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Eat, drink and be merry

Fine dining from Edwardian Univ

The period around Christmas is traditionally a time for lavish eating and drinking, and for this month’s Treasure we look back to grand lunches and dinners held here at Univ over a century ago. Our archives include a remarkable guard book (ref. UC:DB6/A1/1) into which has been pasted a series of menus which date from 1906-1920, with a few earlier ones added in. We offer a selection of them here, along with an account of the book’s recent conservation.

The archives hold many loose menus, but most of them are individual ones or small groups, which can seem rather random. What makes this menu book special is that one can see a complete cross-section of just about all the special meals served during this period.

This book was almost certainly kept by or for the College chef. None of the menus in it are signed, so they were probably kept in the kitchen, as a record of dinners and lunches served. Several menus are annotated in the same (unknown) hand, usually to record who organised a particular lunch or dinner. The menus do not always appear in chronological order; perhaps someone only pasted them when there was a decent pile of them.

As will be seen, the menus vary greatly in presentation, from plain printed cards, to elaborate booklets with embossed covers. No doubt people had to pay more for elaborate, embossed menus, and it is interesting to reflect on the different financial circumstances of those hosting dinners.
Another important detail is that all the menus are given in French, as the culture that gave us, well, haute cuisine. We will only give rough translations of some of the menus; readers are encouraged to amuse themselves as a Christmas diversion by using Google to discover what was served at some of the other dinners.

Shakespeare Club

Head of the River

Trinity Hall

College Ball

Coming of age

The Dean


Old Members


The Martlets and C S Lewis

This glimpse into the pages of the menu book shows how much it has to tell us, be it about dining habits of the early twentieth century, or the social life of Univ at this time. Unfortunately, however, this book has been inaccessible for many years. At some time in its life, this menu book was stored in very damp conditions, and was badly damaged by mould. Some of the results will have been seen in some of the photographs above. The book was therefore too fragile for searchers to consult: not only were its covers either lost or badly warped, but many of the pages could not safely be turned.

Univ is a member of the Oxford Conservation Consortium (OCC), which oversees the safe storage and repair of our books and archives. This year, therefore, we presented the menu book to our colleagues there for repair work. The actual conservation work was carried out by Jasdip Singh Dillon of the OCC, who provides below an illustrated report of this complex project. We are very grateful to Jasdip for all his careful work on this book, so that it can be seen and consulted once more.

Repairing the Menu Book: a Conservation Report

Published: 5 January 2024

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