- 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!

Author Archive

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…

#WW1 – Hardit Singh Malik (Balliol 1912)

The BBC has a fascinating series of stories on their WW1 At Home site – here is an index of all the Oxford related ones. The one that interests me particularly is that of HS Malik, the first Indian pilot in the Royal Flying Corps.

I can recommend his autobiography, A Little Work, A Little Play, published by his daughter in (?)2010, as an excellent read of a fascinating life lived in decidedly interesting times on several continents. Here is a review.

There is not a great deal of information about HS Malik’s time at Balliol (1912-1915) in the College Archives, but what there is illustrates his long-standing enjoyment of college cricket, his WW1 flying career and his abiding friendship with FF Urquhart.


The series of photos is bookended by groups of ‘Past v Present’ cricketers from the college’s albums once kept in the cricket pavilion and documenting all college sport except rowing (which had its own set of albums) – HS Malik appears first in 1913 as a ‘Present’ and finally in 1931 as a ‘Past.’

In his first year at Balliol he is wearing his Eastbourne College cricket blazer; by the next year, he has a Balliol blazer. The informal, light-hearted snap at the Pavilion is from about the same time as the last, Trinity Term 1914, just weeks before war was declared.

The first of Sligger’s wartime photos, from May-June 1916, is the only one of Francis Urquhart and HS Malik together – at this time they will have been discussing ways for Malik to fulfil his desire to join either the French or the British air force. The next also predates HS Malik’s groundbreaking acceptance as an officer in the RFC – at this point, summer 1917, through FF Urquhart’s connections, Malik is working as an officer ambulance driver for the Croix Rouge Français. (Urquhart volunteered at the American Hospital in Neuilly -sur-Seine during University vacations.) The caption of the next two photos, also from Francis Urquhart’s own albums, marks a milestone for HS Malik and for the Service he entered – he has become a pilot in the newly-formed RAF (merger of RFC with Royal Naval Air Service in April 1918).

Though he took his History degree in 1915, HS Malik returns to college cricket as a ‘Present’ for the 1920-21 year, while undertaking mandatory studies preceding posting to the Indian Civil Service.

The last photo is once again a ‘Cricket Past and Present’ group – HS Malik and his family are back in England as he takes up the post of Deputy Trade Commissioner in the Office of the High Commission for three years from 1930. This posting to England came in time for Malik to see his friend and tutor again before Urquhart’s death in 1934.

exhibition archive – Adam Smith

This article originally appeared on the Balliol Archives & Manuscripts website. It documented an exhibition mounted in the College Chapel by Dr John Jones with assistance from Anna Sander. The catalogue which follows was written by Dr Jones.

An Exhibition arranged for a Conference of the
International Adam Smith Society
11-13 January 2009

The Exhibition was held in the College Chapel, by kind permission of the Chaplain.


Adam Smith was nominated to a Snell Exhibition by the University of Glasgow and admitted to Balliol in 1740. He held his Exhibition until 1749, and was probably in actual residence in Balliol for practically all of the period July 1740-August 1746. His Snell Exhibition was augmented by a Warner Exhibition in 1742. Most of what has been written about Smith’s six years at Oxford is speculation and padding. In his earliest surviving letter, written to his cousin William Smith a month after arrival, he remarked “…. it will be to his own fault if anyone should endanger his health at Oxford by excessive study, our only business here being to go to prayers twice a day, and to lecture twice a week.”

It was a depressed period in the history of the College. Student numbers had fallen to the lowest since the Reformation, and some of the dons were idle, absent, or preoccupied with intrigue and litigation. But two of them, Charles Godwyn and Joseph Sanford, were lifelong scholar-bibliophiles, and the Master Theophilus Leigh paid lip service at least to academic discipline. Smith’s attitude was probably coloured by the fact that the Scots were not warmly welcomed. But he made lasting friends here, and had the time and opportunity to read widely.

What he read, where he read it, and who, if anybody, advised him is not documented. But he knew and may have been influenced by George Drake (ca.1711-1752). Drake was an active Fellow and Lecturer in Smith’s time of whom very little is known, but Smith’s friend John Douglas recorded that his “Tutor was Mr George Drake, whom I shall always have an affectionate Remembrance of as I profited much by his superintending my Studies”. Douglas was, like Smith, from Fifeshire; he resided as a Warner Exhibitioner 1738-1744, then saw active service abroad as a military chaplain before returning to Balliol as Snell Exhibitioner1745-1748. Later a member of Samuel Johnson’s circle and FRS, he was Bishop of Salisbury 1791-1807.

The Snell (1699) and Warner (1668) Exhibitions were often known together as the Scotch Exhibitions. They had been established to finance young Scots at Oxford, where they would be ordained and return to bolster the episcopal church in Scotland. In fact few Exhibitioners ever did as expected. There was tension between the Glasgow and Balliol authorities over the administration of the Snell Trust from the outset until the mid-nineteenth century. The Trust survives, and Glasgow graduates still follow in Adam Smith’s footsteps to Balliol.

It is ironic that one of our greatest alumni was here at a relatively undistinguished time, and probably owed little more to Balliol than the opportunity to read as he liked. But nor does the College owe its reputation in economics and social reform to him. Five of our many statesmen have served as Chancellor of the Exchequer (Stafford Northcote, Asquith, Macmillan, Healey and Jenkins); three members have won the Nobel Prize in Economics (Myrdal, Solow and Hicks); many members have distinguished themselves in economics as academics or journalists; the present Master Andrew Graham is an economist, and two of his pupils are rising stars in national politics (James Purnell and Yvette Cooper). Lord Beveridge, architect of the Welfare State, was a student at Balliol; and Arnold Toynbee was a Lecturer. Similarly in Moral Philosophy: four distinguished contributors to the field have been Master in the last 150 years (Benjamin Jowett, Edward Caird, Lord Lindsay and Sir Anthony Kenny) – Caird and Lindsay indeed had previously held Adam Smith’s Chair of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow; and both TH Green and RM Hare were Fellows of Balliol.

Items on display

1.a) Admissions and Degrees Book 1686-1833, open at Adam Smith’s admission entry, 4 July 1740

1.b) Smith’s entry among graduation records, 5 May 1744: Com. Smith admissus est Jurista.

This entry is of particular interest as it seems to have been missed by his many biographers, who have been puzzled by his status at Oxford 1744-1746 and some of whom have conjectured that he took the BA, which he could have done. He never took any degree at Oxford, but men of his standing in Balliol were given the courtesy title of a BA, Dominus, and placed in the social hierarchy as if they had graduated BA. The term Jurista indicates that he was a student of civil law.

There is a corresponding entry in the University Archives ref. SP 70, 18 January 1743/4, for which thanks are due to Simon Bailey, Keeper of the Archives: Adam Smith e Collegio Ball’ Commensalis admissus fuit in facultate Juris Civilis, Licentia sub Chirographo Praefecti Collegii sui prius significata. He paid the same College fee in 1744 as those graduating BA, and from this time he appears in all College lists as “Ds Smith” without distinction from those who were BA. This may be an indicator of what he was studying; or it may have been a device to evade being drawn along the path towards ordination; or he may have quibbled at the Oath of Allegiance required on graduating BA. On the College’s side it was no doubt a matter of not allowing any potential fee-payer to escape.

2.a) Latin Register 1682-1781, open at Adam Smith’s Snell Exhibition nomination by the Glasgow authorities, 11 March 1740.

This document is pasted into a large ledger and had to be photographed at an awkward angle. You will need to refer to both images for the entire text.

2.b) Smith’s admission by the Snell Trustees, 4 July 1740.

‘July the 4th 1740
‘We, whose names are hereunto subscribed, do give our Consents, that Adam Smith born in the kingdom of Scotland, & chosen into one of Mr Snell’s Exhibitions in Balliol College by virtue of a Decree made in the High Court of Chancery in 1693, be admitted accordingly into the said Exhibition.
‘T. Leigh V[ice] Ch[ancello]r & Master of Balliol
‘W. Smith Prov[os]t of Queen’s Coll[ege]
‘Will[iam] Holmes Presid[en]t of St John’s.’

2.c) Smith’s Warner Exhibition presentation by the Warner Trustees 2 November 1742.

‘Whereas by the last Will & Testament of the Right Reverend Father in God Dr John Warner late Lord Bishop of Rochester , the Nomination & Election of Four Scotch Scholars to be maintained by His Charity in Balliol College in Oxford, is vested in the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop of Rochester for the Time being. These are therefore to certify that We John the present Archbishop of Canterbury and Joseph Lord Bishop of Rochester do hereby nominate & elect the Bearer hereof Mr Adam Smith being (as We are certainly informed) born at Kirkcaldy in Scotland aged Nineteen Years and now a Member of Your College to be by You forthwith admitted into the place lately enjoyed by James Monteath & now vacant , and to enjoy the pension belonging to the Same , as fully and amply as by the aforesaid Will and Act of Parliament confirming the same he ought to do. In Witness whereof We have hereunto set our Hands and Seals this 2nd day of Nove[ember] in the Year of Our Lord 1742.
‘Jo[hn Potter] Cant[uar, Canterbury]
‘Jos[eph Wilcocks] Roffen [ Rochester]
‘To the Reverend Dr Theophilus Leigh
‘Master of Balliol College in Oxford.’

2.d) Smith’s Snell Exhibition resignation, written from Edinburgh on 4 February 1749, although he went out of residence in 1746.

‘ Edenburgh feb:4:1748/9 I Adam Smith one of the Exhibitioners on Mr Snells foundation in Baliol College in Oxford do hereby resign into the hands of the Revd Dr Leigh Master of the said college all right & title which I have to an Exhibition on the said foun- dation as witness my hand
‘Adam Smith. ‘

3. Caution Money Book 1640-1750, open at the entry in Adam Smith’s hand, acknowledging the return of his friend John Douglas’s deposit [“caution money”], 28 May 1744.

4. John Douglas, photograph of the College portrait, Robert Muller, ca.1797.

5. Adam Smith, bust, Baron Carlo Marochetti, 1852.

6. Adam Smith, miniature portrait plaque, James Tassie, 1787.

7. Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of The Wealth of Nations two volumes, 2nd edition (1778).

Arnold Toynbee’s copy. Volume I is open at the title page, and volume II shows the Toynbee commemorative bookplate. The College has no copy of the 1st edition of The Wealth of Nations (1776), and unfortunately no early edition at all of The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759).

8. Arnold Toynbee, portrait plaque, Sir Joseph Boehm, ca.1883.

9. William Beveridge, bust, Benno Elkan, 1943.


On Adam Smith at Oxford, with the caveat that little is actually documented:

  • WR Scott, Adam Smith as Student and Professor, 1937
  • EC Mosser and IS Ross (Eds.), The Correspondence of Adam Smith, 1977
  • IS Ross, The Life of Adam Smith, 1995.

On his status see A Clark, Notes and Queries 10 S XII Nov 13 1909, 384.

On the Snell Exhibitions:

  • WI Addison, The Snell Exhibitions from the University of Glasgow to Balliol College, Oxford, 1901
  • L Stones, The Life and Career of John Snell (c. 1629-1679), Stair Soc. Miscellany II, 1984
  • J Jones, John Snell’s Exhibitions 1699-1999, 1999 [ISBN 0 9512569 4 7].

For background to 18th century Balliol: J Jones, Balliol College: a history, 2nd edn revised, 2005.

On the busts etc: J Jones, The Portraits of Balliol College, a Catalogue, 1990. [ISBN 0 9512569 2 0].

exhibition archive – Chalet Centenary

This article was originally posted on the Balliol Archives & Manuscripts website. It documents an exhibition mounted at University College and Balliol College for former Chaletites in September and November 2009 by Univ Chalet Trustees Dr Keith Dorrington and Dr Stephen Golding, with assistance from Anna Sander. The catalogue was written by Dr Golding.

An Exhibition Celebrating 100 years
of the new Chalet des Mélèzes

University College, 12-13 September and Balliol College, 14-15 November 2009

There is no prescribed order to the exhibition; we hope you will enjoy browsing between past and present.

Facsimile photographs

The black and white photos are taken from the 1890s to pre-WW2 era. About half are taken from the Chalet Books, the originals of which are on display; the other half come from Francis Urquhart’s contemporaneous series of personal photo albums.

Administrative documents

On display are some of the few surviving written records of Chalet history apart from the diaries: title deeds conveying the old Chalet and the Honeymoon Chalet, receipts for work and materials during the building of the new Chalet, and the fateful letter written by Humphrey Paul (New College 1903) the morning after the fire in September 1906.

Printed books

The Chalet has a good collection of antiquarian mountaineering books. Several volumes on display (de Saussure, Whymper) have been brought back to Oxford for repairs and conservation, and will be returned to the Chalet for future generations. Also represented are biographies of FF Urquhart and Chaletites both well-known and obscure.

Relief map

Univ reading parties follow Sligger’s tradition of serious walking – early parties went to Buet, les Contamines, Varens, Nant Borant, Lac Blanc, Lac Vert, Lac de Joux, Servoz, Tete Rousse, Notre-Dame-de-la-Gorge and many other places familiar from the early diaries, often staying in mountain refuges overnight along the way.


These Roman Catholic Mass vestments (prob. ca. 1920) would have been worn by the Abbé Klein and other visiting priests to celebrate Mass in the chapel. The stole from the red/white set is just visible in this photo. They were brought back to Oxford in 2006 due to concerns about their preservation. The set is comprised of reversible fiddleback chasubles, maniples, stoles, veils and burses in the colours of the whole liturgical year. The portable altar stone is still in the Chalet. Thanks to the Rev Dr HD Dupree and Fr Stephen Platt for loans of girdle and alb.


University College is working to build up its own Chalet collection; please contact the Trustees or the Archivist regarding any possible deposits of material. Archivist: Dr Robin Darwall-Smith (Mon-Tues)

New College holds the papers of Sir Christopher Cox, which include a large amount of information about the Chalet and the Chalet Trust; they are currently closed for cataloguing. Archivist: Mrs Jennifer Thorp (Mon-Tues)

Balliol College holds the personal and political papers of David Urquhart, some early administrative Chalet documents and Francis Urquhart’s photo albums. For historical reasons, the Chalet Books are deposited at Balliol; they are open to Chaletites from any college. Archivist: Anna Sander (Mon-Fri)

Further Reading

Bailey, C. Francis Fortescue Urquhart: a memoir. London: Macmillan, 1936.

Bishop, MC. Memoir of Mrs Urquhart. London: Kegan Paul, 1897.

Hewett, SH. A scholar’s letters from the front. Ed. & Intro F. F. Urquhart. Oxford 1918.

Klein, Abbé Félix. Diary of a French Army Chaplain. Translated from La Guerre vue d’une Ambulance by M. Capes. 1915.

Robinson, G. David Urquhart: some chapters in the life of a Victorian knight-errant of Justice and Liberty. Intro. FF Urquhart. Oxford: Blackwell, 1920.

Urquhart, D. The Pillars of Hercules, or a narrative of travels in Spain and Morocco in 1848. 2 vols. London: Richard Bentley, 1850.

Urquhart, D. The Spirit of the East, illustrated in a journal of travels through Roumeli during an eventful period. 2 vols. London: Henry Colburn, 1838.

Urquhart, FF. The Eastern Question. 1914.

Urquhart, FF. David Urquhart, the law of nations & the Vatican council. Oxford, 1918. (First published in The Dublin Review.)

Urquhart, FF. A plea for international law. Oxford, 1915. (First published in The Dublin Review.)

exhibition archive – Robert Browning

This article, written by the Fellow Librarian, Dr Seamus Perry, was originally posted on the Balliol Archives & Manuscripts website. It documents an exhibition at St Cross Church in September-October 2012.

Browning at Balliol
A Bicentenary Exhibition
29 September – 6 October 2012










Balliol College is honoured to care for one of the most distinguished collections of Browning material. Robert Browning (1812 – 1889) is one of the greatest poets of the nineteenth century, whose masterpieces include Men and Women and The Ring and the Book. A friend and admirer of Jowett, he was elected the first Honorary Fellow of Balliol in 1867.

The College’s Browning collection was begun before his death: the distinguished portrait by his son, Pen, was presented to the College in 1886. The manuscripts of most of his later writings were bequeathed to the College by wish of the poet: there are six stout volumes, handsomely bound in brown Morocco and bearing the poet’s coat of arms. (A seventh volume, containing Asolando, was retained by Pen and sold after his death to the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York.)

Several important items were subsequently presented by the family, including the Old Yellow Book and a portrait of Guido Franceschini once owned by the poet, which were given by Pen, and the ring and Browning’s academic gown, given by Pen’s widow Fannie.

The collection grew through donations of correspondence, photographs, and various relics by Mrs. Katharine Bronson, Lady Berwick, Miss Mabel Purefoy FitzGerald, Sir William and Lady Ashley, Rev. A.J. Whyte, and a number of other generous benefactors. An important collection of books was given by Miss F.C. Carey in 1921. The bibliographer T.J. Wise gave the Library a collection of letters by and about Browning in 1926; and Wise’s widow gifted to Balliol the distinguished white marble bust, based on a plaster original by Pen, in 1937. (Wise, not always trustworthy, claimed that his bust was the version owned by the poet.)

Jowett’s personal library, which was bequeathed to the College, contains numerous presentation copies inscribed by the poet.

This exhibition was curated by Michael Meredith, Seamus Perry, and Stephen Hebron.



1. Photograph of Robert Browning Snr.

Robert Browning’s father was a clerk in the Bank of England, whose interests lay in antiquarian scholar­ship. He was also a gifted artist and caricaturist. This photograph was taken when he was living in Paris c.1860. The manuscript opposite is of a poem written by his son for a friend.

2. Sketch of a polar bear by Robert Browning Snr.

This sketch, with its simple verse, was drawn for his grandson Pen Browning. [Eton College Library]

3. Nathaniel Lee, Caesar Borgia, son of Pope Alexander VI, London, 1736. Robert Browning’s copy.

There is a note in Browning’s hand ‘This was the first play I ever read.’ Browning’s interest in the stilted eighteenth-century English drama proved a handicap when he started writing plays of his own.

4. Francis Quarles, Emblemes, London, [1710?]. Robert Browning’s copy.

Given to Browning when he was a child by his mother, who has inscribed his name on the front end-paper. The book is well-thumbed and was obviously read with the help of his father, who has written a few explanatory notes for the young boy. Quarles would become a favourite 17th century poet of Browning’s and he had six copies of his works in his library.

5. Daniello Bartoli, De’ Simboli trasportati al morale, Londra, [n.d.], Robert Browning’s copy.

This book, edited by his Italian teacher Angelo Cerutti, was taken by Browning to Italy on his first visit there in 1838. He wrote ‘How they brought the Good News’ and ‘Home Thoughts from Abroad’ in pencil inside the front cover, but later erased them. During the long sea voyage Browning practised his Italian grammar and conversation on the later pages.


6. Engraving of Robert Browning, c.1836.

Elizabeth Barrett had a copy of this engraving by James Charles Armytage pinned on the wall of her room in Wimpole Street. It comes from R.H. Horne’s New Spirit of the Age. [Eton College Library]

7. Robert Browning, Strafford: An Historical Tragedy, Longman, Rees, 1837, 2 copies.

Browning’s first play was produced at Covent Garden in May 1837 and ran for only five performances. The cast-list shows William Charles Macready playing Strafford and Helen Faucit as Lady Carlisle. Both were excellent. The play was too wordy and some of the minor characters poor, so it proved only a moderate success. [1 copy Eton College Library]

8. Helena Faucit Martin, On Rosalind, [Edinburgh], 1884, proof.

Helen Faucit not only acted in Strafford, but also in Browning’s A Blot in the ’Scutcheon. She gave up her glittering stage career when she married Sir Theodore Martin. Towards the end of their lives she and Browning renewed their friendship, and he visited the Martins in their Welsh home several times. Lady Martin sent Browning this copy of what was to become a chapter in her On Some of Shakespeare’s Female Characters (1887). With a carte de visite of Helen Faucit, ?1850s [Eton College Library].

9. Robert Browning, Bells and Pomegranates, No. iii – Dramatic Lyrics, Edward Moxon, 1842, 2 copies.

These cheap pamphlets, printed in double columns, established Browning’s reputation as a promising poet. One copy is open at his famous dramatic monologue ‘My Last Duchess’, which was originally paired with another poem and titled ‘Italy’. [1 copy Eton College Library]


10. Gold Ring, Italian, c.1850.

This ring was given to Robert Browning by Isa Blagden in 1858. On its bezel are the words ‘Vis Mea’ (‘My Strength’). It was given to Balliol by Fannie Barrett Browning, the poet’s daughter-in-law, who believed it to have been made by Castellani in Rome and that it was the one mentioned by Browning in the opening lines of The Ring and the Book. Modern scholarship refutes this. The ring in the poem is now believed to be imaginary, based on one Browning saw in the Castellani workshops.

11. ‘The Old Yellow Book’.

This is the vellum-backed book Browning bought at the flea market in Piazza San Lorenzo, Florence, containing maunuscript and printed documents relating to the trial of Count Guido Franceschini for the murder of his young wife in 1698. Browning used it as the main source of The Ring and the Book, his ‘Roman Murder Story.’

12. Robert Browning, The Ring and the Book, Smith, Elder, 1868 – 9, 4 vols.

A presentation copy from Browning to Benjamin Jowett. The Ring and the Book was published, one volume a month, between November 1868 and February 1869. The facts of the case are presented ten different ways during the course of the poem, with the Pope giving a judgment thought to be akin to Browning’s own.

13. Anonymous watercolour of Guido Franceschini on his way to execution, 1698.

This sketch was sent to Browning by a stranger who found it among a bundle of drawings he bought at a sale in England. It shows Count Guido wearing the clothes in which he helped to commit the murder of his wife and her parents. Browning portrays Guido as a heartless villain. In real life he was a dull, hard-working man, mocked in Arezzo as a cuckold. He also appears younger in this portrait than Browning makes him in the poem.

14. Silver scudo of Pope Innocent XII, 1696

This portrait is of the Pope who refused Guido clemency and a pardon, depicted by Browning as just and honorable. In fact his decision was based on political considerations and was legally wrong.


15. Robert Browning, Balaustion’s Adventure, manuscript, 1871.

This is a corrected fair copy prepared for the printer by Browning, and the only manuscript of this poem, a transcript of Euripides’ Alcestis, to survive. Browning’s custom was to destroy all his working papers, so no drafts exist. Markings by the compositor appear on many pages.

16. Robert Browning, Parleyings with People of Importance in their Day, manuscript, 1887.

The heavy correction in this passage from ‘Parleying with Gerard De Lairesse’ demonstrates the care Browning took with his writing, right up to the time he gave the manuscript to the printer. Additions, deletions, major and minor alterations appear even on this fair copy manuscript.

17. Gustave Natorp, medallion of Robert Browning, 1888.

Gustave Natorp was a Frenchman, friend of Auguste Rodin whose work he was instrumental in introduc­ing to England. He became a friend of Browning in the 1880s, and the poet agreed to sit (on numerous occasions) for this medallion. It exits in two sizes, the larger being exhibited at the Royal Academy, where it was praised for its verisimilitude. The smaller version was intended as a replica. This one was given to Balliol by the former librarian, Vincent Quinn.


18. Hope End, near Ledbury, Herefordshire, pencil drawing.

Hope End was Elizabeth’s childhood home. Built in 1809 in oriental style for Edward Moulton-Barrett, it was in the centre of a large estate. Elizabeth, her two sisters and eight brothers led an idyllic existence, which she partly describes in Aurora Leigh. Later her father suffered financial losses, sold the house and moved to 50, Wimpole Street, London.

19. Sarianna Browning’s photograph album, c.1858 – 80.

The album is open at a photograph of Elizabeth with her son Robert Barrett (Pen) Browning aged twelve with ringlets. Opposite is her sister Arabella who remained unmarried, earning her father’s approval and devoting her life to charitable works.

20. Plautus, Titus Maccius, Comoediae, Amsterdam, 1619, Tacitus, Caius Cornelius, Opera, Amsterdam, 1623.

These two small Roman texts, bound identically in red, belonged to Elizabeth. After her marriage she and Robert joined their collections of books together, and Elizabeth has written their joint names on the title-page of each one. Thereafter they formed part of the library at Casa Guidi .

21. [Elizabeth Barrett Barrett], Prometheus Bound, Valpy, 1833, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, The Greek Christian Poets and The English Poets, Chapman and Hall, 1863, presentation copy to Benjamin Jowett from Robert Browning.

Elizabeth Barrett loved Greek and was tutored at home by H.S.Boyd. Her translation of Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound was her earliest mature work. About the same time she wrote two essays, on the Greek Christian poets and the English poets, which remained unpublished until Robert Browning issued them posthumously, two years after Elizabeth’s death.

22. Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Poems, Moxon, 1844, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Poems before Congress, Chapman and Hall, 1860.

Two of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s most famous books. In one of the 1844 poems she praised Robert Browning, which brought him to Wimpole Street and the start of their romance. Poems before Congress contains political poems supporting the Italian struggle against the Austrians during the Risorgimento. It made her famous in Italy and several of the poems were translated immediately into Italian.

23. Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, Two Poems, Chapman and Hall, 1854.

This is the only joint publication by Robert and Elizabeth. It was produced for a Bazaar organised by Arabella Moulton-Barrett for the Ragged Schools of London. [Eton College Library]


24. Robert Browning, autograph letter signed to Dr Robert Scott, 21 October, 1867.

Accepting an Honorary Fellowship (the first in Balliol’s history), Browning replies to the Master, Robert Scott, ‘I must know more intimately than you can how little worthy I am of such an honour, ‒ you hardly can set the value of that honour, you who give, as I who take it.’

25. Pen Browning, autograph letter signed to his father, [9 June 1870].

Browning wanted his son Pen to spend his university career at Balliol. Unfortunately the young man failed to satisfy the college’s requirements, so went to Christ Church instead. In this letter, at the end of his first year, Pen discusses his progress in his examinations. In spite of his optimism he failed, left Oxford and became an artist. [Eton College Library]

26. John Farmer, Balliol Songs, [Oxford], 1888, presentation copy from Farmer to Browning.

John Farmer, admirer and friend of Richard Wagner, was in charge of Balliol music from 1885 to 1900. He set some of Browning’s verses from the Epilogue to Ferishtah’s Fancies to music as the first Balliol Song, ‘Heroes’. [Eton College Library]

27. Photograph of a plan of Robert Browning’s rooms in Balliol.

When Browning was made an Honorary Fellow of the college, he was given a set of rooms for his own use. He made this drawing when about to furnish them. Pen’s early departure from the university and his infrequent visits meant that Browning gave them up after a few years. [Bodleian Libraries, Oxford]

28. Henry Taunt, Photograph of the Vice-Chancellor’s procession, Balliol, 30 June, 1886.

In 1886 Benjamin Jowett completed his four-year term as Vice-Chancellor. Browning went to Oxford for the Commemoration ceremonies, which included luncheon in Balliol Hall. On this occasion Browning would have seen his portrait painted by Pen, which had been hung in the Hall three months before. [Oxfordshire County Council, Oxfordshire History Centre]


29. Benjamin Jowett’s guest book.

The friendship between Browning and Jowett meant that Browning was sometimes invited to stay in the Master’s Lodgings. Usually this was for official university or college activities. On such occasions Jowett would suggest that Browning extended his stay, on one occasion for a week. Browning’s signature appears frequently in the Master’s guest book.

30. Browning’s possessions.

Among relics of the poet in the Balliol library are a handkerchief, cravat, collar, gloves, sugar-tongs and candle-holder. They demonstrate the veneration Browning was accorded towards the end of his life, when Furnivall’s Browning Society was in full swing.

31. Browning’s leather wallet.

This was used by Browning on his last visit to Italy in 1889. It still contains the receipts from the Venice post-office for the corrected proofs of Asolando, which Browning had sent by registered mail to London.

32. Photograph of Browning’s bedroom in Asolo, 1889.

During September and October 1889 Browning was the guest of the American Katharine Bronson in Asolo. Mrs Bronson arranged rooms for him in the main street with Nina Tabacchi. This photograph was almost certainly taken after his departure, when Signora Tabacchi made a good trade in selling memen­toes such as ‘Browning’s pen’ to gullible tourists.

33. Browning’s D.C.L. gown.

Browning was given his honorary doctorate at the 1882 Encaenia. He also wore the gown, slightly incongruously, at a dinner given by Lord Salisbury for the Shah of Persia. He was painted wearing it, holding the Old Yellow Book, by his son Pen, a portrait now at Balliol. Pen’s bust of his father dates from 1886 and shows the influence of Rodin, under whom Pen had been studying in Paris.


exhibition archive – RL Nettleship

This article was originally on the Balliol Archives & Manuscripts website.

Richard Lewis Nettleship (1846-1892), philosopher


NettleshipRL-18-08Richard Lewis Nettleship was born 17 December 1846, the 5th son of Henry John Nettleship, solicitor, of Kettering. He was educated at Uppingham School [which has a Nettleship Society] and came up to Balliol on a scholarship in 1865 to read Litterae Humaniores (Greats). His second-class degree belies his undergraduate achievements; he was awarded the Hertford Scholarship in 1866, Ireland Scholarship 1867, Gaisford Verse Prize 1868, Craven Scholarship 1870 and the Arnold Prize 1873. He rowed for the College in NettleshipRL-26-056Torpids and Eights. He was made a Fellow of Balliol upon graduating in 1869 and Classical Tutor in 1871. The following year he held the post of Junior Dean, and he was also a Classical Examiner in the University. He published on Platonic philosophy and edited the Collected Works of TH Green, a Balliol colleague. He died of exposure on 25 August 1892 while attempting an ascent of Mont Blanc. The Nettleship Scholarship in music, which is still awarded annually, was founded at Balliol by his friends in his memory.

NettleshipRL-18-10NettleshipRL-26-010In the archives (MBP 32) is a typewritten account of Nettleship’s death on Mont Blanc by GR Benson, 1st Baron Charnwood, one of Nettleship’s students, later a colleague as a Lecturer at Balliol and co-editor of Nettleship’s Philosophical Lectures and Remains. online here

Notes, chiefly from the narrative of his guides, relating to the death of RL Nettleship, published in the Westminster Gazette, 10 July 1982..


More information

NettleshipRL-26-011Bradley, A.C. and G. R. Benson, eds. Philosophical lectures and remains of Richard Lewis Nettleship. 2 vols. London: Macmillan, 1897.

RL Nettleship’s entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is available online throughout the Oxford network and by subscription.

Another account of the fatal climb was published in the Westminster Gazette, 10 July 1893. A copy is in the archives (MBP 32.6)

NettleshipRL-26-014Balliol Library, Jowett Papers:

I/F12/23: To Mrs. I[lbert]. n.a., Aug 1892, [1 leaf], extracts only. On the death of Nettleship.

I/H67 f54-54v, notes on conversation with RL Nettleship 1886

I/H81 f37-9 [Notes for sermon (?) on the death of] R.L. N[ettleship] 1892/3

III/M126 Letter to Robert Morier. Balliol, 6 Oct 1892, Balliol, ALS [1 leaf]. Reflections on the deaths of Tennyson and Nettleship.

III/N268 n.a., [1 Dec 1869], ALS [1 leaf]. Nettleship, who reminds BJ a little of Clough, has been elected Fellow of Balliol.

NettleshipRL-26-017IV/B5/12 BJ to A.C. Tait. Oxford, 18 Oct 1870 [2 leaves]. BJ is petitioning the Visitor to end restrictions on electing only those in orders to Fellowships. There are not enough good tutors at present, with the honourable exceptions of Green and Nettleship. The resolutions were convincingly carried by the Fellows. Hopes that Tait approves of this. [Tait Papers, vol. 88, fols. 165-7]

A useful bibliography, compiled by Dr Colin Tyler of the Centre for Democratic Governance, University of Hull, is available online here.

exhibition archive – AL Smith

This article was originally presented as a Document of the Week in 3rd week of Trinity Term 2006.

Arthur Lionel Smith (1850-1924), Balliol 1869-74,
Fellow of Balliol 1882, Master 1916-1924, historian


SCR cartoon, Balliol College.

 Biographical notes


PHOT 26.31 AL Smith rowing at Stroke, Eights 1873.

  • 1856 Following the death of his father, Arthur Lionel Smith was placed at Christ’s Hospital by his mother, who then moved to Italy with her other children. Fortunately, life in yellow stockings suited him very well.
  • 1869 came up to Balliol on an exhibition.
  • 1st in Classical Mods (1871) and Lit Hum (1873), 2nd in Mod Hist (1874).
  • Rowed for Balliol (Head of River 1873), later coach
  • 1874-6 Fellow of Trinity, then student at Lincoln’s Inn
  • 1879 married Mary Florence Baird, left Trinity, began teaching history at Balliol. He was among Oxford’s first married Fellows after the 1880-1 Commission changed the regulations, and with his family (9 children) was the first inhabitant of the King’s Mound.
  • 1882 Fellow of Balliol: pioneer of modern history teaching in the college, tutor to e.g. Lewis Namier, Maurice Powicke, Keith Feiling, GN Clark
  • exhib07_clip_image002

    PHOT 26.34 detail of the Balliol Eight, 1874. AL Smith rowed at Bow at weighed 10 st. 1 lb.

    Examiner in Modern History at Oxford and external examiner to many other universities

  • 1906 one of first two Jowett Fellows
  • 1907 Dean of Balliol
  • 1916 Master of Balliol

detail from PHOT 58.3, ca 1921

Oxford for All

  • Coached and boarded students with poor school records for Oxford entrance
  • Encouraged overseas student admissions to Balliol
  • Instrumental in establishing the School of Modern History at Oxford
  • Served on Oxford’s WEA committee, taught at Balliol’s WEA summer schools
  • Promoted women’s education at Oxford & tutored at LMH

Balliol Library’s AL Smith Papers include

  • many of his lecture notes and drafts of publications
  • rare examples of his own and his students’ undergraduate work
  • college administrative records of his Mastership
  • a very large number of personal and administrative letters to a wide variety of correspondents

AL Smith: committed and inspiring tutor, enthusiastic promoter of college sport, constructive college and university politician, man of heroic whiskers. A Good Thing.


Portrait of AL Smith by Francis Dodd, RA.

Find out more:

Balliol Archives sources

  • Boat Club records
  • Photographs – see online photo index
  • Portraits – see online portraits catalogue
  • Admin records, passim
  • MISC 261. Master’s Letter, Christmas Day 1918.

Balliol manuscript collections

AL Smith Papers – correspondence and papers 1902-1924.

Jowett Papers – correspondence with Benjamin Jowett, under whose Mastership Smith was an undergraduate and young Fellow.

Printed sources

Elliot, I, ed. The Balliol College Register 1833-1933 Oxford: OUP, 1934.

Jennings, B. Knowledge Is Power: A Short History of the WEA 1903-1978. Hull: Hull University, 1979.

Jones, JH. Balliol College: A History. 2nd ed rev. OUP, 2005.

Lindsay, A. D . In Memoriam: Arthur Lionel Smith.’ The nature of religious truth: sermons preached in Balliol College Chapel. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1927.

Patterson, R. L. ‘Smith, Arthur Lionel (1850–1924)’, ODNB. OUP, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/36129]

Smith, MF. Arthur Lionel Smith, Master of Balliol (1916-1924): a biography and some reminiscences by his wife. London : John Murray, 1928.

Exhibition archive – Kimono Tea Party, June 1914

This article began life as a Document of the Week, Trinity Term 2006 Week 2.

Ah, Trinity Term, season of sunshine and extended Library opening hours. The college gardens come into their own; the fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and as spring was rather late this year, the chocolate tree in the front quad still giveth a good smell. Croquet wickets sprout abroad, and the chestnut trees in full glorious leaf provide some shelter for those last few fugitive smokers. Soon it will be time for Pimms on the lawn. But kimonos?

But of course, what Balliol lawn party is complete without kimonos and parasols? This week’s document, dating from June 1914, comes from one of FF Urquhart’s personal photo albums. 11 of these albums are in the Modern Personal Papers collections; they cover most of Urquhart’s long life at Balliol (1890s -1930s) as a student and then Fellow and Junior Dean. The thousands of photographs provide an invaluable record of the informalities of college life, as well as numerous holiday snaps. Those of Trinity Term 1914 are perhaps the most poignant; they provide evidence in black and white that it truly was a ‘golden summer’ of cricket and lawn tennis, punting and birthday parties. But more than exams loomed. Only a few pages later many of these elegant chaps reappear, having changed their kimonos for Army, RN or RAF uniforms.

You can see the tea party photos, the rest of this album, and other albums in the series, on Flickr starting here.
One account of this tea party is recorded in WR Wheeler’s Jimmy: the biography of a brother (1937).

exhibition archive – Ernest Walker letter

Part of this exhibition was originally a Document of the Week in Michaelmas Term 2005. It features two letters from Dr Ernest Walker to Cedric Glover, written from Oxford in August 1916 and demonstrating something of the strange contrasts of Oxford life during wartime.



August 11, 1916

My Dear Cedric,

Very glad indeed to have news of you: I was wondering whereabouts you were. Where is Ronald? [?Knox] Greetings to him, and also best remembrances to your father and mother, please!

Balliol is a queer place nowadays: I don’t suppose we shall have 20 people up next term. We went on with the regular concerts (fortnightly) up till the end of the summer term 1915, doing our Strauss and Reger and Kreisler and our songs in German as usual up to the end: but we then suspended operations, inevitably. For the last year we have been having “by and fors” (in the wide sense of the word, including any military birds of passage that could do things – some of them quite good), with the same quality of music as usual, but no printed programmes [p.2] of any kind and no audience except masculines. We got a quite fair lot of people always: though I don’t mean to say that some of them mayn’t have found it slightly strong meat when an old Magdalen man, quartered in Oxford, gave them a dozen or so of the biggest Hugo Wolf songs on end, or when I played Reger after the news of his death reached here. I daresay we may be able to go on with something of the same kind next term – there has been a steady flow of officer-cadets into Oxford, hundreds of them. But I really haven’t a notion about the future, in any way at all. The OUMC and the OUMO have formally [p.3] amalgamated (with the Holywell Room): I expect the MO would certainly have been bankrupt in isolation, and the MC would have been in a queer way: as it is, the joint society is financially very shaky indeed for the time being, but I dare say we shall keep it going more or less. The Ladies Society goes ahead as usual, except there they refuse  to engage Herschel or the Aranyis or apparently anyone whose great-great-great-grandparents were Germans. Miss Marga Deneke is on the concert committee, and has had a good many of her plans squashed in absurd fashion. It’s a queer world, and during the last two years, some individuals in it have [p.4] turned out even queerer than one could have expected.

 You seem to have been managing to get a lot of music added to your collection, anyhow. Don’t know of any translations of Pohl or Thayer, myself. Can’t stand the Debussy ‘cello sonata, except for very little bits of it: the man seems to have written himself out. Grovlez sent me his last piano things, and I was very much disappointed with them – just the ordinary fashionable Parisianism, I thought: nor do I care for his violin sonata, which I ran through with Miss Gates (I think) not long ago. Don’t know the last Scriabin, nor the Tcherepnine quartet: but I came across some very fine songs of T. lately. Well, I suppose some day or other we may get music normally again!

I heard from Oboussier the other day: he asked after all his friends and I gave him what news I could.

I should be delighted to hear from you again! All best from

Yours [ver]y sincerely,

Ernest Walker.

[top of p.1] (In Merionethshire for the moment, but back in Oxford next week.)

[Editor's note: Thanks to Kamile Vaupsaite for deciphering the names of Thayer and Grovlez!]


22 August 1916

28, St Margaret’s Road, Oxford

My Dear Cedric,

Many thanks for your note; I am quite reassured. The matter had various ramifications into which I needn’t go: as you no doubt understand that in this very queer world it is important that the whole of the Ladies’ Club’s various oddities should be kept altogether dark, for the sake of the Arányis (who don’t know anything of them), and Miss Deneke and everybody else!

I quite forgot, by-the-bye, when sending on the message to his friends from Oboussier, the Swiss fiddler who was at Worcester for the year before the war, that a relative veteran of 1913 like you might never have met him! I lose count of dates so easily as a permanent limpet here.


I must look up Mr. Jarnach. When this whole bad dream is over and we have more music together, I must show you some things of a wild young Anglo-French creature, a Home Student at Cherwell Edge, who is working with me. She is liable to come the most ultra-modernist croppers any minute, and I doubt if her songs can be sung in tune: but she produced a few weeks ago a [B flat?] Prelude that seems to be really beautiful in its way, and quite unlike anything I know.

I am at present engaged in some music for a children’s play by Mrs. Balfour (Harold Joachim’s sister). It is all about vegetables, and one has to represent musically the essential characteristics of carrots and cabbages and so on: I am rather pleased with a very first-impressionistic but quite unmistakable Cauliflower that I have just evolved: it starts – [MS music]

All very best wishes, and looking forward to any amount more of music together!

Yours very sincerely,

Ernest Walker.

Ernest Walker (1870-1949) , musicologist, composer, organist and Hon Fellow of Balliol

The Balliol Music Society’s 1745th Sunday Concert on Oct 16 2005 (Sunday 2nd week) was the annual Ernest Walker Concert, commemorating Dr Walker’s contribution to College life, and in particular College music, during his long career at Balliol 1887-1925.

Ernest Walker came up to Balliol in 1887 to study Litterae Humaniores (Classics) under WR Hardie and RL Nettleship. He received his BA in 1891, became assistant organist to John Farmer at Balliol and earned a BMus (1893) and DMus (1898). He became organist and director of music at Balliol upon Farmer’s retirement in 1901; although he gave up the post of organist in 1913 on religious grounds, he retained the directorship until his retirement in 1925. Under his direction, the Sunday Concerts developed to a very high standard.

In addition to his involvement in College music, he was instrumental in the University’s musical life as a busy teacher and examiner; he held the posts of Choragus of the University 1918-1922 and Lecturer for the University Professor of Music from 1899.

Dr Walker was well-known in the musical world beyond Oxford as a prolific and insightful critic, reviewer and musicologist. His voluminous correspondence portrays a thoughtful and self-effacing character possessed of a whimsical sense of humour and a great deal of affection and regard for his many friends and colleagues – not to mention decided musical opinions!

Ladies’ Club: the Oxford Ladies’ Musical Society, founded in 1898 because the university musical society did not admit women, and still in existence – though now co-ed – as the Oxford Chamber Music Society. Papers of the OLMS are in the Bodleian.

Sources :

  • Balliol College, MSS Ernest Walker and accrual Accn 05/139, letters to Cedric Glover
  • Bodleian Library, music MSS
  • Bailey, C. ‘ Walker, Ernest (1870-1949)’, rev. Jeremy Dibble, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/36688, accessed 26 Sept 2005]
  • Balliol College Register (1933, 1950)
  • Deneke, M. Ernest Walker (1951)
  • Hull , R. ‘Ernest Walker’, Music Review, 10 (1949), 205–6

exhibition archive – Early Admissions Register

A number of our small online exhibitions are moving from the website to this blog. We will be using the website mostly for presenting large chunks of text that needs reading, such as collection catalogues. Blogs are more flexible and better for bite-size presentations, and tend to display images better as well. We hope you enjoy these little blasts from the past!


This exhibition was originally a Document of the Week in Michaelmas Term 2005. It features Balliol’s Admissions Register for 1636 – 1682. This is the earliest surviving register of admissions; Balliol is singularly unfortunate among the ancient foundations to retain none of its medieval administrative records. It is not known when or how they were disposed of, or indeed of what they consisted exactly , but certainly by the time the noted antiquarian scholar Andrew Clark came to transcribe the Annual Lists ca. 1910, only records from 1520 onwards were still available to him. He was allowed to remove the registers from Balliol premises and the earliest ones, sadly, never came back. A cautionary tale for archivists… However, the early title deeds (relating to properties formerly owned by the College), some of which predate the foundation of the college, are still safely in the Archives.

The earliest surviving administrative record series are: Latin Register of College Meeting Minutes from 1514, Bursars’ Computi from 1568, Battels from 1576, Buttery Books from 1598, Registers of admissions and degrees from 1638, and Bursars’ Final Account Books from 1672.


Transcript of a page from the Admissions Register 1632 – 1682

Catalogus Nominum Cognominum et conditionum

1636 Termino Sancti Michaelis
Novem’ 17 Horatius Moore Admissus est Socio-communarius

Termino Sancti Hillarii
Febru’ 4 Richardus Brooks Receptus est inserviturus Magistro Bradshaw
Martij 4 Johannes Harris Admissus est communarius

1637 Termino Paschalis
Aprilis 12 Thomas Rode Admissus est Socio-communarius
22o Franciscus Nashion Admissus est communarius
23o Franciscus Boughey Receptus est inserviturus Magistro Oakely
May 10 Johannes Evelyn Admissus est Socio-commensalis
17 Johannes Robinson Receptus est inserviturus Magistro Coop

Termino Trinitatis
Iunii 6 Robertus Feilding Admissus est communarius
16 Gulielmus Winbowe Admissus est communarius
23o Johannes Clarke Receptus est inserviturus Magistro Prowse
23o Rogerus Frith Admissus est communarius
Iulii 6 Johannes Crafford Admissus est Socio- communarius
11 David Boall Receptus est inserviturus Magistro Harris
12 Georgius Shorter Admissus est communarius
14 Nicholaus Frost Admissus est communarius

1637 Termino Michaelis
August’ 22 o Johannes St Berbe Admissus est Socio-commensalis
Gulielmus Mose Receptus est inserviturus Magistro Savage
Octobr’ 6 Antonius Fido Admissus est communarius
14 o Humphridus Vernon Admissus est communarius
21 o Robertus Stratton Admissus est communarius
24 Joseph Stringer Admissus est communarius
Nicholaus Levett Admissus est communarius
Petrus Mousall Receptus est inserviturus Magistro Frymnell
Novem’ 15 Robertus Roe Admissus est communarius
29 Rowland Whitehall Admissus est communarius

Termino Hillarij
Janu’r 24 Johannes Reeve Receptus est inserviturus Magistro Merest
Febr’s 9 Johannes Davis Receptus est inserviturus Magistro Oakly
28 Adamus Acton Admissus est communarius
Martij 16 Thomas Jones Receptus est inserviturus Magistro Boughton
17 Samuell Hickman Receptus est inserviturus Magistro Collegij
30 Robertus Lawrence Admissus est communarius
Eduardus Edwards Admissus est communarius

1638 Termino Paschalis
Aprill 7 o Franciscus Sing Admissus est communarius
9 Johannes Ballard Admissus est communarius


Balliol’s earliest extant admissions register (catalogus) records only the dates, forenames (nominum), surnames (cognominum) and College status (conditionum) for each student for 1632 – 1654; after Hilary Term 1654 (p.11), a better friend to the family historian records each student’s father’s name, parish and/or town and county. The register is normally in the hand of the Master of the time, or that of a Fellow acting as Vicegerent.

As was usual in any type of formal document, all forenames (except David!) have been latinized, while surnames have not. Students were admitted to the college throughout the year; in addition to the Michaelmas, Hilary and Trinity terms we still use today, the register includes an Easter Term (Termino Paschalis) and the Long Vacation (Vacatione Magna, Magna Vacatione, Longa Vacatione), which is also occasionally referred to as Termino Comitiorum (‘Elections Term’). The dates covered by these terms can vary considerably from year to year; in 1667 July and August come under the Trinity Term heading, but in 1668 July admissions are listed ‘In Magna Vacatione.’ Hilary Term is referred to as Quadragesima Term in some periods.

Fellows and Scholars were ‘on the foundation’, i.e.the college endowments paid for their study and maintenance. Terms used to define the status of other, fee-paying, students were many and varied, including Fellow-Commoner (Socio-Communarius, Socio-Commensalis), Commoner (Communarius, Commensalis), Batteler (Battellarius) and Servitor (Inserviturus); these defined, more or less clearly, the different levels of privilege, fees and labour required from each.

It is difficult to provide precise definitions for the various terms describing student status, as they changed over time and were not uniformly set out in different colleges’ statutes. In many cases throughout college administration, colleges may use different terms for the same status or office, and conversely may use a term common to other colleges for quite different statuses or offices (e.g. ‘Demy’ at Magdalen, ‘Student’ at Christ Church):

  • Commoner (Commensalis or Communarius): an undergraduate who paid fees, referred to as an ‘external’, someone ‘not on the foundation’. The term does not denote social class but comes from the Latin ‘commensalis’, ‘sharing a table/meal’. (Some universities still call their dining facilities ‘commons’. ‘Commons’ can also refer to a meal, or a person’s portion of a meal, e.g. ‘short commons’)
  • Fellow-Commoner (Socio-commensalis or Socio-communarius) : Also Gentleman-Commoner, a class of student formally instituted at Balliol in 1610; wealthy students could pay higher fees and receive more social privileges than Commoners, although they followed the same course of study. ‘Socius’ was the word for a Fellow, a senior member of the College (or Society).
  • Servitor (Serviens/Inserviturus): Poorer students could pay reduced admission fees and caution money in return for working in College, e.g. serving at table. A Servitor might be admitted to serve a specified Fellow.
  • Batteler (Battellarius): Between Servitors and Commoners in terms of fees, but the chores required of them are not clear.
  • Admissus/Receptus est in famulus/familitium Domini/Magistri X’: Admitted/Received into the service of [a Fellow]. The use of ‘don’ as ‘fellow or tutor of a college’ comes from the Latin ‘dominus’. Fellows had undergraduate places more or less in their personal gift (i.e. nepotism).
  • Scholar: Generic term for an undergraduate who has received a scholarship, whether from College funds or a named foundation. Scholars and Commoners wear different academic gowns.
  • Exhibitioner: OED definition 3.b) ‘A fixed sum given for a term of years from the funds of a school, college, or university, generally upon the result of a competitive examination.’ Exhibitions at Balliol tend to come from named funds, e.g. the Snell and Warner Exhibitions.
  • Domus Scholar: An undergraduate who has received a scholarship from college funds (domus, ‘the house’); also called ‘on the foundation’.

Degrees list


The early admissions registers record other information as well; for instance, this page, toward the back of the book, is in a section listing Balliolenses presented for degrees Hilary Term 1653/4 – Michaelmas Term 1656.

Here are the first few entries transcribed – they are very formulaic so you’ll get the idea (X was presented for the degree of BA/MA). You can see the month and day dates for the second column, in the middle. A few entries give personal information about the graduand, and the grammar of ‘presented for the degree of Master of Arts’ varies slightly. The ‘presentation’ was quite literal and personal – see the chapter on Degrees in Oxford University Ceremonies (1935).

Column 1
Termino Hilarii 1653/4
Thomas Reynolds presentatus est ad gradum Baccalaureati in Artibus
Eduardus Best} praesentati fuerunt ad
Samuell Filer} gradum Magistri in Artibus
Robertus Cutler praesentus est ad gradum Baccalaureati in Artibus
Termino Paschalis 1654
Ambrosius Atfeild praesentatus est ad gradum Magistri in Artibus

17th century fees


This tatty-looking page from the inside front cover of the admissions register is actually an extremely useful record: a table of fees payable (Foeda solvenda) when students first arrived (in Primam Admissione). It is divided according to which level of student had to pay how much to whom; the amounts are expressed in £/s/d. The categories of fees include College fees, Bursarial fees and caution money as well as a separate fee for admission to the Fellows’ Garden (available only to Fellow-Commoners) and money paid to the cook, the gardener, the librarian etc.


Socio-Communarius Communarius & Schol’ Dom’ Battellarius Servienti’
Pro Admissione ad Hortum (for access to the garden) 01.00.00 00. 00. 00.
Domo (College fee) 00.05.00 00.05.00 00.02.06 00.01.06
Bursario (to the Bursar) 00.05.10 00.05.10 00.02.10 00.01.06
Registri (registration fee, literally to be entered in the register, as above)  00.10.00  00.05.00  00.02.06  00.01.06
Pro Vasc’ Arg’ (toward college silver) 05.. ad min 00.05.00 00.02.06 00.
Obsonato’ (manciple, quartermaster,
in charge of purchasing food and other provisions)
00.02.06 00.01.06 ..01.00 00.01.00
Promo (butler, or what we might now call Hall steward) 00.02.06 00.01.06 ..01.00 ..01.00
Coquo (cook) ..02.06 00.01.06 ..01.00 ..01.00
Sub-promo (sub-butler) ..02.06  ..01.06 ..00.06  ..00.06
Sub-coquo (assistant cook) 01.06 ..01.06 ..00.06 ..00.06
Janitori (porter – not cleaner!) 01.06 ..01.00 ..00.06 ..00.06
Hortulano (gardener) …01.06.x - - -
Bibliothecae (library) …10.00.x 00.06.00 X 00.02.06 X -
Bibliothecario (librarian) …02.06.x 00.01.06 X 00.01.00 X 00.01.00 X
Pragmatico Pro obligat’ (a kind of guarantee or bond) …02.06.x 00.02.06 X - -
Cautio (Caution money – i.e. damage deposit) 10.00.00 07.00.00 05.0.00 04.00.00

It’s not clear to me what Pragmatico pro obligat’ would have been exactly – will update if I discover more. Sometimes posting the question is the best way to find the answer.

College prayer during wartime

‘Prayer During the War’ by James Leigh Strachan-Davidson, Master of Balliol 1907-1916, for use in the College chapel during the First World War.

Copy of JLSD-04M-001
[Oxford, Balliol College, Strachan-Davidson Papers 4M.1]

O God with whom do live the spirits of just men made perfect, we give thee thanks for our brethren the members of this College who have willingly offered themselves, and have laid down their lives for us and for our country, and for the liberty of the world. Give us grace to follow their good example, that we may never lose heart, but may bear with patience and courage, as these have done, whatever thy Providence calls upon us to endure. Comfort the bereaved, and grant to all of us that our afflictions may purify our hearts and minds to thy glory. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Strachan-Davidson’s manuscript also includes a prayer for the wounded:

We beseech thy goodness O Lord on behalf of the members of our College who are lying stricken from wounds received in battle in a righteous and holy cause, especially for [names]. Comfort each one of them when he lieth sick on his bed and grant them thy strength and grace to bear the pain and weariness of their condition, and, if it be thy will, assuage their sufferings and grant them restoration to life and health. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Bede, Baylor, Browning, Balliol


‘Bede to Browning’ exhibition and workshop

for faculty and students of Baylor in Oxford

Baylor at Balliol 4 August 2014


Copy of DSCN9546

This afternoon Fiona and Anna were delighted to be able to return some of Baylor’s wonderful hospitality from their visit to Texas in May in connection with Browning Day and the Browning Letters Project. Dr Josh King, who is about to take up the Margarett Root Brown Chair in Victorian Studies at Baylor, visited St Cross with several colleagues and two groups of ten students each and led a workshop based on Balliol manuscripts on display ‘from Bede to Browning.’

Dr King’s choice of manuscripts fell into several categories to complement the different strands of the Baylor in Oxford programme, principally British Literature and The Oxford Christians. In addition to drawing connections with their current studies, the students had the opportunity for direct contact with some of the manuscripts. They discussed the layers of composition evident between manuscript drafts and printed editions of poems, and enjoyed reading Hopkins’ ‘Duns Scotus in Oxford’ and ‘As kingfishers catch fire’ in close proximity to a Scotus manuscript produced in Oxford and one of Hopkins’ student essays.

Western medieval manuscripts – theological texts

MS 175, second half of the 12th century. Includes Bede’s commentaries on the Biblical books of Solomon (ff.1-93v) and Tobit (ff.94-103v).

Copy of DSCN9540

MS 42, late 13th century. Part II of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica.

Copy of DSCN9543
MS 234, first half of the 14th century. Duns Scotus’ Quaestiones on the Metaphysics of Aristotle.

Copy of DSCN9541

A modern medievalist

Maxwell papers 1.29, letter from C.S. Lewis, 1960.



Victorian poets

Matthew Arnold (Balliol 1840)

Autograph manuscript of “Written in Kensington Gardens”

Copy of DSCN9549

Autograph manuscript of “Culture and its Enemies”


Autograph manuscript of “St. Paul and Protestantism”

ALS from Robert Browning. Warwick Crescent, London. 20 February 1872.

Passport of Matthew and Mrs. Matthew Arnold (no. 8821), issued 28 August 1851 [used by Arnolds on their honeymoon]


Ambrotype portrait of Matthew Arnold (Sept. 10 1856)


Autograph letter to Mary Penrose Arnold Oxford. “Sunday.” [October 1854?].

Autograph letter to William Ewart Gladstone (1809-98). Fox How. 15 August 1883. 1 l. with MS note by Gladstone.

Copy of DSCN9539


Robert Browning (Hon Fellow of Balliol 1867)

MS 390. Pacchiarotto and How he Worked in Distemper (1876) showing pages containing “Pisgah I” and “Pisgah II”


MS 394, showing ALS from RB to George Eliot, 1878 [in MS 394]


MS copy by RB of Charles Dickens’ appraisal of A Blot in the ‘Scutcheon


Ring (Browning’s ring, but not the ring of The Ring and the Book)


The ‘Old Yellow Book’ (statements in Italian and Latin re the 1698 Franceschini case)

Portrait of Guido Franceschini


Browning family photograph album with oak cover

Copy of DSCN9545

laurel leaves from the casket of RB in Venice, 1889

Copy of DSCN9559


Arthur Hugh Clough (Balliol 1836)

manuscript draft of The Bothie  and Clough’s own copy of the first edition, first page

Copy of DSCN9538

Manuscript student journal, first page

Copy of DSCN9536

Copy of DSCN9537

Copy of DSCN9558

Gerard Manley Hopkins (Balliol 1863)

student essay, “Poetic Diction”

George Gordon, Lord Byron

MS 406 manuscript of unfinished poem “The Monk of Athos”

Copy of DSCN9560


Percy Bysshe Shelley

MS 405, Original autograph letter to AB Periera [sic], 16 September 1815.

Copy of DSCN9544


EPBs survey

It’s that time of year – here’s one for the series ‘What can college librarians possibly find to do all summer while the students are away?’ Well, the Library staff are currently carrying out a Grand Shelf Check of all the early printed books – it’s especially important that we know, and record, where everything is because some of the EPBS were moved to St Cross in 2011-13 and some are still in Broad Street. And as always happens with thorough checks like this, all sorts of interesting things are turning up! Some of them include significant proportions of manuscript material – more about this as they emerge. From yesterday:

Balliol Library 470 a 19 is a very small book – 10 x 6 cm or so. The cover is parchment

and it’s stitched through the cover on the spine to form a simple cover without boards.

There is a faint reference number of some kind on the front – it may pertain to an old library shelfmark (Balliol or a previous owner) or it may even be an archival reference, because…


the cover is in fact a cut-down and reused administrative document. This is not unusual – palimpsests (erased texts that have been written over) get the press these days, but old parchments were often reused in humbler ways, as pastedowns, fly/guard/endleaves, linings, fastenings, page markers and indeed as in this case, covers. Here we can see the title page and the inside of the front cover – the document is upside down.

Oh – the contents of the printed book? Prattica cioe inventione di Conteggiare, published in Brescia by Ludovico Britannico.

Now we know we’re in Italy, back to the cover!


Part of the document is conveniently shaped to form a fore-edge flap for the book. It’s now very stiff, and has been folded inside the back cover for so long it doesn’t function as a flap anymore.



Here is what we can see of the document – upper left of what remains of the text, now the upside down lower part of the inside back cover of the book.


Lower left of the document: the notarial sign and colophon – see Medieval Writing’s useful explanation.


Back to the front of the book for the right hand side of the document…


the upper right


and the lower right.

I don’t have time to familiarise myself with Italian legal documentary formulae, and I don’t know what kind of transaction this document records, or quite how much of it is missing (clearly we have the bottom but not quite the beginning), but I hope somebody who’s practising Italian palaeography and diplomatic may find it interesting! Do drop us a line if so…

conservation survey completed

We have just finished the last session of the manuscripts condition survey! 500 items spanning a millennium (10th-20th centuries), mostly codex format (i.e. books), mostly western European, mostly medieval, individually surveyed between mid-January and the end of July.

Only 40 are in poor physical condition, and only 6 are currently unusable – that is, any handling would cause further damage. The rest are in fair to good condition, and a number of those in poor condition require fairly straightforward repairs that will make them safe to handle (with care, of course).

It’s been a fascinating once-in-a-career journey through every single manuscript in the collection, and there are still many blog posts to come about our explorations and discoveries. The survey will inform not only future schedules for MS repairs starting this year, but also loans, exhibitions (it will itself be the subject of an exhibition), photography, outreach & teaching, further cataloguing/description…

Many MANY thanks to our wonderful team of professional conservators at the Oxford Conservation Consortium just down the road!

conservation survey notes 13

Copy of MS385-01

Balliol MS 385 is written in Pali on lacquered and gilt palm leaves enclosed and strung between painted wooden boards.

Copy of MS385-02

Detail of one of the boards

Copy of MS385-03


The inner side of one board and the outside leaf

Copy of MS385-05

Detail of an outer leaf

Copy of MS385-06


leaves from the middle of the manuscript, with text and decoration

Copy of MS385-08




detail of decorated leaf




Balliol has few Oriental manuscripts – the term under which all the non-western mss in languages and scripts from Pali to Persian, Hebrew to Hindi, have been lumped together. Most of them were given individually to the College as antiquarian curiosities, and they have not, on the whole, been evaluated, described or studied much at all in comparison with the collection of western manuscripts. But there are discoveries still to be made!

Copy of MS385-15

A description of MSS 385 and 386 by Prof FW Thomas, cited by Mynors as ‘kept with the MSS’, is lost, so as far as we know Balliol does not have information about the date or origins of this MS. There is no obvious documentation of how it came to Balliol, but there is a lot of acquisition information, at least for the 20th century, in the Annual Record, so we will at least survey that to see what we can discover.


In the meantime, our descriptions remain inadequate, but thanks to the efforts of archives, libraries and museums to put images from their own collections online, it is possible to put these ‘Balliol orphans’ in some kind of context with other manuscripts of their kind(s). I have found some (to the untrained eye at least) similar manuscripts – and therefore several useful descriptors and explanations of particular features –  at:

Very little of the British Library’s large Southeast Asia collections is online, either images or descriptions, but you can find some images here: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Default.aspx

For background knowledge rather than images:


conservation survey notes 12

Balliol MS 452 is a copy of the Koran, given to the College in 1983. The donor did not have information about its date or provenance. We will be asking experts in the field(s) to examine Balliol’s small collection of Oriental manuscripts and describe them in detail, most for the first time. Watch this space!

Balliol Collge MS 452

Physically, the book is currently in unusable condition. The spine and one cover are detached, and the unsupported sewing is weak with some breaks, making the textblock unstable. Any use in this state causes damage – we disturbed it as little and as briefly as possible for this examination, while documenting as much as we safely could.

Balliol Collge MS 452

The first folio features areas of illumination using gold and pigments above and below the text and on two, perhaps formerly three, sides of the border. This page shows some old repairs, of which there are many throughout the volume.

Balliol Collge MS 452

Balliol Collge MS 452

Balliol Collge MS 452

above, showing f1 with the blue linen spine lining exposed

MS 452 cover

The two sections of the fore edge flap have become detached, and the hinges between the three parts of the cover are mostly lost.


The red leather  cover, now darkened, was painted with silver and gold or pigments resembling metals. The various layers, which would not have been visible when the book was new, are now showing more clearly as the materials age and wear.


The small square gold-coloured areas are made separately and stuck on – some are beginning to lift as the adhesives lose their strength.


A view of one of the endbands, showing the typical zigzag pattern, now broken about halfway.


This volume was housed until recently inside what was once a beautiful dark green silk velvet bag, evidently specially made for it. A stub remains from the bag’s lost tie, in a rather natty check or plaid. The textile itself needs conservation, and removing the book from the enclosure or replacing it is only causing further damage to both items, so they will be kept  separately – but still together. Ideally, one both items have been treated they could be housed in separate areas of the same box.


Thanks to the survey, we hope that both the history and the future of this book will soon become clearer!

searching for biographical information (1)

Top tip for archival research: if you are looking for biographical information about someone from the UK, check the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) first. Even if you think the subject of your research might not be ‘eminent’ enough – you’d be surprised. The ODNB also has a fantastic series of historic themes, bringing related (and sometimes surprising) networks of biographies together. The online version is available by subscription, but even if you are not affiliated to a subscribing institution, you may be able to log in via your public library card number – check with your local library. Try starting with their local and family history page: http://global.oup.com/oxforddnb/info/freeodnb/local/


report March – May 2014

A) Reader & visitor numbers by month:

March: 9 researchers over 8 days consulting Nicolson diaries, medieval mss (6), college archives re Butterfield, Curgenven Papers, D Urquhart Papers, FF Urquhart papers: 25 non-research visitors.

April: 2 researchers over 2 days consulting Morier Papers, Mallet Papers: 10 non-research visitors.

May: 4 researchers over 5 days consulting Medieval mss (2), Nicolson diaries, early modern mss, Mallet papers: 20 non-research visitors.

June: 12 researchers made 18 visits over 12 days, consulting D Urquhart papers, College Archives, Nicolson diaries (2), TH Green papers, medieval mss (3), Mrs Humphry Ward papers (Arnold collection), Caird papers, Clough papers, Mallet papers: 50 non-research visitors.

B) Remote enquiries:

March: 49

April: 49

May: 51

Total: 151

C) St Cross activities not elsewhere in the agenda
• Outreach activities:  Schools outreach maps & monsters, bookbinding sessions

• Digitisation:

  • 7500 images posted on Flickr in response to research enquiries Mar-May 2014.
  • Passed 700K views on 11 April, 800K on 3 June.
  • WW1 War memorial books are now the most-viewed images, closely followed by medieval title deeds and the 1910s era of the FF Urquhart albums. Real number of unviewed images (now < 10%) is decreasing despite regular additions of new images.
  • Feedback:
     e.g., from a Professor at ASU (medical historian): ‘Wow, this is brilliant.  And such perfect timing:  I’m meeting at the end of the week with my collaborators on the 12th-century MSS project and this will be a crowning glory to our discussions! Thanks a million.’; from a Fellow of the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies (English): ‘I think you are doing a wonderful job by making all those manuscripts available for researchers, with such a good quality. That is really a priceless contribution to research. Thank you so much;’ from a medievalist, English & digital humanities asst prof at Vassar: ‘we love you and your camera Balliol Archivist. Your flickr is amazing.’

• Browning letters project – in early May Anna and Fiona took part in Browning Day at the Browning Armstrong Library, Baylor University, Waco, Texas, to launch Balliol’s participation as the first international partner in Baylor’s Browning Letters Project. In the evening the Baylor, Wellesley and Balliol representatives re-presented to the Fano Club. We encountered magnificent collections, impressive facilities, polished professionalism and genuine Southern hospitality in our meetings with curators at the ABL and the Harry Ransom

• Social media Mar-May:

  • Facebook: 27 posts, mostly expanded & illustrated versions of tweets. 324 total likes
  • Twitter: advertising talks/events, new online resources, images; people loved the cat paw prints in ms 192, ca 150 RTs and a Tumblr post from Erik Kwakkel (Leiden; 2014 Lowe Lecturer in Palaeography); 103 new, total 781 followers.
    • Blog: 17 new posts (mostly about the mss survey), avg 575 views/month.


  • Medieval mss condition survey – 325/500 complete (65%). Of those, 30 are in poor condition and only 3 currently unusable; the rest (90%) are fair or good. 32 sessions of 2-3 hours Jan-May; we expect to complete before the new academic year begins.
  • MS 329 visited the conservation studio as a sample for a course in UV & multispectral photography, resulting in good quality UV images for a researcher – these revealed a page of text that had been erased, at least sufficiently to check it against other known sources of the text.


March: Display of special collections in St Cross for the JCR – World Book Day
April: Visit by Mark Storey & Friends of the London Library
Events scheduled for the summer:
• June: History of the Book workshop for Watford Girls GS; staff training in emergency response and disaster recovery
• July: opening for Balliol Family Day
• August:  manuscripts workshop with Prof Joshua King (Baylor in Oxford); early print bindings workshop with Mirjam Foot (Julia Smith & Traherne editors)
• September: Oxford Open Doors Days & NHCT Ride & Stride; ‘Balliol Boys’ Club & WW1’ exhibition, open for University Alumni Weekend and Balliol Society Weekend (etc)

Austin 3

My last Austin post is about an important moment in the archival history of Texas, and illustrates the legal, political and symbolic significance of administrative archives.


You will find this statue of Angelina Eberly (2004, by Patrick Oliphant) on Congress Street, within view of the Capitol building. The caption below it reads:

‘ In 1842, Texas was an independent nation, and Austin was its capital. Sam Houston, the President of the Republic of Texas, regarded Austin as a vulnerable and unsuitable location for the seat of government and waged an unsuccessful campaign to have it moved to his namesake city. As a last resort, the President dispatched a delegation of Texas Rangers to Austin to steal the government archives. An innkeeper named Angelina Eberly heard the Rangers loading their wagons in the middle of the night. She rushed to the corner of what is now Sixth and Congress and fired off the town cannon, blowing a hole in the Land Office building and rousing the populace. The citizens chased down Houston’s men, recovered the archives, and gave them to Mrs. Eberly for safekeeping. This statue honors a bold woman whose vigilance and short temper preserved Austin as the capital of Texas.’

This text and more information about the statue and its creator can be found here.


Austin 2

Copy of DSCN9350

One of the things Micah showed us was this enormous C15 Italian liturgical manuscript, which still has a pretty early binding if not the original – parchment spine covering (maybe a reback?) over blind tooled leather, lots of huge heavy metal furniture, evidence of former fastenings, and most interesting to me, pieces of the cover missing at a strategic place to show the board structure….


… not a single solid piece of oak at all, but a frame filled with and/or supported by slats in a vertical (head-tail) direction. And nailed together, or maybe those nails are later repairs? Or is the slatted component an addition to the head edge of an otherwise solid board? Determining those things would have taken quite a lot more looking at – always more questions.


I wish these photos were not so blurry, but you get the idea.

And because the end leaves/ pastedowns are absent, we could also see the MASSIVE supports on the inside of the front board – six, double, alum tawed. You can see the scale of the text block from the first folio here – this was a choirbook on a grand scale!

Austin 1


Leaving Waco 100 miles behind on the I-35, we drove south to Austin to meet Micah Erwin, a cataloguing archivist at the University of Texas’ Harry Ransom Center. In addition to his regular duties, Micah curates the Medieval Fragments Project, and I wanted to hear more about how he has used digitisation and social media to add all kinds of value to what might otherwise have remained just an odd little collection of bits and pieces of binders’ waste.

Little did we know that we would get to look at a Gutenberg Bible and then have a grand tour and meet several of Micah’s colleagues and the Center’s Director! but we might have known – Texas hospitality again :)


L-R Fiona, Richard Oram, Liz Gushee, Micah Erwin

Librarians and archivists have so much fun on busmen’s holidays – here Richard Oram (2nd from left) is showing us some of his favourite highlights from the manuscript collections, such as Byron’s will and a huge series of caricatures by Robert Browning’s father. Particularly notable – or notorious – among the other amazing items he produced for us was the Victorian ‘Blood Book’ – Richard’s video about this weird and wonderful item is here.

Copy of DSCN9347

In addition to some of the HRC’s Browning letters, we also saw some of the Bronte siblings’ tiny childhood manuscript notebooks, full of poetry, fiction and the documentation of their imaginary countries – here, the holograph of Charlotte’s The Green Dwarf . Below, Fiona demonstrates its size.




 L-R Anna, Fiona, Olivia Primanis (Senior Conservator)

And we visited the conservation department, where Olivia showed us a clever drop-spine boxing solution and a book of watercolour travel sketches showing Roman-arena style tricks of the early 19th century bullring, including a man popping out of a trap-door in the floor and waving his plumed hat to distract the bull!

Thank you all for a brilliant day at the Harry Ransom Center! We started a lot of conversations that are far from finished…

 A few HRC-related places to keep an eye on:

Harry Ransom Center blog, YouTube channel and Flickr page

Micah Erwin’s blog

Waco 1


Fiona, Balliol’s Assistant Librarian, and I have just had a great week of all things special collections in… Texas! (I’m back-dating posts.)

Copy of DSCN9312

Detail of the bronze front doors of the Armstrong Browning Library

We were invited to Baylor University in Waco to make a presentation on Balliol’s (established, but mostly future) part in the Browning Letters Project at the Browning Day celebrations hosted by the Armstrong Browning Library. The text and slides of our part of the presentation are online here. I’ll be writing more on the blog soon about Balliol’s Browning letters and the progress of the project.


Foyer ceiling, Armstrong Browning Library

Copy of DSCN9317

Bells & pomegranates detail, foyer floor, Armstrong Browning Library


Setting up for Browning Day presentations in the Hankamer Treasure Room

Copy of DSCN9294

Reflection of stained glass on the recent exhibition, ‘…from America: the Brownings’ American Correspondents’, by Melinda Creech, the ABL’s current graduate assistant.

Copy of DSCN9303

Detail of the ‘O to be in England’ window in the Scholars’ Room.

Copy of DSCN9305

The Scholars’ Room – a very nice study space, almost more gentleman’s club than library, with beautifully polished tables, literary busts atop the shelves and more Browning-themed stained glass.


The Salon – it is meant to give an impression of what the Brownings’ salon in Casa Guidi would have looked like, and contains some items of furniture owned by the Brownings and the Barrett family as well as a series of stained glass windows illustrating some of the Sonnets from the Portuguese.

Copy of DSCN9336

My photos are awful and do no justice at all to this stunning and beautifully-planned building – the Library’s online tour is much better!

Some ABL-related places to watch:

the ABL  blog

the 19th Century Research Seminar

conservation survey notes 11




Just a nice picture today – one of the great pleasures (and professional interests, obviously) of this survey is just looking through all the books, comparing hands and artistic styles, picking up patterns, similarities and differences. Balliol’s collection, on average, is not particularly generously or well decorated, but there have been some lovely surprises, like this. MS 232A has only one initial this elaborate. Most elaborately decorated first folios in Balliol’s mss have either been cut out entirely or lost their initial, head and bas-de-page. Some of this may have been out and out vandalism, someone stealing the initials for his own purposes, but particularly the top and bottom margins may have been cut out to remove marks of former ownership. Which raises questions about why anyone would bother to do that, but we are unlikely to come across an answer to that one.


conservation survey notes 10

Balliol MS 86 provides three examples of two types of book marker:


1) A strip of parchment cut from the edge of the page, folded and slotted through a small cut to form a little tab that sticks out beyond the edge of the page – very similar to the standard pendent seal attachment method on title deeds and other administrative documents.


 above, the verso of 1


2) two examples of large stitches of coloured thread used as page markers. The question is, were the stitches themselves the marker, or did they once hold something else – a bit of cloth, parchment or paper – to the page? We may find another example that answers this question in another manuscript later. This is becoming quite a pattern – one manuscript will raise a question without providing quite enough evidence to decide on an answer, and then either another particular observation or an average of several similar situations will make the first example clearer when we take another, more experienced, look. Exciting – we are all learning a lot!



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