– 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!


Unlocking Archives MT 2015

Lunchtime talk: Unlocking Archives

a seminar series about research in Balliol College’s special collections

‘Harold Nicolson, John Reith, and censorship at the BBC in 1931’

Charlie Dawkins, Merton College, Oxford

Friday 4 December 2015, 1-2pm

Balliol Historic Collections Centre

St Cross Church, Manor Road [directions]

* all welcome *

In 1931, diplomat, critic and journalist Harold Nicolson set out to broadcast twelve radio talks on modern literature at the BBC. Radio talks of this nature were very much part of Director-General John Reith’s attempt to educate the nation. But when Nicolson attempted to talk about James Joyce’s banned novel Ulysses, the BBC took issue and Nicolson’s talk was seemingly censored. Behind this very public controversy, Nicolson’s diaries and the BBC’s internal records document an intriguing debate: how did John Reith’s cultural programme develop at the microphone, and just what could one say on the radio in 1931?

Charlie Dawkins is writing his doctoral thesis on modernism in mainstream British literary magazines.

Feel free to bring your lunch. The talk will last about half an hour, to allow time for questions and discussion afterwards, and a closer look at some of the Balliol special collections material discussed.

Questions? archivist@balliol.ox.ac.uk 

antechapel display – medieval manuscripts

The second in the new series of small displays in Balliol antechapel of images from the archives: illuminated details from the western medieval manuscript books.


(Numbers have been superimposed on the image and do not appear in the display.)

1. Balliol MS 277 f 43r. Reynard and Chantecleer, or perhaps just a fox carrying away his chicken dinner.

2. Balliol MS 13, f.24r. Images

3. Balliol MS 208, f.109r. Images

4. Balliol MS 367, f.16r.  Images

5. Balliol MS 232B, f.152r. Dragon, inhabiting a foliate initial D. Images

6. Balliol MS 238E, f.64v. Images

7. Balliol MS 384, f.52v-53r. Annunciation. Images

8. Balliol MS 129, f.83v. Homunculo-maniculum hooded figure. Images

9. Balliol MS 253, f.80v. Images

10. Balliol MSv 240, f.32r. Images

11. Balliol MS 103, f.88v. Images

12. Balliol MS 396. Images

13. Balliol MS 129 – series of elaborate manicula. Images

14. Balliol MS 238E, f.59r. An early depiction of a blind man using an assistance dog and a stick. Note the bells on both the man’s scrip and the dog’s collar. Images

15. Balliol MS 1, f.187v.

16. Balliol MS 208, f.109r. Images

17. Balliol MS 350, f.62r. Images

18. Balliol MS 13, f.18r. Images

More information about these and all the other medieval manuscript books at Balliol in RAB Mynors’ catalogue, and images of many of them on Flickr.

antechapel display – Remembrance Sunday

Following college and public interest in a recent display board put up there for a visit by the GM Hopkins Society earlier this year, a new regular series of small displays has begun this term in the antechapel – by the door – in Balliol Chapel. The first was mounted to support or illustrate the Remembrance Sunday sermon in Chapel, which will be appearing in a College publication soon – link from here when it’s available.

DSCN9928 - Copy

Photographs (L-R, top to bottom):

1.’Practising trench making at Cumnor. No 1 section A Company Officer Cadet Battalion, Oxford; nearly all Australians, at “work” on our part of the line.’ Photos by JH Brian Armstrong.  Balliol Archives ref. Accn 05/187. view album online

2. Summer 1915: Neville Talbot and Stephen Hewett on the Master’s Field; St Cross church and Manor Road houses in the background. Balliol Archives ref: FFU 7.26I.

Neville Stuart Talbot, MC, Fellow of Balliol 1909-1920, served as Chaplain to the Forces from August 1914. He was mentioned in dispatches from France twice and awarded the Military Cross in 1916. He was a co-founder of the TOC-H movement and later became Bishop of Pretoria.

Stephen Henry Philip Hewett, Balliol 1911, was a brilliant Classical Scholar and Exhibitioner. He swept the Craven, Hertford and Ireland Scholarships, and in addition to his academic achievements, played hockey for the University and the College XIs, played in the College Cricket XI, acted in OUDS and sang in the Bach Choir. He became a 2nd Lieutenant in the 11th Royal Warwickshire Regiment in January 1015 and went to France in February 1916. He fought in the Battle of the Somme and was reported missing and killed near High Wood on 22 July 1016, aged 23. His volume of poems and A Scholar’s Letters from the Front were both published later that year, edited by his family and his Balliol tutor, FF Urquhart, who took this photo while Talbot and Hewett were in Oxford on leave.

3. Balliol 2nd Torpid (spring rowing races) 1909. Back row: (3) SN Ziman (5) ENA Finlay (4) F von Bethmann Hollweg (Bow) Patrick Shaw-Stewart (2) CE Payne. Middle row: (7) Marquis of Tavistock (Stroke) MT Waterhouse (6) G Rufus Isaacs. In front, Cox, WB Menzies. More details of all in the College RegisterBalliol Archives ref PHOT 31.33.

4. ‘Company of the 7th Battalion, Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, in College for 10 days (270 men) – coming in to Lunch in Balliol Hall’. Photo by FF Urquhart.  Balliol Archives ref. FFU7.20C

5. Photograph of Adam von Trott zu Solz, ca 1931. Balliol Archives ref Dossier Adam von Trott.

6. Harold Macmillan in uniform. Balliol Archives ref FFU 7.24A

7. Julian Grenfell (Capt Hon Julian Henry Francis Grenfell, DSO), Balliol 1906, wounded 13 May 1915 newar Ypres, died at Boulogne 26 May 1915) and Patrick Houston Shaw-Stewart (Balliol 1906, Fellow of All Souls 1910, Gallipoli, Legion of Honour, Croix de Guerre; killed 30 December 1917. Balliol Archives ref PHOT 19.31.

8. Balliol 3rd Torpid 1938. Back row: (Bow) CJ Horne (5) Y Takagi (2) RM Hare (4) JB Ashley (3) RL Whitehead. Middle row: (7) JL Broderick (Stroke) EC Crosfield (6) HWE Randolph. In front, Cox RO Miles.

spam spam spam not lovely spam

Q: I’ve emailed you at least once in the past month and haven’t had a reply.

A: (searches every email sent or received ever) This is the first time I’ve heard from you. Could you forward me a copy of your previous message?

Q: Here it is:

From: enquirer@email.com
Sent: date
To: archivist [at] balliol.ox.ac.uk
Subject: Hello



A: (twigs, checks junk mail) Aha, it disappeared into the spam box because of the vague subject  line – lots of spam and e-swindles are titled ‘Hello my friend’ etc. Enquiries titled e.g. ‘I need your help’, ‘Looking for a relative’ or ‘Urgent response required’, though reasonable in e.g. a family history research query, will have the same problem. Subject lines left blank? Bin. Exclamation marks? Bin. All caps in the subject line? Bin. Using red/green/purple text? Bin. Sending to lots of different email addresses at once? Bin.

It’s increasingly important these days to make your archives enquiry email look genuinely addressed to a particular person about something particular. Institutional addresses are bombarded daily with zillions of spam messages, not to mention things with malware and viruses attached. Firewalls and spam-detection levels are raised accordingly, usually by the institution’s IT department rather than individual users who do not normally have that kind of control, so it’s easier for messages to be automatically junked without the intended recipient ever seeing them. Due to the increasing volume, hardly anybody ever checks their spam boxes for possible genuine messages.

Best to use something short, clear and specific, e.g. ‘[College name] archives enquiry’ or similar. Using the name of the person you’re writing to in the salutation will also help lower the spam score.

If you are repeating a previous email enquiry that may have gone astray, include a copy of the first attempt, with headers (From, To, Date, Subject), in your next one. Email delivery and search functions aren’t perfect and do break down, and it may help, if not to find your first email, at least to let the archivist know when it was sent and what the original query was about.

termly report MT15

MT 15 (November) Archivist’s report

This paper reports on the Archivist’s work May-October 2015.

 Reader & visitor numbers by month


researchers in person Days with readers in Seats occupied Visitors (non research) Collections consulted
May (all) 9 15 26 Ca 40: 6 (Unlocking); 20 (OM family); 8 individuals; Elena Lombardi & 6 Balliol students Greene-Reid (2), Swinburne (2), Jowett, TH Green, Browning, Hare, Morier, medieval mss, Nicolson diaries, Pyper
June 9 8 10 22: 10 SCR viewing; 2 individuals; 10 Unlocking Hope-Simpson, Nicolson diaries (2), Strachan-Davidson, medieval mss (3)
July 9 11 19 28: 4 (filming); 23 (Friends of Reading Abbey); 1 individual Medieval mss (5), Jowett, early modern mss, college records, AL Smith, Greene-Reid
August 12 10 16 40: 4 individuals; Scot Peterson with 36 Meritas students Medieval mss (7), college records (3), Clough-Nightingale, Jowett
September 8 7 8 Ca 425: 388 Open Doors, ca 25 patronal feast service, 6 individuals Greene-Reid (2), Chalet, Jowett (2), TH Green, Harris, Nicolson diaries, college records
October 6 5 6 100+ (35 Brookes publishing students, 30 AGRA researchers, Daniel Tyler and 6 Balliol English students, 20 Unlocking) Jowett, TH Green, Balogh (2), college records, Nicolson diaries
Totals 53 56 85 650+

Remote enquiries

No. of enquiries
May (all) 93
June 82
July 84
August 67
September 74
October 65
Total 465

2015 total enquiries to end of October: 956

St Cross activities

Image management:

  • Oxfile (OUCS)  – used 26 times in September and October alone (total 124 times) to send from 1 to several hundred images, externally and within college, across archival collections.
  • I was considering doing less with publicly available images on Flickr, but the exchange below, from Twitter in July, and its followup, have changed my mind. I may use it in different ways, but I will certainly continue to add to the Flickr setup, and Bodleian Digital Special Collections staff and I are in touch about ways to improve and connect our services. FlickrPro’s analytics, always a weak point until now, have improved, i.e. become much more detailed, over the summer.


  • Facebook: 748 ‘Likes’.
  • Twitter: 1214 tweets, 1111 followers. Top tweets: advert for Adam Smyth podcast about the Greene-Reid papers, advert for Greene-Reid exhibition, #HackCapelli @Twittfontes (about a Univ of Zurich project for crowdsourcing digitization of medieval abbreviations), image of a rather charming marginal manuscript beastie.
  • Blog: 25 new posts, average 900 views/month, 42 followers.
  • ‘Document in Focus’ features for display in Broad St Library > archives awareness, now displayed in the foyer, regularly changed.
  • New notices on St Cross notice board – updated re status of church, current use, means of access, includes A4 colour photo of the interior. Several door-handle-tryers a day are reading it. I think there is a guidebook in circulation that claims the church is open…
  • staffed College Archives stall at Graduate History Thesis Fair (early November)
  • with College Librarian, hosted MCR viewing of Swinburne exhibition and selections, some requested by students, from print and manuscript research collections.
  • staffed Arts & Heritage stall at OU Careers Fair (Arts, Media & Marketing day)
  • started small regular display of facsimiles from the archives in the antechapel – display subjects to be decided termly with the Chaplain and Chapel Committee.



  • June: Unlocking Archives (Nicholas Dennys on Graham Greene)
  • display for Nevil Shute Norway Society conference in Broad St
  • July-August: 2 OUIP interns, 6 and 3 weeks
  • July: Friends of Reading Abbey visit
  • August-September: Balliol student cataloguing assistant, 8 weeks
  • August: Meritas seminar manuscripts session supporting teaching by Balliol’s Scot Peterson and Simon John
  • September – October: Swinburne exhibition including an Unlocking Archives talk by Rikky Rooksby
  • September: talk (JHJ) and display (Anna) for Gerard Manley Hopkins Society conference in Broad St
  • Mid-September: 388 visitors Oxford Open Doors Days and Swinburne exhibition (all staff); Anna attended opening of ‘Above the Dreaming Spires: Oxfordshire’s Great War Aviation Story’ exhibition at the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock, curated by Dr Peter Dye (Air Vice-Marshal, retd, OBE, formerly General Director of the RAF Museum at Hendon) – supplied several photographs & information for the exhibition.
  • October: AGRA study day at St Cross – Anna & JHJ;
  • October: presentation and Q&A session about building conversion, collections & careers to 25 archives Masters students from Dundee


Cataloguing & collection care

  • Clough Papers: completed arrangement, repackaging and numbering the papers of Arthur Hugh Clough. The archive is described at item level; many descriptions have been revised and augmented. All former references have been cross-referenced in the new list to facilitate use of old citations. Updated entries for record creators Arthur Hugh Clough, Blanche Clough, Anne Jemima Clough and Florence Nightingale have been sent to the TNA Discovery catalogue. Summer 2015.
  • Abbott Papers: created a new description of the Evelyn Abbott papers (2 boxes). A fonds level description has been sent to the Archives Hub.
  • Corrected and added item level descriptions for the correspondence section of the online catalogue of Sir Charles Harris’ papers (prompted by a graduate student researcher), and numbered & repackaged the whole collection; fonds level descriptions have been sent to the NRA Discovery catalogue and Archives Hub.
  • The Jowett Copyright Trust, Conroy-Hudson and George Malcolm (addl) papers have been repackaged preparatory to listing.
  • Boxing manuscripts: last year’s condition survey of the manuscript books revealed that 105 had no box/folder/wrapper at all. In MT15, 27 of those (and the Tassie cameo of Adam Smith) have been measured for and provided with custom made boxes from the Bodleian’s Packaging and Design Service. A further ca 25 should be completed by the end of 2015 and the rest early in 2016. A few currently unboxed manuscripts require conservation treatment that will change their shape or dimensions, so they will be given temporary wrappers for interim protection during storage and handling, and permanently boxed following treatment. Boxing is a basic essential, providing protection during storage and handling, and is especially important for those manuscripts which are otherwise low on the priority list for conservation treatment, as they are even more prone to accidental damage than those in better physical condition. Appropriate boxing was the top conservation priority identified in the survey and it will be very satisfying to all the manuscripts well stored and protected.



  • accruals to the Les Woods archive
  • accrual to Balliol Boys’ Club archive
  • file of personal Balliol ephemera (clubs, societies etc)
  • Carol Clark teaching and research papers
  • Past members’ dossiers from College Office
  • accrual to Pathfinders archive via Master’s Secretary

Coming up

Events scheduled so far:

  • November: ABTAPL training day –with Anna James (Pusey); graduate history thesis fair; OU Careers fair
  • November: MCR viewing of Swinburne exhibition and requested items
  • November: 3rd year of weekly Write In sessions for local novelists (NaNoWriMo)
  • November: Balliol tutor Daniel Tyler & English class examining draft states of poetry MSS (Clough & Browning)
  • December: 5-day  ‘micro-internship’ through OU Careers Service
  • December: Unlocking Archives talk by Charlie Dawkins (Merton) re Harold Nicolson, James Joyce and censorship at the BBC in the 1930s.
  • December: session on planning archival research with Queen Mary students (MA Early Modern English)
  • January: presentation at DIY Digitization workshop (Bodleian)
  • HT: visit to St Cross to see medieval mss by OU Bibliophiles Society
  • HT: session on planning archival research for dissertations with Balliol history students and tutors


The OUIP internships are a lot of work for staff but highly rewarding for the Oxford students involved; we have been fortunate to attract a high volume of excellent candidates and enough OUIP funding for 4 students over the summer of 2014-15. Unfortunately, OU Careers Service announced in October 2015 that the HEFCE funding supporting the scheme has been withdrawn. We are trialling a 5-day vacation microinternship scheme they have set up instead.

attended CILIP RBSCG conference, British Library 4 September – Hidden Collections: revealed; Institute of English Studies, Senate House 18 September – English Literary Heritage conference; college archivists’ tour of new Weston Library.

Consulting: in conversation with the Fellows’ Working Party on archives at St Cross College since June 2015

Presentations: AGRA study day with John Jones (October), ABTAPL preservation day for small-institution lone librarians with early and manuscript collections with Anna James (Pusey House Library, November), DIY Digitisation Day (Bodleian, January 2016) workshop, org Daniel Wakelin & Henrike Laehnemann.

Publications: chapter on handling special collections material in A Handbook of Editing Early Modern Texts, ed. H Phillips & C Williams, Ashgate, forthcoming 2015; chapter in published proceedings of DIY Digitisation workshop , ed. D Wakelin, Bodleian, forthcoming 2016.

We are sad to report the deaths of two colleagues over the summer: Chris Jeens, archivist at Jesus, and Janet McMullin, librarian at Christ Church.

More news

More details, more often, on social media:




Anna Sander

MT 2015

manuscripts boxing

The benefits of last year’s condition survey of manuscript books continue apace: during last year’s manuscripts condition survey, we listed 155 manuscripts either unboxed or inadequately boxed. Boxing is a quick and effective – and relatively inexpensive, depending on the type of box – way to protect all kinds of archival material from light, dust and handling damage, as well as providing a certain amount of buffering from the environment.


First batch of 25 to be measured – these manuscripts are in good condition and require only light cleaning. Once they are boxed they will not need further conservation attention for a good long time, we hope. This will mean we can cross two dozen off our list of 155 quickly. The next tranches of mss will be measured in batches as well, in order according to how much repair they need, starting with those needing least binding repair, and avoiding those needing major text block repairs until the end. This isn’t just about getting through the list quickly: any change to the binding – and even some major interventions to the text block – may alter the outer shape of the book and therefore the box. Those will need treatment before they can be accurately measured for a box. Some may need a folder or wrapper in the interim.

The first lot of custom-made boxes has arrived from the Bodleian’s boxing and packaging department:DSCN9857

a surprisingly small package…


contains a certain number of boxes…


which are bigger on the inside than the outside! clever packing :)


contents, ready for boxing


one type of box – drop-spine, mostly used for larger, thicker or hardback volumes; several have string-and-washer closures on the fore edge for extra security and a little pressure to help keep the boards in shape

the other type, a robust four-flap folder, for thinner, smaller and soft-back volumes


all done – another two dozen manuscripts safer on the shelf and during production!

MCR viewing

Yesterday  we put on a special viewing for members of Balliol’s MCR (grad students). In addition to a final opportunity to look round the Swinburne exhibition, on display were:

  • Dervorguilla’s Statutes of 1282
  • the oldest document in the college archive
  • Gerard Manley Hopkins’ notebook of undergraduate essays, and a number of facsimiles from Balliol’s small Hopkins collection – requested by a student
  • a letter of condolence from Robert Browning to the novelist George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) on the death of GH Lewes – requested by a student
  • illuminated medieval manuscripts 1 and 232B – requested by a student
  • a letter from the novelist Graham Greene to Josephine Reid
  • the Charter of Incorporation of 1588, with the great Seal of Elizabeth I
  • facsimile images of items from the college, personal and family archives and the medieval manuscript books
  • reference works and the Balliol Biographies section
  • a display about the history and conversion of the building
  • illustrated early printed books (C17) on Japanese and British geography

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