In Oxford: From Rhodes House to the Weston Library

In Oxford: From Rhodes House to the Weston Library

We [Sue Wise, Liz Stanley] are in Oxford for three concentrated weeks of work on the Rhodes Papers, something which should have been completed a time ago but wasn’t.

I was last in Oxford just before the move of the Bodleian’s African collections from rented space in Rhodes House to its new Weston Building. Rhodes House is a Herbert Baker design, so by one of the Rhodes toadies. Rhodes House has wooden ‘ancient’ panelling, creaking ‘ancient’ floors and staircases, ‘ancient’ heraldry boards with Rhodes Trust names, busts of Milner and, yes, guessed in one, CJ Rhodes himself; oh yes, and a chief porter who despised 9 out of 10 library users on principal. It’s faux ancient as Rhodes was faux good.

The Reading Room was wooden, creaking, either freezing cold or baking hot. The boxes of Rhodes Papers emerged through the door as one creaked down the room to collect them then back again. One never lost sight of Rhodes, literally looming whenever going up or down stairs. But the Bodleian library staff were very helpful and pleasant, and they and ‘the stuff’ that is the Rhodes Papers made up for all.

The Weston Library building is so different, very mod-glam and the David Reading Room where we’re working is state of the art. The Bodleian library staff remain their helpful and pleasant selves, a constant I’m extremely appreciative of. Even the seats are comfortable, and nothing creaks! The move of location has however sanitised ‘the stuff’. That former sense in Rhodes House of working on stuff from and about the heart of darkness while sitting in a leftover part of the heart of darkness has gone. The light shines in. There has been a transmutation effect – It’s gone, it’s past, just dusty traces that nerd researchers read excitedly. But next week we’ll re-visit Rhodes House, for remembrance, for as recent South African events sharply remind us, the past still plays out and we all need reminding of that.

Last updated: 20 November 2015


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