Rhodes House is now a very happy and welcoming activity center for Rhodes Scholars and their guests. It is also an elegant wedding venue. There was a time when Rhodes House was a very quiet, almost forbidding place, which was how I found it when I joined the illustrious ranks of Rhodes Scholars in 1967.
Towards the end of 1967 I met a lovely English girl named Celia. We became friends, then love happened and we became inseparable. By the time I finished my Schools in 1968, Celia and I knew we wanted to be together for life and plans for marriage began. There was, at first, serious opposition from both families. My family were in Pakistan, Celia’s family lived in a quaint village called Brightwell-cum-Sotwell, near Wallingford. My parents eventually agreed to my wishes, but Celia’s parents continued to disapprove. Her father was understanding, but made it clear that they could not be part of any wedding preparations or arrangements.
So it was left to me and Celia to organise our wedding. Having graduated, I found a job with Barclays Bank. We were not content to just have a “registry office wedding”; we had no money but wanted desperately to have a decent ceremony and invite friends and family. I thought of Rhodes House!
The Warden at the time was Brigadier Sir Edgar “Bill” Williams. He had a daunting presence. While he took a lot of interest in his wards, he could be quite a scary person. So when I went to ask his permission to hold my wedding at Rhodes House, he was not amused. In a paternal manner he told me he that he thought I was too young to be rushing into marriage, and no, Rhodes House could not be used for a wedding. It was not appropriate.
I persisted and wrote to him challenging him to show why a Rhodes Scholar could not get married in Rhodes House, which is, after all, “their house”. I remember saying that if he withheld his permission I would get married at the steps of Rhodes House, with the Oxford Mail covering it! He relented and I got a message from his secretary conveying his reluctant permission. Lady Williams took a different view; she was very supportive and offered Celia the use of a bedroom to get ready in.
So the first ever wedding at Rhodes House took place on 16 August 1969. It was a Muslim ceremony. The Imam of the Oxford mosque officiated. We were not allowed to serve alcohol so a tea party was arranged. All our friends rallied around us and took charge of arrangements with the help of the wonderful Rhodes House staff and stewards from one of the colleges. The wedding cake was made by a friend of Celia’s who brought it all the way from Wales in her car.
We had a wonderful turnout of guests. Celia’s parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, my tutor, Dr. Bernard Rudden and his wife, my colleagues from Barclays Bank and a number of my friends all joined us. Unfortunately neither my parents nor any siblings could come from Pakistan but all my Pakistani and Indian friends at Oxford and close friends of my family attended. It was a lovely mix of east and west.
Our wedding day was a beautiful day, almost the only sunny one in a very wet month, and our memories of it are still fresh in our minds.
We have had the good fortune to visit Rhodes House many times over the years and we have had the joy of showing our four sons the place where our family’s story began. This year was a special visit as it marked 50 years since we were married. Since that time many weddings have taken place in Rhodes House but we love the feeling that we were the trail blazers! We are grateful to Warden Elizabeth Kiss and her staff for welcoming us so warmly and for their kind good wishes.
Afzal Mufti (Pakistan & St Peter's 1967)