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Student pranks

Written by Judith Curthoys, posted on Saturday, September 1, 2018

Document of the Month – September 2018

On 9 September 1664, an order was given for one Levett to be expelled from Christ Church.

He and two friends, Ackworth and Morison, had climbed over the college walls after curfew. Not a crime that would usually be punished by expulsion as it must have been a common occurrence. Right into the mid-twentieth century tales abounded about ways to break in after hours, and the porter generally turned a blind eye and put such misdemeanours down to youthful exuberance.

However, Levett and Morrison had done more than just be late back; they had killed a pig belonging to a poor woman and had left it lying about college where it could be seen by all and sundry. This was a smear on Christ Church’s reputation and thus required more serious attention. But it was only Levett who was singled out.

Detail from the minutes of Governing BodyAlexander Morison had just turned 21 and had recently received his BA, but it seems that he was a bad lot. He was threatened with expulsion just a few months after this incident when the minutes recorded him as being a “person of notorious and incorrigible debauchery”.  Morison had been found drunk and fighting at Merton. He was also guilty of disturbing people walking through Christ Church by shouting “loud and uncivil clamours and hooting.”  Compounding these crimes, he had been “debauching with a gentleman commoner” and was an accomplice in the robbing of John Dolben’s hen roost. Dolben was the Treasurer, dean of Westminster, and close friend of Fell, the dean of Christ Church – not a man to mess with.

Thomas Ackworth had migrated to Christ Church in 1662, from Magdalen Hall, and was two years into his studies for his MA.  His record suggests that his potential for success was already evident; he was made a tutor in 1663, and was later elected to both the Junior and Senior Censorships. After nearly twenty years of service to Christ Church, he was given the Christ Church living of Pyrton.

So Levett must have been the ringleader. He must have been the one who had kept the others out late and, presumably having partaken of a bit too much local ale, the one who killed the sow. But he also stole from the college; the Chapter minute also records that Levett pinched several bundles of laths – probably bought in to finish the new canonries on the north side of Tom Quad - and hid them in his room.

This last crime was just one too many, and Chapter decreed that the dean should remove Levett from his Studentship forthwith. Except, though, this didn’t happen.

As it turns out, Ackworth, in spite of being only a year or so older, was Levett’s tutor and there must have been pleas on Levett’s behalf and he survived.

Levett's name is recorded in the annual election list of Students for the next twenty years at least.  In 1680, he received both his BD and his DD; in 1681 he was elected principal of Magdalen Hall; and in 1685 he was made dean of Bristol.  He died, aged 50, in 1694 an esteemed member of the clergy and the University.