When he was 14, in the 1930s, Denis Winter became a stair boy at Christ Church. The boys helped the college scouts cleaning rooms, making beds, lighting fires, laying tables, taking meals to students and doing the washing-up - generally keeping the dons and undergraduates happy in fact.

Now 90, Denis looks back with with nostalgia and pleasure to those far-off days. Even the emptying of the chamber pots, which they called thunder mugs', did not seem to bother the stair boys.

His job involved long hours and hard work, but also meant he met famous men, including Albert Einstein - but we'll come to that later!

At Christ Church the steward allocated Denis and another boy to help Thomas Hicks, the scout who took care of four prestigious staircases next to Tom Tower.

"Many of the rooms were lived in by dons, known as students' at Christ Church - they had larger rooms than the undergraduates," said Denis.

"The boys had a total of 17 fires to lay and light each morning. The ashes were cleared and large scuttles of coal had to be taken to the rooms. Hot water was carried up by the scout in polished copper containers. Then rooms were swept and cleaned, baths prepared, clothes laid out and breakfast laid - all before the residents of the rooms were washing-up in one of the pantries on the ground floor."

Boys received 14 shillings a week with a shilling rise each year until they could become a full-blown scout.

Scouts and scouts' boys, who lived in their own homes, started work at 6am. They would have an hour's break for lunch.

By about 2.30pm they were able to go home but had to be back at 5.30pm to clear the tea things away. They were usually able to get away by about 6.30pm.

However, they were sometimes asked to help serve dinner in Hall. They tended to be trained for this on the spot and were therefore thrown in at the deep end'.

On the whole there was job security and earnings were about £40 a year before the Second World War.

Famous people lived at Christ Church in the 1930s. Frederick Lindemann (Lord Cherwell), the scientist and close friend of Winston Churchill, was one. Frank Packenham, (later Lord Longford) lived on one of the staircases which Denis looked after.

"The most famous man there was Albert Einstein who lived on staircase four for a few years," said Denis. "I would make his bed and help the scout with the other tasks. The three well-known men would often have lunch together in Packenham's rooms."

Regular visits

Einstein took a shine to young Denis after discovering that he had been taught to play the violin by his father, who was a musician and orginally from Bavaria.

Coming from the same country, Einstein was keen to visit the Winter family in their home at 58 Friars Street, Oxford. It was in the area known as the Friars which was later demolished for the new St Ebbe's development.

Einstein would regularly visit Denis's home to play his violin with Denis and his father for two or three hours at a time.

No doubt he found pleasure in this relaxation in simple surroundings playing Mozart, Beethoven, Verdi and Rossini.

When Denis was 19 he became a scout at Exeter College. Here he earned £113 a year and looked after nine double sets of rooms on three floors but had no boy to assist him. He finally became chief scout there.

After 20 years at Exeter he moved to Brasenose, where he was a scout for 25 years until he retired in 1983.

Undergraduates remember their scouts with affection and when they come back for college Gaudies often ask for them first before their former tutors. "Is Winter still here?" they would say, hopefully.

Denis explained that when the undergraduates came up as freshers' they were ignorant of so many things.

"Some were homesick, never having been away from home before," he said.

"They arrived at the age of 17 or 18, there being no gap year in those days. They would ask for advice and the scouts would willingly give it. We were like mothers to them."