There is a certain image of Oxford which lives in the mind of tourists. Dreaming spires, cobbled lanes and Brideshead Revisited filming locations all arguably contribute to the university’s other-worldly inaccessibility to prospective students, but it is also undoubtedly true that the architectural aesthetic of central Oxford is a key factor in the city’s appeal to tourists. However, a certain kind of tourist appreciates a chance to see the ‘real city’; a desire best served not by the academic paradise of central Oxford, but by the area surrounding my college, Worcester.
Worcester’s location – just past the Ashmolean, at the gateway to Jericho – makes it easier for a tourist to grasp what Oxford is like as a place to live. In contrast to Broad Street and the High Street, bookended as they are by museums and souvenir shops, Jericho feels much more like a place where someone could actually live, with its boxy Victorian terraces, leafy canal paths, and varied restaurant scene rivalling Cowley. For me, the suburb’s most iconic institutions – cult-favourite bars (Frevd and the Oxford Wine Cafe), trendy social enterprises (Common Ground), hipster cinemas (the Phoenix), street food markets (Gloucester Green, on the Jericho borderlands) – have always reminded me of the part of East London where I grew up. Despite rapid gentrification, both neighbourhoods have still preserved a strong local character. As one of only a handful of colleges in this part of the city, Worcester provides to a tourist not only the thrills of seeing an Oxford chapel, hall, and quad, but also the chance to experience the authenticity, as well as the cultural and culinary attractions, of a beloved Oxford residential area.
This is to say nothing of Worcester’s architectural and horticultural appeal, criminally underappreciated by tourists. The college is perhaps most noted for its lake; a stroll alongside which would provide a tourist with much-needed reprieve from imbibing culture. One should not, however, neglect the rest of the college gardens. While the @worcestercollegegardener Instagram account does a good job of sharing some of the highlights, the impressive range of trees and flowers – some unique to Worcester -, as well as its very own orchard, must be experienced in person. Worcester’s gardeners are always eager to chat with students and visitors alike, giving the listener a real insight into their passion for their craft, and the effort that goes into the gardens’ daily maintenance.
As well as location, architecture also helps to set Worcester apart from the central colleges. Although Worcester has a similarly medieval founding date to the central colleges, reflected architecturally by the cottages on one side of Main Quad, most of its current buildings were designed in the century following the college’s renaming in 1714. Therefore, Worcester stands out by its Georgian neoclassicism in place of the ‘typically Oxford’ Gothic styles. Once saturated with the battlements, vaulted ceilings and gargoyles of the city centre, a tourist may relish the opportunity to vary their architectural experience with Worcester’s elegant neoclassical plasterwork and peaceful blue-and-white colour scheme in its dining hall, and above all with its chapel: an intimate Art Nouveau space abuzz with whimsical decorations of cherubs and mythical animals.
Though it is perhaps a little off the beaten track, Worcester provides a different version of ‘the Oxford college experience’ to tourists. Its location and architecture, as well as its gardens, provide peaceful respite from the rest of the city.
Cover image via Creative Commons Licence (Google)