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The Oxford Experience

Tom Tower, Christ Church
In 2011, my husband and I attended for the first time the Christ Church Summer School in Oxford, England - and we fell in love with the experience.

During the Summer months, Oxford University offers a variety of courses Summer courses - people from all over the world enlist, and for one week, live the life of a student at Christ Church College. This college combines the atmosphere of centuries of tradition, education and culture with the best tutors on subjects such as Stonehenge, Alice in Wonderland, The Beatles, Poetry, Creative Writing, Archeology, Jane Austen and many more....
Oxford Experience
In the first year, we took courses on Creative Writing. Tutor was Morag Joss, who was absolutely wonderful. We can recommend her course "Page Fright" for anyone who loves writing but feels they get "stuck" often - Morag has a great talent for drawing out your own talent, she gives hints and tips and a great deal of helpful exercises. The course is intense and great fun and we became great friends with our fellow students. Besides that, Morag Joss is a great writer herself, check out her site
Morag Joss
In the second year, 2012, we took the course English Country Houses, taught by English Heritage expert Nicholas Doggett.
This was a great in-depth course examining how the famous english country houses came about, evolving from the Great Halls in late medieval Britain, when a nobleman's home was indeed a castle, designed to keep enemies out.
Rochester Castle One example of those is Rochester castle, which was actually besieged and taken at one point. They learned the hard way that is was better to build the towers round and not square - the enemy had simply undermined one of the square towers until it collapsed. Here you can see how it was rebuild as a much sturdier round tower.
These were savage times, in which enemies were fought the hard way - although we learned that the typical image of boiling oil being poured from the turrets is simply a myth.
Boiling oil
The King of England sought to unite all these warring castle-lords. He literally travelled around constantly to keep them all in check and under his reign. Therefore, it was forbidden to fortify one's castle without the King's permission - he simply could not allow his subjects to give the impression they wanted to segregate themselves, or possibly withstand the King's soldiers. Someone who did however illicity put up turrets or other fortifications, faced the penalty of execution. Fortify
The fun part of this class for us artists was that we were allowed to doodle - something we've been chided for when in school, and admired for as adults. Nothing more soothing than to listen to interesting tales of architecture and design, and at the same time be able to let your imagination take these impressions and make them into something fantastical.
Country House Snail
Country House Dress
Country House Bath
Tree house The interesting thing about english country houses nowadays is that in a way they are living things - modified by generations of owners, they reflect different times and uses.

I love watching house-shows such as BBC's 'Location, location, location' - and more times than not, English Heritage is portrayed as the Bad Guy. Someone buys an old ruin with great plans to convert it into a home, and then English Heritage steps in and spoils the fun by telling them what they can and cannot do.

In this course, I've gained a whole new appreciation for the work of English Heritage. They work to ensure that history is not blatantly built over, and that a historic house will be restored in such a way that it reflects that history, without denying modern times. A lot of times, English Heritage welcomes builder's plans to add modern architecture to an old building, for it continues the story of such a place and adds onto it, reflecting newer times and uses.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, many new houses were built in the country with the express purpose to impress the country with the owner's wealth and good taste. The house itself became identical with their illustrious owners. The architecture of the house was often laid out as a dramatic narrative, designed to impress guests: they would enter in a great hall, and be led up stairs and through corridors decorated with paintings and tapestries emphasizing the owner's importance. Eventually, they would step into the brightest, biggest rooms with the most majestic vista's - and there they would be welcomed by their host, who was literally the culmination of this quest through culture, history and design.
Welcoming house
Many english country house owners through time were known for their lavish and colorful lifestyles. Great parties would be held, immense feasts, baroque balls. One family well-known for their extravagance and outrageous sense of humor were the Delavals in the eighteenth century. One story is that they liked to surprise their guests by putting chickens in their beds.
In the nineteenth century the industrial revolution brought about a whole new class of rich people, "the nouveaux riches", who wished to display their new-found fortune in enormous, not alway too tasteful, country houses.
New money
The course also included a field trip - to wonderful Lacock Abbey, a house that was once a nunnery and which was converted into a country house. Walking through the house, you literally pass through the centuries and get a real feel for the way in which these houses are living entities, reflecting their owners, times and customs.
Lacock Abbey
But the coolest thing about the house was that it has been used for some Hogwarts-scenes in the first two Harry Potter films. And even cooler, nearby Lacock Village has been a backdrop for many films and TV-series that we adore: from 'Pride and Prejudice' to 'Cranford'.

We came away from the course with an even greater love and understanding for old architecture and the stories that are interwoven with old houses. Tutor Nick Doggett was knowledgeable and kind, and made our Oxford Experience one of the nicest and gentlest we had!

We'll be back in 2013!

Impossible house
The Oxford Experience