On a first Oxford visit, you may notice an oddity. You will hear a bell chiming 101 times at five past nine; marking 9 pm Oxford time. The 5-minute discrepancy is a relic dating back to before 1848 when most towns had their own time. These variances were ironed out when Railway Time was officially adopted and aligned with Greenwich Time.
Why does it ring at this odd time? Traditionally, it summoned the 101 students back to college before the gates closed, so they wouldn’t waste their evenings in revelry and mix among the proletariat.
You can see a hint of the blue clock dial at the central arch window apex. The massive statue looks on as Christ Church College displays its opulent status as one of Oxford’s most beautiful colleges, due to wonderful architecture, educating 13 British Prime Ministers and serving as a Harry Potter filming location.
These ancient buildings’ ostentatious appearance is breathtaking. The bell tower was designed by Cardinal Wolsey in 1532 who liked to display his power through extravagant building projects. When he fell from power the building had to hold its breath for 150 years for Sir Christopher Wren who completed the unfinished work. Wren made a case for working in the late Gothic styles “to agree with the Founders work”. Arguably, it is too much. The eyes flit from detail to detail easily distracted from intense focus. Details may be missing, but would you even notice?
Visual overwhelm is a real issue, especially when looking at overtly decorated edifices. Can you imagine its reception when first built? And this is only one of 50 plus Oxford colleges that exhibit architecture ranging from medieval to contemporary. Oxford certainly wears its wealth on its shirtsleeve – and never more so than Tom Tower.
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