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oxford gymnasium

Oxford Gymnasium medal

Some 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.


At 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.


The 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.


Some 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?


*Jeremy Taylor, The Architectural Medal, England in the Nineteenth Century (1978)

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