The Lantern and the Room

In the early years, meetings were small and were held in members’ rooms. St John’s College was the regular meeting place at the beginning of 1923, but from Michaelmas term of that year the Society moved to New College, where most of the ordinary meetings were held until 1945. A note in the hand of the secretary of Trinity 1927 states that it had been arranged that the New College library clerk should “work the lantern for a fee of 10 pounds per term.” There is an addendum in the hand of the secretary of Michaelmas 1929:

“The New College Library Clerk has got married and so cannot stay out at night.”

It adds grimly, “The Sec. now has to work the lantern.” These brief notes are illuminated by a series of entries in the minute books and an unfortunately incomplete story in Biblical style, “The Holy Book of the OUAS”, unsigned, but in the handwriting of B. H. St John O’Neil. The lantern used at lectures in New College was that of the Classical Association belonging to Sir John Myres, and complaints were frequent. At a committee meeting of 11 June, 1924:

“It was decided to apply again for [a room in] New College, provided the lantern underwent some much needed repairs.”

By Michaelmas 1925 the condition of the lantern was such that a proposal was made to buy one secondhand for the society. Of this nothing further is recorded, and the story is taken up by “The Holy Book” at the beginning of January 1926. In an attempt to “be brought up from the land of New Coll, even from the region of gloom and darkness unto the radiant light that shineth in Jo. Baptist” a move was made to obtain permission from Hugh Last to use the lecture room in St John’s. This was granted and then refused when the number of meetings a term was mentioned. O’Neil was forced to “send a slave who did partially repair the lantern in New Coll.” The slave was K. McGregor who, at a committee meeting on 19 January, 1926, “made an intricate statement concerning the lantern.” It is ironic that when St John O’Neil returned to read a paper to the society on 30 October, 1944, in the same room and apparently with the same machine that had caused him so much trouble nearly twenty years before, R. J. C. Atkinson had to announce “that the New College lantern had mysteriously disappeared” and no lantern at all was available.

The minute books record “general disapproval of New College” from time to time in the pre-war years. No regular alternative could be found, and it was not until 1945 that the final move was made to the Ashmolean, where almost all the ordinary meetings were held until 1994.

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