Stories & Updates

Bevington Road at the Gaudy

We were delighted to welcome so many alumnae and friends to College on Saturday for the annual St Anne’s Gaudy, part of the wider Meeting Minds weekend run by the University. We are very grateful to all of our speakers, contributors and the St Anne’s Society for their support to make the day possible.

The day ended, as is traditional, with a Gaudy Dinner in Hall, beginning with a speech by the Principal in which she shared a selection of memories of Bevington Road, from the 1950s to the 2010s. Bevington Road was a major focus of the day as we progress with our urgently-needed renovation project, and visitors enjoyed viewing models showing how the houses will look following the renovation.

You can read the text of Helen’s speech — including some fascinating recollections of Bevington Road from our alumnae — below:

Gaudy Dinner Speech: Principal Helen King (PPE, 1983)

It’s wonderful to welcome so many of you here tonight. It is always a joy when St Anne’s alumnae meet together – regardless of subject, matriculation year, or subsequent life path, we share a common bond and understanding because our time here shaped our lives, just as it is doing now for the current generation of students, some of whom are here to share the evening with us. We also welcome partners, friends and family members – St Anne’s is not a closed community and we hope that you too feel at home here.

There are a number of people I must thank for all their hard work over the course of the year, which has made this Gaudy possible. I would like to thank The Ship’s editorial board, especially our wonderful long-standing editor, Judith Vidal-Hall. Additionally, thanks are due to the Development team; to the SAS Committee and its President, David Royal; to all our speakers – Birtan, Claire, Tim and Tinashe; and to our Kitchen, Hall and Lodge staff. Without you, this event would not have been possible.

Returning to our pasts can sometimes feel like a difficult decision – it’s an opportunity to revive happy memories, old and new friendships, but also can mean being faced with the passing of time and with change. The College’s history and founding purpose are something we are rightly very proud of, and part of our history, the values and actions of our predecessors, including all of you here this evening, is that St Anne’s is not afraid of doing things a bit differently and is not afraid of change. St Anne’s developed as a unique environment which could educate women in an affordable way. We chose to build a dining hall rather than a chapel, and to open a College nursery when no other College had done so. And we strive to honour that ethos as we continue to look outward and forward to the future, whilst also being true to the legacy of those who went before.

I’ve written in this year’s Ship about some of the changes I’ve noticed during my now six years as Principal, but for tonight, at a point in time when our northern boundary is by surrounded by fences and scaffolding in order to be sympathetically but thoroughly regenerated for future generations of students, I thought I should speak in celebration of the place the ten Bevington Road houses hold in the story of St Anne’s.

Built between 1867-9, their original residents included a printer, a college cook, a “spinster” and a travelling salesman. St Anne’s acquired the buildings over a number of years from the early ‘50s, and generations of our students have since called them home.

 Some of the memories we’ve captured from former residents over the decades include, from the 1950s:

“Arriving at St Anne’s after a brief stint as a waitress in a Lyons Café in London, ‘Ginny’, and I (a New Zealander) were taken to number 6 Bevington Road where we were to live for our first three terms, she in a large north facing room on the main floor and I in a smaller room which led directly on to a lawn and faced south, because Lady Ogilvie, the then Principal, had been told that New Zealanders went mad if deprived of sunlight. I loved my room even though the window didn’t close at the top by some two and a half inches and the gas fire had to be fed with half crowns. Ginny and the two other Americans in the house were so horrified at the cost of keeping oneself (barely) warm that they compensated by putting on the gas oven in the kitchen at its hottest and keeping the oven door open. We were in awful trouble when the bill came to the College at the end of term!” 

From another student: “I remember thought-provoking Philosophy tutorials with Iris Murdoch in her Bevington Road study.

I felt privileged to spend all three years in college. Although the accommodation lacked glamour and basic comforts, it was the nucleus of my friendship group in Oxford and I am still fortunate to be in contact with friends made there.’ 

From the 1960s: “As a second year as a History student at St Anne’s I was living in the first floor room looking along the garden of 1 Bevington Road. In November 1963 I was in my room working on an essay when news broke that President John F Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas, and was in a serious condition. Lydia , an American who had a Marshall Fellowship and was also living in 1 Bev., came to ask if she could sit with me and listen to my radio together. Over the next several hours we listened to the American Forces Network broadcasting from Germany…mostly playing solemn music, but also bringing news that the President was dead…that his body was being flown back to Washington DC…that Jackie Kennedy, in blood-stained clothing was present as Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as President during the flight…and Lydia was distraught. I have never forgotten where I was when Kennedy was assassinated – and I had to apologise for the absence of a completed essay at my tutorial next morning!”

Also from the 1960s: “I recall a very primitive kitchen. My housemate opposite, rather impressively, used to bake impeccable Victoria sponges in the cranky old stove’s oven. There were shared electric kettles on landings. Milk was delivered each day. We were meant to share this too, and it aroused much low-level animosity in the household as a sort of first come, first served system seemed to operate. Bread and crumpets were toasted on the electric fire. My room had a gas fire which terrified me. It hissed and spat, and I used to check it neurotically before I went to bed each night.

I liked the fact that Bevington Road houses had gardens. They were all different, and were unpretentious green spaces with lawns and shrubs. Miss Matthews and Miss Hubbard, the Classics dons who lived next door at No 6, were sometimes to be seen weeding the borders. In the summer, people lounged in the gardens (supposedly) reading or jotting down notes for essays.

The Bevington Road houses did seem to create bonds both to the road and amongst the people who lived there. I am still in touch with two of the people who lived in No 5 in my first year, and with one of the people who lived in No 7.”

From the 1970s: “I lived for all my 3 years in 7 Bevington Road in a room above the Dean with her bird-loving ginger cat and next door to the caretaker and his wife who brought a homely normality to college life. I looked out on to Hartland House and some beautiful gardens filled with Keats’ “globed peonies””.

Another student from the 1970s remembered: “My room was an attic room at the top of 9 Bev. It was pretty small and not particularly attractive, especially as it seemed to be infested with flies which would emerge from around the window frame when the room became warm. I became very handy with a rolled up newspaper. The communal kettle was on the ground floor (kettles were expensive in those days and I did not have one of my own) so I got very fit running up and down stairs to make tea or coffee.”

From the 1980s: “My mum apparently cried all the way home after dropping me at 3 Bev for my first ever term. My draughty room on the top floor, up a narrow creepy creaky staircase, had a crumbling dusty curtain on a bent, brass rod instead of a wardrobe and the mattress was so awful it folded over on me in the night. Looking down onto the beauty of the long gardens filled with cottage flowers with cobbled paths and lawns for reading/drinking was the only redeeming feature! But my best friend Isobel lived in 5 Bev and music scholar Julian lived on the ground floor in number 9 so we could hear exquisite practising day and night. We also had some great garden parties…”

“I did next to no work in my second year (due to university rowing commitments) so I spent many hours every day in my final year at my desk by the window in 5 Bev overlooking the gardens and across to the bike sheds. It was a small room but really warm and we had a great Scout and the kitchen was something of a social hub. We made a lot of pancakes.”

A 1990s student recalled: “When I showed up, my bedroom had an electricity meter that only accepted coins that were long out of circulation, two-pin sockets, and a single shower between 15. So my initial thought of college as modern felt rather misplaced. Since then many new buildings have come and, while we lost the gorgeous Bevington Road gardens, the changes have been for the better, and the new facilities for the students are worth it.”

From the 2000s: “My room was downstairs (the big drawing room one), and the equivalent room in the next house was where my now husband was living. The Kitchen was the centre of our 9/10 Bev adventures. I pretty much only met my husband thanks to the housing arrangement, for which I am eternally grateful. I also remember spilling an entire four-litre carton of milk in the corridor, and mopping the floor, walls and ceiling with the help of our scout, and painting some theatre sets outside in the garden then drying them in the corridor, to great inconvenience to everyone.” 

The Bevington Road houses have always fostered close communities, but the students living in Bevington Road in 2020 experienced the concept of the “household” in a new and unprecedented way. During the pandemic, when students returned to college in October 2020, that year’s freshers found themselves starting their Oxford lives at a time when it was illegal to mix with anyone outside your household. Each Bevington Road house became a household bubble, within which everyone was legally forced to isolate indoors for 2 weeks if any one person tested positive for Covid.

The pandemic did, of course, introduce intense pressure for these students on top of all the normal anxieties of settling into College life. I can’t pretend that year group stuck to the law at all times, but there was remarkable work done by the JCR, MCR, staff and tutors to make the very best of things, from adapting teaching, providing medical and welfare support, feeding everyone safely and providing entertainment. The response to our Emergency Covid fund from alumnae was humbling, and on top of all the necessities we allocated some money to a pot that households could have to spend on something they could do together. The requests for board games, craft activities, online subscriptions and classes brought joy at a time when it was greatly needed.

The Bevington Road houses have seen decades of student life, and this will be the first Michaelmas Term in many years where they will not be inhabited. Work on our houses began in July, and we are now actively managing the work and budget with a great team of architects and professional contractors. We hope you are following developments on our Bevington Road microsite and are reassured that we want to retain the heritage of these building while making them fit for the future and less damaging to the planet and our energy budgets. We also have some very special design features that we are looking forward to unveiling as the project progresses. And we hope you will be celebrating with us in 2 years as the buildings are reopened: still recognisable, but renewed and something to be proud of.

I also hope following this return to St Anne’s that you find it recognisable and renewed, that you have a wonderful weekend and that you will return again soon.