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Formal (university)

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St John's College, Cambridge Formal Hall

Formal hall or formal meal is a meal held at some of the oldest universities in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland (as well as some other Commonwealth countries) at which students usually dress in formal attire and often gowns to dine. These are held commonly in the colleges of Oxford,[1] Cambridge[2] and Durham,[3] at Trinity College Dublin (where they are known as commons),[4] and in some halls and colleges at St Andrews,[5] and the Australian sandstone universities (Adelaide,[6] Melbourne,[7] Queensland,[8] Sydney,[9] Tasmania,[citation needed] Western Australia[10]), and at Trinity College, Toronto.[11]

In a number of redbrick universities, such as Manchester, Bristol, Leeds and Exeter, some halls practise similar traditions in order to increase interaction between academics and students, and to enrich the students' overall learning experience. Colleges of some Australian redbrick universities, including the Australian National University, Monash University, the University of New England, the University of New South Wales and the University of Southern Queensland, also hold gowned formal dinners.

The nature of 'formals' varies widely between the colleges and halls that hold them. In some colleges, formals may be held every night, and are simply a second sitting of hall at which gowns are worn and grace is read. In other colleges, formals may be special events to which guests from outside the college are frequently invited, often with themes and associated ents or "bops". In between these two extremes fall the great majority of colleges. Formals are generally rarer at halls of residence, with some traditional halls holding them more regularly than others.[12]



The full name and abbreviations to describe the formals differ. Generally, though, they are known as:

Abbreviations of the above terms tend to be either formal or, at St John's College, Cambridge, hall. There are other circumstances in which different names are used. For example, some larger colleges have both a large dining hall and a canteen-style dining room (often called the buttery or servery). In these cases informal evening meals are taken in the buttery and formal meals in the hall, and the term hall is used uniquely to refer to the latter meal. Some may call it second hall to differentiate from the earlier self-service first hall or informal hall.



Some colleges/halls have elaborate traditions, while others are more relaxed. Grace may be said before the meal, in some places in Latin. A dress code of academic gowns at formals is compulsory at some colleges and halls; in other cases formal wear (for example a lounge suit for men or equivalent for women) is required in addition to, or instead of, the gown.

The tradition of "pennying" is long established in most Cambridge, Oxford, St Andrews and Durham colleges/halls, although is banned in some colleges, such as Keble College, Oxford and Pembroke, Cambridge whereas in others there is often the risk of possible expulsion from the meal by staff members and even fines at St Chad's College, Durham. A variation of the tradition is found at University College, Durham, where corks are used instead of pennies. In some Cambridge colleges, Smarties are used as an alternative, due to the request of the kitchen staff (pennies apparently being a problem in dishwashers).

Almost all Bristol, Durham, Leeds, St Andrews, Royal Holloway, Dublin, Manchester, Oxford and Cambridge college formal halls include a high table, exclusively for the senior common room of the college and their guests, with students eating at the lower tables. The high table is often raised above the floor level of the hall, on a dais. Some of the newer colleges (e.g. Wolfson College, Cambridge, Wolfson College, Oxford, Linacre College, Oxford) have discontinued or have never had this practice, in order to promote equality between fellows and students. At Manchester halls, which do not have a close academic connection with the university and have always been largely undergraduate institutions, the executive committee of the junior common room sits at the high table.[13]

There may be one or more after dinner speakers at the end of the dinner or even between courses on special occasions.

See also



  1. ^ "Formal Hall Etiquette". Jesus College, Oxford. Archived from the original on 24 July 2011.
  2. ^ M. Tina Dacin; Kamal Munir; Paul Tracey (December 2010). "Formal Dining at Cambridge Colleges: Linking Ritual Performance and Institutional Maintenance". The Academy of Management Journal. 53 (6): 1393–1418. JSTOR 29780264.
  3. ^ "Our Colleges". Durham University. College Formals. Retrieved 29 November 2023.
  4. ^ Tom Doorley (1 March 2008). "Commons People". The Irish Times.
  5. ^ "St Regulus Hall". University of St Andrews. What is St Regulus Hall like?. Retrieved 29 November 2023.
  6. ^ "Dining". St Mark's College. Retrieved 29 November 2023.
  7. ^ "Rooms and Meals". University College, Melbourne. Retrieved 29 November 2023.
  8. ^ "Union College". Meals. Retrieved 29 November 2023.
  9. ^ "Residential colleges". University of Sydney. Why college?. Retrieved 29 November 2023.
  10. ^ "What is Formal Hall?". St Catherine's College, UWA. 29 July 2022. Retrieved 29 November 2023.
  11. ^ Anwesha Mukherjee (17 November 2023). "From Cult to Kin: Trinity Redefined". Trinity Times.
  12. ^ "In defence of Wills Hall". 8 January 2017.
  13. ^ Lawrenceson, T.E. (1957) 'St. Anselm Hall in the University of Manchester, 1907-1957.' Manchester. Manchester University Press.