2 August 2023

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Menu cards for the 1937 dinner at Exeter (left) and the 1938 dinner at Emma (right), with a photo of Professor Richard Dawkins and a note sent from him to Emmanuel’s Bursar

The legendary rivalry between the universities of Oxford and Cambridge is, in truth, a friendly one. A good example of the cordial relationship between the two places is the college twinning scheme, established between the World Wars.

Some of the couplings were between colleges sharing a common factor, such as a benefactor, a founding ethos, or, in the case of Jesus, Corpus Christi and Magdalen(e), a name. Emmanuel was not among the first tranche of pairings, but this was not due to indifference on our part. In March 1937 our Master, Dr Thomas Hele, wrote to the Rector of Exeter College, Dr Robert Marett, to ask whether his college would be willing ‘to enter into the same sort of arrangement with Emmanuel College as already exists between some twelve Oxford and twelve Cambridge Colleges. Professor Dawkins has told me that Exeter College considered this matter in general terms some time ago, and then decided not to proceed further. Perhaps this decision was not final.’ Indeed it was not, for Exeter’s governing body now decided ‘unanimously and enthusiastically’ that the invitation to link with Emmanuel be ‘cordially accepted.’

Although Exeter, founded in 1314, was a much older institution than Emmanuel, the colleges shared one important characteristic: both had been established for the express purpose of producing erudite clergymen. It appears, however, that neither institution was aware of this at the time of their pairing. Dr Hele stated frankly in his invitation that Emmanuel and Exeter could not ‘claim any sort of common ancestry’, and as he implied, the crucial link in 1937 was Professor Richard McGillivray Dawkins. A classicist, Dawkins graduated from Emmanuel in 1901 and was appointed a Fellow three years later. Said to have been the embodiment of the eccentric don of fiction, Dawkins later became Director of the British School of Archaeology in Athens. In 1922 he was simultaneously made a Fellow of Exeter College and an Honorary Fellow of Emmanuel, and it was unquestionably his good offices that brought about the union between his two colleges, even if it took longer than he and Emmanuel had hoped.

Once the Emmanuel-Exeter association had been formally ratified, fraternisation could commence. In early October 1937 a party of Emmanuel Fellows was ‘most hospitably received’ at Exeter. They enjoyed a splendid dinner and were presented with a silver-gilt cup. The atmosphere was informal, the Rector having stipulated black tie rather than ‘full war-paint’. Emmanuel, in turn, invited the Exeter fellowship to a dinner planned for 10 January 1938, but postponed until March, so that Dr Marett could recover from being ‘plastered’ with shot by a young rabbit-hunting friend. Emmanuel emulated Exeter’s generosity by presenting the guests with a silver caudle cup during the dinner, and the Sub-Rector of Exeter, in his letter of thanks for this ‘magnificent gift’, reported that ‘even our Fellows’ Butler, who hates silver as much as a good librarian hates books, is entranced by our new cup…’

In July 1938, Dr Hele attended a Gaudy at Exeter, and a fortnight later a party of Emmanuel staff had a day trip to Oxford, where they met their Exeter counterparts and took them on at bowls, cricket and tennis. Since then, regular contact, involving both senior and junior members, has been maintained between the two colleges. Student socialising reached such a pitch after the Second World War, in fact, that Exeter’s exasperated Sub-Dean asked the Emma authorities to help enforce a crackdown on the number of sporting jollies being arranged. Minor hiccoughs aside, though, the ‘sisterhood’ scheme has brought much benefit and enjoyment to both colleges. Floreat

Amanda Goode (College Archivist)

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