New College’s most famous attraction, the Mound, has been closed to students this week following a health and safety report.
Last Thursday Michael Burden, the New College Dean, sent an email to all students stating, “The College has received a routine health and safety report which has questioned the safety of the Mound steps. The College is considering how best to respond to the matters raised, but until a decision has been reached, the College has decided that Mound should be closed.”
The Mound is a square, four-sided hillock in the College’s Fellows’ Garden which rises around 10 metres high. Three of the sides are covered with dense shrubbery, while steep stone steps rise up the front side, leading to a paved area at the top which is hidden by trees from those below. It was built in the 1500s from the waste material left over from building work on the College, and once boasted cannon at the top.
However it was the steps, which are worn and very slippery when wet, that were criticised by the health and safety report commissioned by New College. The Dean told Cherwell that the report had “raised a number of questions” adding, “The College cannot see a quick or easy way to respond to these concerns, and while it is working out a strategy to deal with the matter, feels that it is in everyone’s best interests to close it.”
When asked how he planned to tackle students breaking the new rule he said, “The Dean does not deal in ‘sanctions’ per se, but will consider reported cases on their merits.”
Students of New College who climb the old city wall which runs around the College risk being sent down, and many were afraid that similar measures would be imposed for those found climbing the Mound.
Tom Scott, New College’s JCR President commented, “It’s hard to overstate the importance of the mound. It’s so much more than a loveable hill; it’s a part of who we are, a symbol of New College’s greatness. We hope this is resolved quickly.”
One Second Year, Jon Strang, said that he was outraged by the news. “This is ridiculous,” he said, “I love the mound! Health and safety has gone too far.”
The Mound has been the scene of many adventures for New Collegians. Aside from the traditional matriculation and graduation photographs, in the last year it has witnessed late-night romantic trysts, drinking society initiations and nudity, as those having performed exceptionally badly at pool in the College bar are forced to perform a trousers-down lap of the Mound.
A number of more dangerous incidents are also known to have taken place recently. One student broke a tooth falling down the side last year and two guests at a conference taking place in the College in September had to be taken to accident & emergency department following Mound-related injuries.
Tourists have never been allowed onto the Mound, but it is considered one of the main features of a tour of the College. Guides often tell the (untrue) story of how the Mound was constructed as a Aztec burial site, and show groups the game of ‘clapping at the Mound’, which involves standing in front of it and clapping, then listening as the Mound appears to clap back.
Steven McGlynn, the New College JCR Food, Housing and Amenities Rep, said that students should not be too concerned. “These reports happen all the time and they’re always slightly ridiculous. In the past they have even recommended that we put a chairlift up there to cater for any disabled students.”