Sixty years on, former student returns to Oxford Brookes campus to unearth historic scroll

 Celia hands the unearthed scroll to Annabel  Valentine, Archivist in the Oxford Brookes Library in Headington.
Celia hands the unearthed scroll to Annabel Valentine, Archivist in the Oxford Brookes Library in Headington.

A former teacher training student returned to Oxford Brookes University’s Wheatley Campus to witness the unearthing of a scroll she buried during the site’s opening ceremony in 1964.

Celia Javan (née Harrington) this week travelled to Wheatley from Chichester where she now lives, along with her husband Keith, as the Wheatley Campus prepares for closure and the relocation of its courses to new state-of-the-art facilities in Headington.
In the 1960s Mrs Javan studied at a teacher training college originally established after the Second World War, in 1947 at Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes. The college moved to Wheatley where it became the Lady Spencer Churchill College in 1965, and later amalgamated with Oxford Polytechnic in 1976 which eventually evolved into Oxford Brookes University.

At the inauguration of the Wheatley Campus in 1964, a ceremonial scroll, symbolising the then college's hopes and dreams, was buried in a copper case under the steps of H Block, the main campus cafe. 

Fast forward sixty years, the team handling the Wheatley exit project discovered a photograph of the original ceremony in the archives. Mark Johnson, Oxford Brookes’ Campus Services Contracts Manager, located the scroll case using a metal detector. His online detective work, including and the electoral roll, helped him track down the students involved: Mrs Javan, Head of the Student Council at the time, and Peninnah Mackichan (née Weir-Watson), the Senior Student.

Although Mrs Mackichan could not attend, Mrs Javan, who enjoyed a 30-year teaching career, brought her treasured replica of the scroll to the event. Reflecting on the original ceremony, she shared: “We came by coach from Bletchley Park along with the student choir. There were handbell ringers, and we all had to be appropriately dressed. I had to borrow a dress and wear funny little collars. There was a big opening service and the local vicar was here.”

After 60 years under concrete, the metal tube containing the scroll was dented and it will require a specialist to remove the scroll inside. Five pennies from 1964, decaying but intact, were also found. 

The artefacts will be preserved in the Oxford Brookes University archives at the Headington Campus library, alongside historic paintings and materials related to Bletchley Park Teacher Training College and Lady Spencer Churchill College.

The Wheatley Campus is set to close later this year, with mathematics, computing, and engineering courses moving to two new, cutting-edge buildings on the Headington Hill site in Oxford. Construction began in January 2023, and the new facilities are expected to open in the 2024/25 academic year.

Jerry Woods, Director of Estates and Campus Services, said: “The new buildings have been designed for the evolving needs of Oxford Brookes University and the rapidly changing world of education. The facilities will bring together engineering and motorsport with creative art and design, innovative artificial intelligence and robotics, converging technologies and digital innovation. We very much look forward to welcoming students and staff to the new facilities in the next academic year.”

Following the unearthing ceremony, Mrs Javan and Oxford Brookes University staff celebrated with refreshments and a display showing the history of the teacher training college, produced by Dr Peter Forsaith, a Research Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History. 

Photographs: Mrs Javan's replica scroll and the Ceremony of the  Scroll, taken in 1964 when the scroll was buried.