BEAR & I
twenty years ago I bought an Oxford silver prize medal awarded to a
Christchurch undergraduate in 1862. It’s an attractive specimen of good
numismatic design and features a rectangular building in high relief within a
belt. On this belt is the well-known phrase MENS SANA IN CORPORE SANO (or in
other words ‘Healthy mind in a healthy body’). The reverse has OXFORD
GYMNASIUM on a belt surrounding an oak and laurel wreath, with the award
inscription engraved in the field. I put it in the cabinet trays with my
other Oxford medals and thought little more about it.
the end of Alfred Street in central Oxford is a charming 17th century pub
called The Bear. The Bear and I have been well-acquainted since my illicit
weekend forays into Oxford from my nearby boarding school in the early 1980s.
Quite recently I was leaving the pub after enjoying a real ale or two and
suddenly it struck me: the building opposite the Bear was none other than
that depicted on my medal! To be sure that the beer wasn’t playing tricks
with my sight I followed this up with some quick internet research and my
revelation was indeed true.
bare (or ‘Bear’?) facts are these: the Gymnasium was begun in 1858 and
completed the following year for Archibald Maclaren, designed by William
Wilkinson (1819-1901). Wilkinson designed many Oxford buildings, usually in
the gothic style, of which the most famous is probably the Randolph Hotel
(1864). The Gymnasium itself, whilst retaining its original exterior (and thus
my recognition), has long since been converted into offices.
years after my initial purchase I bought a bronze example of the same medal,
except this time struck on a thicker flan and with the edge engraved GLASGOW
UNIVERSITY GYMNASIUM. This inscription is puzzling, but I wonder whether a
wee dram or two will reveal its numismatic mysteries?
Taylor, The Architectural Medal, England in the Nineteenth Century (1978)