Table of Contents


Oxford Plate-Cambridge Plate.

IN the foregoing chapters ecclesiastical plate has been fully described, and the same vessels that were used in mediaeval times and in cathedrals, abbeys and churches in olden time and are still used to-day, are to be found in use in the churches and chapels of our universities. Many of the older colleges in Oxford and Cambridge, and other University towns were originally founded in connection with ecclesiastical houses, and most of the colleges have some form of ecclesiastical establishment in connection with them. In these churches are to be found many rare examples of church plate, some of the vessels having been used in the days when the services were conducted according to the rites of the Roman church. Some of these vessels continued to be used after the Reformation, and we can easily understand with what tenacity these old institutions of learning have clung to their ecclesiastical plate. During the Civil War the Oxford colleges were very enthusiastic on behalf of the Royal cause, and they emptied their plate chests to provide the very necessary silver to pay King Charles's troops. At that time vast quantities of college plate of priceless antiquarian value was melted down. Fortunately, there are still some rare examples of mediaeval silver left, and these form the chief features of interest connected with college plate.

There seems to be an almost double life existing in these old seats of learning, for although ecclesiastical rites were always observed, and there was a constant use of the old church plate, these ceremonies were interspersed with many frivolities and times of feasting, which probably gave the necessary relaxation from study and book learning. In the college halls, when great feasts were held, the table was laden with many good things, and on such occasions, there was an ample display of silver plate, although, perhaps, the greater portion of the table vessels were of pewter or of some less costly material. The great standing salts used in mediaeval halls were to be seen in the college refectory, and there were large flagons of wine and many massive cups of silver. These things, how-ever, are outside the scope of the collector of silver or the " home connoisseur." It is only on rare occasions that the plate jealously guarded by the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge and other Universities can be examined by the common folk. Much of it is of a plain substantial character, but there are some rarer pieces with histories attached to them, massive, decorative, and emblematical. It is these choicer pieces of historic value that are so carefully guarded, and rightly so, for they can never be replaced should any of them go astray. No doubt in other days much of the college plate passed out of the custody of the halls into private hands, for it is by no means an uncommon thing for rare pieces of plate to be found in old collections or belonging to old families which were undoubtedly made for other uses, from which original purpose they have been diverted.