– 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.


neighbourhood tour

Although it’s only a 10 minute walk away, not many visitors to Oxford percolate through the city centre over to Holywell parish. Here’s a brief look around on a sunny spring day:

termly report Hilary 2017

HT17 Week 6 (23 February) Library Committee

Archivist’s report

This paper reports on the Archivist’s work November 2016 – January 2017.

Reader & visitor numbers by month

Unique Users
November 9
December 5
January 8
Period total 22
2016 total 94

Seats occupied
November 12
December 8
January 9
Period total 29
2016 total 123

Visitors (non research)
November Ca 85
December 9
January 4
Period total ca 100
2016 total ca 750

Remote enquiries

  • November 76
  • December 25
  • January 83
  • Period total 184
  • 2016 total 875

Collection care & development

Notable accessions:

  • 3 letters from Benjamin Jowett to Margot Asquith, 1892.
  • 2 files re early planning, construction & furnishing of Eastman House, 1920s-1932.
  • 1 box file of Bursary invoices/receipts for September 1922. These would normally have been thrown away in the course of regular business, and no other similar files survive, but having a small complete sample throws useful light on Bursary accounting recordkeeping of the time.


Several manuscripts will be cleaned and repaired for the September exhibition after all, as well as continuing the postponed boxing of the medieval and early modern mss. Most importantly, MS 354 (Richard Hill’s commonplace book of ca 1510), a key and in some cases unique surviving source for medieval English carol texts, will be made safe for both display and handling. This fragile paper ms has been in parlous condition for years and it will be very good to be able to allow researchers to consult it again, as the digital images are useful but do not convey all the information from the original.

The Foundation Statutes of 1282, which are produced often for college and other visitors, have been lightly cleaned, photographed at very high resolution and rehoused to current conservation standards and are looking brilliant. They and enlarged images of Dervorguilla’s seal went on show immediately as part of the HT manuscripts display at St Cross, and will be out again for the MT17 exhibition.


Social media

  • Facebook: 950 Likes. Weekly updates, links to blog posts, notices of events, etc.
  • Twitter: 1800 total Tweets, 1452 followers
  • Blog: 16 new posts – monthly reports, stats for 2016, event notices, illustrated exhibition ‘afterlife’

Image management

  • Oxfile (OUCS) – used 18 times Nov-Jan, total 258 times, to send images, externally and within college, across archival collections.
  • more than 2.2 million individual image views on Flickr of 92,000+ images. The most-viewed image is the first entry in the War Memorial Book, followed by most of the rest of same, and the College Registers. Many of the medieval mss have had hundreds of views of each image.

Outreach & Events:


  • hosting weekly half-day NaNoWriMo Come Write In sessions for local novelists for a 4th year.
  • Adam Von Trott students visiting again (memorial lecture @Mansfield) – discussion and display of MS and printed material
  • For #TheOxfordSomme initiative by http://ww1centenary.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/, 18 Nov tweets for each Balliol man who fell on the Somme July-Nov 1916; the prescheduled tweets went out every 20 mins 9am-6pm.
  • new antechapel display: St Catherine
  • ACS invited speaker at WW1 history ‘road show’ organised with OUCS and International Society for WW1 Studies in conjunction with their conference
  • Unlocking Archives – Dr Matthew Balensuela: ‘Medieval Musical Illustrations: Balliol MS 173A’
  • Sunday symposium on Balliol’s Hebraica & Judaica: speakers Prof Martin Goodman FBA, Dr Rahel Fronda, Prof Joanna Weinberg, Prof Elliott Horowitz
  • Unlocking Archives – Prof Elliott Horowitz: ‘Balliol Judaica and Hebraica: an exhibition’


  • Balliol tutor & English 2nd years to St Cross for hands-on introduction to structure, production history & good handling of medieval manuscript codices


  • Temporary exhibition of medieval manuscripts ‘Mostly music & medicine’, open to the public most afternoons weeks 2-5. 54 visitors
  • new antechapel display: enlarged illuminated initials from the mss exhibition (mid-Jan);stained glass restoration feature remains on the other side of the board as long as the glass is out
  • new ‘Document in Focus’ features prepared by Anna continue on display in Broad St Library


Anna CPD:

  • observed organisation & volunteer training & participated in the digitization team for OUCS WW1 ‘archives roadshow’ day (November)
  • attended conference Manuscripts in the Making: Art & Science and COLOUR exhibition, org. Fitzwilliam Museum, AMARC, Cambridge Chemistry Dept (December)
  • elected a member of the Management Committee of the Oxford Conservation Consortium (December)

More news

More details, more often, on social media:

Anna Sander

HT 2017 (February)

Malcolm exhibition 2017

George Malcolm, CBE, KSG (1917-1997)

Balliol’s musician of genius

“George Malcolm was a great musician, a renaissance man, a wonderful human being. He was influential in the development of choral and instrumental music in Britain and abroad; and I consider myself one of the fortunate recipients of his immense knowledge, broad culture and excellent taste. He should never be forgotten.”                        

– Sir András Schiff, who gave a recital in memory of GJM at Balliol College on February 24th 2017

Child Prodigy

Born in Clapham, south-west London on 28th February 1917, George John Malcolm showed an exceptional gift for music from an early age. When only seven he won a local authority scholarship to attend the junior department of the Royal College of Music – the youngest child ever to achieve this.

1  Album of newspaper cuttings made by Mrs Dodie Malcolm, mother of GJM, open at news stories of the boy’s precocious talent.

2  Black & white photograph showing GJM playing the violin. © Daily Mail 1924. Displayed in facsimile (enlarged) for preservation reasons.

3  Sepia photograph showing GJM dressed for his first communion.

4 ‘Hymns and Benediction sung for the First Communion’ – printed music by GJM, written when he was six years old.

5  ‘The Mount Pleasant College Magazine’ of July 1924 – article about GJM by Sister Mary Xavier, SND.                   

6 Programme for dress rehearsal of Dame Ethel Smyth’s Entente Cordiale, held at the Royal College of Music on 22nd July 1925.

7 Title page of script Entente Cordiale, with a dedication by the composer Dame Ethel Smyth in appreciation of GJM’s help.

8 Black & white photograph of the cast of Entente Cordiale on stage, showing GJM towards the left in front. Displayed in facsimile (enlarged) for preservation reasons.


Royal College of Music

GJM continued to attend the R.C.M. as a junior during his teenage years; then again as a young adult student after taking his academic degrees at Oxford; finally completing his musical studies after serving in the Second World War.

9 Extract from ‘The Monthly Musical Record’, January 1929, praising the piano playing of GJM at 11 years old. Displayed in facsimile (enlarged) for preservation reasons.                         

10 Letter from the Royal College of Music, 1937, stating award of Leverhulme Scholarship to GJM.

11 Review in ‘The Scotsman’ of 17th May 1939 of a concert at the Royal College of Music  in which GJM featured with Janet Smith-Miller (contralto). Displayed in facsimile (enlarged) for preservation reasons.

12 Programme of a concert at the Royal College of Music held on 7th December 1939 at which GJM performed Weber’s Konzertstück.  

13 Report for Summer Term 1947 on GJM’s progress at the Royal College of Music.

Balliol College

Having done extremely well at his secondary school in Wimbledon, GJM not only won a place at Balliol for entry in Michaelmas Term 1934, but also the valuable Lewis Nettleship scholarship. He read successfully for both the B.Mus, awarded in 1937 and Literae Humaniores, awarded the following year.

GJM first performed in Balliol’s series of free Sunday night concerts in his first term. He would go on to appear, usually as solo performer on the harpsichord, on at least 20 further occasions.

14 Letter dated 16th March 1934 from the Master, AD ‘Sandy’ Lindsay, informing GJM of the award of the Lewis Nettleship Scholarship, worth £100. 

15 Photograph of GJM upon graduation in summer 1938. 

16 Photograph of GJM with his father, taken in the back garden of the family home in Clapham, summer 1938. Displayed in facsimile (enlarged) for preservation reasons.  

17 Telegram from GJM in Oxford to his parents, dated 23rd November 1937, giving news of passing the BMus degree. 

18 Programme of Balliol concert no. 1022, held on 3rd December 1939, in which GJM performed Mozart’s piano concerto K.459.  

Music in wartime

For nine years (1938-47) GJM was choirmaster-organist of St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in his native Clapham. But with the outbreak of war he joined the RAF Reserve and was posted to a musical role in Suffolk. From there he was in 1942 appointed bandmaster of Bomber Command Band, based at Uxbridge.

GJM would always value the experience he gained in this role, not least in terms of managing men of diverse backgrounds and musical experience.

“Some of the longer tours could be very tiring and depressing, particularly when after a long, cold journey we arrived at a station to find that no preparations had been made for us. It was then that I had to forget that I was a musician and remember that I was a warrant officer, who could get people jumping about a bit.”

On the evidence of the notebooks shown here, GJM was permitted to return to Clapham for certain church festivals. He had also continued to write music for the church.

19 Photocopy of the programme of a concert given by Bomber Command Band in High Wycombe on 21st May 1944, with GJM conducting.   Displayed in facsimile for preservation reasons.  

20 Photocopy of the programme of a concert given by Bomber Command Band in Colchester on 21st January 1945, with GJM conducting.   Displayed in facsimile for preservation reasons. 

21 Original manuscript of a concerto by Handel, arranged by GJM for oboe and military band.  

22 Memo book from St Mary’s Catholic Church, Clapham, kept by GJM as organist/choirmaster, open at entry for 15th September 1940 at the time of the Blitz.       

23 Choirmaster’s book from St Mary’s Catholic Church, Clapham, kept by GJM, open at a list of his own compositions in use there.  

24  Organ book from St Mary’s Catholic Church, Clapham, kept by GJM, open at entry for 28th March 1945, showing his The Nine Responsories being sung for the service of Tenebrae.                                                

Discovering the ‘Jangle-box’

Having saved up his demobilisation grant, GJM noticed in 1947 that Sotheby’s was offering a fine Shudi-Broadwood harpsichord at auction. He bought it almost on a whim; but it was not long before he was known both to own it and to be playing it brilliantly. Within two years of this impulse purchase he was making recordings – still 78 r.p.m. shellac discs at that period. By the time of his 1954 recording for Decca of two masterpieces by Bach, microgroove vinyl discs at 33 r.p.m. had arrived.

Through the 1950s and ‘60s, GJM favoured the instruments made by Thomas Goff in Pont Street, SW3. By the time of the two recitals in the 1970s shown here he had switched to Goble harpsichords – usually supplied and tuned by a loyal and tireless technician, Malcolm Russell.

25 Sleeve of 10-inch long playing record of harpsichord music by J.S.Bach, played by GJM, issued by Decca Records in 1954. 

26 Programme of a concert of music for multiple harpsichords, financed by instrument maker Thomas Goff, held on 26th May 1959 in the Royal Festival Hall, London. 

27 Sleeve of 12-inch double long playing record of the complete harpsichord music of Rameau, played on a Goff harpsichord by GJM, issued by Argo Records in 1967.    

28 Flyer for a concert of music for harpsichord by Rameau, given on 6th March 1973 by GJM in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London.  

29 Flyer for a concert of music for harpsichord by Handel, given on 5th December 1979 by GJM in the Wigmore Hall, London. 

Westminster Cathedral’s Master of Music

Appointed aged 29 to Westminster Cathedral to the accompaniment of the press coverage shown here, GJM soon set about changing the ‘hooty’ sound produced by the boy trebles to an incisive timbre with the spirit of the playground in it. He was both very demanding and inspired great loyalty in the majority of those under him.

GJM’s relations with the Cathedral authorities, however, were not always easy; he even left his post for a year (1952-3) before being restored to it under a more sympathetic Administrator.

At Christmas 1958 Benjamin Britten heard GJM’s boys performing his A Ceremony of Carols and was so impressed that he resolved to write something for them. He delivered his Missa Brevis as GJM was about to leave his post, but there was just enough time for the piece to be recorded live in a service by the BBC; a performance which soon appeared on this Decca EP disc.

30  Blue exercise-book album of newspaper cuttings, made by Mrs Dodie Malcolm, mother of GJM, open at news stories and announcements of his appointment as Master of Music, Westminster Cathedral in summer 1947.  

31 Sleeve of 12-inch long playing record of Tenebrae Responsories by Victoria, sung by the choir of Westminster Cathedral under GJM, issued by Argo Records in 1957.   

32 Sleeve of 7-inch extended play record of Missa Brevis by Benjamin Britten, sung by the boys of Westminster Cathedral with GJM (organ), recorded by the BBC and issued by Decca Records in 1960.  

33 GJM’s copy of Britten’s Missa Brevis (1959), open at the first page of the ‘Gloria’.


“I play the harpsichord 1. because I do actually like playing it; 2. because I’m professionally grooved into it; and 3. because people seem prepared to pay me for doing it.” (from lecture-recital notes by GJM)

GJM was only able to develop his playing career when he left Westminster Cathedral in 1959. Of his performance in Bach’s Goldberg Variations, one critic wrote: “As always, his virtually flawless reading was technically outstanding – indeed too commanding in no.29, where he managed with one hand what Bach had distributed over two.”

34  Sleeve of 12-inch long playing record ‘Music for three and four harpsichords’, featuring GJM and three other soloists, issued by EMI in [year unknown].

35 Flyer for a concert of music for harpsichord, given on 20th October 1963 by GJM at Crosby Hall, London SW3 on 20th October 1963.  

36 Programme for a concert of the Goldberg Variations by J.S.Bach, given on 18th October 1964 by GJM at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London SW7.  

37 Sleeve of 12-inch long playing record ‘The World of the Harpsichord’, compiled from 20 years of recordings by GJM, issued by Decca Records in 1973.


Alongside his successful playing career, GJM now began to conduct a number of orchestras in a wide repertoire. In the 1960s he was especially associated with the Philomusica of London and the BBC Scottish Orchestra. He also appeared frequently with the Northern Sinfonia and the English Chamber Orchestra.

38 Flyer for a concert of orchestral music conducted by GJM, given on 30th January 1966 at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.  

39 Programme for a concert of orchestral music with the Northern Sinfonia, conducted by GJM, given on 6th June 1979 in Newcastle City Hall.  

40 Programme for a concert of orchestral music with the Northern Sinfonia, conducted by GJM, given on 1st March 1964 in Durham Castle.

41 Programme for a BBC Promenade concert with the Northern Sinfonia, directed by GJM, given on 22nd August 1972 in the Royal Albert Hall, London.            

42 Programme for a concert of orchestral music with the English Chamber Orchestra, conducted by GJM, given on 8th February 1980 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London.  

43 Sleeve of 12-inch long playing record of Brandenburg Concertos 1, 2 & 3 by J.S. Bach, with the Northern Sinfonia, conducted by GJM, issued by Enigma Records in 1977.   

44 Photograph of GJM aged around 50. Displayed in facsimile (enlarged) for preservation reasons.             

With the Academy of St Martin in the Fields

GJM formed a long and happy association with the A.S.M.F., sometimes as continuo player but often performing concertos, such as these by Handel for organ and harpsichord, as well as a much-praised recording of Poulenc’s organ concerto.

45 Extract from ‘The Academy of St Martin in the Fields’ (1981) by Meirion & Susie Harris, published by Michael Joseph.  

46 Box for four 12-inch long playing records of concertos for harpsichord and organ by Handel, with GJM as keyboard soloist and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields conducted by Neville Marriner, issued by Argo in 1976. 

At the Aldeburgh Festival

Arising from his admiration of GJM’s work with the boys of Westminster Cathedral, Benjamin Britten engaged him in 1960 to be conductor of the 2nd and 3rd performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. GJM would go on to feature at the Festival on 31 occasions, including conducting a Britten-Pears School student production of another Britten opera, The Turn of the Screw, in 1983.

47 Handwritten notes by GJM about his experience of conducting early performances at the Aldeburgh Festival, 1960 of the opera A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Benjamin Britten. Displayed in facsimile for preservation reasons.                              

48 GJM’s conducting copy of the score of Act III of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, open at a passage for the Fairies near the end of the opera.  

49 Photograph of GJM with violinist Hugh Maguire in the Maltings, Snape [?1983].

50 Photocopy of a letter written by Imogen Holst to GJM, following the dress rehearsal of The Turn of the Screw by Benjamin Britten in 1983.  Pencil original held by Britten-Pears Foundation.  


Educator at Dartington and Spode

Two institutions in particular value the memory of GJM’s teaching and all-round musical inspiration: Dartington Summer School, and Spode Music Week, dedicated to study and performance of music for the Roman Catholic liturgy.

51 Two mounted photographs of GJM at play at Dartington Hall, Devon; [date unknown].

52 Letter written by John Amis, secretary of Dartington Summer School, to GJM on 24th August [year unknown]. 

53 Photograph of John Amis, David Munrow, Gill Munrow, GJM taken at Dartington Hall; [date unknown].  Displayed in facsimile (enlarged) for preservation reasons.  

54 Brochure of Dartington Summer School, 1973, at which GJM was a tutor.    

55 Brochure of Spode House Music Week, 1973, at which GJM was resident conductor. 

András Schiff

GJM first encountered András Schiff in Budapest as a precocious child pianist, given the task of turning the visiting harpsichordist’s pages. On the boy’s frequent visits to England, GJM gave him much valued guidance. Later they often performed together, one of the last occasions being a BBC Prom in 1995.

56 Sleeve of 12-inch long playing record of keyboard works by J.S.Bach, performed by András Schiff, issued by Hungaroton in 1974; GJM’s copy, given to him by the performer, including handwritten dedication to GJM as his mentor. 

57 Handwritten critical notes by GJM upon listening to Schiff’s recording of Bach. Displayed in facsimile (enlarged) for preservation reasons. 

58 Programme of a concert in Leeds including a performance of the Concerto for two pianos by Mozart, performed by András Schiff and GJM, in 1980.  

Chamber Musician

GJM, so well-known worldwide for his harpsichord playing, was always eager to get back to his first and deepest love, the piano. His duo partnership with the violinist Christopher Hirons bore more fruit with the formation of a piano trio.  That did not mean forsaking the harpsichord for long.

59 Flyer for a recital at the Wigmore Hall of sonatas for violin and piano performed by Christopher Hirons and GJM on 18th May 1973.                           

60 Poster for a recital at the Wigmore Hall by the George Malcolm Trio (Christopher Hirons, Stephen Orton, GJM) on 16th March 1975. 

61 Sleeve of 12-inch long playing record of two piano trios by Beethoven, performed by Christopher Hirons, Kenneth Heath and GJM, issued by Crescent Records in 1976.  

62 Flyer for three recitals at St John’s Smith Square, London SW1 of baroque music, performed by William Bennett, Christopher Hirons, GJM and Charles Tunnell in March 1974.  

Balliol College again

GJM, always a welcome recitalist here, became an honorary Fellow of the college in 1966. Seventeen years later he was responsible for an extraordinary musical occasion as Balliol marked its 1500th free Sunday concert with great performers, all engaged by him.  Concert no.1631 saw him on the platform here for the last time.

63 Letter from Christopher Hill, Master of Balliol, offering honorary Fellowship to GJM on 17th February 1966.  

64 Poster for Balliol concert no.1500, with star performers engaged by GJM for the occasion, 8th May 1983.  

65 Photograph of GJM with Sir Edward Heath, a Balliol contemporary, after concert no.1500 on 8th May 1983.  Displayed as a facsimile (enlarged) for preservation reasons. 

66 Letter from Anthony Kenny, Master of Balliol, thanking GJM for his efforts re Balliol concert no.1500. 

67 Programme of Balliol concert no.1631, a lecture-recital by GJM – his last performance at the college on 30th April 1995.  

Honours and tributes

Honours started to come GJM’s way in 1960, with the Cobbett gold medal of the Worshipful Company of Musicians. In the 1965 New Year’s Honours List, he became a CBE.  In 1970 the Pope made him a Knight of St Gregory – the highest honour attainable by a Roman Catholic musician. Sheffield University awarded GJM an honorary D.Mus in 1978. In July 1997 – just three months before he died – the Incorporated Society of Musicians presented him with its gold medal

68  GJM’s choice of ‘Desert Island Discs’ for the BBC Home Service, in an interview with Roy Plomley first broadcast on 7th December 1964.

69 Photograph of GJM with his mother Mrs Dodie Malcolm, on receiving his CBE in summer 1965. Displayed in facsimile for preservation reasons.

70 Handmade birthday card from Michala Petri, Danish recorder player, to GJM for his 70th birthday, shown open; 28th February 1987.     

71  Handmade birthday card from William Bennett, English flautist; 28th February 1987. Reverse displayed in facsimile. 

72 Photograph of GJM between [unknown] and Ian Partridge, that year’s president of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, to commemorate the award of the I.S.M.’s  gold medal for 1997 to GJM.  ©CJW Photographic Services 1997. Displayed in facsimile (enlarged) for preservation reasons. 

Royal College of Music, again

Awarded a Fellowship of the R.C.M. in 1974, and invited to teach harpsichord students there, GJM soon found himself too busy performing to discharge his duties – hence the letter of resignation. As a distinguished alumnus he continued to be invited to give recitals at the College.

73 Programme for a concert at the Royal College of Music in honour of the 80th birthday of the composer Herbert Howells, with GJM among the performers, on 17th October 1972. 

74 Handwritten draft by GJM of a letter to Sir David Willcocks, director of the R.C.M., in which GJM resigns his professorial role at the R.C.M. on 6th December 1978.  Displayed in facsimile (enlarged) for preservation reasons.   

75 Programme of a recital of music for harpsichord at the R.C.M. given by GJM on 27th September 1979.

Latter years

GJM lived for the last 24 years of his life in the Wimbledon home of the Hirons family. He remained in demand for much of that time, although affected by health issues. Purchase of a country cottage in Gloucestershire provided a welcome bolthole.

The Requiem Mass celebrated at Westminster Cathedral, three months after his death on 10th October 1997, was a fitting tribute to a great musician.

76 GJM’s wall calendar for October 1977.   

77 Programme for a concert given at Saintbury, Gloucestershire by James Bowman, Christopher Hirons and GJM, 2nd August 1980.  

78 Handwritten notes by GJM recording a brief holiday in Scotland by train and taxi in summer 1995. 

79 Programme of a concert given at the Wigmore Hall, London WC1 by GJM, Ian Partridge (tenor) and the Academy of St Martin’s Chamber Ensemble, to celebrate GJM’s 80th birthday on 28th February 1997. 

80 Programme of the Requiem Mass for GJM, celebrated at Westminster Cathedral on 29th January 1998. 

81 Photograph of GJM’s gravestone in the churchyard at Saintbury, Gloucestershire. 

Working with Menuhin

Among the many flautists and violinists with whom GJM performed and recorded was Yehudi Menuhin. They combined to memorable effect in September 1961 in Bach’s six Sonatas, BWV 1014-19. Happily these recordings can now be heard again on compact disc.

82 Sleeve of 12-inch long playing record (UK edition) of sonatas for violin and harpsichord by J.S. Bach, performed by Yehudi Menuhin, Ambrose Gauntlett and GJM, issued by EMI in 1962.  

83 Sleeve of 12-inch long playing record (French edition) of sonatas for violin and harpsichord by J.S. Bach, performed by Yehudi Menuhin, Ambrose Gauntlett and GJM, issued by EMI Angel in 1962. 

84 Photograph of GJM (right) with Jeremy Menuhin, Yehudi Menuhin, Ronald Kinloch Anderson and Douglas Larter in the control room at Abbey Road Studios, London NW8 in September 1961.        

85 Certificate recording the nomination of GJM and Menuhin’s recording of Bach sonatas for EMI for a ‘Grammy’ award in 1962.  

86 GJM’s marked score of Bach’s sonatas for violin and harpsichord, open at the beginning of the 3rd movement of the sonata in E major, BWV 1016.  

87 Case for two-CD re-issue of the 1962 Bach sonatas recording, issued by Forgotten Records in 2015.  

88 Programme for Gstaad Festival 1963, open at the concert on 8th August featuring Menuhin and GJM.  

89 Programme for a concert of violin and keyboard music, given on 30th November 1973 at Salle Pleyel, Paris by Menuhin and GJM. 

90 Handwritten reference dated 25th September 1965 by Yehudi Menuhin for GJM, who considered applying to be Principal of Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London in that year.  Displayed in facsimile for preservation reasons.

* * * * *


Items from Balliol College, George Malcolm Archive: 5, 19-24, 26, 28-9, 33, 35-6, 38-42, 44, 47-8, 50, 52-5, 58-60, 62, 63-7, 70-1, 73-80, 86, 89-90

Items loaned by Christopher Hirons: 1-4, 6-18, 30-32, 34, 49, 51, 56-7, 61, 69, 84-5

Items loaned by Giles Dawson: 25, 27, 37, 43, 45-6, 68, 81-3, 87

Item loaned by I.Partridge: 72

Exhibition, handlist and related concert display by Giles Dawson, with support from Anna Sander.


monthly report January 2017

A few numbers about archives & manuscripts activity during January:

  • Number of enquiries:  83 (from 16 December when the archives closed for the holidays)
  • Running total for 2017: 83
  • Number of researchers in person (unique users): 8
  • Number of person-days in the reading room: 9 (open 12 days)
  • Collections consulted: Malcolm, Balliol Boys’ Club, Jowett Copyright Trust, Monckton (2), RBD Morier, college records (2)
  • No of non-research visitors: 4
  • Interesting events & activities: temporary medieval mss exhibition produced and open

monthly report December 2016

A few numbers about archives & manuscripts activity during December:

  • Number of enquiries: 25 (up to 16 December when the archives closed for the holidays; 10 days open)
  • Final total for 2016: 875
  • Number of researchers in person (unique users): 5
  • Number of person-days in the reading room: 8
  • Collections consulted: Woods, Malcolm,TH Green, early modern MSS, college records
  • No of non-research visitors:9
  • Interesting events & activities: visit from Balliol Fellow and English students for an introduction to medieval manuscripts workshop; Anna visited the archives at Campion Hall re GM Hopkins, and attended the COLOUR conference and exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge.

Mostly Music and Medicine – display

Hilary Term 2017 exhibition of medieval manuscripts at St Cross church

images of display in situ

Handlist etc here

medieval manuscripts HT 2017


Mostly music and medicine

a selection of medieval manuscript codices

at Balliol College, Oxford

January-February 2017

Handlist of mss on display


MS 383. A particularly exquisitely written and illuminated 15th century copy of the French translation by Octovien de Saint Gelais, of Ovid’s Heroides. Open at ff. 84v-85r. The tenuous connection with medicine is that the grim and tragic stories of the Heroides have been cited as part of the literary tradition of ‘grief as medicine for grief’. The even more tenuous connection with music is the theory that Ovid may have intended the Heroides to be sung! Bequeathed by Richard Prosser, Fellow of the College, 1839. images online


MS 396. Five leaves of an early 14th century Sarum breviary, with musical notation, written in two columns of 28 lines with large red and blue flourished capitals. The leaves had been used as binder’s waste (endleaves etc) for a college account book, and were removed from its binding in 1898. They show considerable wear (from their post-liturgical existence) and chemical damage from glues. The current fascicule binding is modern. images online


MS 2. Late 13th century Bible, with very fine illuminated and historiated initials throughout, first Italian and later French. Open at ff.3v-4r, showing the Seven Days of Creation, accompanied by magnified prints. There is no definite information about how or when this book came to Balliol, but ownership inscriptions seem to indicate it must have been later than the 17th century. images online



MS 283. 13th century copy of Etymologies by Isidore of Seville. Medieval encyclopedias were attempts to encompass the whole of classical and contemporary thought and learning on all subjects; this one, written in Spain in the early part of the 7th century, was one of the most popular western medieval texts.  Open at ff.50v-51r, showing entries on Medicine. Gift of William Gray, Bishop of Ely (d.1478). images onlineams283

MS 192. An early-15th century copy of the Quodlibeta of Duns Scotus as abbreviated by John Scharpe, and Robert Cowton’s Commentary on the Sentences (of Peter Lombard) as abbreviated by Richard Snettisham. Both of the main authors were Franciscans, theological heavyweights and contemporaries, or near-contemporaries,  in Oxford in the late 14th century – their writings participated in and in their turn became part of a long tradition of theological verbal and written debate. No particular connection with medicine or music, but representative of the heavily theological content of the college’s medieval library. Open at ff. 66v-67r, part of a list of contents between the two main texts. The upper right of 67r shows several distinct cat paw prints – a recent news story about similar prints in a medieval manuscript got into the National Geographic and Smithsonian magazines, demonstrating the widening field of medieval codicology. Cats often feature in manuscript illuminations and scribal marginal doodles. Gift of Thomas Gascoigne (1404-1458, theologian and Chancellor of the University of Oxford), 1448. images online


MS 317. A mid-12th century copy of Boethius’ De institutione musica, an influential summary of ancient Greek musical theory and a key text in the medieval quadrivium (secondary study: arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy). Boethius emphasises the relationship between mathematics and music, and discusses the importance of music – a powerful influence with potential for good or bad – not only in society but upon the mind and body of the individual. Open at ff.53v-54r, showing one of numerous diagrams of the divisions of the scale, with names of the intervals. Gift of Peter of Cossington, before 1276. images online


MS 250. A 13th or 14th century copy of several texts by Aristotle, written in Greek and widely read in Latin in the western Middle Ages, in the fields of philosophy (Rhetoric)  and  natural history (On the Movement of Animals, Problems, and the first book of History of Animals). Open at ff.41v-42r, showing the beginning of De Problematibus; the first section consists of medical problems, outlined in a list of contents. The illuminated initial is a good example; accompanying images show the scribal or later penwork decorations, chiefly of rather engaging birds and clusters of leaves and grapes. Provenance unknown; C14 College inventory mark. images online



MS 173A. Two texts bound together, one from the late 13th century (ff.1-73) and the other from the early 12th century (ff.74-119), both collections of short texts, 16 in all, of medieval music theory. Authors include Avicenna, Isidore of Seville, Odo of Cluny and others. This manuscript also includes the text, with diagrams, of Guido d‘Arezzo’s famous treatise on music (De  Musica) – though the well-known ‘Guidonian hand’ diagram does not feature in this particular copy. Open at ff.75v-76r, showing coloured illustrations of musical instruments in a letter attributed to St Jerome  ‘de generibus musicorum’ (On the kinds of music) – the text explains the theological symbolism of musical instruments in the Bible. Apparently part of William Gray’s mid-C15 gift. images online


MS 367. An 11th century copy, rebound in the 19th or 20th century, of an anonymous Antidotarium or book of remedies. Mostly of the later medieval (C13-14, Italian hands, in Latin) marginal notes add to the medical context of the main text, but one is a pen-trial (for testing a new quill) reading ‘Exurgens kaurum duc zephyr flatibus equor’.  This phrase is a pangram or holoalphabetic sentence, i.e. containing all the letters of the (Latin) alphabet. Open at ff.7v-8r; one figure uses a brush to paint ointment on the arm of the other, illustrating the first paragraph, which describes the use of salve against cancre. This manuscript, though one of the oldest at Balliol, is one of the most recently acquired of the college’s medieval books; it was given by Sir John Conroy, comptroller to the Duchess of Kent (mother of Queen Victoria), probably ca 1900. images online


MS 231. A late 13th century copy of more than twenty texts on medicine by Galen, as translated into Latin from the original Greek – via Arabic. The handwriting is typical of university (rather than monastic) scriptoria of the period, possibly from Paris, but it is difficult to be certain, as books, scholars, scribes and styles moved back and forth across the Channel. Open at ff.1v-2r, showing later ownership and contents notes on the left and the beginning of the text on the right. The motif of a dog chasing a rabbit or hare, seen here decorating the bas-de-page on f.2r, is a common one in medieval manuscript illumination and does not relate directly to the text; otherwise this copy is not illustrated. The text on 1v provides unusual amounts of provenance information for this manuscript: Stephen of Cornwall, Master of Balliol ca. 1307, gave it to Simon Holbeche, who first studied at Balliol and continued his medical studies at Cambridge, becoming a Fellow of Peterhouse. Holbeche bequeathed it to Balliol in 1334/5, enjoining the Master and Scholars to pray for the soul of their former Master, Stephen of Cornwall. images online


MS 329. A 15th century copy of four texts in Middle English: two lists of herbal remedies; a translation in verse by John Lydgate of Aristotle’s (attr.)  Secretum Secretorum, under the Latin title of De regimine principum (Advice to princes); and  Lydgate’s own The Fall of Princes.  Open at ff.15-16r, giving the Latin and English names and medicinal uses of plants, including Herb-Robert, mortagon (turk’s cap lily), woodruff, henbane and hyssop. Bequeathed by Dr George Coningesby, 1766. images online


MS 225. A 15th century collection of texts by and relating to St Birgitta (Bridget) of Sweden and her monastery at Wastena (Vadstena); the section detailing the Hours for her feast also provides liturgical music. Mynors dates this book to the early 15th century – near the time of the foundation of England’s only medieval Bridgettine monastery, Syon Abbey at Sheen. Open at ff. 206v-207r, showing text and musical notation for the beginning of the services for the Hours on the feast of St Birgitta (23 July – ‘celebratur in crastino marie magdalene,’ ‘to be celebrated on the day following the feast of Mary Magdalen [22 July]). This copy is much-annotated by Thomas Gascoigne, a prolific 15th century book collector and benefactor across the colleges and University; it is not clearly marked as his gift to the college, but the college inscription on what is now f.223v is late medieval rather than early modern. images online


MS 285. 13th century compendium of medical and religious texts by authors including Pseudo-Aristotle, Razes, and Ricardus Anglicus on medieval urinalysis. The volume is displayed open at a diagram of the hand, here used to illustrate a treatise in Anglo-Norman French, by the prolific Anon., on the principles of chiromancy or palmistry. The hand diagram was adapted by Guido of Arezzo for use in his famous treatise on music, and was widely used in the Middle Ages as a mnemonic device not only for teaching sight-singing, but also for outlining sermons, remembering prayers, and, of course counting. Gift of William Reed (d.1385; Bishop of Chichester, University benefactor, owner of ‘probably the largest private library in 14th-century England.’ images online

Additional: College Foundation Statutes (1282) and medieval seal matrices; Charter of Incorporation, 1588. images online

Things to think about:

These manuscripts are deliberately not displayed in a specific order, and the historic order of their college manuscript numbers does not reflect a hierarchy of age, size or subject. How do they relate to each other – by age, provenance, contents, style, users? How might you choose to group them, and why?

How do the illustrations in these manuscripts relate to the texts they accompany?

What are the functions of decorated initials?

How have musical and medical theories changed since these texts were required reading in universities? Has anything remained from the medieval curriculum?

Why would later benefactors continue to give medieval manuscript books to the college?

Why are there so few liturgical books in college collections, and why are they usually later gifts?

How have the functions of these books changed since they were written? Since they were first used in the college?

What kinds of information can digital images and other forms of surrogates and facsimiles, such as the magnified prints on display, provide about manuscripts that is difficult or impossible to derive from the original? What kinds of information can only be understood through direct examination of the original manuscript?

Did you know?

Many other medieval and early modern manuscript books from Balliol’s collection have been photographed, in part or in full, in response to researchers’ requests, and the digital images are available online via https://www.flickr.com/photos/balliolarchivist/collections/72157625091983501/ (or just search for ‘balliol manuscripts flickr’)

RAB Mynors published a catalogue of the first 450 manuscripts (all that were then in the College’s possession; there are now more than 470). The catalogue also includes a history of the college’s medieval library, with particular attention to the large donation of manuscript books (and one surviving printed book) by William Gray, Bishop of Ely. The catalogue, with links to images and citations for additional bibliography wherever possible, is online at http://archives.balliol.ox.ac.uk/Ancient%20MSS/ancientmss.asp

Visiting the exhibition:

Place: Balliol College Historic Collections Centre, St Cross Church Holywell, Manor Road, Oxford OX1 3UH – across the road from the English & Law faculty building. directions

Admission: public, free

Opening times: most weekday afternoons 2.30-5pm, 24 January – 16 February 2017, other times by appointment

N.B. Classes, group visits, research bookings and other events will continue at St Cross as usual during the period of the exhibition, and may be booked at short notice, so it’s advisable to check by email in advance if you want to come at a particular time – or just drop in whenever the OPEN sign is on the door!

Can’t make it in person? follow the links above to images of most of the manuscripts online, and click here for photos of the exhibition in situ.