– 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.

WW1 – Boys’ Club exhibition

Boys’ Club WW1 exhibition

Balliol College Special Collections

St Cross Church, Holywell

Autumn 2014

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OPT balloons welcoming visitors to St Cross for Open Doors Days 2014


The Balliol Boys’ Club was formed in early 1907 as a result of changing attitudes in the college – driven especially by AL Smith, soon to become Master – towards social responsibility and widening access to education. The aim was to provide healthy, vigorous activity for working boys from underprivileged areas of Oxford; Balliol’s club was based in St Ebbe’s and offered boxing, football and summer camps. Such boys’ clubs – a number of colleges and public schools ran similar enterprises – fitted with emerging ideas about social action and youth activities, exemplified most famously by Robert Baden- Powell’s scouting movement. As it was run by college undergraduates for local boys, the club brought town and gown together, and its strong and lasting esprit de corps was to play an important role in the wartime experience of many of its old members. The club flourished again after the war, and its future was assured by the gift of a new clubhouse and funds in memory of one of its leading lights from the college, Keith Rae (Balliol 1907), who was killed in 1915.

The Club was wound up when the St Ebbe’s area was redeveloped c.1970, but there is still an active old members’ association. The club’s own records survive fairly well right from the early days, and the exhibition  includes: minutes of meetings; log books recording attendance and activities, featuring daily notes from summer camps; newspaper cuttings; photographs; accounts; and numbers of the club magazine, among them The Club at War; its own trench magazine, which circulated from 1916 to 1919. Ccentral to the exhibition will be the Boys’ Club War Memorial board, listing the club members who fell, Oxford boys and Balliol men together.

Also available to browse are contextual material such as the college’s war memorial volumes, writings by Balliol men associated with the Club in its early and wartime years, contemporary numbers of Punch, the College Record and a selection of enlargements of photographs from Francis Fortescue Urquhart’s photo albums of the period.

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The Club Archive at Balliol

Balliol College’s holdings of the Club’s administrative records are incomplete, and even if all minutes, accounts and activity logbooks survived, they would not tell the whole story – we can only present one incomplete point of view from this source. To tell a more rounded story of the Club or, especially, of any of its former members, a researcher would need to consult numerous primary and secondary sources, e.g. Oxford city archives, contemporary and later newspaper articles, school and perhaps work records for boys, personal and/or private collections of papers, the 1911 census (and, eventually, later ones as they become available), and individuals’ war records at the National Archives. This exhibition presents Balliol’s holdings about the Club and some of its College members, specifically to do with the period from its founding to the end of the First World War, with the intention of encouraging further research using this collection and related material elsewhere.

The Exhibition

Nave cases (starting on the south side, to your right as you come in):

Several cases include enlarged facsimiles of undated photographs of Club activities, mostly from summer camps.

– Log Books of Club activities August 1914 and November 1918. NB encouragement of enlistment in 1914 and rowdy behaviour in 1918!


– The Club at War, original editions. The tone of the Boys’ Club’s alumni trench magazine is mostly matter-of-fact. Its bulk is made up of brief letters from old members, so the effect of each issue will have been a kind of round-robin. Recipients were evidently keen to hear news of each other and of the present Club as long as it was able to continue and as soon as it started up again.

In many cases, particularly those of the former youth members, these are likely to be the only surviving words written by these men. More written by and about the Balliol men who were involved in the pre-war Club and died during the War can be found in the Wartime Writings section of the exhibition.


– Logbooks – student leaders’ accounts of summer camps during WW1.


– Photograph of the 1914 Freshmen of Balliol College. Biographical details, including wartime service, of all Balliol students can be found in the College Register on the table immediately to the right of the photo.


– Adam, Adela. Arthur Innes Adam, 1894-1916. A record founded on his letters . By his mother. with


– Mann, James Saumarez. An administrator in the making, James Saumarez Mann, 1893-1920. By his father.

Both volumes show photographs of Balliol students at Boys’ Club summer camps in 1914 and 1920 respectively.

– Arthur Graeme West (1891–1917), The Diary of a Dead Officer (1918). Edited by C. Joad. with


– EB Poulton, The Life of Ronald Poulton. Written by his father.

– Personal file sheets about individual boys ca.WW1 – these records, kept by student Club leaders, are the only examples of personal information held at Balliol about boy members of the Club.


– Wartime administrative records of the Club, showing one evening’s visit by Maurice Jacks, who had been a key student leader just before the war, and expenditures from 1918. By this time Jacks had been seriously wounded in France, and on recovering had returned to Oxford to train officer cadets based at Keble College.


– Pre-war ‘general knowledge’ spoof quiz sheet about the Club, with


– Undated letter from JJ Baldwin, the first boy to sign up for the Club.

– Original agreement re rent and maintenance of Club premises, 1907. With


– Club Committee (College based) minutes from 1908 about inviting speakers regarding Boys’ Employment – working age was a topic currently under discussion with the Labour Commission, local Councils etc. 


South side:

Balliol Boys’ Club War Memorial plaque – listing both Balliol students and Oxford boys who were members of the Club and died during WW1. The exception is Frank Slatter, whose presence in the listing is unexplained – he survived and emigrated to Australia in 1921!


An FAQ-inspired note about the war memorial – the asterisk and ‘Mesopotamia’ at the bottom has nothing to do with the creation of the board, or with the area of the University Parks in Oxford between the Isis and the Cherwell, which is known as Mesopotamia. The asterisk corresponds to one above, against the name of JS Mann, who died not exactly in WW1 but in the ensuing 1920 Iraqi Revolt against the British Mandate.

The Club at War – Balliol Boys’ Club alumni trench magazine 1916-1919

Browsable enlarged facsimiles of Nos. 1, 6 and 11 of The Club at War.


North side:

Balliol biographies & autobiographies section of the printed collections – featured are the College War Memorial Book, several memoirs and biographies of Balliol men not directly connected to the Club, of whom more another year!


Central table: browsable wartime editions of Punch magazine, showing contemporary news, humorous comment, cartoons.

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Several Balliol students who had been key to the founding and early successes of the Balliol Boys’ Club became casualties of the war, as did a number of early boy members.

Photographs are taken from personal albums of FF Urquhart and RG Waddy and from College sport albums.


A selection of poems about their wartime experience and prose extracts about their 1910s Club experience by Balliol men who were instrumental in the early and wartime years of the Club. Prose about the War abounds in memoirs and biographies, and poetry (or at least verse of a kind) about the Club in the Club Magazine.

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The music playing during the exhibition is CD 2 from Memory Lane’s 3 CD collection The Great War – a Portrait in Music, Voices and Sound.



– exhibition guide by Anna Sander

4 responses

  1. Pingback: MCR viewing | Balliol Archives & Manuscripts

  2. Pingback: Balliol Archives & Manuscripts

  3. Pingback: Unlocking Archives – Boys’ Club talk (2014) | Balliol Archives & Manuscripts

  4. Pingback: Q&A: war memorials at St Cross Church | Balliol College Archives & Manuscripts

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