– 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.


Open Doors 2016 Q&A

Your questions from the weekend, answered:

Q: Where are the medieval manuscripts?

A: (We get this question every time St Cross is open, no matter what else is on display.) Balliol’s medieval manuscripts, like all the other archive and manuscript material, is kept inside the repositories in the aisles. But the question is really, are they on display right now and can I see them, and the answer is, yes, but only one at the moment. This term’s exhibition features Hebraica and Judaica from across the college’s collections, including a spectacular 15th codex in Hebrew, produced in Portugal.

There seems to be some feeling that the college really should be displaying more of its medieval manuscripts more of the time, that it has some obligation to do so. Well, I agree, but the college’s first obligation is to preserve the manuscripts, i.e. not to expose them to any further damage than they have already incurred through accident, misuse, fire, flood, pests etc through their sometimes 10 centuries of existence. And it’s not possible for St Cross to be open to the public all the time. One way we make LOTS of our manuscripts more accessible is through creating and sharing good digital images online, publicly, for free. That’s not the same as seeing the manuscripts in person, but remember they are *extremely* old and fragile, and the best conservators in the world (and we have them!) can’t change that.


That said, September 2017’s exhibition in St Cross is going to be ALL ABOUT MEDIEVAL MANUSCRIPTS, so be sure to come to that.

Q: Does Balliol have resources about its members who served/fell in WW1?

A: Yes. More. And here.


Oxford, Balliol College Archives, FF Urquhart Album 7.43D

Q: What’s the relationship between the Bodleian libraries and the colleges’ libraries and special collections?

A: The Bodleian is the collective shorthand for the University of Oxford’s libraries: the central library, departmental/faculty libraries, and a number of specialist libraries. Like any university library, they exist to serve current members of the university first, and also other researchers. College libraries don’t have an equivalent at most other universities; they exist primarily to serve current members of that college only. However, college libraries’ holdings of modern and in many cases rare/early/special collections printed books are on the University’s union catalogue, SOLO, and may be consulted (normally by appointment) by non-members of that college.

Archives and manuscripts are DIFFERENT from (especially modern) printed book collections in many ways. They are held, owned and looked after by various University libraries and by college libraries, separately. SOLO does not include archival or manuscript material from any university or college collections and there is no union catalogue of university or college archives or manuscripts. Colleges may have: their own historic administrative documents (‘the college archives’), personal papers of individual former heads of house, Fellows and sometimes students (‘modern personal papers’, ‘personal archives’ etc) and medieval manuscript books, which may be books from the college’s own medieval library, later acquisitions, or both. College archives and manuscripts may be looked after by the archivist or the librarian in different combinations – it varies from college to college. Some colleges have deposited their medieval manuscripts in the Bodleian for safekeeping and ease of access by researchers.

Archives and manuscripts in any library or archive are non-borrowable – you have to go to them (this is also true of early and rare printed books and other special collections). Researchers normally have to register with the institution and will be invigilated while using the material. Reading room regulations are generally stricter than those of ordinary university library reading rooms.

This all sounds very restrictive, and it is, because the material is mostly original, unique and irreplaceable. In many instances it is also very old and fragile, and requires training in how to handle it safely – never mind how to read or understand it! HOWEVER, there is a flip side to all this restrictiveness: archives and manuscripts in college collections are open to researchers from across the university and indeed to the general public – which is not generally true of their modern printed books. This is of course because – again, generally speaking – there are no copies of unique original material elsewhere. Researchers will need to apply in advance and make an appointment to see such material, and will need to present a bona fide research question to gain access, though an academic or other institutional affiliation is not essential.

There is no one place to find all this material, or to find descriptions of it. Archival arrangement and description is very different from regular printed book cataloguing – it has some aspects in common with early/rare printed books cataloguing – and is very time-consuming. It is not straightforward for researchers to find out what’s where – it will require some work, and also asking archivists and librarians for help. Small amounts of some collections have been digitized – this may or may not be useful, but in general there is MUCH more information available off the internet than on it. Some finding aids for colleges’ archives and manuscripts (or just start with a general search engine):

Q: Does Balliol hold many scientists’ archives?

A: No – scientists’ archives are often part of an ongoing research continuum, so they are not always deposited in a body in the same way as, say, a politician’s or poet’s personal papers. Scientists’ papers which are deposited as archival fonds often go to specialist repositories, such as Oxford’s Natural History Museum, the Edward Grey Institute for Field Ornithology, or the Scott Polar Institute in Cambridge.

Q: I suppose Open Doors is the only time in the year that St Cross church is open to the public?

A: No. It is also open for a similar weekend in the spring, and for advertised exhibition opening hours and other events throughout the year. Anyone can make an appointment to visit the building. The church can also be used for occasional services, at the discretion of and arranged through the clergy of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, in the High Street. More details about public opening and how the building is used.

Q: Was Dame Stephanie Shirley involved in funding the St Cross building project?

A: Yes. More details

Q: How old is St Cross church?

A: That depends. The chancel arch is Norman (about 1100); there is no archaeological evidence among the foundations for any earlier building. Most of the building you see now is Victorian (C19). Here’s a fuller answer.

Copy of DSCN9609

Q: What’s the relationship of the churchyard next to the church, and the cemetery behind it, to St Cross church?

A: answered here

Q: Where is the sundial?

A: On the outside of the church,  on the south side of the tower. You can see it from the street as you approach from the south (i.e. from town); it’s blue. To the left of the south door of the church (on the side, in the churchyard) is a brass plaque about the sundial. Step back as far as possible from the plaque and look straight up to see the sundial.


Q: Is this the university cemetery?

A: No. There is no ‘university cemetery’ in Oxford. Most of the city’s churchyards and cemeteries have lots of headstones commemorating former members of the University.

antechapel display – Remembrance Sunday

Following college and public interest in a recent display board put up there for a visit by the GM Hopkins Society earlier this year, a new regular series of small displays has begun this term in the antechapel – by the door – in Balliol Chapel. The first was mounted to support or illustrate the Remembrance Sunday sermon in Chapel, which will be appearing in a College publication soon – link from here when it’s available.

DSCN9928 - Copy

Photographs (L-R, top to bottom):

1.’Practising trench making at Cumnor. No 1 section A Company Officer Cadet Battalion, Oxford; nearly all Australians, at “work” on our part of the line.’ Photos by JH Brian Armstrong.  Balliol Archives ref. Accn 05/187. view album online

2. Summer 1915: Neville Talbot and Stephen Hewett on the Master’s Field; St Cross church and Manor Road houses in the background. Balliol Archives ref: FFU 7.26I.

Neville Stuart Talbot, MC, Fellow of Balliol 1909-1920, served as Chaplain to the Forces from August 1914. He was mentioned in dispatches from France twice and awarded the Military Cross in 1916. He was a co-founder of the TOC-H movement and later became Bishop of Pretoria.

Stephen Henry Philip Hewett, Balliol 1911, was a brilliant Classical Scholar and Exhibitioner. He swept the Craven, Hertford and Ireland Scholarships, and in addition to his academic achievements, played hockey for the University and the College XIs, played in the College Cricket XI, acted in OUDS and sang in the Bach Choir. He became a 2nd Lieutenant in the 11th Royal Warwickshire Regiment in January 1015 and went to France in February 1916. He fought in the Battle of the Somme and was reported missing and killed near High Wood on 22 July 1016, aged 23. His volume of poems and A Scholar’s Letters from the Front were both published later that year, edited by his family and his Balliol tutor, FF Urquhart, who took this photo while Talbot and Hewett were in Oxford on leave.

3. Balliol 2nd Torpid (spring rowing races) 1909. Back row: (3) SN Ziman (5) ENA Finlay (4) F von Bethmann Hollweg (Bow) Patrick Shaw-Stewart (2) CE Payne. Middle row: (7) Marquis of Tavistock (Stroke) MT Waterhouse (6) G Rufus Isaacs. In front, Cox, WB Menzies. More details of all in the College RegisterBalliol Archives ref PHOT 31.33.

4. ‘Company of the 7th Battalion, Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, in College for 10 days (270 men) – coming in to Lunch in Balliol Hall’. Photo by FF Urquhart.  Balliol Archives ref. FFU7.20C

5. Photograph of Adam von Trott zu Solz, ca 1931. Balliol Archives ref Dossier Adam von Trott.

6. Harold Macmillan in uniform. Balliol Archives ref FFU 7.24A

7. Julian Grenfell (Capt Hon Julian Henry Francis Grenfell, DSO), Balliol 1906, wounded 13 May 1915 newar Ypres, died at Boulogne 26 May 1915) and Patrick Houston Shaw-Stewart (Balliol 1906, Fellow of All Souls 1910, Gallipoli, Legion of Honour, Croix de Guerre; killed 30 December 1917. Balliol Archives ref PHOT 19.31.

8. Balliol 3rd Torpid 1938. Back row: (Bow) CJ Horne (5) Y Takagi (2) RM Hare (4) JB Ashley (3) RL Whitehead. Middle row: (7) JL Broderick (Stroke) EC Crosfield (6) HWE Randolph. In front, Cox RO Miles. Balliol Archives ref PHOT 39.15.

Q&A – founders and Bailleul

Q:  Is there any connection between Balliol and Baileul in Belgium?

A: Not exactly; there are a number of Bailleuls on either side of the French-Belgian border. It’s a generic toponym meaning ‘enclosed/fenced place’ (cf Irish & Scottish prefixes Bal/Balla, similar to English –ay/ey, -garth, -ton, -worth etc) and the various ancient Bailleul place names probably predate personal/family connections. The college founders’ direct connection is with Bailleul-en-Vimeu, on the French side, 150km from Bailleul-Estaimpuis in Belgium. I’d recommend Amanda Beam’s book The Balliol Dynasty as good modern scholarship about the family.

Open Doors Questions

Here are some of the questions staff were asked at St Cross during 2015’s Open Doors days – and some answers:


Q: Request information about the building conversion project

A: See Dr John Jones’ History of St Cross.

Q: How was the building project funded?

A: See Dr John Jones’ History of St Cross.

Q: Has St Cross church been deconsecrated?

A. No. It has been decommissioned and is no longer a parish church, but there is no question of deconsecration. The conversion project has sensitively retained the ecclesiastical character of the building, preserved the furnishings of the chancel and left the nave space sufficiently flexible to allow for occasional services, which are held at least annually.

Q: What is the ecclesiastical status of St Cross Church now?

A:  It has been decommissioned and is no longer a parish church. St Cross last had its own vicar in 1962. It is part of the benefice of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, in the High Street. Occasional services are held in the chancel by St Mary’s clergy or Balliol’s chaplain.

Q: Is there a connection between St Cross church and St Cross College?

A: The name. The church gave its name to the road, which gave its name to the first site of the college – see the College History.

Q: Who painted the chancel and nave ceilings?

A: See p.17 of Dr John Jones’ History of St Cross.

Q: What happened to the pipe organ at St Cross?

A: It was dismantled in early 2009 under the direction of the Reverend Alan Matchett, Rector of Adare, Limerick, and taken to Ireland.

Q: Were old memorial stones used to make the new floor at St Cross?

A: Yes, stones that were already there. Some had to be relocated, ie from an aisle to the nave, so that they would remain visible, but in many cases it was clear that the location of a memorial stone did not correspond to a specific burial below it. Although at least a hundred people lie interred within the walls, and lead coffins and a couple of skeletons were exposed briefly during the restoration and conversion work, the new load-bearing floors in the aisle and vestry area were installed without (further) disturbing any burials. No memorials on the walls were disturbed or inscriptions destroyed.

Q: How old is the stained glass in St Cross?

A: 19th and 20th century only. Here are Dr John Jones’ notes on the stained glass.

Q: The information by the Stainer window at the east end of the south aisle says the glass was made by Powell & Sons of Whitehall. They were based in East London – should that say Whitechapel?

A: It should say Whitefriars (it does now). They started in premises off Fleet Street and moved in 1923 to Wealdstone – west London.

Q: Is Balliol College responsible for the upkeep of St Cross churchyard?

A: The City Council is responsible for the upkeep of all ancient city churchyards, all of which were closed in the mid-19th century. Holywell Cemetery is not connected with St Cross church or churchyard.

Q: Which ‘St Catherine’s’ does the war memorial plaque in the south aisle refer to? The College of that name was not founded until later.

A: It’s the same St Catherine’s in a previous form – see their website for an explanation of St Catherine’s pre-college history.


Q: Whose signature is on the 1588 charter mounted near the west door?

A: The text is heavily abbreviated: ‘Exctiatur per Willm Brend’ and a notarial mark. This expands to ‘Excutiantur per Willelmum Brendon’ – translated, ‘Examined by William Brendon’. (Thanks to Michael Riordan for his help on this one!) We do not yet know who William Brendon was. The seal is the Great Seal of Elizabeth I.

Q: Request information about the Officer Training Corps billeted at Balliol during WW1

OCB to be precise: Officer Cadet Battalion No. 6 Balliol College was housed at Balliol from 1916. More details from Balliol and the University Archives.

Q: Are there any lantern slides or glass plate negatives in the collection?

A: Barely half a dozen glass plate negatives of miscellaneous subjects.

Q: What is the oldest document in the collections here?

A: A title deed of ca. 1180; more details.

Q: What was the first printed book?

A: The Bible as printed by Johannes Gutenberg in 1455. A useful article from the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin.

Q: What were books written on before printing?

A: Most western books were hand written on parchment – prepared animal skin, mainly sheep and calf. Paper was also used but it was extremely expensive and is not as durable as parchment, so relatively few medieval books on paper survive. Some early books were also printed on parchment, and imitated the look and style of manuscript books as closely as possible. The Medieval Manuscripts blog written by British Library curatorial staff is a great resource to learn more about medieval manuscript (handwritten) books.

Balliol College

Q: How do Oxford colleges work and how to they relate to University departments, central admin etc?

A: Good question! Think of it as a bit like the devolved government of Canada, with provincial governments as colleges and the federal government as the University.

Q: What is the college library like?

A: While colleges’ special collections are open by arrangement to any researcher, college libraries are normally for the use of college members only. Balliol Library website, some images


Q: How long is this exhibition up for and how available is it to the public?

A: The exhibition will be up until November and groups or individuals are welcome to make appointments to view it. Further public opening hours may be announced later.

Q: Do these collections get used?


Q: Are these collections digitised?

A: Some are. More will be. Images are online.

Q: How do I get to consult the books and collections kept here?

A: Have a look at the collection descriptions and catalogues on our website, and then get in touch to make an appointment.

Q: Do you have to wear gloves to handle documents?

A: Some repositories require them to be worn for handling all materials. Some require them only for handling photographic formats (prints, negatives, glass plates). I’m with the latter. If you are wearing them, remember that gloves are not magic and will not prevent you from causing many kinds of damage to the manuscript: avoid touching text, decoration and damaged areas with gloves on.

Q: I coordinate an MA course in archaeology and built heritage at another university. Can I bring my students to see the conversion of this building?

A: Of course! Always delighted to have students visit and to talk with them about the building and the collections. We’ll make an appointment.

Q: I am a University employee. Can I bring group visits here?

A: Of course! Always delighted to have groups visit and to talk with them about the building and the collections. We’ll make an appointment.

Q: Is this building open all the time?

A: Not for unscheduled access for the general public – it’s in use full time Monday-Friday, throughout the University year and most of the vacations, as Balliol’s special collections centre. For the security of the collections and staff working there, there is no access ‘off the street’ or out of staffed hours – you need to make an appointment and staff will meet you when you arrive. Much of the time there are researchers in the nave, which is used as the invigilated reading room, and unscheduled visitors would be highly disruptive as there is no separate space –  tourists do not have access to the Broad Street Library for the same reason. You CAN make an appointment to visit just to look at the building. More about access to St Cross.

Students and Soldiers

Guest post 3/3 by our August OUIP intern, Sophie Lealan (Oriel College):

Students and Soldiers

Francis Fortescue Urquhart’s portraits of the various people housed by Balliol College during World War One record fragments of lives that sometimes went on to meet great success, but often were cut tragically short.

Oxford, Balliol College Archives, FF Urquhart Album 7.1F

Oxford, Balliol College Archives, FF Urquhart Album 7.1F

Whilst, as an amateur photographer, Urquhart’s photographs sometimes lack in technical skill, they make up for this with the informal insights they offer into the lives of students. His portraits often show an intimate view of these young men, quietly studying or posing for his camera. One photograph depicts student Geoffrey Madan looking out of a window while sitting in Urquhart’s room. [FFU07-1-F] The sheets of paper beside him, perhaps an essay, suggest that this picture might have been taken during a tutorial with Urquhart. Other photographs in the album show students sitting in this same window seat or on Urquhart’s sofa with a book on their lap.

Urquhart was also able to capture the interactions and relationships between students. For example, one photograph shows Arthur Wiggin and future Prime Minister Harold Macmillan posing arm in arm in their new officer uniforms. The sense of playfulness is continued in Urquhart’s use of the camera, overlaying two portraits on top of each other as a double exposure. [FFU07-20-D-E-F]

Macmillan, of course, became a prominent politician, but many other subjects of Urquhart’s photographs did not fare so well. Ronald Glover, for example, was killed at Ypres in 1917. He first appears in Urquhart’s album posing in the snow-covered college grounds, and then sitting cheerfully on the wall of the Fellows’ Garden in his officer’s uniform. Glover is one of the many students Urquhart documented before they left to fight and never returned. [FFU07-36-B] [FFU07-44-B]

Oxford, Balliol College Archives, FF Urquhart Album 7.63G

Oxford, Balliol College Archives, FF Urquhart Album 7.63G

In some cases Urquhart had a direct influence on students’ military careers. Hardit Singh Malik was one such student. Initially rejected by the British air force because of his Indian origins, it was due to Urquhart’s intervention that he was allowed to fly during the war. Indeed, Malik can be seen proudly wearing his R.A.F. uniform in several of Urquhart’s photographs. [FFU07-63-G]

Students were not the only people Urquhart photographed. He took numerous images of the soldiers, mostly officer cadets, for whom Balliol was briefly a home during their officer training, and, as with his photographs of students, he appears to have been interested in capturing these subjects informally. A series of images (titled ‘A gentle warrior’) shows his small son clambering over the legs of Harold Brewer Hartley, in civilian life a Tutor in Physical Chemistry at Balliol, while his daughter grins at them from behind a tree. One image provides an unusually casual portrait of a group of officers, all sitting cross-legged on the grass and smiling – the group is from D Company, 7th Ox & Bucks LI, and includes several Balliol men whom Urquhart would have known and taught before the war. This photograph indicates the kind of picture that Urquhart thought was worth keeping, although like several others in the album it was taken by someone else (Urquhart has written ‘Pemberton fecit’ in the corner). [FFU07-30-D] [FFU07-24-E]

Urquhart’s album tells us much about the man who took and collected these photographs. Whilst his images undoubtedly act as documents of the changing times he lived through, they are also records of who Urquhart spent his time with, how he spent this time, and which fragments of these events and people he wanted to keep in his album. My research has only been able to scratch the surface of what Urquhart’s photographs can tell us about him, and about this period in Oxford’s history, and I hope that future scholars will be able to pick up some of the threads I have introduced here.


I am very grateful for the invaluable advice and assistance I have received from archivist Anna Sander, and librarians Fiona Godber and Rachel McDonald during my time at Balliol, and for the funding provided by Oxford University Careers Service.

– Sophie Lealan, August 2015


Selected Bibliography

Bailey, Cyril, Francis Fortescue Urquhart: A Memoir (London: 1936).

Elliott, Sir Ivo (ed.), The Balliol College Register, 1833-1933 (Oxford: 1934)

Graham, Malcolm, Oxford in the Great War (Barnsley, South Yorkshire: 2014).

Jones, John, Balliol College: A History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

Malik, Hardit Singh, A Little Work, A Little Play: The Autobiography of H. S. Malik (New Delhi: 2010).


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

Post 1

Post 2

Post 3

Life in Balliol during World War One

Guest post 2/3 by Sophie Lealan, one of our OUIP interns:

Oxford, Balliol College Archives, FF Urquhart Album 7.11F

Oxford, Balliol College Archives, FF Urquhart Album 7.11F

Urquhart’s photograph album of 1914-1918 narrates, in hundreds of small, sepia images, the transformation of Balliol College from a site of parties and fancy dress to one of officer training and uniforms. However, amidst these dramatic developments many of the traditions and rituals of college life proved resilient.

Oxford, Balliol College Archives, FF Urquhart Album 7.12A

Oxford, Balliol College Archives, FF Urquhart Album 7.12A

The summer of 1914 has often been described as a ‘Golden Summer’, and Urquhart’s photographs appear to testify to this. Students are shown punting and picnicking around Oxford, dressed in black tie for ‘Eric Lubbock’s “Twentyfirster”’, or having tea in the college gardens while dressed in kimonos. Of course, these were only the occasions to which Urquhart was invited, or of which he had a photograph, but they illustrate the light-hearted atmosphere of the summer. [FFU07-11-F] [FFU07-12-A]

Oxford, Balliol College Archives, FF Urquhart Album 7.21F

Oxford, Balliol College Archives, FF Urquhart Album 7.21F

As the album progresses to Michaelmas 1914 students still smile and appear relaxed for Urquhart’s camera, only now they are dressed in army uniforms. Meyrick Carré is just one of the dozens of Balliol students Urquhart photographed in their new military outfits. In his portrait we can see a pile of dirty dishes on the ground, just within the entrance to staircase eighteen. [FFU07-21-F]

Like its students, the college took on new roles during the war. Balliol became a base for officer training programmes, and many of the resident cadets were captured by Urquhart’s camera. In one image we see a queue of men in uniform, each holding a mug as they line up the stairs for hall. Another photograph shows a distant view of a soldier standing beside a blackboard, addressing a group of soldiers who are gathered around him in a semi-circle on the college grounds. Balliol was not the only college to become a form of army barracks and several others became hospitals for wounded soldiers. Indeed, the war affected the whole of Oxford, as Urquhart documented in a view of soldiers standing in formation across Christ Church Meadow. [FFU07-20-C] [FFU07-55-C] [FFU07-21-H]

Of course, the buildings of Balliol College stayed the same, and much of its architecture remained a constant feature of Urquhart’s photographs. Subjects frequently sit on the walls of the Fellows’ Gardens, first as students and then as soldiers. Such images indicate a sense of continuity; whatever events might be happening in the world, the ritual of Urquhart taking one’s photograph in this spot was constant. Signs of college life continuing amidst the upheavals of war are also evident in details such as the rowing crest chalked on the wall behind two students (Eric Lubbock and Ernest Besly) in uniform. [FFU07-52-F] [FFU07-43-D]

The ways in which students spent their free time was also affected by the war. With fewer students, sports continued at a greatly reduced level. Images of young men playing tennis and cricket or rowing in Torpids open the album but, after war breaks out, such images almost disappear. However, the cadets at Balliol also became involved in sports, as can be seen in several of Urquhart’s photographs. One image shows Officer Cadet Battalions playing a game of rugby, whilst another image appears to show a tug of war between trainee officers. [FFU07-1-H] [FFU07-65-A]

Although visits to Urquhart’s chalet in the French Alps were suspended, other aspects of college life continued in various forms. Punting reappears frequently throughout the album, but one can imagine that such activities took on quite different meanings for students returning from the trenches. Tea in the college gardens is also a common subject throughout the war years, including one image in which a uniformed student appears with his arm in a sling. Urquhart also photographed several students wearing graduation robes and hoods over their army uniform, one of the aspects of Oxford life that was modified but not ended by the war. [FFU07-27-G] [FFU07-26-F] [FFU07-63-C]

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

Post 1

Post 2

Post 3

Family History enquiries

Looking for information about an individual who may have been a member of Balliol College? Here’s how:famhistenqs3
(1) Balliol biographical research resources – see also the University Archives’ helpful links to several of the same sources.

(2) AE Emden, A Biographical Register of the University of Oxford to AD 1500 (3 vols, 1957) and a supplementary volume 1501 to 1540 (1974). (Print resource only)

(3) Joseph Foster, Alumni Oxonienses 1514-1700 and 1700-1886

(4) Oxford University Archives

(5) Oxford University Calendar and the Oxford University Degrees Office

(6) Oxford Archivists’ Consortium (OAC) – contact details for all college archives and other local resources

(7) Balliol Archivist