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

Buildings history

I regularly receive enquiries about the history of Balliol’s buildings; enquirers are often surprised to find that though Balliol bases its claim to be Oxford’s oldest college on the grounds that we have occupied our present Broad Street site since our beginnings in the 1260s, there are no buildings on the site earlier than the late 15th century – and those (Old Library and Old Hall, in the Front Quad) have been so much knocked about and rebuilt in the intervening centuries that I would not like to vouch for much medieval stonework being in its original place! Furthermore, Balliol’s Broad Street site as it is now was acquired and built on piecemeal over a period of centuries, so for most of its history no comprehensive or systematic development of the whole site (as it eventually turned out to be) was possible.

The College Archives houses many records – though not systematically kept or complete – of Balliol’s buildings, mostly dating from the 18th century onwards. See the Buildings section of the summary catalogue at http://archives.balliol.ox.ac.uk/Archives/sumcatI.asp

I am not in any way an architectural historian, but I have found the following sources useful and interesting.
The best place to start investigating any aspect of Balliol’s history is John Jones’ Balliol College: A History (2nd ed), OUP, 1997. Many of the other colleges also have excellent scholarly histories, the most recent of which are Robin Darwall-Smith’s A History of University College, Oxford (OUP, 2008) and Clare Hopkins’ Trinity: 450 Years of an Oxford Community (OUP, 2005).

On the history and architecture of Oxbridge colleges in general, see

TH Aston, gen. ed. The History of the University of Oxford. OUP, 1984-. (8 vols)

Gervase Jackson-Stops, “The Building of the Medieval College,” in New College Oxford 1379-1979, John Buxton and Penry Williams, eds., (Oxford: The Warden and Fellows of New College, Oxford, 1979)

Roger White and Robin Darwall-Smith The Architectural Drawings of Magdalen College: A Catalogue. (2002)

Geoffrey Tyack. Modern Architecture in an Oxford College: St John’s College 1945-2005 . OUP 2005

Tim Rawle. Cambridge Architecture. London: Trefoil Books, 1985

Howard Colvin. Unbuilt Oxford. 1983.

Robert Willis and John Willis Clark, The Architectural History of the University of Cambridge, (Cambridge: CUP 1888, repr 1988)

The Victoria County History series also includes discussions of Oxbridge colleges.

For wider discussions of Oxford/medieval/college buildings:

You may wish to investigate the work of Jane Grenville and Kate Giles, both of the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of York (UK), who work on the theory of medieval standing archaeology, ie extant buildings.

The Oxford Architectural and Historical Society may be able to put you in touch with people who work in this field with particular emphasis on Oxford. http://oahs.org.uk/, and there are relevant articles in The Architectural Review.

Don’t forget Glasgow University (founded 1451), whose early centuries in the town centre and 19th-c move to the then cleaner and greener western suburbs are well documented.

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