Adventures in Letter Writing No. 18: “And that sweet city with her dreaming spires…” (Matthew Arnold)

I love Oxford. The history. The Town and Gown. The old Colleges. The mystery of the place. I love that I immediately feel cleverer like through some sort of osmosis just by being around lots of intelligent people. There’s something about the City, a feeling, exciting and untold perhaps, like it has a secret. And beautiful. Definitely beautiful. Growing up in Oxfordshire meant we went there lots. It really is such a romantic place made more so (I think) by Morse and Lewis and Endeavour all being filmed there.  Morse was my staple weekly treat during my teenage years. I wish I’d written to John Thaw really looking back, only to tell him how much we liked Inspector Morse.

Roger Allam and Shaun Evans filming back in June

We went to meet my sister there for afternoon tea and cake because she owns a shop in The Covered Market and as it was only two days before Christmas we thought it would be nice to soak up the pre-Christmas ambience.  I insisted we went to Brown’s Cafe because she’d spotted Shaun Evans and Roger Allam back in the summer filming scenes for Endeavour in there.  I thought it would be funny to sit on the same chairs as they did and write one of them a letter.  As it turned out everyone got a bit impatient with me so it ended up being just a postcard but it was to Endeavour (obviously he’s fictional, so really to Shaun).  It was a rubbish postcard at that (I mean what I wrote, not the postcard – that was quite pretty). It was all rushed and in pencil!? I’m not sure I’ll send it.

But I’m glad we went to Brown’s. It is such a funny little melting pot of Oxford folk.  It’s lovely.  As is the whole of The Covered Market.  It looked so pretty with all the Christmas lights up.  The history of the place is fascinating too and has massive appeal.  The day we went there was a ginormous queue of people trailing out of one of the avenues.  It looked quite WW2-like with everyone lined up patiently waiting.  I had no idea what they were queuing for but felt inclined to join on the end being British in a “Ooo a queue!” type way (we didn’t).  As it turned out it was for cheese!  That shows the quality of what’s on offer doesn’t it (or that maybe Alice in Wonderland was more fact than fiction!?). 

It really is the quirkiest of markets and so worth a visit (and not just because my sister has a shop there, honest).  Charles and Camilla even went for a tour back in May too. My sister got to see them as well! Funnily enough we even thought we saw Will Gompertz from The Culture Show in and around the shops, although not in the old town but in the new gargantuan shopping mall that is the West Gate.  It was like stepping into the Tardis. I wish I could’ve taken him by the hand (metaphorically) and lead him back to the quaint little shops on The High. Although to be fair I’m sure both are great for Oxford. 

Anyway if you do visit Oxford, go to Brown’s Cafe.  You could even go all super-sleuth detective over your carrot cake and cup of tea.


6 thoughts on “Adventures in Letter Writing No. 18: “And that sweet city with her dreaming spires…” (Matthew Arnold)

  1. Heidi says:

    Lovely write up Dinah. Oxford is a unique and special place. I love the covered market too and I really hope it continues to survive with The New Westgate which, whilst lovely – simply does not have the same ambience!
    The Endeavour scene at Browns is great and also there was a Morse episode filmed inside – Absolute conviction when Morse (John Thaw) meets and has a coffee with Charlie Bennett (Jim Broadbent). Would love to see you one day on our Morse / Lewis and Endeavour Tours!
    Heidi and team
    Walking Tours of Oxford

    1. D1nah_ says:

      Hi Heidi and team, I’m so sorry we missed you this summer. Do you do Walking Tours at Christmas time? Really looking forward to coming back soon and doing one of your proper tours. It’s great finding all the Morse/Lewis/Endeavour scenes filmed in The Covered Market. I wonder if anyone has compiled them before? Hope to see you soon. Dinah

  2. Mike says:

    Love it. Love it. Love it. We loved our day in Oxford back in July 2016. Walking the city was so much fun.


    PS Send the postcard.

  3. Deborah Hayden says:

    My Mother used to go for lunch everyday to Browns cafe in the 1940’s, she & her friend Betty worked at Ellison & Cavell together & started there at the age of 14. I grew up in Oxford but now live in a small market town in Oxfordshire, but every time I go back ‘home’ I love to visit Browns & visualise Mum & Betty sat together having lunch there in their beautiful 40’s fashion.

    1. D1nah_ says:

      Hi Deborah, that is such a lovely story. The 1940s is my favourite era (see blog “Castles in the Sky”) and the Covered Market is one of my favourite places. Fascinating to read about the department store your mother worked out. I’ve found some lovely photographs and stories about its history. Perhaps your mum is in the photo from this piece in the Oxford Mail…
      Do you have a photo of your mum and her friend Betty? I’ll think about them next time I’m in Browns too! Thank you so much for getting in touch. Dinah

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