– 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.


Historic Collections @Balliol


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For more about the treasures of Balliol’s library and archives please visit our new blog at Historic Collections @Balliol.

For all Library and Archives enquiries please contact the library 


finding primary sources – worked example

Q: I’m looking for archival material in Oxford – and maybe elsewhere – relating to [well known deceased literary figure(s)].

A: LMGTFY – almost.

The first answer is always, of course, do an internet search – try ‘oxford surname’ and see what comes up. If nothing obvious, try adding ‘archives’, ‘papers’ or ‘letters’.

Balliol College’s personal and family archives holdings are listed online, with links to images, at http://archives.balliol.ox.ac.uk/Modern%20Papers/modernmsssum.asp.

Biographies and other secondary material should mention the whereabouts of other primary sources; from the archives end though, you will want to be familiar with several national portals, as e.g. letters from your research subjects will turn up in the archives of correspondents’ archives, not their own.

  • The National Archives Discovery catalogue now includes the former National Register of Archives and A2A entries, for UK archives outside TNA: http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ (use Advanced, then Record Creator tab)
  • The Archives Hub, for archives/personal papers/collections in (mostly) UK HE institutions: https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/
  • The Location Register of Modern English Literary Manuscripts & Letters at Reading University: http://www.locationregister.com/
  • AIM25, for archives/personal papers/collections in (mostly) Greater London repositories: https://aim25.com/
  • JANUS, for archives/personal papers/collections in Cambridge college and university repositories: https://janus.lib.cam.ac.uk/
  • If your research subject has an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, there will be sections for Sources (i.e. secondary works) and Archives – these are often a handy shortcut to get started with, though don’t assume they are infallibly complete. The ODNB is accessed by subscription, but many HE institutions and UK public libraries provide access.
When you have done all these things, check with the Oxford archivists via the OAC address: https://oac.web.ox.ac.uk/ – be sure to mention the sources you have already checked and the archives you have located, otherwise we will helpfully suggest them to you again!

Does all this sound obvious? good – but this is a genuine enquiry from a genuine researcher of the internet generation, and it’s far from unique.

Hilary Term on facebook

I post brief monthly statistics here, but for readers who just can’t get enough archives news, there’s a weekly update on Facebook as well. Here’s the roundup for Hilary Term, January-February:

HT1: Happy New Year! This week in the archives, catching up on holiday enquiries, rounding up December enquiries and statistics, generally hanging the shingle out again as all services resume as normal.

HT2: this week in the archives, it’s a ‘quiet’ week as far as researcher bookings go. So in between thumb-twiddling sessions, I’ll just be finishing up holiday enquiries and reprographics requests; December, January & 2017 statistics on the blog; starting the term’s campaign of cataloguing modern personal papers collections & posting their fonds-level descriptions to the (new and improved) Archives Hub; assembling Docs in Focus features for the Library and facsimile displays for the antechapel; and starting to clear the office in case of work on pipes and electrics later…

HT3: this week in the archives, tutors planning classes using early printed books and late medieval manuscripts, a planning session for one of those classes, and flooring repairs in the repositories.

HT4: this week in the archives, just one reader booked, so, more accessioning and cataloguing. Forward in February!

HT5 : this week in the archives, a new accession to the RM Hare papers; a Balliol graduate student teaching a class based on manuscripts and early printed books; researchers looking at the Hunt, Rawnsley, McKail and Nicolson papers, college records and medieval manuscripts; and a conservation consortium management committee meeting for me. No wonder I’m only getting round to updating on Tuesday!

HT 6: this week in the archives, researchers for the Jowett, Rawnsley and Caird papers and college records; a school visit; servicing of the fire suppression system; planning a spring exhibition with several graduate student curators; and the termly Library Committee meeting.

HT 7: this week in the archives, I handed in my resignation in early February and will be leaving Balliol at the end of April, after more than 13 years, and returning to my home country of Canada after nearly 20 years away. Stay tuned for updates about modifications to archive services during the transition period. But for now, there are enquiries to answer!

HT 8: this week in the archives, researchers for the Jowett archive, Chalet papers and college records. March is the last month I’m taking new enquiries and requests for reprographics, as I wind things up in preparation for leaving at the end of April, so send them in soon!

HT9: this week in the archives, a researcher looking at college records and my last AGM at the Oxford Conservation Consortium. It’s a short week for me, as I’ll be in Cambridge on Friday at a symposium celebrating wider access to Parker on the Web, an extraordinary resource for all students of medieval manuscripts. No more paywall! https://theparkerlibrary.wordpress.com/…/parker-news-acces…/  March is the last month I’m taking new enquiries and requests for reprographics, as I wind things up in preparation for leaving at the end of April, so send them in soon.

The University is now in Vacation, but archives are busy: this week researchers are consulting records of the Chalet des Anglais, material relating to Hilaire Belloc, and the Rawnsley papers. My roundup of tweets from Friday’s brilliant Parker Library on the Web symposium in Cambridge is online (until May, when Storify dies) at http://bit.ly/2HLaYDH March is the last month I’m taking new enquiries and requests for reprographics, as I wind things up in preparation for leaving at the end of April, so send them in soon.

Easter Vacation (University sense): this week in the archives, researchers for the Rawnsley, Jowett and Belloc papers and some other individual items. From next week, please send all enquiries, requests for reprographics and requests for appointments to carry out research on the archives and manuscripts at St Cross to library@balliol.ox.ac.uk. The librarians are providing interim cover; future staffing arrangements for St Cross will be noted on the college website in due course. I will not be dealing with any new instances of these after this week, as I need the last few weeks of my notice period to leave everything as free of loose ends as is ever possible in an archive.

monthly report – January 2018

Some numbers about archives & manuscripts activity during January:

  • Number of enquiries: 56
  • Total for 2017: 56
  • Number of researchers in person (unique users): 6
  • Number of person-days in the reading room: 8
  • Collections consulted: Medieval mss (3), College records (2), Rawnsley papers
  • images created: 1200
  • Productions (consulted by researchers in person or by the archivist in response to enquiries) – actual numbers may be slightly higher:
    • 11 files – up to 200 items per file, not including
    • 12  individual items from a single letter to a bound volume, not including
    • 27 medieval ms codices

Some of the topics of remote enquiries received in January:

  • college portraits and other works of art
  • college heraldry
  • correct citation/referencing for archival materials
  • requests for permission to quote from or publish images of archival material
  • requests for (new) digital images of college records and medieval manuscripts
  • 17th century vocabulary for silver plate
  • WW1 minutes of College Meeting
  • WW1 and post-WW2 diaries
  • Boat Club history
  • Biographical research re / info on Balliol or related archives of
    • people who were not members of Balliol
    • C18 – early C20 College servants
    • RW Raper (Balliol TT 1861)
    • Sir J Conroy (Balliol 1890)
    • H Belloc (Balliol HT 1893)
    • HS Malik (Balliol 1912)
    • RH Glover (Balliol 1915)
    • I Stitt (Balliol 1917)
    • TH Tylor, Fellow (Balliol 1918)
    • F Huxley (Balliol 1946)
    • FJ Lindars (Balliol 1949)

monthly report – December 2017

Some numbers about archives & manuscripts activity during December:

  • Number of enquiries: 33
  • Total for 2017: 726
  • Number of researchers in person (unique users): 5
  • Number of person-days in the reading room: 5 (out of 8 days open)
  • Collections consulted: Jowett archive, college records, medieval mss, Conroy archive, Malcolm papers
  • Productions (consulted by researchers in person or by the archivist in response to enquiries) – actual numbers may be slightly higher:
    • 13 boxes containing from two bound volumes to 4 thick files of individual items, not including
    • 1 file – up to 200 items per file, not including
    • 9  individual items from a single letter to a bound volume, not including
    • 1 medieval ms codex
  • No of non-research visitors: 25
  • exhibition open, with curator’s introduction, Q&A and discussion, for:
    • current Balliol Fellows, guests and staff
    • archivists & librarians from other Colleges
    • members of the Oxford Conservators’ Group
    • private visitors, including Old Members of Balliol

Some of the enquiry topics received in December:

  • college portraits and other works of art
  • requests for permission to quote from or publish images of archival material
  • requests for (new) digital images of college records and medieval manuscripts
  • Biographical research re / info on Balliol or related archives of
    • people who were not members of Balliol
    • C18 – early C20 College servants
    • G Abbott (Balliol 1581)
    • H Savage (Balliol 1624/5)
    • CSC Bowen (Balliol 1853), later Baron Bowen
    • HCK Petty-Fitzmaurice, 5th Marquess of Lansdowne (Balliol 1863)
    • GO Roos (Balliol 1887)
    • AW Pickard-Cambridge (Balliol 1891)

Michaelmas Term on facebook

I post brief monthly statistics here, but for readers who just can’t get enough archives news, there’s a weekly update on Facebook as well. Here’s the roundup for Michaelmas Term, starting in late September:

MT -1: the University is counting down and gearing up for Michaelmas Term. This week in the archives, a reader for the medieval manuscripts and visitors to the exhibition. Blog posts for the exhibition catalogue continue #mss2017. It’s the last week of September, so time for the monthly enquiries roundup and statistics post as well.

MT0 – This week in the archives, everybody else is busy getting ready for the new term, and I’m finally having a holiday 😀

MT1: Happy New Year for all those opening a fresh new academic calendar! This week in the archives: researchers for medieval manuscripts and some non-Browning material in the Browning papers, the librarians host Brookes University publishing students, and I kick off the year of Bruce’s Brunch, a series of lunchtime talks on all manner of subjects for Balliol students, hosted by the Chaplain. And the small matter of catching up after a week away.

MT2. This week in the archives, researchers for the Monckton and Jowett archives and medieval manuscripts. I’m continuing to post extended versions of the manuscripts exhibition catalogue entries on the blog: https://balliolarchivist.wordpress.com/category/mss2017/

MT3 – this week in the archives, researchers for medieval manuscripts, Caird papers and TH Green papers. The momentary ‘lull’ means I can catch up a bit on productions and reprographics, and complete physical arrangement of two (relatively) small subfonds. It’s also the time of year for college-wide refresher training in the use of ladders and fire extinguishers.

The medieval manuscripts exhibition continues: ‘Change and Decay: A History of Damage and Conservation in Balliol’s Medieval Manuscripts’, curated by Balliol’s Archivist and Curator of Manuscripts, Anna Sander, includes more than 20 of Balliol’s 300+ original medieval manuscript codices and a number of contemporary documents from the College records, and highlights a decade of work on the archives and manuscripts by the team of professional conservators at the Oxford Conservation Consortium, of which Balliol has been a member since 2006.

Individual and group visitors are very welcome most times, by appointment. Visiting hours are normally Mon-Fri 10-1 and 2-5; appointments aren’t meant to be exclusive, it’s just that the exhibition and reading room are in the same space, and we need to plan ahead to ensure that visitors and researchers are here at different times. Please come! More about the manuscripts exhibition at https://balliolarchivist.wordpress.com/ #mss2017

For tutors planning a visit with students, there is also space, and time available, to hold a class (of up to about a dozen) in the middle of the nave, i.e. surrounded by the manuscripts on display.

Directions: http://archives.balliol.ox.ac.uk/Services/visit.asp#f
Contact: anna.sander@balliol.ox.ac.uk

MT 4: This week in the archives, researchers for the Morier, AL Smith, Strachan Davidson,Ernest Walker and AC Badley papers. Balliol MCR visits the medieval manuscripts exhibition and we launch a Special Collections Challenge series with them; the librarians host the English Faculty 18th Century Seminar at St Cross; I visit the ‘C19 medieval revival’ session of the Rare German Books seminar; we join other college librarians and archivists at the university’s Graduate Thesis Fair.

MT5: This week in the archives, lots of tutors and students coming to look at (and talk about) the medieval manuscripts exhibition! First one today, topics covered: tiny writing, huge printing, marginalia, pigment ingredients, seal attachment, authentication methods for charters, manuscript reuse as binding waste, manuscript navigation, vandalism, conservation materials, gothic binding structures. Not necessarily in that order! No researchers booked this week as at least half of every day has a visiting class. October’s report is on the blog: https://balliolarchivist.wordpress.com/…/monthly-report-oc…/

MT 6 – this week in the archives, researchers for the AL Smith and Jowett papers, and medieval manuscripts; a Balliol alumna brings classes from two other colleges to look at early printed books; a Balliol Fellow and a Professor of Medieval German Lit & Ling hold workshops based around the medieval manuscripts exhibition. There is a new Remembrance Sunday display in the antechapel and I’m preparing a termly report covering more than half the year!

MT7 This week in the archives, researchers for medieval manuscripts, Urquhart papers and Oppenheimer papers; discussions about digitization and cataloguing software; conservators visit the exhibition of medieval manuscripts; termly reports; and a maintenance check for the rolling shelving.

MT8: This week in the archives, the medival manuscripts exhibition remains open by prior arrangement to visitors through next week. There are researchers booked in to look at early modern manuscripts, the Strachan-Davidson papers and medieval manuscripts; individual and group visitors coming to the exhibition; the termly College Library Committee meeting; and the Oxford Conservation Consortium’s AGM. And, somehow, December.

MT9 – this week in the archives: exhibition visitors; researchers for the Malcolm papers, college records, Conroy archive, Jowett archive, and medieval manuscripts; November statistics and termly (May-November) report appearing on the blog.

This is the last week to see the medieval manuscripts exhibition at St Cross and also the last week of 2017 for research appointments. The former will be put away, and the latter will resume in the week of 15 January. It will be possible to request appointments for the new year during the closed period – plan ahead and get your place booked early.


antechapel display – Remembrance Sunday 2017

A century ago: extracts from a few pages of Francis Fortescue (‘Sligger’) Urquhart’s personal photo albums, covering the Summer Term of 1917.

There were still Balliol men coming into residence each year during the War: surprising as it may seem now some were overseas students; others were precluded from active service, e.g. Aldous Huxley; most were putting in time before their commissions came through, and the student numbers by the end of each summer term were much lower than in Michaelmas. In addition, the officer cadets billeted at Balliol, Keble and elsewhere for training were welcomed and made to feel part of ‘their’ colleges by the few Fellows still resident.

Urquhart was one of only three dons in residence at Balliol throughout the War, and his unbroken series of informal photographs shows the incongruous juxtapositions of academic, civilian and military life during the period. This post shows a selection reflecting the outward and visible changes made by the war in Oxford, mainly within Balliol.

Many of the officer cadets who spent weeks or months training in Oxford had good memories of their time there. This lighter side of wartime experience easily became family stories that could be passed down. My enquiry records show that some officer training periods have evolved in family legend into full Oxford degrees, several generations of retelling later! The ‘party of sight-seers’ in one photo is visiting New College’s cloisters – is Urquhart acting as their tour guide? Even the pictures of ‘trench digging on Cumnor Hill by 6 OCB A Company’, in their shirtsleeves under a bright Oxfordshire sun and the beady eye of Captain Lang, look worlds removed from the reality, fast approaching for these men, of the mud of Flanders and France.

Individually, the photos are mostly sunny snapshots of happy moments; as a collection, however, the very quality of ‘Oxford idyll’ that seems escapist and almost irresponsible in such a serious time forms not only a fascinating glimpse into an important chapter in Oxford’s history, but a vivid and very personal memorial to lost youth and potential, compiled by a tutor noting the deaths of too many friends and former students.


3 views of John Beverley Nichols. JBN was admitted to Balliol, with Urquhart as his tutor, in Hilary Term (spring term, i.e. January) 1917, and almost immediately entered the Army as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Labour Corps. These photos, only a page apart in the album, show his rapid transition from civilian to military life. Nichols detested everything about the war and his military experience, and was deeply bitter about his father’s curtailment of his Oxford education once the war was over. Nichols does not mention his brief 1917 Oxford period in his memoir The Unforgiving Minute, which indicates that he went straight from Marlborough College to officer training in Cambridge. Balliol Archives FFU 7.50H, 7.52F, 7.52G.


‘A party of sight-seers, March 1917’ – a group of officer cadets and their training officers in the cloisters at New College. Balliol Archives FFU 7.50I


‘Malik, French Red Cross, Summer term 1917.’ Hardit Singh Malik was one of four Sikh pilots in the RFC/RAF), and the only one of the four to survive. Francis Urquhart had been his Balliol tutor, and it was through him that Malik joined the French Red Cross in 1916 – as a stepping stone to the French Air Force, as at that time the new Royal Flying Corps did not accept non-white officers. In 1917 that colour bar was broken, again through Urquhart’s intervention, and Hardit Singh Malik became a pilot in the RFC, later the RAF. This photo may date from a visit a little earlier in the year, just before Malik’s transfer. Balliol Archives FFU 7.52A


Academic and military lives collide: Victor Mallet (Balliol 1911) studied Modern History at Balliol under NS Talbot and AL Smith, signed up with the Cambridge Regiment in September 1914 and served in France 1915-16. He is shown here on leave (or perhaps on business?) from Ireland in 1917 receiving his degree in BA gown and hood, with Army uniform, complete with cane, instead of subfusc and mortarboard. The Mallet family’s archive is held in Balliol’s Historic Collections Centre. Balliol Archives FFU 7.52C


At one point during the term Sligger visits the Cambridge home of Baron Anatole von Hügel (1854-1928) . Von Hügel, a fellow alumnus of Stonyhurst College, had set Urquhart something of an example when, in 1895, he had been a leading figure in the repeal of the Papal prohibition on Roman Catholic membership of Oxford and Cambridge. Balliol Archives FFU7.54B & C


Nevile Barclay plays the organ in Balliol Hall. Barclay enlisted with the 8th London Regiment in May `915, aged 17, and worked in the Foreign Office until November 1918. He enrolled at Balliol in 1916 but his course was much interrupted by war work; he eventually completed his degree in 1921, but did not formally take the BA and MA until 1926. He and JB Nichols became friends during Nichols’ postwar stint in Oxford. Balliol Archives  FFU7.54D

The regular Sunday Concert series established  by Benjamin Jowett in 1885 continued well into the War, until June 1915, but was then replaced with less formal concerts for which there were no programmes. This coincides with the occupation of Balliol’s premises by No. 6 Officer Cadet Battalion; hundreds if not thousands of Army officer cadets came through Balliol on training courses lasting up to three months.


‘W Robinson in hospital.’ There is no W Robinson of the right vintage at Balliol. Who is W Robinson? a member of another college? someone from the Roman Catholic schools? a former officer cadet stationed at Balliol for training? His dressing gown and slippers on the lawn are reminiscent of similar, yet very different, photos taken at Urquhart’s Chalet in the French alps only a few years earlier. And who took this photo? Urquhart usually notes photographers of individual prints other than himself  -though he does not mention whether they used his camera or their own – but from the shadow, whoever took this photo was in uniform. And which hospital is it? from the indications of a downhill slope in the background, I’ll guess it’s in Headington. Balliol Archives FFU 7.54I


‘Trench digging on Cumnor Hill by 6 OCB, “A” Coy. Cap. Lang, Seiler, Velho, Sharp, Shaw, Evans, Darling.’ Urquhart has probably walked out to Cumnor, a regular walking destination of his, to visit the ‘Balliol’ cadets of 6 OCB practising – in what looks like very dry earth indeed – for the mud of France and Flanders. This is one of very few photographs indeed of officer cadets with identifications. Notice Velho’s khaki apron, carefully belted at the right length to protect his kilt. Balliol Archives FFU 7.55B


‘A Company Lecture’: instead of the usual scene of Balliol students taking a break from the Library or celebrating the end of their Finals, here an Army instructor addresses several dozen officer cadets sitting on the grass in front of the ivy-covered Hall in the Garden Quad. This photo appears to have been taken from the top of the Library tower. Balliol Archives FFU 7.55C


Maurice Leonard Jacks (Balliol 1912) had been a student of Cyril Bailey, in Classics, immediately before the war, and one of the early Presidents of the Balliol Boys’ Club. After serving as a 2nd Lieutenant (the most common rank for young University men signing up as junior officers) in the King’s Royal Rifles 1914-16, he was wounded in France in November 1916. As a result, he did not return to battle but became Captain of C Company, No.4 officer Cadet Battalion, based at Keble College in Oxford.  This meant he was just up the road from his old friend Urquhart, as well as close to the Jacks’ new family home at Shotover Edge. Jacks and Urquhart collaborated to provide cadets on their days off with walks and explorations by canoe of the surrounding countryside – experiences of Oxford summers in which, except for partial uniform, they could temporarily leave wartime behind. Balliol Archives FFU 7.55K

Balliol Archives FFU 7.57E

This album can be viewed in full online here.