And it doesn’t stop there. If you venture a few yards further along Turl Street and peer into the Virginia-creepered walls of the front quad (once home to John Wesley, the decidedly undiabolical founder of Methodism) you will espy, above the doorway leading to the dining hall, an imp, its cloven foot raised, like a demonic sailor dancing a hornpipe.
Why Lincoln College?
According to medieval legend, two imps were despatched by Satan to do his evil work on Earth. After causing mayhem in the north of England (some say they were responsible for twisting the church spire at Chesterfield) they headed for Lincoln Cathedral where they smashed tables and chairs, blew out candles, scattered hymn sheets, attacked the choristers, and even tripped up the Bishop. It was only when an angel intervened and turned one of them to stone that order was eventually restored. But the other imp managed to escape … Medieval Oxford was part of the diocese of Lincoln, and the founder of the College in 1427 was its bishop, Richard Fleming (hence the college’s other distinctive icon, the mitre) so an impish connection was there from the outset.
Other, smaller imps are visible in the rafters of the Old Library and on several spoons in the silver cutlery collection. The satirical student magazine is named after it, and an exhibition to mark the college’s approaching 600th anniversary features a vitrine of imp-related drawings and memorabilia – even including a cuddly mascot in a Lincoln College T-shirt. The devil’s envoy, it would seem, has at last been tamed.