– 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.

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.

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