Since at least the 1660s, Parson’s Pleasure in the University Parks existed as a secluded facility for male-only nude bathing and sunning on the River Cherwell. It was located next to the path on the way to Mesopotamia at the south-east corner of the Parks. A nearby area, Dame’s Delight, was set aside for the use of women and children from 1934-1970. The Pleasure was traditionally frequented by dons, including CS Lewis, and now forms part of the folklore of the University. An oft-told anecdote holds that a number of dons were skinny-sunbathing on the Pleasure when some students (possibly female) passed by on the river in a punt. Most of the startled dons covered their modesty but one placed a towel over his head instead.* When asked why he had done that, he replied, ‘Oh, well my students know me by my face.’ The standard guides to Oxford are less forthcoming about the Pleasure’s long-standing use as a gay cruising site. The facility closed in 1991, possibly because of concerns about homophobic violence although this is unconfirmed.
* variously said to be John Sparrow, Warden of All Souls, or R. H. Dundas (‘the great high priest’ of Parson’s Pleasure according to Ian Harvey).
Image: Parson’s Pleasure (c.1944) by William Roberts.