– 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.


Patronal Festival – service at St Cross

A service of Evening Prayer will be held in the chancel of St Cross, Holywell, to mark the Feast of the Holy Cross on Sunday, 17 September 2017 at 5pm

Everyone is welcome

Celebrant: the Revd Dr William Lamb, Vicar of the University Church

St Cross is a daughter church of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, High Street. The recently restored Grade I listed building has been home to the Historic Collections Centre of Balliol College since 2011; its Chancel is preserved for occasional services.

St Cross is at the corner of St Cross Road and Manor Road, next to Holywell Manor and across Manor Road from the English & Law Faculty building. Directions: http://archives.balliol.ox.ac.uk/Services/visit.asp#f

#mss2017 Case 10: MS 396


Guard-book (hardbound fascicule volume) containing five leaves of an early 14th century noted Sarum Breviary, written in two columns of 28 lines with large red and blue flourished capitals. These leaves were found and removed from the binding of an ‘old dilapidated’ College account book in 1898, by George Parker of the Bodleian Library, who was checking College records on behalf of a Mr Richardson.

In addition to the obvious holes in the parchment, the unknown early C20 conservator observed that the material was damaged and fragile throughout, and applied a then popular method known as silking, or chiffon repair: a fine silk gauze was glued to both sides of the parchment. This was considered less invasive than the other method available at the time, which covered the damaged area with translucent paper.

Detail of MS 396, darkened and contrast enhanced to show layers of silking – more visible where the parchment has been lost, but present over both sides of the full page.

Silking certainly reinforced the parchment while leaving the text and music largely visible from both sides, but it is hard to tell now how much of the brown discoloration may have been caused by the adhesives used in the silking process. The glue still gives off a distinct smell, but it would cause more damage to the leaves now to remove the silking than to leave it in place. The leaves are reasonably safe to consult as they are, so no further intervention will be made for now.

A breviary is one of the liturgical books used for the Office, the cycle of daily church services other than the Mass. It includes the text and musical notation, shown here in square black notes, known as neumes, on a red four-line stave. A direct descendant of this system, which indicates mode, pitch and relative note length, is still used for traditional Gregorian chant. Are these manuscript fragments related to any of the other pieces of liturgical manuscript recycled as binding waste in Balliol’s administrative records and early printed books, or elsewhere in Oxford? A question for future research…

More about Silking

More about medieval musical liturgical manuscripts

Annual Record – MS 116

Balliol MS 116 f68r (detail)

Further details about the illustration in the Archivist’s report, Annual Record 2017:

The manuscript of which this illuminated initial is part is Balliol MS 116, a 13th century copy of Eustratius’ In Ethica, a Greek commentary on Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics whose translation into Latin was an important later work of  Robert Grosseteste (c.1170–1253), the prominent and prolific scientist, theologian, and bishop of Lincoln. While teaching at Oxford 1225-1231, Grosseteste became rector of the parish of Abbotsley in Huntingdonshire (now in Cambridgeshire). A century later, the young Balliol College acquired the advowson of this parish, which it still holds.

In this illustration on folio 68 recto (detail) showing unusual relevance to the adjacent text, two tiny winged grotesques converse inside a foliate initial D at the beginning of Book IV, ‘Dicamus autem deinceps de liberalitate’ (‘Moreover, let us speak next of generosity.’) The illumination measures 30 x 30 mm (just over an inch square) as enclosed by the blue square border. More images of this manuscript can be viewed online.

The original will be on display during the Michaelmas exhibition of Balliol’s medieval manuscripts at St Cross.

MS116-f068raBalliol MS 116 f.68r, full page, measuring 225 x 340 mm, close to the modern A4 (210 by 297 mm) or North American 8 1/2 x 11″.

More about each of Balliol’s medieval manuscript books

RAB Mynors’ catalogue of the manuscripts

Explore images from across Balliol’s archives and manuscript collections

OAC meeting

Oxford/Cambridge/City of London Archivists’ Meeting

4th July 2017, St. John’s College, Oxford

Five Centuries of Oxford College Architecture

10.30     Arrive; coffee

11.00     Session 1

Chair: Michael Riordan

Julian Reid (Corpus/Merton), ‘The best-laid plans: designing a Tudor college’

Robin Darwall-Smith (All Souls/Jesus/Univ.), ‘Benefactions, fund-raising, Civil War and
Commonwealth: University College tries to build a quadrangle’

12.00     Tour of St. John’s College

1.00        Sandwich lunch

2.00        Session 2

Chair: Robin Darwall-Smith

Judith Curthoys (Christ Church), ‘The great rebuilding: Christ Church ups its game’

Oliver Mahony (LMH/St Hilda’s) and Anne Manuel (Somerville), ‘The “Wrennaissance” – colleges for women at Oxford’

3.00        Tea

3.30        Session 3

Chair: Judith Curthoys

Richard Allen (St. Peter’s), ‘St Peter’s Unbuilt’

Michael Riordan (Queen’s/St. John’s), ‘The Beehive: conservatism and radicalism in post-war St. John’s’

4.30        Closing remarks

Chair: Anna Sander

5.00        Formal finish, followed by informal adjournment to the Lamb & Flag

* * *

Closing remarks

Thanks to Mike for organising an excellent day, St John’s College for generously hosting us, the speakers who among them represent 12 colleges as present employers and even more in their previous experience, and our visitors from London and the Other Place.

I was asked to mention themes connecting the papers throughout the day – there have been plenty, and several have already been noted by the speakers. We’ve been taken all over Oxford and through the ages from C16-21, from cockloft to cellar by way of the piano nobile, through all levels of architecture and college society. We’ve seen a gamut of budgets, ambitions, intentions and degrees of success. There have been contrasts between monastic and secular foundations, and those built for men and women. There have been considerable insights into the history of fundraising – and coping with benefactions.  We have heard about new buildings on old premises, old buildings repurposed, ancient buildings hidden behind modern faces, and old buildings swept away altogether to make way for new ones. And some that have remained only dreamed-of spires.

I have particularly appreciated the unusually wide range of record formats we’ve seen today from all periods: accounts, plans, sketches, drawings, architectural models, letters, minutes, stained glass, photographs, receipts, stone carvings, woodwork, sculpture and skeletons. And of course, in many cases the buildings themselves.

Through every college’s history of wizard wheezes and financial flops, I think the day showed that across time and despite wide differences in other factors, the main influences on college building projects have been politics internal and external, money and the lack of it, and perhaps most of all, personalities.

termly report Trinity Term 2017

TT17 Week 6 HT (June) Library Committee

Archivist’s report

This paper reports on the Archivist’s work February – April 2017.

A) Enquiries, researchers & visitors


  • Enquiries: 62
  • Unique users: 8
  • Seats occupied: 15
  • Collections consulted:  medieval mss, George Malcolm, David Urquhart, Persian & Turkish mss, Jenkyns papers, college records
  • Visitors (non-research): 60+


  • Enquiries: 92
  • Unique users: 12
  • Seats occupied: 12
  • Collections consulted: medieval mss (4), Greene-Reid papers, Persian & Arabic mss, Malcolm, Morier Family and RBD Morier archives, Monckton papers, college records (2)
  • Visitors (non-research): ca40


  • Enquiries: 60
  • Unique users: 4
  • Seats occupied: 7
  • Collections consulted: oriental MSS (2), western medieval mss, college records
  • Visitors (non-research): 55+

Period totals/2017 running totals


  • Enquiries: 214/298
  • Unique users: 24/32
  • Seats occupied: 34/43
  • Visitors (non-research) 155+ / Ca 160

* * *

A handful of research topics, by researchers in person and remote enquirers, from the reporting period:

‘I research horizontal tree diagrams in the margins of manuscripts of the Lombard’s Sentences, among others. I want to see if these copies have some interesting marginalia, and if there are to note the folio numbers and perhaps take pictures or order images. I am interested especially the one that perhaps contains Rufus’ notes. The other volume is to satisfy my interest in the indexing procedure of the tabulae.’

‘ I am researching the London property market at the time of the Great Fire of 1666 – and I am finding out about College property holdings in the Square Mile. I have published on various aspects of the City of London in the 17th and 18th centuries. ‘



‘I am currently preparing the publication of my PhD thesis on the mise en page and the illustrations in medieval manuscripts containing Aristotelian treatises, to be published by Böhlau Verlag, Cologne, Germany, later this year. I would love to include some illustrations of MS 253, a particularly densely glossed manuscript of Aristotle’s logical treatises and contains some very original depictions of teaching scenes. On your wonderful website, I found photos of excellent quality, and I would like to ask for permission to publish them in my thesis.’

  1. B) Arrangement & description and collection care

John Jones’ lists of papers of Julian Miller (Balliol 1957) and Arthur Hugh Sidgwick (Balliol 1903), both listed for the first time, are now online.

In response to specific external enquiries, I have checked, ordered and numbered several files of the David Urquhart and Morier Family archives, and added item-level descriptions for all items to the online catalogues (files run to 50+ items). It is unfortunate that the physical items were not numbered when the papers were catalogued in the 1990s.

Conservation: Housing of all the manuscript books is now complete, with many thanks to OCC and PADS. There are still some old boxes that need replacing, but this is not urgent, and can be done in tandem with planned conservation of those individual manuscripts. Treatment of several manuscripts, notably MS 354 (Richard Hill’s commonplace book of ca 1510), continues in preparation for September’s exhibition.

C) Engagement

Social media

• Facebook: 937 Likes. Weekly updates, links to blog posts, notices of events, etc.

• Twitter: 1900 total Tweets, 1494 followers

• Blog: 17 new posts including several school group activities

Image management

• Oxfile (OUCS)– used 32 times Feb-Apr, total 290 times, to send images, externally and within college, across archival collections.

• Images created: 8000+.

  • Browning draft/printer’s proofs volumes (MSS 387-392) have been photographed in full
  • Images of all 10 volumes of Clark’s annual lists of Balliol members 1520-1822 are online – a key college history/family history/biographical research resource.

Outreach & Events:

• Antechapel displays and ‘Document in Focus’ features in Broad St Library, prepared by Anna, continue


  • • medieval mss display by Anna continued & taken down
  • • George Malcolm centenary exhibition by Giles Dawson opened
  • • Unlocking Archives talk by Monica Kendall on 18th century letters, Jane Austen and social history
  • • Unlocking Archives talk by Giles Dawson on George Malcolm’s centenary


  • • George Malcolm centenary exhibition continued, and taken down
  • • Unlocking Archives talk by Lucy Kelsall on the cataloguing side of the Reconstructing Nicholas Crouch project
  • • Library staff lead Into University group visit at St Cross
  • • display of newly acquired Jowett letters for Jowett Society launch event in Broad Street.


  • • temporary Prof Les Woods memorial exhibition by Jo Ashbourn open, and taken down
  • • Les Woods memorial event at St Cross
  • • Anna & Gabrielle present hands-on special collections
  • handling training workshop for Balliol English & History students
  • • Anna with colleagues staffing college archivists’ table at undergraduate History Thesis Fair

D) Future events

Summer schedule so far:

  • • Watford Girls’ Grammar school groups for a manuscripts activity (repeat visit)
  • • Wolvercote Local History Society, theme tbc by them (Old Member contact) [postponed]
  • • Bodleian archives & mss trainees for a careers talk (repeat visit)
  • • Oxford Research & Innovation Support Conference delegates for a general tour (recommended)
  • • Open Doors: St Cross will be open for Oxford Open Doors, weekend of 9-10 September, 12-4pm both days.

This will be the 7th year that Balliol has opened St Cross to the public for Open Doors, and hundreds of people keep coming! I hope the medieval mss exhibition, which will be launched for this open weekend and then continue throughout MT17, will be an extra draw this year.





F) CPD/training/staff

Anna CPD:

  • • attended meetings of the Management Committee of the Oxford Conservation Consortium in February and April
  • • attended Gerald Aylmer Seminar 2017 (London, IHR): ‘Strongroom to Seminar: archives and teaching in higher education’ (February)
  • • attended Teaching the Codex II colloquium on the pedagogy of palaeography and codicology (May)

We note with sadness the death of Prof Elliott Horowitz z”l (Oliver Smithies Visiting Fellow 2014-15) in March 2017. He had completed the beautiful and successful Hebraica & Judaica exhibition at St Cross in Michaelmas 2016, culminating in a day of fascinating talks by Oxford experts in November.


– Anna Sander, TT 2017 (June)

Trinity 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 Trinity Term:

We’re now on Summer Time. This week in the archives: researchers for medieval manuscripts, Monckton archive, college records, Oriental manuscripts, incunabula. The Malcolm exhibition has closed. I’m looking forward to a first visit to Lincoln College’s archives. It’s the last week of March, so I’ll be rounding up the month’s enquiries and other statistics for the usual report on the blog.
The important Oxbridge news this week: the Boat Race! Congratulations to the Cambridge women and Oxford men – both the Cambridge Women’s Blue boat and Blondie (Cambridge women’s reserve boat) won, as did the Oxford Men’s Blue boat and Isis (Oxford men’s reserve boat). The Lightweight races took place at Henley earlier in the week; Cambridge-heavy results at http://henleyboatraces.com/…/henley-boat-races-2017-results….

This week in the archives: more sensors installed in the big repositories, to give us a better picture of the climatic conditions via the BMS. Otherwise an unusually quiet week (so far) for researchers and visitors, so I will be putting together and mounting a new display for the antechapel, taking and processing photos for reprographics orders, creating a monthly report, writing up some new Documents in Focus sheets for the college library next term, planning a couple of upcoming displays for college events… oh and I might just get some cataloguing done.

The archives will be closed Wednesday 12 April – Monday 17 April incl. I will be back on Tuesday 18 April – Week 0 of Trinity Term.
Normal service has resumed – week 0 of Trinity Term. Just readers for medieval mss and early printed books, so while it’s still quiet in the search room, I’m preparing for the Les Woods memorial display next week, a workshop for students on correct handling of fragile materials, a visit by parishioners from a Balliol living, the history thesis fair, and a number of other entirely unrelated things coming up. And expecting enquiry no. 300 any day now.
Trinity Term! TT1 in the archives: researchers looking at (and photographing) medieval manuscripts, history thesis fair at Exam Schools, preparing for a visit by parishioners of a College living and for a joint presentation on correct handling of special collections material.

Temporary exhibition this week: Prof. Leslie Colin Woods (1922-2007), Tutorial Fellow of Balliol in Engineering Science 1960-70, Professor of Mathematics and Professorial Fellow of Balliol 1970-90, Emeritus Fellow 1991-2007.

Exhibition curator Dr Joanna Ashbourn draws from the Les Woods Archive at Balliol College to illustrate aspects of Prof Woods’ personal life, his experience as a World War II fighter pilot, and his long and varied academic career.

Open to the public Tues-Fri 25-28 April 2017, 2.30-5pm
Balliol Historic Collections Centre, St Cross Church, Manor Rd. OX1 3UH (ring the buzzer on the side of the notice board).
Questions? archivist[at]balliol.ox.ac.uk
May Day in Oxford to start Trinity Term week 2. This week in the archives, researchers for college records and medieval manuscripts, a workshop for students on handling special collections materials safely, and a new chiller pump for the repository air conditioning system. April statistics coming soon…

TT3! This week in the archives: no readers booked (yet), so it’s time to catch up on accessioning, cataloguing, enquiries, termly report for Library Committee, September exhibition text, productions & returns, (re)boxing, antechapel displays, Documents in Focus for the library, manuscript photography… funny, I don’t think I’ll fit in that thumb-twiddling session after all!
Trinity Term Week 4: this week in the archives, researchers for college records and Jowett Papers; several visitors, and Material Evidence in Incunabula group cataloguing continues. April’s brief report is up on the blog and I’m continuing several of the things I started last week.
Trinity Term week 5: this week in the archives, again quiet on the researcher front, which is good as there’s been a spate of internal admin enquiries. A long-running printer ink saga is over, so there’s a new display in the antechapel. Approaching both the end of the month and termly Library Committee, so collating and writing of stats and reports on the menu this week as well.

Reminder of Unlocking Archives talk: this Wednesday (24th) at 1pm, Nikki Tomkins of the Oxford Conservation Consortium will speak about her work for Balliol this past year, repairing early printed books as part of the Reconstructing Nicholas Crouch cataloguing and conservation project. A preview is available via her blog posts:https://balliollibrary.wordpress.com/tag/nikki-tomkins/
Trinity Term week 6: a ‘quiet’ week in the archives, which means getting lots of work done! Congratulations to Balliol M1 and M4, who both got blades in last week’s Eights – apparently M1’s first non-Headship blades ever. If the previous sentence is in Martian for you, now you know why 10 years ago I got in a boat and rowed with Balliol’s second women’s boat for a year. Or rather, mostly went to the gym and the tank, because the river levels were horrendous, but the sun did come out for us during Eights week. Have a look at https://twitter.com/balliolrowing/with_replies Never row 😉
TT7. This week in the archives: a 4 day week for me. More unglamorous but essential behind the scenes maintenance tasks this week while the researcher schedule remains quiet. Enquiries, however, are far from quiet – May stats will be appearing on the blog this week. On Friday I’m looking forward to working with a school group, looking at manuscript books, letters and other items written in different languages and scripts.
TT8, the last week of the academic year, at least for most undergraduates: this week in the archives, the postponed Library Committee meeting, a visit from a local history society, and an archivists’ meeting about the Archives Hub, which we are on:
https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/data/gb3107-balliolarchive A new antechapel display will go up in Broad Street this week and the promised May stats will be on the blog along with a summary of last week’s school visit and activity.
TT9: some students are still sitting exams, but for most the strife is over for better or worse, the weather is beautiful, and the rolling green hills of the Long Vac are appearing on the horizon. ‘Vacation’ in the archives, of course, generally means lots of visiting researchers! None this week, though, so catching up continues, focusing particularly on describing and adding new accessions into their permanent series and editing of small collection descriptions for uploading to the website and – pending new Editor login details – to the Archives Hub. Expecting enquiry #400 of 2017 any day.

monthly report May 2017

A few numbers about archives & manuscripts activity during May:

  • Number of enquiries: 60 (again)
  • Running total for 2017: 358
  • Number of researchers in person (unique users): 5
  • Number of person-days in the reading room: 7
  • Collections consulted: oriental mss, medieval mss, Jowett papers
  • No of non-research visitors: ca 20
  • Interesting events & activities: Anna & Gabrielle present hands-on special collections handling training workshop for Balliol English & History students; Unlocking Archives talk by Nikki Tomkins (OCC) on conserving Nicholas Crouch books for Wellcome project

Some of the external (non-college) enquiry topics received in May:

  • Request to visit the church & information re memorials
  • C15 members of College
  • C17 members of New Inn Hall, later absorbed by Balliol
  • C19-20 pre-admission student orientation/training/preparation
  • Balliol heraldry
  • Balliol’s role in the early development of the WEA and Continuing Education in Oxford
  • Local and church history: St Lawrence Jewry, London
  • Balliol during and following WW1
  • JRR Tolkien material at Balliol
  • Biographical research on
    • diarist & writer John Evelyn (Balliol 1637)
    • physician and diplomat Sir John Finch (Balliol 1642)
    • scholar and educator John White (Balliol Hilary Term 1858)
    • college historian Frances de Paravicini, wife of Francis de Paravicini (Fellow of Balliol 1862)
    • AL Smith (Balliol 1869)
    • Shyamji Krishna Varma (also Krishnavarma, Balliol HT 1879)
    • politician, countryman, and author Edward Grey, Viscount Grey of Fallodon (Balliol 1880)
    • historian and Fellow of Balliol Francis Urquhart (Balliol 1890)
    • RW Fletcher (Balliol 1910)
    • WW1 poet Stephen Hewett (Balliol 1911)
    • writer Aldous Huxley (Balliol 1913)
    • solicitor JS Hickey (Balliol 1914)
    • barrister LM Caulfeild-Stoker (Balliol 1930)
    • first president of Botswana Sir Seretse Khama (Balliol 1945)