Oxford History: University of Oxford oddments

Parson’s Pleasure

Parson's Pleasure was a bathing place on the River Cherwell in the south-east corner of the University Parks. It closed in 1991.

Oxford citizens also used to bathe there, but in the later nineteenth century it appears to have been used primarily by members of the University, who were then all male and freely bathed in the nude. (Women were allowed to study and take examinations at the University of Oxford from the late 1870s, but were not admitted to degrees until 1920, and they had to wait until 1934 for Dame's Delight nearby to be opened for their use.)

Parson's Pleasure ferry
Above: Postcard produced by George Davis of 7 Turl Street.
It is postmarked 17 July 1937, and the sender has written on
the back: “Woman in charge of Ferry at Parsons’ Pleasure”

Seventeenth century

In the seventeenth century this bathing place appears to have been known as Patin's Pleasure or Patten's Pleasure. Anthony Wood in his diaries records three drownings there:

  • Monday 18 June 1666 (Vol. ii, 80)
    “[Oliver] Craven, B.A. of Trinity Coll. drowned at Patten's Pleasure; and was buried in Magd. parish church.”
    The parish register of St Mary Magdalen Church names him as “Sir Craven”, buried in the south isle of the church on 19 June, “vir optimae spei”; Alumni Oxonienses has Oliver Craven incorporated B.A. from Christ's College, Cambridge on 3 May 1666
  • Wednesday 10 July 1689 (Vol. iii, 36)
    “A grave dug in Brasenose Coll. cloister for a young man [John Skeate] of that house drown'd at Patin's Pleasure the day before – the only son of a Minister.”
    According to Alumni Oxonienses John Skeate, the son of the cleric John Skeate senior of Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire, was matriculated by Brasenose College on 17 June 1687 at the age of 16, drowned on 8 July 1689, and was buried on the 10th in the college chapel
  • Saturday 20 August 1692 (Vol. iii, 399)
    “Elizabeth Simons [substituted for Eliz. Dimock], servant maid to … bedmaker of Wadham College drown'd herself at Patten's pleasure neare New Park. She was got with child by [Samson Vallack], M.A. and commoner of Wadham College, who now lives at Plymouth where he was borne. The maid was search'd and found to be with child; and therefore being turned away and knew not what to doe, drowned her selfe.”
    No church burial record for Elizabeth: as a suicide, she is likely to have been buried at night at a crossroads
    According to
    Alumni Oxonienses Samson Vallack, the son of John, a gentleman of Plymouth, had been matriculated by Wadham College at the age of 13 on 3 November 1685: he obtained his B.A. in 1689, his M.A. in 1692, and his B.Med. in 1701

Jackson’s Oxford Journal on 25 February 1899 mentions that the old name for Parson’s Pleasure was “Ne Plus Ultra”.

Parson's Pleasure was also known as Loggerhead, and in the 1860s Magdalen College School held its swimming matches there.

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© Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 15 May, 2022

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