– 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.

Francis Fortescue Urquhart: Oxford Tutor and Amateur Photographer

A guest post by Sophie Lealan (Oriel College), our second OUIP (Oxford University Internship Programme) intern  of summer 2015.

Francis Fortescue Urquhart: Oxford Tutor and Amateur Photographer

Life in Oxford during the First World War is presented to us vividly in Francis Fortescue Urquhart’s eleven photograph albums, currently held in the Balliol College Archives. Covering the tumultuous period of 1914 to 1918, the seventh of these volumes begins with partying students and ends with uniformed soldiers. As part of the Oxford University Internship Programme I have been researching what this album can tell us about Balliol College and its students during wartime, and these will be the subjects of upcoming posts. Firstly, I looked at how Urquhart used his photographs to record and even constitute his role as an Oxford tutor.

Oxford, Balliol College Archives. FF Urquhart Album 7.71A

Oxford, Balliol College Archives. FF Urquhart Album 7.71A

As was expected of a tutor during this period, Urquhart (nicknamed ‘Sligger’) lived in college as a bachelor from his appointment in 1896 until his death in 1934, and dedicated his time to educating rather than researching. Indeed, he is often described as academically unremarkable but well-liked by his students, many of whom would gather in his rooms to talk late into the night. Although some, including Evelyn Waugh, criticised Urquhart for only associating with a particular type (namely good-looking old Etonians), he became a friend to many students [FFU07-71-A]. Evidence of such close relationships can be seen in his numerous photographs of picnics, walks and days out on the river with the young men of the college. Photographs also show Urquhart’s visits to students’ homes and former schools during the vacations, and even travelling as far as Italy with them.

 

Perhaps most indicative of the close, informal relationship between Urquhart and his students is the fact that he photographed them while participating in their social activities, not while merely observing them. Many images have been taken from within rowing boats and punts, including a series of three pictures which were clearly taken while Urquhart and two students passed the camera between them to take pictures of each other. [FFU07-56-D-E-F] He is frequently pictured sitting on the grass with students, and the low perspective in many of his own photographs indicates that Urquhart had placed his camera on the grass or on his lap while sitting down with those he was photographing. [FFU07-28-A]

This album also tells us about his more staged photographs. One image appears to show Urquhart in the act of taking a portrait. He is holding an object, possibly a box camera, in his hands and pointing it at a man in uniform, who poses next to a column that reappears in many of Urquhart’s portraits. [FFU07-29-B] This picture could indicate that Urquhart’s habit of photographing students had itself become a college institution worthy of being recorded. We can see another example of cameras being used in a photograph of two men in a punt, one of whom has a folding camera beside him. [FFU07-11-E]

Urquhart’s collection of photographs was notable within the college. The walls and mantelpiece of his rooms were filled with photographs of friends, and large albums sat on top of his bookcase. Having one’s picture taken by Urquhart and displayed in his rooms must have further strengthened the personal relationships between himself and his students. It is also likely that these photographs took on a particular significance during the war, as many of the young men pictured were enlisted. In an image of Maurice Jacks and his brothers, several of the portraits included in Urquhart’s 1914-1918 album can be seen sitting in frames on the mantelpiece, including an image of Neville Talbot and Stephen Hewett. The latter had died by the time this photograph of Jacks was taken, and so the framed portrait of him acted a memento of someone who was no longer present, as indeed the whole album does today. [FFU07-58-G] [FFU07-26-I]

Sophie’s posts about FF Urquhart’s WW1-era photo album:

Post 1

Post 2

Post 3

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