50s Oxford snapshots

8th September 2020

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When alumnus John Walsh died recently, his son David rediscovered his father’s photographic record of Oxford undergraduate life in the 1950s.

  • May Morning, 6am, 1 May 1954 and Oriel Square

    May Morning, 6am, 1 May 1954; Oriel Square

  • John Walsh ready for tennis; Botanical expedition to Norfolk in 1954; before G Della-Portas’ party; Degree Day, November 1956.

    John Walsh ready for tennis; Botanical expedition to Norfolk in 1954; before G Della-Portas’ party; Degree Day, November 1956. 

  • Punts at Magdalen Bridge

    Punts at Magdalen Bridge

  • Summer Eights 1954 (with John Walsh third from right in the Wadham eight) and musicians on the water in front of a College Barge

    Summer Eights 1954 (with John Walsh third from right in the Wadham eight) and musicians on the water in front of a College Barge

  • St Giles' Fair, September 1957. Magdalen St East. The big wheel and martyrs’ memorial.

    St Giles' Fair, September 1957. Magdalen St East. The big wheel and martyrs’ memorial.

  • Summer Eights 1957

    Summer Eights 1957

“A vibrant blend of exuberant tradition and academic endeavour” is how David describes 50’s Oxford. “Boat races and balls punctuated academic terms, as they had for centuries.”

The 17-year-old John came to Oxford on a scholarship to study Botany at Wadham in 1952, shortly before Second World War rationing finished and at the start of a period of growth, optimism and renewal in Britain. He went on to earn a first class degree and then a DPhil, leaving in 1958.

While here, rowing captured his attention, as seventh oarsman in the Eights for Wadham III and as a photographer.
 
His pictures record the intensity of the contests on the Thames and the huge crowds they drew. They show boats being ‘bumped’, teams in full flight and a crew at rest moments after winning effort. 
 
They also depict musicians afloat entertaining a packed pleasure cruiser and thousands of spectators snaking along the riverside.
 
Elsewhere, with his Zeiss-Ikon Ikonta in hand, John Walsh was up early to capture May Morning Morris dancing outside the New Bodleian Library and St John’s College, at 6am on 1 May 1954, as well as a chaotic clash of punts on the River Cherwell beneath Magdalen Tower.
 
He also recorded Oxford scenes including Oriel Square, and St Giles’ Fair in Magdalen St East lighting up the evening in September 1957.
 
The camera was occasionally turned the other way, producing photos of him and pals in their finery at 4am at a 1958 Commemoration Ball, preparing to play tennis on the college courts and on a botanical expedition to Norfolk.
 
Many thanks to David Walsh for sharing his father’s Wadham memories.