by M. Davies (‘Oriel’ Lodge Porter)
If you look at how we got our name, nowhere does it mention the Porters. We all lose from that if the Porters play an important part in the story. After all, non-academic staff are all part of this institution too.
Official college literature says our name “Oriel” (now one of many official names including “Kings Hall”, “The Royal college” etc) is due to a window. This window was in a building that got demolished early in our history. The whole building and later the piece of land that it occupied was referred to by Porters and others as “Le Oriole” or “Oriel”. The name stuck to the college largely because my predecessors called it out when collecting students from the local pubs. They needed to call above the inebriated voices “Magdalen, Merton, Oriel,” depending on the route of the Porters and Proctor escorts. It was simply a matter of practicalities and our students knew the “Oriel” call was for them. Over time, students from all the other colleges referred to us as “Oriel”. Some were then amazed to learn that it was not our name, despite everyone attending our college recognising it as if it was.
There is a Lodge story that, if not totally correct in detail, deserves to be true in spirit (though the SCR may have a different take on things). Possibly following a complaint from the University Messenger Service, in part due to academics’ bad writing, the various names we now had, and the extensive wording involved, they found it increasingly difficult to identify post for us if “Oriel” didn’t appear somewhere on the envelope. So, prompted by the Lodge, our elite began reconsidering our college name in full knowledge that the Lodge consistently now called ourselves “Oriel”. Academics being academics (bless them all and all their students too!) decided that it was right for the Lodge to bring this to the SCR’s attention, as indeed the college name did need clarifying. So, they effectively added the bit about Edward the second being the sometime King of England etc. (eventually becoming: “The House of the Blessed Mary the Virgin in Oxford, commonly called Oriel college, of the foundation of Edward the second of famous memory, sometime King of England.”) I have some sympathy for Newman who said our SCR “stank of logic” but he was a senior member, also a leading academic and now a saint. I dare not give further comment on such SCR matters.
Given this, surely any independent assessor or adjudicator would give a window 10-30% or possibly a window and a building 20-40%, whereas the Porters 50-90% credit for “Oriel” becoming the name of our college? But I do not wish to stop here. Can we not all take extreme pride that not only are we the only Oxbridge college and Royal foundation, unique in the whole of the British Empire (the thing Cecil was so keen on), that has its name given to it … by the Porters!?
When I hear our college toast, it isn’t just wishing this institution to flourish prosperously into the future, it is a salute to every member (including staff) present, past and future. At least that is how it sounds to my ears with a special “thank God for the Lodge”. Think about it. It could all be so very different, and I am not even sure our name would fit on a JCR t-shirt without us. “Floreat Oriel!”
After they built first quad (the first in Oxford to be built as a whole, I understand) and frontage to “Oriel” square, then we had something in our architecture that reflected this window inheritance.
Now, what was the official name for the college again, anyone?