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Climate change, women’s rights and Oxford’s partnership with India were all on the agenda during a visit by His Royal Highness Prince Charles to Somerville today – the first public visit by a senior member of the royal family to an Oxford college since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

In glorious June weather, Prince Charles discussed biodiversity in the gardens with Professor Fiona Stafford and Head Gardener Sophie Walwin, learned about the research from scholars of the Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development and planted a tree to signify the launch of the College’s new sustainability plan. HRH’s tree-planting was even met with a resounding cheer from the assembled students, many of whom cited Prince Charles’ pioneering commitment to environmentalism as their reason for coming.

Founded in 1879, Somerville was one of the first colleges for women at the university, but it was not until 1920 that our students were permitted to graduate with full degrees. His Royal Highness met social historian and author Dr Jane Robinson, and the college’s Librarian, Dr Anne Manuel, during his visit, to hear about the role of Somerville College and its members in campaigning for the rights of women at Oxford.

Drs Manuel and Robinson also presented objects from the college archive, including a photograph from a previous royal visit to Somerville in 1921 by Prince Charles’ great-grandmother Queen Mary, who was the first woman to be awarded an honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree by Oxford University.

Later, the Prince met scholars from the Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development over tea, along with its Research Director, Dr Radhika Khosla. Together, they discussed the work of the ground-breaking Oxford-India partnership to advance knowledge of the complex challenges and opportunities associated with sustainable development in India, including the use of reforestation projects to mitigate climate change and mapping the impact of energy-hungry cooling technologies upon the environment.

His Royal Highness was kind enough to conclude his visit by planting a Rehderodendron Macrocarpum tree in the college’s Darbishire Quadrangle. The small tree, which originally comes from China, blossoms in May and will provide an early source of nectar and pollen for insects as well as a beautiful floral display for Somerville’s students to enjoy during the summer term. It seemed the perfect way to end a memorable visit – in the promise of a greener, more sustainable future.

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