Parson's Pleasure

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For the short story by Roald Dahl, see Parson's Pleasure (short story).
The rollerway at Parson's Pleasure

Parson's Pleasure in the University Parks at Oxford, England, was a secluded area for male-only nude bathing on the River Cherwell.[1] It was located next to the path on the way to Mesopotamia at the south-east corner of the Parks. The facility closed in 1991 and the area now forms part of the Parks.

History and folklore[edit]

Parson's Pleasure was traditionally frequented by dons of the University. Ladies sitting in passing punts were saved from potential embarrassment by being directed to a path that skirted the area behind a high corrugated iron fence. If a pretext was needed, the ladies could be told that the men needed to haul the punt over "the rollers"—a track made of concrete with metal rollers—next to the nearby weir. Women's use of the path declined in later years but the path and the rollers remain.

Parson's Pleasure is now only a scene for tales from the folklore of the university. One anecdote has it that a number of dons were sunbathing nude at Parson's Pleasure when a female student floated by in a punt. All but one of the startled dons covered their genitals — Maurice Bowra placed a flannel over his head instead. When asked why he had done that, he replied haughtily, "I don’t know about you, gentlemen, but in Oxford, I, at least, am known by my face."[2]

Robert Robinson's Landscape with Dead Dons contains a scene set in Parson's Pleasure.[3]

Anthony Gibbs's autobiography In Good Time (UK, c. 1930) / In My Own Good Time (US, 1932) describes the author's regular visits to Parson's Pleasure, "the most enchanting spot in Oxford", during his time as an undergraduate. He writes that it was usual for one punt per afternoon to pass, in which two girls "scarlet-faced and staring straight before them, would meander by. They did it on purpose, of course. No one paid them the slightest attention. Absolute disdain was the code of behavior."

In 1996, the Oxford University Beer Appreciation Society commissioned a local brewery to produce a barley wine called "Parson's Pleasure Ale". There also exists a bell-ringing method named "Parson's Pleasure Surprise Maximus", which was rung for the first time in September 2010 by a band of ringers composed of former members of the University of Oxford.[4]

A similar area existed nearby for female bathers, named Dame's Delight. This had closed before the end of Parson's Pleasure.


  1. ^ Jan Morris, Oxford. Oxford University Press, 1987. ISBN 0-19-282065-6. Page 110.
  2. ^ Philip Carr-Gomm reports this anecdote in A Brief History of Nakedness as reviewed in The Times[1]
  3. ^ Robert Robinson. Landscape with Dead Dons. Antiqbook. Retrieved 7 July 2010. 
  4. ^ "Online record of the peal of Parson's Pleasure Surprise Maximus". Retrieved 10 September 2010. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°45′37″N 1°14′48″W / 51.76017°N 1.24653°W / 51.76017; -1.24653