Parson's Pleasure

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The weir and punt rollers at Parson's Pleasure
The rollers looking the other way
The Cherwell above the weir

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 naked 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 so, he replied, "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] Edmund Crispin's first Gervase Fen novel, 'The Moving Toyshop,' puts the climax of a riotous chase at the entrance to Parson's Pleasure.[4]

Anthony Gibbs's autobiography In My Time (UK, c. 1969) / In My Own Good Time (US, 1970) describes the author's regular visits to Parson's Pleasure,[5][6] "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.[7]

A similar area existed nearby for clothed female bathers, named Dame's Delight.[8][9] This was closed prior to the closure of Parson's Pleasure.


  1. ^ Morris, Jan; Morris, Mark (1987). Oxford. Oxford University Press. p. 110. ISBN 978-0-19-282065-5.
  2. ^ Carr-Gomm, Philip (2012). A Brief History of Nakedness. Reaktion Books. p. 172. ISBN 978-1-86189-729-9.
  3. ^ Robinson, Robert (1983). Landscape with Dead Dons. Penguin Books. p. 175.
  4. ^ Crispin, Edmund (2012). The Moving Toyshop. Random House. p. 154. ISBN 978-1-4481-1278-4.
  5. ^ Gibbs, Anthony (1969). In my time. P. Davies.
  6. ^ Gibbs, Anthony (1969). In My Own Good Time. Gambit.
  7. ^ "Online record of the peal of Parson's Pleasure Surprise Maximus". Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  8. ^ "Parson's Pleasure and Dame's Delight bathing places, Oxford". Dereliction in the Shires. Google Sites. Retrieved 29 April 2018.
  9. ^ "Now there's nothing like a Dame's Delight". Oxford Mail. UK. 30 June 2014. Retrieved 29 April 2018.

External links[edit]

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