Sunday 6 June 2010

Saint Peter's College Alumni Dinner

Tonight I attended a lovely supper at the Royal Belfast Golf Club for the alumni of Saint Peter's College, Oxford, in Northern Ireland. The evening was hosted by Sir Kenneth Percy Bloomfield, former Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, and his wife, Lady Bloomfield. Sir Kenneth, whose County Down home was the victim of a savage I.R.A. terrorist bomb attack in 1988, attended Saint Peter's, where he read Modern History from 1949 to 1952. I read the same subject at the same college in Oxford, but from 2004 to 2007.

My "Plus One" for the evening was the lovely Aisleagh Morgan, an old school-friend, who attended Queen's University in Belfast and the Oxford Law Institute. The Golf Club, one of the oldest on the island of Ireland, was a beautiful setting and the food was fantastic. Conversation ranged from the inevitable eulogisation of Oxford to the swapping of stories of pranks at St. Peter's (for decency's sake I left out many of those I had either been involved in or cackled at like a demented harpy); the history of Northern Ireland in recent times, life in the diplomatic corps, life in America, service to the Ethiopian Imperial Family, memories of visits to the U.S.S.R., Aisleagh's impending nuptials and the trials and tribulations of being a lawyer were also discussed.

To those of you interested, our old alma mater stands on the site of two medieval hostels built in Oxford in the 13th century. During the Civil War, it served as the location of the Royal Mint, as established by the monarchist government-in-exile, which centred in Oxford after London was hijacked by Parliament. The hall, which is today the students' dining hall and the location of the Senior Common Room, was known as New Inn Hall, but it became known as Saint Peter's Hall in 1929, when it was established as Permanent Private Hall of the University of Oxford by His Grace the Bishop of Liverpool, Francis John Chavasse, an Anglican priest deeply committed to widening access to the hallowed halls of Oxford. The college, dedicated to the Prince of the Apostles, was granted full collegiate status in 1961, although most of its buildings date from the medieval or Georgian period. It is located in the very centre of Oxford and today it has an excellent reputation for extra-curricular drama and sports, in particular.

Famous ex-alumni include, apart from Sir Kenneth, His Royal Highness Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck, Heir-Presumptive to the Throne of Bhutan, who was in my year and history class at St. Peter's; Carl Albert, the 54th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Edward Akufo-Addo, who was President of Ghana from 1970 to 1972, the Reverend W.V. Audry, author of the famous Thomas the Tank Engine children's book stories, Sir Paul Condon - former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Reeves, who was both the Archbishop and Governor-General of New Zealand, painter Kurt Jackson, left-wing film director Ken Loach (Cathy Come Home, The Wind that shakes the Barley), actor Hugh Dancy (David Copperfield, Black Hawk Down, King Arthur, Elizabeth I, Basic Instinct 2, Savage Grace, The Confessions of a Shopaholic) and Oscar-winning screen-writer Simon Beaufoy, who wrote the scripts for The Full Monty, Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day and Slumdog Millionaire.


  1. What a great evening had by all!

    In Australia, there are no residential colleges in or near the university campuses, except for country people who leave for the big cities to be educated. From your photo, it looks as if Saint Peter's College Oxford was residential.

    Do you think undergrads who live in residential colleges have a stronger tie to other alumni than undergrads who live at home, or in private flats near the uni? Do undergrads who live in residential colleges have a stronger tie to their old uni, once they have graduated?

  2. Yes, all the Oxford colleges are residential and it's almost unheard of for someone not "live in," even if they're from Oxfordshire themselves.

    I would agree that undergrads are more likely to think affectionately of their alma mater if they lived there as well and, personally, I think it's a better system. We were discussing the need for more alumni fundraisers and generosity, as there is in the United States, but most Oxford graduates already think very affectionately and loyally about their old colleges.


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