The Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History (OCMCH)

Promoting historic links between Oxford Brookes University and the Methodist Church through archives, artworks, publications and research.

Archives & Library – The College Elephant


A significant number of newly catalogued documents within the Westminster College Archives were created by the Westminster College Union Society between the 1950s and 1980s. The Union Society was formed at a College meeting of 18 February 1932, and the archives contain many items relating to both its central administration, and the records of individual societies formed by students of the College.

           An item that stands out from the usual Union business is an official-looking document titled, Report of the Union Society concerning the “college elephant”. Written with the purported aim of bringing a pachyderm to Harcourt Hill, the writer claimed to have sought the opinion of the Zoological Society of London, who replied with the following.

You must learn to distinguish fantasy from fact. Certainly it is a marvellous idea to think of keeping an elephant in Oxford and you and your union could get a great deal of fun out of pursuing in your imaginations all the possible consequences, the disruption of the traffic, injuries to passers-by and fines from the police. In sober fact, however, it would be quite impracticable for you to keep an elephant

Not deterred by this discouraging response, the writer sought a second opinion from Bristol Zoo, but was again disappointed about the apparent costs of keeping an elephant. This was despite a plan to sell the manure, which might potentially have allowed the elephant to be ‘run at a profit’. Ultimately, the report concluded that ‘the Union Society has enough funds for the purchase of one elephant but this would entail the Union Society fees being raised to £5 for many years to come.’

Work is currently being undertaken to make the Westminster College Archives more accessible. Items within the collection may be viewed by appointment at OCMCH.


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This entry was posted on May 12, 2016 by and tagged .

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