Saturday, December 15, 2012
Brazen Arboricide at Brasenose College
Oct. 25 (Wed).  Last Week they cut down the fine pleasant Garden in Brasennose College Quadrangle, wch was not only a great Ornament to it, & was agreeable in the Quadrangles of our old Monasteries, but was a delightful & pleasant Shade in Summer Time, & made the rooms, in hot seasons, much cooler than otherwise they would have been. This is done by the direction of the Principal, and some others, purely to turn it into a Grass Plot, & to erect some silly Statue there.The Principal of Brasenose at the time (1710-1745) was Robert Shippen.
Fifty years or so earlier, and perhaps continuing up to 1727, the garden in the quadrangle was a "knot-garden." See Robert Plot, The Natural History of Oxford-Shire, Being an Essay toward the Natural History of England (Oxford: Printed at the Theater, 1677), p. 261:
As to the Arts relating to Trees, the chiefest are those of the Planter and Gardener making curious Walks, and Topiary works of them; such is the Dial cut in Box in New College Garden, the Kings arms, and the College coat of arms there, and at Exeter College; beside the other Garden knots of Box in both those Colleges, and in Brasen-nose College Quadrangle...Here is an engraving of Brasenose College, from David Loggan, Oxonia Illustrata (Oxoniae: e Theatro Sheldoniano, 1675):
And here is a close-up view of the knot-garden in the quadrangle on the right from the same engraving:
As for the fate of the "silly statue," see E.W. Allfrey, "The Architectural History of the Buildings" = Monograph III of Brasenose College Quatercentenary Monographs (Oxford: Printed for the Oxford Historical Society at the Clarendon Press, 1909), p. 41:
The statue exists no longer. It stood in the middle of the 'grass platt', and first appeared in 1727; preparation for it, the base and so forth, having been made two years before. It was the gift of Dr. George Clarke, of Brasenose and All Souls, and appears in all the old prints and photographs of the quadrangle up to 1881, when it was removed, chiefly because it had fallen into disrepair and possibly as offering too great temptation to undergraduate efforts in gymnastics, statuary painting, or costumery.On other outbreaks of arboricide in eighteenth-century Oxford see: