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

Author Archive

Unlocking Archives – May 2016

Lunchtime talk: Unlocking Archives

a seminar series about research in Balliol College’s special collections

Friday 20 May 2016 1-2 pm

Balliol Historic Collections Centre

St Cross Church, Manor Road OX1 3UH

* all welcome *


‘Representing the Ghost of Shakespear’:  summoning the spirits for Balliol’s spring exhibition

Naomi Tiley

As we can’t help but be aware, Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616 – 400 years ago. But does the Bard haunt Balliol? A behind-the-scenes talking tour of Balliol’s spring exhibition will elucidate. The speaker will leave plenty of time at the end for a last chance to look at the exhibition: ‘I suppose they thought I was dead’: Shakespeare at Balliol in five acts.

Naomi Tiley is the College Librarian at Balliol.  

Questions? library@balliol.ox.ac.uk

antechapel display – TT16

I Spy in the antechapel


Can you find in Balliol chapel (not just the antechapel)…

(mouse over a picture for the caption)

They are all visible from the parts of the chapel accessible to the public, without moving anything. Happy hunting! solutions in the next post…

monthly report April 2016

A few numbers about what was happening at St Cross during April:

  • Number of enquiries (email etc): 94
  • Running total for 2016: 357
  • Number of researchers in person: 7 (+ 9 for DIY Digitization day – research training!)
  • Number of person-days in the reading room: 13
  • Collections consulted: medieval mss, AL Smith, Ernest Walker, George Malcolm, Monckton, Greene-Reid, Hope Simpson
  • No of non-research visitors: ca 350+ (Shakespeare exhibition – open weekend 159, plus individual Balliol people by appointment and passersby during weekday open hours; Holywell Manor Festival)
  • Blog posts: 4
  • interesting events: DIY Digitization day with Prof Daniel Wakelin and Oxford students (see Storify); Shakespeare exhibition and open weekend; talk with Dr John Jones about the St Cross building project and special collections to the St Margaret’s Institute (and thanks to many who attended that talk for coming to the open weekend a few days later!); Holywell Manor Festival (college event); new display in the antechapel (decorative features treasure hunt). No Unlocking Archives talks as April was entirely in the University Vacation period.


Unlocking Archives: Special Edition

Wednesday 20 April 2016, 1-2pm

Balliol College Historic Collections Centre

St Cross Church, Manor Road OX1 3UH


Prof. Daniel Wakelin and Anna Sander in conversation with Oxford undergraduate, MSt and DPhil students about creating, using and sharing digital images of medieval manuscripts, during a lunchtime break in a day of handling training and photography of some of Balliol’s medieval manuscripts.

We will be discussing questions including: What can digital images tell us about the original manuscript, and what can they not tell us? What information is only available from the manuscript itself, and are there kinds of information we can only get from digital images? What are the differences between professional and amateur (i.e. by researchers or curators) photographs of manuscripts? Do they have different uses/ advantages/ disadvantages? What are the practicalities of photographing medieval manuscripts for research purposes under ordinary reading room conditions?

It’s unusual to have a room full of people all photographing medieval manuscript books at the same time with similar aims, i.e. a combination of their own research interests,  theoretical considerations about the process and practical concerns about what works and what doesn’t – and talking to each other about it! We hope the morning session will spark new ideas and lead to further discoveries in the afternoon session.

Prof. Wakelin and Bodleian colleagues Judith Siefring and Christine Madsen have created an experimental space for #DIYDigitization on Flickr – more about that project here.

All welcome to the lunchtime discussion! We hope to illustrate with some manuscript images taken during the morning session.

Treasures of Balliol Archives & MSS

Slides with captions from an illustrated talk given today at the St Margaret’s Institute, Polstead Road, Oxford. Dr John Jones spoke first, about the genesis and realisation of the St Cross building project, and I followed up with an overview of some treasures from the archives and manuscripts, and the kinds of research and related activities that go on through the year at St Cross.



images: an estate map, part of the ornate C18 register of contributions to the silver fund by Fellow Commoners; a page from a C17 lending register from the College Library


The oldest document at Balliol


Dervorguilla’s Statutes of 1282


Detail of above, showing general appearance of late C13 documentary hand and the name of Dervorguilla


Detail of Dervorguilla’s personal seal


The Charter of Incorporation of 1588 is so large it had to be photographed outside – this was in the days when the archives were kept in a very small and rather dark room under the stairs to Hall. How things have changed in 5 years!


Detail of the inhabited initial of the Charter of Incorporation: portrait of Elizabeth I.


Detail of much-worn but intact Great Seal of Elizabeth I, attached to Charter of Incorporation by black and white wool cords


‘Ichnographia’, a ground plan of Balliol College from 1695


College Meeting minutes of a century ago: April 1916



Photos are a key part of several series of the college’s archive, including Membership, Sports & Societies, Buildings etc. Here, a photo from the Torpids (spring) of 1896.


Rare photos of the Balliol Boys’ Club’s summer camps – dates, locations, photographers and subjects unknown.




Balliol MS 451


Balliol MS 384


Balliol MS 232B


Balliol MS 317


Balliol MS 301


Balliol MS 173A


Browning family letters



Browning poetic mss


My favourite C20 treasure – surprise surprise, FF Urquhart’s photo albums


the business of St Cross: learning and teaching – tutors and students from Balliol, Oxford and further afield encounter original sources at first hand


displays for group visits: providing and/or supporting talks


hosting external academic study days on relevant subjects


twice termly Unlocking Archives talks: hosting and contributing to current researchers’ talks for a lunchtime seminar open to all


want to stay in touch and find out more? social media: twitter @balliolarchives


this blog!


80 000 images on Flickr and counting

Curious? Become one of 1000 people a year to send an enquiry to Balliol’s archivist by email (or post, but email is preferred); one of 1000+ a year to visit the archives to see the church, hear a talk or view an exhibition; or one of 100 a year to consult archives and manuscripts in person for academic research.


Hopkins’ Leaves

Unlocking Archives:  a seminar series about current research in Balliol College’s special collections

Professor Lesley J Higgins will speak on ‘Spelt from Hopkins’ Leaves: Considering Archival “Remains” at Balliol College’s Historic Collections Centre in St Cross Church on Monday 27 June 2016, 1-2 pm. All welcome, no booking required.

What can be learned from three sketchbooks, a family commonplace book, a handful of letters, an essay notebook, and a few other “scraps, orts and fragments”? The Hopkins “remains” at Balliol, although comparatively few, have much to teach us about his controversial practices as self-curator, the posthumous (and precarious) disposition of his poetry and papers, and the way in which reading Gerard Manley Hopkins is always an exercise in textural counter-point.

Lesley Higgins, a Professor of English at York University (Toronto, Canada), is the co-general editor of the Collected Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins. She has produced three volumes for the series, has published extensively on Hopkins and Walter Pater, and is the author of The Modernist Cult of Ugliness: Gender and Aesthetic Politics.

Location & directions

Questions? archivist[at]balliol.ox.ac.uk

monthly report March 2016

A few numbers about what was happening at St Cross during March:

  • Number of enquiries (email etc): 75
  • Number of researchers in person: 14
  • Number of person-days in the reading room: 18
  • Collections consulted: Greene-Reid, Arnold, medieval mss (4), Bradley, Maxwell, college records (2), TH Green, AL Smith, GM Hopkins, George Malcolm
  • No of non-research visitors: ca. 35 (historians, Unlocking Archives, individuals)
  • Blog posts: 6
  • interesting events: with other college archivists, staffed college archives stall at undergraduate history thesis fair (Schools); Unlocking Archives talk by Eleanor Greer [correction: February’s talk was by Anna on AL Smith]; talk for undergraduate history students about planning and practicalities of archival research for dissertations (Anna and Dr Valentina Caldari)


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