- notes, frequently asked questions and useful links from the archivist and curator of manuscripts at Balliol College, Oxford. Opinions expressed are strictly the author's own!


Access to St Cross – MCR FAQ

Q: Where is St Cross?

A: It’s the church-shaped building next door to Holywell Manor.

Q: I live next door and I’ve never been in St Cross. Why is the door always locked? Shouldn’t church doors be open?

A: Ideally they should, but St Cross is no longer a parish church. It’s in use full time as Balliol’s special collections centre. For the security of the collections and staff working there, there is no access ‘off the street’ or out of staffed hours – you need to make an appointment and staff will meet you when you arrive. Much of the time there are researchers in the nave, which is used as the invigilated reading room –  tourists do not have access to the Broad Street Library for the same reason.

Q: So when can I see the inside of the building?

A: Just send the archivist an email and make an appointment for some mutually convenient time during working hours, Mon-Fri 9.30-5 except daily 1-2 and Friday afternoons. Well, it’s not ‘at the archivist’s convenience’, it’s about accommodating all the different kinds of users of the building considerately, including you and including the archivist who has a full day’s work to get done in addition to helping all kinds of visitors. Group visits are welcome.  There will be an MCR special collections private viewing event during the year, too, and MCR members will be encouraged to request items for display.

Q: Give us a sneak preview. What does it look like inside?

A: https://www.flickr.com/photos/balliolarchivist/collections/72157625216840610/

Q: I want to drop by informally, for a few minutes or a good browse, as I’m passing by, and after all I’m a member of the college. Can’t you make an exception to the appointments rule for once?

A: If I had a nickel for every time I’m asked that! Several times *a day*. Please save your friendly college archivist the embarrassment of having to say no yet again, and instead request an appointment, to which the answer will always be yes. Besides, when you attempt to drop by there may be a manuscripts seminar, a lecture or a school visit in progress, or staff may be in Broad Street or working inside a repository and not hear the door buzzer.

Q: I’m curious about the collections. How can I find out more, and can I ask to see an original manuscript purely for interest?

A: Normally you need a research question to access manuscript material, but there are regular exhibitions and college events including special collections material. There are some manuscripts (not many) that are not currently in acceptable physical condition for consultation or display. Please get in touch to start a conversation with staff about your interests, and we will do your best to accommodate your request. (Really.) There is lots of information about the many special collections held at St Cross here: http://archives.balliol.ox.ac.uk/

Q: College libraries are normally for the use of members of college only. Who gets to use the special collections?

A: Anyone, including members of the general public, with a valid research question requiring direct access to Balliol’s special collections. While the door to St Cross cannot be wide open most of the time, Balliol’s special collections are considerably wider open than the college’s working collection in the Broad Street library. This is because most of the special collections – certainly manuscripts and in many cases early printed books as well – are unique or have copy-specific features that make them effectively unique.

Q: This all sounds too complicated and time-consuming. Why don’t you just Digitise All The Things?

A: PLEASE come to one of our ‘introduction to special collections’ sessions, coming soon! Watch this space, website and social media for dates.

Q: If you’re asked for access so often, shouldn’t you be open to students and/or a wider public more often?

A: Ideally, but it’s a lot of extra work and time for a small and busy staff team, and the buildings’ core functions – research and teaching based on the special collections – are taking up more time at St Cross, which is a good thing. There are often open periods, displays, lectures and tours at St Cross as part of college events. 850 people came for the public Oxford Open Doors days in September. We are planning to have a public open day in spring as well, from 2015. And members of college (and indeed anyone) can always *make an appointment*.

Q: I don’t mind making an appointment. So can I use St Cross as a regular reading space/alternative to the Broad Street library or my department library?

A: Sorry, not unless you are working on special collections or non-borrowable library material housed there. There are ever-increasing numbers of researchers, special collections-based seminar groups from across Oxford and school access/outreach groups using the space. But if you have a special reason for wanting to work in St Cross, please do get in touch.

Other questions? Need more detail? Contact staff.


Open Doors additional


The reception team at St Cross for Open Doors 2014, ready with lots of information about the Oxford Preservation Trust, St Cross and its conversion to Balliol College’s special collections centre, and the current exhibition about the Balliol Boys’ Club and its members’ involvement in the First World War.


Balliol’s 1588 charter of Elizabeth I above a table of information sheets about St Cross, Balliol’s special collections, , our neighbours the Friends of Holywell Cemetery, other WW1 centenary exhibitions and events in Oxford (especially the Bodleian and OUCS) – and the charter itself.


Book stall – all free to take away during Open Doors: back numbers of the College Record, HB Hartley’s paperback Balliol Men, the 1st edition of the History of the Balliol Boys’ Club and other college publications.
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More books to browse – another copy of the Balliol College War Memorial Book and the 2nd edition of the history of the Balliol Boys’ Club, which brings the history up to the end of the club in 1971.

Inside the repository doors, we have as usual made the most of yet more display space with a few images from the collections. In past years we have sometimes used these spaces to display a medieval manuscript or two – they are extremely popular no matter what the theme of any other display in the building may be. This year I decided not to distract from the WW1 theme by showing any medieval mss, but There Have Been Complaints, so I may go back it next year…

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We have taken the same opportunity to show an excellent display by the Oxford Conservation Consortium about their work on the special collections of a group of about a dozen Oxford colleges.
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A view of the nave from the pulpit – a rare quiet moment during Open Doors!

WW1 – Boys’ Club exhibition

Boys’ Club WW1 exhibition

Balliol College Special Collections

St Cross Church, Holywell

Autumn 2014

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OPT balloons welcoming visitors to St Cross for Open Doors Days 2014


The Balliol Boys’ Club was formed in early 1907 as a result of changing attitudes in the college – driven especially by AL Smith, soon to become Master – towards social responsibility and widening access to education. The aim was to provide healthy, vigorous activity for working boys from underprivileged areas of Oxford; Balliol’s club was based in St Ebbe’s and offered boxing, football and summer camps. Such boys’ clubs – a number of colleges and public schools ran similar enterprises – fitted with emerging ideas about social action and youth activities, exemplified most famously by Robert Baden- Powell’s scouting movement. As it was run by college undergraduates for local boys, the club brought town and gown together, and its strong and lasting esprit de corps was to play an important role in the wartime experience of many of its old members. The club flourished again after the war, and its future was assured by the gift of a new clubhouse and funds in memory of one of its leading lights from the college, Keith Rae (Balliol 1907), who was killed in 1915.

The Club was wound up when the St Ebbe’s area was redeveloped c.1970, but there is still an active old members’ association. The club’s own records survive fairly well right from the early days, and the exhibition  includes: minutes of meetings; log books recording attendance and activities, featuring daily notes from summer camps; newspaper cuttings; photographs; accounts; and numbers of the club magazine, among them The Club at War; its own trench magazine, which circulated from 1916 to 1919. Ccentral to the exhibition will be the Boys’ Club War Memorial board, listing the club members who fell, Oxford boys and Balliol men together.

Also available to browse are contextual material such as the college’s war memorial volumes, writings by Balliol men associated with the Club in its early and wartime years, contemporary numbers of Punch, the College Record and a selection of enlargements of photographs from Francis Fortescue Urquhart’s photo albums of the period.

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The Club Archive at Balliol

Balliol College’s holdings of the Club’s administrative records are incomplete, and even if all minutes, accounts and activity logbooks survived, they would not tell the whole story – we can only present one incomplete point of view from this source. To tell a more rounded story of the Club or, especially, of any of its former members, a researcher would need to consult numerous primary and secondary sources, e.g. Oxford city archives, contemporary and later newspaper articles, school and perhaps work records for boys, personal and/or private collections of papers, the 1911 census (and, eventually, later ones as they become available), and individuals’ war records at the National Archives. This exhibition presents Balliol’s holdings about the Club and some of its College members, specifically to do with the period from its founding to the end of the First World War, with the intention of encouraging further research using this collection and related material elsewhere.

The Exhibition

Nave cases (starting on the south side, to your right as you come in):

Several cases include enlarged facsimiles of undated photographs of Club activities, mostly from summer camps.

- Log Books of Club activities August 1914 and November 1918. NB encouragement of enlistment in 1914 and rowdy behaviour in 1918!


- The Club at War, original editions. The tone of the Boys’ Club’s alumni trench magazine is mostly matter-of-fact. Its bulk is made up of brief letters from old members, so the effect of each issue will have been a kind of round-robin. Recipients were evidently keen to hear news of each other and of the present Club as long as it was able to continue and as soon as it started up again.

In many cases, particularly those of the former youth members, these are likely to be the only surviving words written by these men. More written by and about the Balliol men who were involved in the pre-war Club and died during the War can be found in the Wartime Writings section of the exhibition.


- Logbooks – student leaders’ accounts of summer camps during WW1.


- Photograph of the 1914 Freshmen of Balliol College. Biographical details, including wartime service, of all Balliol students can be found in the College Register on the table immediately to the right of the photo.


- Adam, Adela. Arthur Innes Adam, 1894-1916. A record founded on his letters . By his mother. with


- Mann, James Saumarez. An administrator in the making, James Saumarez Mann, 1893-1920. By his father.

Both volumes show photographs of Balliol students at Boys’ Club summer camps in 1914 and 1920 respectively.

- Arthur Graeme West (1891–1917), The Diary of a Dead Officer (1918). Edited by C. Joad. with


- EB Poulton, The Life of Ronald Poulton. Written by his father.

- Personal file sheets about individual boys ca.WW1 – these records, kept by student Club leaders, are the only examples of personal information held at Balliol about boy members of the Club.


- Wartime administrative records of the Club, showing one evening’s visit on leave by Maurice Jacks, a key student leader, and expenditures from 1918.


- Pre-war ‘general knowledge’ spoof quiz sheet about the Club, with


- Undated letter from JJ Baldwin, the first boy to sign up for the Club.

- Original agreement re rent and maintenance of Club premises, 1907. With


- Club Committee (College based) minutes from 1908 about inviting speakers regarding Boys’ Employment – working age was a topic currently under discussion with the Labour Commission, local Councils etc. 


South side:

Balliol Boys’ Club War Memorial plaque – listing both Balliol students and Oxford boys who were members of the Club and died during WW1. The exception is Frank Slatter, whose presence in the listing is unexplained – he survived and emigrated to Australia in 1921!


An FAQ-inspired note about the war memorial – the asterisk and ‘Mesopotamia’ at the bottom has nothing to do with the creation of the board, or with the area of the University Parks in Oxford between the Isis and the Cherwell, which is known as Mesopotamia. The asterisk corresponds to one above, against the name of JS Mann, who died not exactly in WW1 but in the ensuing 1920 Iraqi Revolt against the British Mandate.

The Club at War – Balliol Boys’ Club alumni trench magazine 1916-1919

Browsable enlarged facsimiles of Nos. 1, 6 and 11 of The Club at War.


North side:

Balliol biographies & autobiographies section of the printed collections – featured are the College War Memorial Book, several memoirs and biographies of Balliol men not directly connected to the Club, of whom more another year!


Central table: browsable wartime editions of Punch magazine, showing contemporary news, humorous comment, cartoons.

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Several Balliol students who had been key to the founding and early successes of the Balliol Boys’ Club became casualties of the war, as did a number of early boy members.

Photographs are taken from personal albums of FF Urquhart and RG Waddy and from College sport albums.


A selection of poems about their wartime experience and prose extracts about their 1910s Club experience by Balliol men who were instrumental in the early and wartime years of the Club. Prose about the War abounds in memoirs and biographies, and poetry (or at least verse of a kind) about the Club in the Club Magazine.

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The music playing during the exhibition is CD 2 from Memory Lane’s 3 CD collection The Great War – a Portrait in Music, Voices and Sound.



- exhibition guide by Anna Sander

Balliol College during the First World War



From the Balliol College Annual Record October 1916 p.12 (the first of such updates):

‘The College in War Time

‘The College has received a large number of officers and men as residents for varying periods during the War, and has lent rooms from time to time for the purposes of a Recruiting Office, and of Recreation-rooms for soldiers quartered in Oxford. From Aug. 5 to 9, 1914, there were 3 officers and 120 of the 4th Oxford and Bucks. L.I. resident in College; from Sept. 3 to Oct. 3, 1914, from 100 to 150 men, with a varying number of officers, of the same regiment from Nov. 12 to 23, 1914, 4 officers and 268 men of the 6th Oxford and Bucks. L.I., the officers remaining for some months afterwards. From Jan. 1915 to Feb. 1916 about 50 sets of rooms in College were occupied by officers attending the Training School for Officers in oxford; each course lasted about a month, and in all nearly 600 officers resided in College for their period of training. Since March 1916 the College has been the headquarters of the 6th Officer Cadet Battalion, under Lieut.0Col. R. Wilkinson, D.S.O. from March 15 to May 25 there were 100 officer cadets resident in College at one time; from May 26 to July 11, 150; and since the latter date, 200, with brief intervals between the courses. From 5 to 7 officers of the Battalion have also lived in College as members of the Senior Common Room.
‘The College has lent large quantities of furniture to Territorials quartered in Oxford, and to the Serbian School established first at Wycliffe Hall and then in Linton Road, and has given hospitality to several Belgian and Serbian students.

‘Many of the College servants are or have been absent on Military Service.

‘The Master’s Field has been used throughout the War by soldiers quartered in College both for drill and games.’


From the Balliol College Annual Record October 1917 p.14:

‘The College is still partially occupied by 200 Cadets of the 6th Officer Cadet Battalion, now commanded by Lieut.-Col. H.P. Yates, D.S.O.; several Officers of the Battalion have been resident in College, and the Battalion Headquarters are also within the walls. The Master’s Field and the College Barge continue to be regularly used by the Cadets.
‘Only two Tutorial Fellows are in residence (in addition to the Master), and two Tutors not on the Foundation. The others are all engaged in military service or Government work. With only 40 Undergraduates, or thereabouts, and those largely occupied with military training, many College institutions are inevitably in abeyance; but the Boys’ Club survives actively. Dr. Walker arranges concerts on Sunday evenings for Cadets, Officers and members of the University, and there are occasional debates in the Junior Common Room. There is only one Undergraduate in residence who was up before the War; but there is every reason to think that the traditions of the College are being maintained and that there will be a revival of its full activities when the War is over.’


From the Balliol College Annual Record October 1918 p.18:

‘The College is still partially occupied by 150 Cadets of the 6th Officer Cadet Battalion, now commanded by Lieut.-Col. B. Evans; several Officers of the Battalion have been resident in College, and the Battalion Headquarters are also within the walls. The Master’s Field and the College Barge continue to be regularly used by the Cadets.
‘Only two Tutorial Fellows are in residence (in addition to the Master), and three Tutors not on the Foundation. The others are all engaged in military service or Government work. With only 40 Undergraduates, or thereabouts, and those largely occupied with military training, many College institutions are inevitably in abeyance; but the Boys’ Club survives actively, thanks mainly to the energy of Capt. M.L. Jacks. Dr. Walker arranges concerts on Sunday evenings for Cadets, Officers and members of the University, and there are occasional debates in the Junior Common Room. There are only two Undergraduates in residence who were up before the War; but there has been no break in the continuity of the life of the College, and it is hoped that when the War ends it will be ready to play its part in the difficult times that lie before us.’


From the Balliol College Annual Record October 1919 p.17:

 The College After the War

‘As soon as men began to be released from the Army, special arrangements were made by the War Office to enable ‘students’ of all classes to return to their studies. A large number of men began to apply to the College before the end of 1918; a few of these had been up before the War, most had been qualified for admission during the War. It seemed best to bring such men to Oxford as soon as possible after their demobilization, and every effort was made to get the rooms ready. On January 9, 1919, 150 Cadets left the College and a week later about the same number of undergraduates took their place. By the end of the Term 160 men were in residence, of whom 113 had been in the Rmy. In the Summer Term the numbers rose to 233, of whom 1898 were old service men. Of the men who were up before the War 33 returned to the College. Of the 147 who had been admitted, whether as Scholars, Exhibitioners, or Commoners, during the War, but who had postponed their residence, 28 had fallen, and of the remainder 95 have so far come up. These statistics show how quickly the College recovered in numbers and how substantial was the link with pre-war days. Before the War the number of undergraduates actually in residence rarely, if ever, exceeded 190. The present numbers are therefore abnormal, and naturally cause a good deal of discomfort, but the College was anxious to do its best for those who had been serving. Fortunately nearly all the Fellows who had been engaged in Government service were able to return for the Summer Term and to help in the work of the College during a most interesting period of its history.

‘This year, for the first time since 1914, a Gaudy was held. On June 27 the College entertained 110 old members, all of whom had seen service abroad during the War.’

Patronal festival evensong at St Cross

Patronal Festival

A service of Evensong will be held in the chancel of St Cross, Holywell, to mark the Feast of the Holy Cross on Sunday, 14 September 2014 at 5pm

Everyone is welcome

Celebrant: the Revd Canon Brian Mountford, Vicar of the University Church


The Church of St Cross is a daughter church of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin. The recently restored Grade I listed building (2010) is now home to the Historic Collections Centre of Balliol College; its Chancel is preserved for occasional services.

Open Days this weekend!


Balliol College’s Historic Collections Centre at St Cross Church, Holywell

will be open to the public as part of Oxfordshire Historic Churches Trust Ride & Stride

Saturday 13 September 2014 12-4 pm



Oxford Open Doors (Oxford Preservation Trust in partnership with the University of Oxford)

Saturday & Sunday 13-14 September, 12-4pm both days

There will be an exhibition in the church about the Balliol Boys’ Club and the First World War – more information on p.31

These events are of course FREE!

Ride & Stride participants, please note that the church will not be open during the whole official event time of 10am – 6pm – please come and visit us between 12-4pm.

Directions: http://archives.balliol.ox.ac.uk/Services/visit.asp#f

conservation – manuscripts survey summary

Balliol College Archives & Manuscripts and the Oxford Conservation Consortium recently completed a condition survey of all of Balliol’s medieval and early modern manuscript books, as well as a number of later items catalogued in the same series. (See RAB Mynors, Catalogue of the Manuscripts of Balliol College Oxford, OUP 1963.)

The survey of 497 items, ranging from single sheets and home made booklets of a few bifolia to palm leaves strung between wooden boards and huge bound volumes on parchment, took 39 sessions averaging 3 hours each (ca 120 hours total, more than 4 items per hour) over 29 weeks, from mid-January to the end of July 2014. The staff hours required were twice that, as each session required two people: a conservator handling the manuscripts and a Balliol staff member entering data into an Access database on the OCC laptop. This was a much more efficient use of the college’s OCC subscription time than having the conservator enter the data as well as assess the manuscripts. It also provided a once-in-a-career opportunity for Balliol Library staff, particularly the Archivist, who is responsible for the manuscripts, to become familiar with every manuscript in the collection, in some detail. Most of the data was entered by the Archivist, but all members of Library staff participated during the course of the survey, as did five members of OCC staff. The process was speeded up considerably by having the 10-15 items scheduled for each day’s session ready in advance and waiting on a trolley in the reading room when the conservator arrived.

The survey

Each item received an average of 15 minutes of assessment, but in practice it varied from 10-25 mins depending on the complexity and condition of the item. The survey template included sections for descriptions of each item and assessment of its current physical condition as well as recommended repair/conservation treatment: survey information (date seen and name of assessing conservator); physical dimensions; current boxing or other container; text block materials, binding type, cover and board materials; attachments and supports, sewing, endbands, fastenings, text block edges, binding decoration, labels or titles; condition of text block and its media; condition of binding (cover, boards, joints, sewing, endbands, labels); whether the volume had been rebound or rebacked; its overall condition or usability; any treatment required or recommended, including new or replacement preservation boxing/packaging; and any other notes.

Equipment required

  • good lighting and seating, a large stable table
  • large document trolley
  • measuring tape
  • conservator’s tools e.g. large tweezers, selection of dentistry tools!
  • magnifying glass
  • cold (LED) desk lamp
  • foam wedge book supports of various sizes
  • bone folders
  • lead weight/snakes
  • laptop for entering data

The database

The template for the survey database was adapted for the Balliol survey into Access format from OCC’s existing Word document, which had been used for several previous similar surveys at other colleges. We also kept a paper copy of the form handy during survey sessions for easy reference to descriptors. It was pre-loaded with all the MSS numbers, short titles for identification and centuries of production. At the end of each session the updated database was copied to a memory stick and to the archivist’s networked drive.

Having the survey information in a database format, not only electronically searchable but also  sortable, makes possible many of the future uses of the data listed below.

Database suggestions

We found that while the template provided an excellent structure for focused investigations and vocabulary for nearly everything we needed to describe, it would have been useful to add a notes field rather than tick-boxes only for description of the writing materials. Most texts fell into the usual categories of iron-gall ink, black-brown ink, pigments etc, but we also found various types of ‘pencil’ in some of the medieval books, and modern inks, pencil and typescript in some of the modern mss. In some cases we noted these in the Notes field at the end, but more information would have been captured with another field in the writing materials section. The same applied to the Bindings description section, especially for some of the unusual amateur bindings and coverings. We began noting the number of binding supports partway through and found it a useful addition.

Data entry was done directly into the Table view of the Access database; this helped to keep investigations very focussed, as the Table view layout made it difficult for the data enterer to skip around between sections, but an Access user interface would give access to more fields at once and should be considered for future use. Some users might prefer to convert the database to Excel, and we have found it useful to extract and convert parts of it to Word for reports and printing.

Aside from the professional and custodial benefits to staff and the college, we all enjoyed this survey immensely! It was an exciting time of (re)discoveries in the collection and much learning for all involved.

Benefits and uses

1) The most obvious function of the survey is to inform conservation treatment priorities for the future, but it is far from the only one. For each manuscript, its current condition and recommended treatment will be balanced with its contents/research interest and likelihood of exhibition or teaching use. We have good data going back more than 10 years on the ‘research popularity’ of the manuscripts.

2) In addition to conservation treatments needed, the survey has identified basic important preservation improvements e.g. numerous mss are not yet boxed, or need wrappers inside their otherwise good acid-free envelopes

3) The survey acts as a shelf check of the manuscripts.

4) Although the manuscripts were catalogued by Mynors, some of the descriptions date from as early as the 1930s and many reflect Mynors’ own research interests, heavily biased toward the texts of western medieval books. The survey has helped to identify underdescribed manuscripts needing improved catalogue entries to serve the wider interests of students of codicology and the history of the book. Areas particularly needing improvement are descriptions of historic bindings, details of illumination and book decoration, early modern manuscripts and non-western manuscripts.

5) Electronic records make it easy to flag the manuscripts’ physical condition to potential users on our website, so it is clear in advance which need (extra) special care in handling and which (few) will not be produced to researchers in their present condition. This will inform staff handling and manuscript-specific instructions on handling to readers. Better handling will improve long term preservation by decreasing the likelihood of further damage.

6) Similarly, exhibition/loan requests can receive quick and detailed responses about the suitability of specific mss for display and particular considerations needed. Where necessary, treatments can be prioritised or alternative candidates found. Staff will be able to balance the physical exposure of manuscripts across the collection rather than repeatedly displaying the same few well-known and regularly requested ‘treasures’. Increasing the breadth of manuscripts displayed will lead to institutional appreciation of the collection as a whole rather than a set of highlights with an anonymous hinterland of unknown quality.

7) Staff can easily find FAQ statistics e.g. largest, smallest, oldest, unusual characteristics, shared features, authors, texts, dates; these will be useful for reports, teaching, outreach, displays and online features.

8) Improved staff/institutional knowledge of the whole collection has already led to use of some of the less-frequently consulted (and formerly less valued) manuscripts for teaching and school outreach purposes.

A few survey numbers

  • MSS surveyed: 497
  • people involved: 9
  • staff hours: ca. 240 (ca. 120 each Balliol and OCC)
  • no. & % of mss in good condition: 211
  • no. & % of mss in fair condition: 196 + 22 in ‘fair-to-good’ condition, indicating that some minor repairs would make the manuscript significantly safer to produce.
  • no. & % of mss in poor condition: 38 + 24 in ‘fair-to-poor’ condition, usually meaning that one of the boards is detached but the MS is in otherwise fair condition
  • no. & % of mss in unusable condition: 6
  • largest MS: two answers: largest volume MS 228, dimensions 480x350x125 mm, vol 0.021 m3; and largest boards MS 174, dimensions 480x370x090 mm, vol 0.0159 m3 .
  • smallest MS: MS 378, a book of prayers in Ethiopic, written on parchment with wooden boards and a nice example of Coptic binding. It measures 081x062x035 mm.
  • oldest MS: MS 306, part of which is a 10th century copy of a text by Boethius

Have a look at our conservation survey series of posts for more details of our discoveries! Still more to come…


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