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William of Durham Day 2023

small group of people at a formal meal in deep animated conversationMembers of the William of Durham Club were invited, plus a guest, to their annual luncheon on Saturday 13 May. Activities includes a talk from Dr Robin Darwall-Smith (1982, Classics) and a musical performance.

Greg Birdseye (1965, Physics) has kindly provided a report:

It’s Trinity term, it’s a moderately fine day, and yes, it’s time for the annual luncheon of the William of Durham Club – a very welcome return. On the second Saturday in May, some two dozen old comrades gathered for an excellent lunch in Hall, topped and tailed by erudition and sparkling musical talent.

As we waited for Robin Darwall-Smith to begin his, as always, well-researched presentation on the first 70 years of the college Musical Society, my eye was caught by Univ’s spectacular 17th century glass sundial, high in the south window of the Alington Room. All it needs is a gnomon, and then our college fellows – lingering over their lunch – could easily use it to be reminded that their charges were eagerly(?) awaiting tutorial attention.

But I digress.

Robin’s well-illustrated presentation covered the early days of the Society and its many well attended concerts. And not just those within Univ but also exploring other venues including the Town Hall, the Sheldonian, and St John’s, Smith Square for a concert to celebrate the college’s 750th anniversary in 1999.

For my particular generation, it was good to be reminded of the “golden age” of the Mastership of Sir John Maud: he and the indefatigable Lady Jean were strong supporters of the Society in the 1960s. But what was new to me was the pivotal role played by the two of them after [plain] John Maud arrived at Univ as a Politics Fellow in 1929. Jean Maud in particular showed herself to be very persuasive in attracting top-flight performers, including a memorable recital given by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears.

Other gems from history that Robin’s research had been able to unearth included a note of October 1938 that the University authorities were displeased at the “unauthorised presence of undergraduettes” at rehearsals; and a Society concert programme showing as conductor, one Robin Darwall-Smith!

Following Robin’s talk, we were introduced to lunch by our very own Lady of the Garter, and Master of course. As well as reminding us of outstanding achievements of the current generation of students – and in particular the women’s eight last summer – she regaled us with tales of her grand appearance at the coronation only the week before. I have to confess though, not having watched the event on television, her story about being upstaged by Kermit the Frog was rather lost on me, that is if I heard it right?

And as after-lunch coffees and the last wine glasses were emptied, we were inspired by the outstanding soprano voice of Maryam Wocial which seemingly effortlessly raised the rafters of Hall. It was easy to appreciate why she had been awarded the Mendl-Schrama prize in 2022.

And finally, a reminder that life really does go in (decreasing?) circles, I cross the road to the no 3 bus stop at the corner of Queens Lane. Having come back to the dreaming spires (to Iffley) on retirement, I can gaze across the High, almost nostalgically, at the windows of my first year room in Durham Buildings. Tempus fugit and all that. Or as the late great Terry Wogan put it almost exactly 40 years to the day of our lunch: Sic transit Gloria Swanson (although that might be lost on younger readers?).

And so, to end on perhaps a more serious note, a reminder that the William of Durham event is not just an occasion for ageing alumni to reminiscence about times past and student high jinks in the quad. We collectively recognise the importance of legacies in continuing the work of our college (historic sundials and all).

Long may it continue.

We hope you enjoy the below gallery of photos from the day.

Photo Gallery

Published: 1 June 2023

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