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06th April 2014

Exeter celebrates 700 years!

The Exeter College community came together on Friday 4th April, and over the weekend, to celebrate the College’s 700th anniversary of its foundation.

A splendid array of events was enjoyed by students, alumni, fellows, staff, children and friends.

Guests included the Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Lord Patten of Barnes, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Andrew Hamilton, Exeter’s Rector-elect, Professor Sir Rick Trainor, the Dean of Exeter Cathedral, the Very Revd Dr Jonathan Draper, author Philip Pullman, the former Prime Minister of Peru, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, and the former President of Ghana, John Kufuor.

Events were held across Oxford, including the Sheldonian, the Taylor Institution, the University Church of St Mary, the University’s Examination Schools, and in College. The events reflected on Exeter’s 700-year history, on life in College today, and on what may lie ahead for the College, its students and the wider community.

The official birthday, on Friday, marked 700 years since Walter de Stapeldon, Bishop of Exeter and later to be Treasurer of England, sealed a charter making over the tithes of the Cornish church of Gwinear to support his projected college. The celebrations were wonderful, with Fellows processing to the Sheldonian in the morning to meet over 650 alumni, students, and guests.

In celebrating Exeter’s septcentenary, the Rector said in an oration: “We have been a continuous going concern longer than almost any institution in the world – longer, indeed, than almost any country: longer than Australia, or Italy, or the United States of America.”

Dr John Maddicott, Emeritus Fellow in History, reminded the congregation that the College had originally been founded by Bishop Walter de Stapeldon to teach bright, poor clergy from Devon. Stapeldon’s statutes were intended to encourage students to live humbly and to return to the west country to enlighten and educate their parishioners.

You can read the Rector’s oration in full here; Dr Maddicott’s history of the foundation of the College here; and the Rector-elect’s reflection here.

On Friday afternoon guests had the opportunity to hear one of three lectures about the future:

  • the future social and economic climate, Rector Frances Cairncross
  • the future of sharing ideas, Nigel Portwood, Professorial Fellow and Chief Executive of Oxford University Press (click here to see the slides)
  • the future of medical science, Professor Dame Carol Robinson, Professorial Fellow and Dr Lee’s Professor in Chemistry

The birthday tea was the highlight of the whole occasion with an enormous cake built in the shape of the College. It was cut by the Rector and Rector-elect before being enjoyed by all.

On Saturday and Sunday there followed a wonderful combination of reminiscing, learning, and celebrating as we heard from alumni and Fellows on a range of topics including Nietzsche, Cartography, Tolkien, Academic Admissions in the 21st Century, and Warrior Women! The presentations from a selection of these seminars are available here (please note these presentations are for personal use only):

We would be delighted to receive any comments about the weekend and hope to share them on the website and the College’s news channels in the coming weeks. Please email them – with photos if you have them – to

A formal procession into the Sheldonian Theatre, led by the Chancellor

Exeter College Chapel Choir, augmented by Old Members, sings I Was Glad to music scored by Exonian Sir Hubert Parry

Fellows, students and alumni fill Hall for a celebratory lunch

The cake took over 50 man- and woman-hours to complete

founders day april 2014 celebrations

…and spill into a giant marquee in the Front Quad

…but rather less time for the Rector to cut up and guests to devour!

The Taylor Institution is full for Prof Dame Carol Robinson’s talk

…as is Examination Schools for Nigel Portwood

The Exeter College Chapel Choir and Oxford Philomusica perform in the University Church

Alumni inspect some well protected College treasures in the Chapel

There are Exeter-related treasures on display in the Bodleian as well

Guests appreciate Charles and Wendy Outhwaite’s Ambriel sparkling English wine

Staff take on guests at tug of war. They lose, 2-1!

Professor Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly discusses Warrior Women

Children and adults cling to every word from author Philip Pullman

Dr Maddicott leads a tour of medieval Exeter College

Guests savour a College wine-tasting led by the wine steward Dr Wilson

Professor Frank Close’s talk on the Higgs boson was so popular it was standing room only

John Leighfield maps out Oxford’s history

The Bursar explains the College’s long term investment goals

A treasure hunt keeps everyone on their toes

Ravi Thakhar shares his top tips for making it as an entrepreneur

Emily Rhodes leads a walking tour of Oxford literature

Listening to Stanley Johnson, it’s clear where Boris got his sense of humour from

The celebrations drew to an end with the awarding of the Cairncross Cup for outstanding alumni participation, won by the 1953 year group, with 68% of alumni from that year giving to Exeter College in 2013-14

…and fittingly concluded with students, alumni, fellows and staff gathering to watch Oxford convincingly defeat Cambridge in the Boat Race


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