History of the Middle Common Room

Summer MCR BBQ
Summer MCR BBQ at Norham Gardens

The concept of a Middle Common Room at St Edmund Hall was first raised by the Governing Body. The population of graduate students at the Hall was growing, and MCRs were beginning to be established at other colleges.

The Hall made some provisions for postgraduates for lunch and refreshments; and Sir David Cooksey and Ian Bowers played leading roles in establishing the MCR. David and Ian were respectively appointed first and second Presidents.

The Hall was about to begin building the Kelly and Emden blocks. During this building, in the midst of finding alternative accommodation for students, the Hall acquired graduate housing through a lease of 7 Longwell Street from Magdalen College. The site was suitably close to the Hall, and so a common room was established.

With the newly acquired common room, Mr A.W. Bower was officially elected as the first MCR President.

The MCR moved from Longwall Street to the rooms in the Front Quad that it now occupies. This occurred when the JCR moved to its current location, and the MCR inherited their rooms.

Women reading the Cert. Ed were admitted to associate membership of the MCR from Oxford women’s colleges with no MCR facilities.

Full MCR membership for women when the first female graduates started at the Hall. Two other woman, the long-serving and much-loved MCR Butlers, also played an important part in forging the character of the MCR: the unforgettable Mrs Brown and her successor, Julie McCann. Throughout all these early stages, the MCR was shepherded by Bruce Mitchell, the Tutor for Graduates.

I recall my year as MCR President in 1981‒2 with a great deal of fondness. It was a busy year. The MCR hosted two or three splendid dinners each term, and several special events throughout the year – perhaps the most popular of which was strawberries and cream with buck’s fizz on May Day. There were two MCR members on the committee: myself, and Elizabeth Baker as Steward. The MCR Butler, Mrs Brown, who kept everything running smoothly and greeted everyone with a smile, should count as well. (Her picture still takes pride of place above the bar area.) If I recall correctly, there were about 120 members. The MCR also competed in Eights Week for the first time in years, producing a boat with plenty of international raw power – a Canadian hockey player, Gary Lawrence, several US football players, including Glenn Bates, and a South African rugby player, Nick Penny – but little finesse. Our best row by far was the week after Eights to the Perch Tavern in Wolvercote.

Of course, the MCR of the early 1980s pales in comparison to the thoroughly modern MCR of 2019, which boasts 319 students of 63 nationalities, a committee of 11 – including a VP, two Stewards, and other representatives – and its own superb website which is bursting with events, research papers and opportunities, and information about graduate life at the Hall and around Oxford. We who experienced the Hall before the invention of the Internet can only marvel at the strides the MCR has taken in recent years, but the trajectory is positive, and the future for graduate students at SEH looks better than ever.

Paul Skokowski (1979, Physics and Philosophy; MCR President 1981‒2)