My Oxford: Philip Baldwin
Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with Oxford?
I Love Oxford. It is one of my favourite cities in the world and I have so many great memories from my time there as a student. I arrived in Oxford, at the age of eighteen, fresh out of an austere Scottish school and left three years later a rounded adult.
I studied an undergraduate degree in Modern History at Oriel College. Oriel is Oxford’s smallest college, yet also one of its oldest and most beautiful. Three quadrangles, dating from the Tudor period to the early-twentieth century, span a small area in the heart of the City. The Radcliffe Camera and St Mary’s Cathedral are only a short walk away. I was given an oak paneled room during my first year at Oxford, with mullioned windows and a Victorian desk. The room looked out over St Mary’s Cathedral on the High Street, or The High as it’s known locally. In the spring the Baroque entrance to the cathedral is shrouded in cherry blossom. I developed massively as an individual while I was studying at Oxford. I was open about my sexuality, coming out as gay to everyone during Freshers’ Week. I had only come out to a few people at school. The acceptance I received allowed me to grow into an out and proud gay man. I return regularly to Oxford, to visit my former tutors, spend time in the city’s museums, or to write.
What are your favourite haunts around the city?
While I was studying, I developed a passion for Renaissance history. I was fascinated by the artistic output of Italy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. My history degree enabled me to analyse this from not just an aesthetic perspective, but also taking into account the tremendous socio-political and religious shifts which drove the development of the nation state, the emergence of a mercantile class and the Reformation. This cultural outpouring has stimulated many students before me. A number of this period’s greatest treasures have found their way into the collections of the Ashmolean Museum, on Beaumont Street. I spent many happy hours wandering through the galleries, entranced by such artworks as Michelangelo’s rare preparatory sketches and Piero di Cosimo’s Forest Fire.
What to you are the most iconic aspects of Oxford?
I think the beauty of The High is unparalleled in the world, college after collage laid out like a row of palaces. Almost every building is architecturally interesting, from the sublime classicism of Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawsksmoor’s Queen’s College to the lofty ambitions of All Saints’ Church, now Lincoln College’s library, its eighteenth-century spire dominating the western end of the street. Walking down The High is one of the most incredible architectural experiences in the world, with masterpieces from the gothic to Victorian periods.
Where do you eat and drink?
I really like Quod in the Old Bank Hotel. I remember going on a date there in my first year at university. It retains its stylish, but laid back atmosphere today. I always hang out there when I’m back in Oxford. The Malmaison is also really nice. It has a friendly atmosphere and it’s interesting to see how much that part of town is changing. As a young gay man I liked The Castle and The Jolly Farmers. For a coffee, the Queen’s Lane Coffee House is great and perfectly located for admiring the architectural beauty of The High.
What about Oxford has inspired you or helped your creative process?
As a LGBT rights and HIV awareness activist and author, my years spent studying at Oxford, writing long essays into the early hours of the morning, have enabled me to build the platform on LGBT issues that I have today. I am very fortunate to have a voice on LGBT and HIV issues. I’ve contributed a chapter to a book on Christianity, called The Power of my Faith and am working on a semi-autobiographical book on stigma called Positive Damage. Furthermore, I think Oxford has a unique creative atmosphere. I like returning to Oxford to write, savouring the beautiful surroundings and people.
What’s the worst or least attractive thing about Oxford?
My experiences of Oxford are all very positive. Aesthetically, the Westgate Shopping Centre was a low point, but that part of town is being redeveloped. I’m excited to see what emerges!
Do you have an area, street or village in Oxfordshire that is special to you?
St Mary’s Cathedral on The High is particularly special to me. I’ve already mentioned that my bedroom in Oriel used to overlook the cathedral. It is a wonderful building, with a stunning gothic interior. Most excitingly for me though, is that it is the space in which Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were tried for heresy during the 1550s. These great martyrs died for their faith and shape the Church of England as it is today. The cathedral has a powerful history and an evocative atmosphere. Every time I wander through the building, I find new places to worship.