16 November 2022

A walking tour of the buildings
and architecture in the grounds
of the Open University

Walton Hall dates back to 1201 and is now administration centre at the Open University (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

I was on the campus of the Open University in Milton Keynes for the first time last week, to receive my fourth Covid-19 vaccination in the Michael Young Building.

Wandering around the campus after my vaccination, there was an opportunity to appreciate the modern architecture and sculptures on the campus, which I described on my blog posting last evening (15 February 2022), to visit Saint Michael’s Church, which I described in my blog posting on Monday (14 November 2022), and to see Walton Hall, which provides the original core of the university buildings.

The story of Walton Hall dates back to 1201, when Walton first appears in documented records as an estate consisting of land that had been taken from the Bow Brickhill Parish.

The Rixbaud family were the earliest owners. The earliest surviving part of Walton Hall was built in 1622 by the Beale family, who are commemorated in plaques in Saint Michael’s Church.

Walton Hall was then owned by the Gilpin family, followed by the Pinfold family. Thomas Pinfold (1638-1701) pulled down most of the hall. The front white square part of the hall was built by Thomas Pinfold’s descendant, Captain Charles Pinfold, in 1830.

Walton Hall was sold in 1907 to Dr Vaughan Harley, a distinguished heart specialist from the family that gives its name to Harley Street in London.

Dr Harley’s daughter and his son-in-law, Brigadier Eric Earle, were the last family to live at Walton Hall. During the latter part of World War II, the hall was used to house 40 WRNS who worked at Bletchley Park, and the Earles moved into the nearby Walton Lodge Cottage.

Brigadier Earle died in 1965 and the hall was briefly occupied by the Milton Keynes Development Corporation Planning and Architects’ Offices. The Open University officially moved in on 1 September 1969, and Walton Hall was opened by Lord Mountbatten as the university’s first building on 18 May 1970.

The Walton Hall building is used today as an administration centre.

The George Abell Observatory is at the entrance to the Open University campus (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The George Abell Observatory is at the entrance to the Open University campus. The observatory is part of the School of Physical Sciences and is operated jointly by the school and the Open University Astronomy Club.

The observatory is also used to train postgraduate students in observing techniques. It houses a Meade LX200 16-inch instrument known as the Alan Cooper Telescope. Professor Andrew Norton is director of the George Abell Observatory.

The George Abell Observatory is named in honour of George Ogden Abell (1927-1983) of UCLA, a research astronomer and a populariser of science and of education. He began his career in astronomy as a tour guide at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. He worked with the National Geographic Society Palomar Observatory Sky Survey on clusters of galaxies and planetary nebulae. He chaired the UCLA Astronomy Department (1968-1975).

Abell worked closely with the Open University on the first ‘Understanding Space and Time’ course in 1983. Sadly, he died later that year and the observatory, opened in 1984, is named after him, as well as a galaxy, an asteroid (Asteroid 3449 Abell) and a periodic comet.

One of the first objects seen through the telescope was Halley’s Comet on its approach to pass the Sun in 1985-1986.

The Betty Boothroyd Library is named after the former Speaker of the House of Commons (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Betty Boothroyd Library is named after the former Speaker of the House of Commons who was Chancellor of the Open University. She was the MP for West Bromwich and West Bromwich West from 1973 to 2000.

She was the Speaker of the House of Commons in 1992-2000, the only woman to have served as Speaker. She is one of two living former Speakers of the British House of Commons and sits as a Crossbench peer in the House of Lords.

She was Chancellor of the Open University from 1994 to 2006, and has donated some of her personal papers to the university’s archives. She was awarded an honorary degree from the Open University as Doctor of the University (DUniv) in 1995.

The Jennie Lee Building opened in 2008, 20 years after Jennie Lee died in 1988 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Jennie Lee Building, housing the Institute of Educational Technology (IET), was built on the site of the Jennie Lee Library, and opened in 2008. Jennie Lee (1904-1988) laid the foundation stone for the Open University’s first library in April 1973, and it opened in 1974.

Jennie Lee (1904-1988) was one of the earliest women MPs. She was born Janet Lee in Fife to a family descended from Irish immigrants. She was elected an Independent Labour Party MP in a by-election in 1929 and sat until 1931. In 1934 she the Welsh Labour politician Aneurin ‘Nye’ Bevan, who died in 1960. She was the Labour MP for Cannock from 1945 to 1970. She also worked as a journalist for the Daily Mirror.

Harold Wilson appointed her as Minister of the Arts in 1954, with additional responsibility for a ‘University of the Air’. She formulated the first solid ideas about the Open University, how it would be run, its independence from other educational institutions and that it would be open to all with no necessity for previous qualifications.

When she retired from front-line politics, she was made Baroness Lee of Asheridge. Jennie Lee retained a very close relationship with the Open University and bequeathed her personal and political papers to the university. She died in 1988.

The Alan Turing Building honours the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Alan Turing Building is named in honour of Dr Alan Turing (1912-1954), who is widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence. He was highly influential in the development of theoretical computer science, providing a formalisation of the concepts of algorithm and computation with the Turing machine, a model of a general-purpose computer.

During World War II, Turing worked for the Government Code and Cypher School, the code-breaking centre at Bletchley Park. He had a crucial role in cracking intercepted coded messages that enabled the allies to defeat Nazi Germany.

Turing was prosecuted in 1952 for homosexual acts. He died on 7 June 1954, 16 days before his 42nd birthday, from cyanide poisoning. Following a public campaign in 2009, the Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the government for ‘the appalling way [Turing] was treated.’ Queen Elizabeth II granted a posthumous pardon in 2013. The ‘Alan Turing law’ in 2017 retroactively pardoned men cautioned or convicted under historical legislation that outlawed homosexual acts.

In a BBC poll in 2019, Turing was named the greatest person of the 20th century. He appears on the £50 note issued in 2021.

The Wolfson Building opened in 1993 with the support of the Wolfson Foundation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Wolfson Building is the Earth Sciences extension to the Gass Building, and opened in 1993. The Wolfson Foundation helped to finance the building of the extension. The foundation was founded in 1955 by Sir Isaac Wolfson (1897-1991) and his family.

The charity awards grants to support excellence in the fields of science and medicine, health, education, the arts and humanities. The foundation has also given its named to colleges in Cambridge and Oxford: Wolfson College Cambridge was founded as University College in 1965, but was refounded as Wolfson College in 1973 in recognition of the benefaction of the Wolfson Foundation. Wolfson College Oxford was founded in 1965, and its first president, the philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin was instrumental its establishing its traditions of academic excellence and egalitarianism.

The Open University logo at the Peter Venables Building (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying in Ordinary Time with USPG:
Wednesday 16 November 2022

The third window in the south wall in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford, is by NHJ Westlake, and is in memory of Catherine Swinfen Harris (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today (16 November 2022) remembers Margaret, Queen of Scotland, Philanthropist and Reformer of the Church (1093), with a Lesser Festival, and Edmund Rich of Abingdon, Archbishop of Canterbury (1240), with a Commemoration.

Queen Margaret was born in 1046, the daughter of the Anglo-Saxon royal house of England but educated in Hungary, where her family lived in exile during the reign of Danish kings in England. After the Norman invasion in 1066, when she still posed a threat to the new monarchy, she was welcomed in the royal court of Malcolm III of Scotland and she married him in 1069. Margaret was both a civilising and a holy presence in Scotland. She instituted many church reforms and founded many monasteries, churches and pilgrim hostels. She was a woman of prayer and good works. She died on this day in 1093.

Before this day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

Throughout this week, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, A reflection on the stained glass windows in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons Manasseh and Ephraim with crossed hands, depicted in the third window on the south wall in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Luke 19: 11-28 (NRSVA):

11 As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. 12 So he said, ‘A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return. 13 He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds, and said to them, “Do business with these until I come back.” 14 But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, “We do not want this man to rule over us.” 15 When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading. 16 The first came forward and said, “Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.” 17 He said to him, “Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.” 18Then the second came, saying, “Lord, your pound has made five pounds.” 19 He said to him, “And you, rule over five cities.” 20 Then the other came, saying, “Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.” 22 He said to him, “I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.” 24 He said to the bystanders, “Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.” 25 (And they said to him, “Lord, he has ten pounds!”) 26 “I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them – bring them here and slaughter them in my presence”.’

28 After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

Christ greets two disciples at night, perhaps James and John, or Peter and Andrew … a panel in the third window in the south wall in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Stained-glass windows in Stony Stratford, 4:

Throughout this week, I am reflecting each morning on the stained glass windows in the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles, Stony Stratford, Buckinghamshire.

The 12 windows in Saint Mary and Saint Giles include a two-light window at the west end by Charles Eamer Kempe, depicting three archangels; a set of three windows in the south gallery, among them important work by John Groome Howe of the Hardman studios; two separate windows in the south gallery that appear to include fragments from an earlier window; and six windows – three below the gallery on the south wall and three below the gallery on the north wall – by NHJ Westlake of Lavers & Westlake.

The third window on the South Wall beneath the gallery in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church is dated 1896. It was commissioned by the Stony Stratford architect Edward Swinfen Harris (1841-1924), whose works, mainly in the Arts and Crafts style, can be seen throughout the town.

Edward Swinfen Harris commissioned this window in memory of his mother, Catharine Swinfen Harris, who died on 23 June 1896, at the age of 85.

This third window is of three eyelets and depicts:

1, Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons Manasseh and Ephraim with crossed hands (see Genesis 48: 1-22);

2, Christ greets two disciples at night, perhaps James and John, or Peter and Andrew, although this is not indicated on the window;

3, Jacob’s dream at Bethel (see Genesis 28: 10-22).

Each panel in this window depicts a Biblical character Joseph: the son sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers, and Joseph with the Christ Child.

The story depicted in the first panel is recalled in Genesis 48. Joseph was Pharoah’s chief minister of Egypt when he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim to see his dying father Jacob. Jacob surprised them by deciding to adopt Manasseh and Ephraim as my own sons, and promising them the same inheritance as his other sons, like Reuben and Simeon (verse 5).

It is customary in many Jewish communities for parents to administer a blessing like Jacob’s blessing to Joseph’s sons on Friday nights before the kiddush. As hands are laid on the heads of the boys, the words spoken are: ‘May you be like Ephraim and Manasseh.’

The mother of these two, Asenath, was an Egyptian, and so her family was outside the community of faith. Yet, they are not disqualified from God’s blessings because of their parents’ unconventional marriage.

Traditionally, the eldest son would expect to inherit a double portion, signified by his father blessing him with his right hand. So Joseph placed his firstborn, Manasseh, on Jacob’s right side and Ephraim on his left. However, Jacob crossed his arms and put his right hand on the second born, Ephraim, and his left hand on Manasseh, and then spoke his blessing over both.

Perhaps God does not always bless who or in the way we expect, nor according to tradition. This story is a reminder of how God can choose people others think are not qualified or deserving, those who do earn or qualify for a blessing, those you are not next in line. Those who cannot normally expect favour or promotion may receive unexpected blessings.

In the panels in this window, Edward Swinfen Harris may be saying that his mother was seen as an outsider but that in life through his parents he found blessings beyond any expectations in his dreams.

Jacob’s dream at Bethel … a panel in the third window on the south wall in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Collect:

God, the ruler of all,
who called your servant Margaret to an earthly throne
and gave her zeal for your Church and love for your people
that she might advance your heavenly kingdom:
mercifully grant that we who commemorate her example
may be fruitful in good works
and attain to the glorious crown of your saints;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

God our redeemer,
who inspired Margaret to witness to your love
and to work for the coming of your kingdom:
may we, who in this sacrament share the bread of heaven,
be fired by your Spirit to proclaim the gospel in our daily living
and never to rest content until your kingdom come,
on earth as it is in heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is ‘Living Together in Peace.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday, describing the work of PROCMURA, the Programme for Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa. USPG has provided an annual grant to PROCMURA since it started in 1959.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today (International Day for Tolerance) in these words:

Let us be inclusive and accepting of each other, whatever our differences may be.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The organ in the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles, Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org