– 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.

Q & A: Property, estates, manors, land holdings

Q: Please provide details of land held by Balliol College.

A: The unbelievable truth: Balliol does not have land outside its college property in the city of Oxford. Its property holdings consist of the main Broad Street site, the Master’s Field (which includes the Jowett Walk buildings, Martin & Dellal buildings, the King’s Mound and a number of Fellows’ houses on St Cross Rd), Holywell Manor, St Cross church (leased from the C of E) and some Fellows’ and graduate student housing elsewhere in the city. That’s it. No estates, no manors, no mines, no forests.

How can this be? Aren’t all Oxford colleges unimaginably wealthy, with vast endowments and tremendous property holdings throughout the country? It’s true for some, but not for others. Oxbridge colleges are not administratively or financially related to each other as far as their foundation and wealth are concerned, and they are certainly not uniformly well endowed.

Balliol has never been a major landowner. It was not founded with either considerable property or the money to buy such property. Major landowning colleges such as St John’s, Christ Church and New College, Oxford have had the wherewithal to make strategic investments in land over the centuries. Balliol has not; rather, it was left a small farm here or a house there.  These hodgpodge and usually inadvertent acquisitions gradually built up a rather unwieldy and unprofitable portfolio. There were a few notable exceptions, e.g. the Ufton estate in Warwickshire, which originally funded the Snell Exhibition, and mineral rights in property near Newcastle; coal discovered there pulled Balliol back from near-bankruptcy in the 19th century.

Balliol sold off its last remaining scattered land holdings in the early 20th century.

  • list of former estates associated with Balliol, and pertaining records held by the college. In many cases the documentation covers considerably more than Balliol’s period of ownership.
  • more about the Snell Foundation
  • a gazetteer of places associated with Balliol – not all former Balliol properties
  • list of Balliol livings/church patronage – some of these formerly had property associated with them
  • More details about Balliol’s former properties are available in John Jones’ Balliol College: A History.

The sole exception to Balliol’s Oxford-only property holdings these days is the site of the ruin of Buittle Castle, the former seat of Dervorguilla’s father, Alan of Galloway, near Dalbeattie in Dumfriesshire.

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