious connotation, it escapes me now, though I'm sure it's to do with the bleeding of Christ. People from other colleges sometimes attempt to climb it, though no one has made it up in my time there, they are usually ripped down and then chucked out by the mahoosive female night porter. It's generally where you sit about and have chat as it's right outside the library. One of the benefits of being a small college is that you bump into people in the main quad much more easily, simply due to its size, open plan and how it is central to the library, dining hall, bar etc. The larger colleges are mazes of quads on a massive scale, and if you were walking down one side of Christ Church main quad for example you couldn't hear someone shouting from the other side it's so damn big. You'd have a job recognising them. This is really what makes Corpus such a friendly place, everyone knows everyone, making it a lot more homely than any other college I've been that; something I always hear said when anyone ever mentions Corpus.
A brief History of Corpus (an abridged version of the spiel you get on the college website)
Corpus was founded in 1517 by Richard Foxe, Bishop of Winchester who was a trusted adviser to King Henry VII. He originally intended the College for the training of monks, which would have lead to it's closing in the reformation, instead, he decided that the College should be a place of Renaissance learning for the education of young men in the humanities and the sciences.
The main quad, with its tower, dining hall, library and adjoining chapel were planned under Foxe's guidance. Queen Catherine (of Aragon) was a friend of the College's first President, John Claimond, and would visit him in his College lodgings while her husband, Henry VIII, hunted at nearby Woodstock..
The College played a central role in the religious disputes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. One of its earliest Fellows, Reginald Pole, was Archbishop of Canterbury under Queen Mary and narrowly missed becoming Pope. One of its early graduates was the renowned Protestant scholar Richard Hooker. The College's seventh President, John Rainolds, was a key organizer and translator of the 1611 Authorized Version of the Bible.
In the eighteenth century, the College expanded with the construction of a second quad and the neoclassical Fellows' Building which overlooks Christ Church Meadow.
In the nineteenth century, Corpus was one of the first colleges to recruit its students in open competition. These included Thomas Arnold, a famous educational reformer and headmaster of Rugby School; John Keble, the Christian poet and inspiration of the Anglo-Catholic revival in the England; C.P. Scott, the most famous newspaper editor of his day; William Hailey, a distinguished colonial administrator; and the Poet Laureate Robert Bridges. The art historian, John Ruskin, was a Fellow.
In the twentieth century, its graduates included the philosophers Isaiah Berlin and Thomas Nagel, the writer Vikram Seth and David Miliband, a Cabinet minister in the current Labour government.
For most of its history, the College has been famed for its strength in the humanities, especially Classics. Over the past fifty years or so, the natural and social sciences have grown to take a more important place in the make-up of the Fellowship and student body.
Accommodation (my own thoughts again)
The accommodation aspect is a great plus for Corpus. It is guaranteed for all four years that college will give you accommodation at a decent rate for all your time as an undergraduate. Most colleges do not do this for all years, some are very harsh about it and after one year you are on your own to rent outside, something that can be very expensive in oxford and difficult to arrange. The standards vary, from quad rooms with en suite, to a 1970's 2 star hotel style building just outside college for the first years. There is also a large complex up Iffley road with nice modern 3 and 4 person flats as well as some college rented housing in Walton St and further up Iffley Road (convenient to the gym and running track where Roger Bannister broke the 4 minute mile). It's all decided by a ballot as to when you get to choose, I always came fairly low but still ended up in reasonably good accommodation.
Not mind blowing but sufficient. There is Ethernet connections in all on site rooms and in the library for laptops. There's also a computer suite with around 10 computers for student use and some big printers and photocopiers. I don't know how this compares to other colleges but it seems to be enough for everyone to get by.
Like any Oxford college you get full usage of the University libraries, the Bodliean, the Rad Cam, Radcliffe Science Library etc. The college library is again very nice; picturesque you could say, with large wooden bookcases at which you perch on bench seats, beside windows either looking out on the main quad or over the college Garden. It's looking out these windows when I should be working that it usually hits me what a glorious place it is. There are also a few more modern reading rooms as well.
It is well equipped for the humanitarian subjects, more limited for the sciences, but you can always get the books from the lending libraries anyway or be lazy and make do with what you have, something I did too often. It's fairly good to work in, usually quiet and the librarian will shut anyone up who isn't pretty sharpish. There was also a bit of the first Harry Potter shot in it apparently, though I couldn't sit through it long enough to find out. This reminds me, there was some Brideshead Revisited shot at the college as well.
If you want to do any kind of sport it will be accommodated for at Oxford, if there isn't a college team. For the big sports there are teams and while they may not be world beaters due to the colleges size it has been known to punch above it's weight especially in rugby. I'm not the sportiest of souls I must admit, so I stuck to what I knew, playing pool, where I captained our team into the play off for promotion to the 1st division. Unfortunately we didn't make it and failed at the same hurdle this year but that's just as well, cause we're not really good enough for it. Whoever came along to replace us when we left would have been crushed, it's better to be the best in the 2nd division. Playing pool also allowed me to get into the Corpus Challenge, where we play all manner of sports against Corpus Christi Cambridge, with it being staged by either college in alternate years. I'm proud to say I never lost a match and helped clinch it for our college a few times as we are the last sport to play. We usually win, despite the fact they have a much bigger college.
There is also a very active music scene at the college and due to my drunken exploits upon arrival it was something I've gladly got involved in. I love a good sing song when I've had a few and I was encouraged by my mates to be lead singer for a band at college band nights. Having never previously sung in public this was a real buzz and I got a great response and have been singing ever since. If only I could find a way to remember lyrics I'd have a go at X Factor. There is also a thriving drama and comedy troupe as well in the college which have staged some pretty ambitious projects over the years. I had a small role in one, where I basically was drafted in for a fight scene. I had to be convincingly hit between the legs with a hug iron crook. It was the highlight of the play I think, unfortunately so did most of the audience as it was a play written in the 1500's, not the most exciting.
Well I guess the college does have it's own little union in the fact it has a JCR (Junior Common Room) committee, which has elections and whatnot. This never had any interest for me, as it gets ran like the house of commons due to the pedantry of a few, taking hours of discussion to make making meaningless decisions on our colleges undergraduates official stance on global warming or fox hunting. I went to one meeting, which did it for me. Student politics has no bearing whatsoever on the real world, so why waste time on it, especially when those who do usually go on into political careers where they go on to ignore the opinions of students telling them what they think. But I guess it's only right to let the kiddies get their leftist sentimentalities aired publicly, so they can be reminded of them when they go out into the real world and realise it's not that straight forward. Whoa, that was a bit of a rant, I think I touched a nerve…
There is also the college Bar or beer cellar. It is an underground bar, a little like the Cavern in a way, with booths contained under three arches. The colour scheme has been thankfully altered from a god-awful salmon and ivy green affair, to a more tasteful blue with red edging, which has improved it no end. There's a dartboard and table football and most importantly a pool table, the key to a relaxing night for me down there. It too got a facelift to a red cloth with blue balls instead of red, something I first thought sacrilegious but it seems to confuse visiting pool teams so I quite like it now. The drinks are cheaper than pub prices but have gone up from £1.50 a pint when I arrived to £1.90, something I often moan about. Though being a finalist now it's my duty to go down the bar and moan that it's not like the old days.There is also the Oxford Union which you can pay an extortionate amount of money to join if you're that way inclined. It's strictly for greasy pole climbers who want to get into politics.
I could write alot more than what I have, about the great little pubs nearby, about the nightlife and all that other guff but I guess the most important thing about Corpus is the people.I have found there to be a very good mix at Corpus, where none of the snobbery associated with Oxford really occurs. I come from a poor farming background and before I went I worried that his might be an issue for me, it now seems a silly idea to me. I know quite a few Eton fellows now and to be honest I would never had known had I not been told. I don't put this down to anything other than the ethos of the college and the way it has always been run. There is a genuine family atmosphere, where tradition is not overbearingly thrust upon you as in some other colleges, making formalities get in the way. It's all a lot more relaxed. I've been assured this is true by one of our porters with whom I have become firm friends. Having worked in other colleges, he told me the difference here was that when people came in, they said hello, and they'd stop and have a chat. Everyone has time for everyone else. In the others he'd worked at, they walked on by. That said it all for me. It's been a real life experience for me and I'll be sad to go.
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Listed on Ciao since: 28/03/2004