– 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.


winter closed period

The archives are now closed to researchers and visitors for the holidays. Appointments for visits or research at Balliol’s Historic Collections Centre in St Cross church in the new year can be made now, by email, for dates from Tuesday 17 January 2017 onwards. However, the archivist will not be able to respond to enquiries requiring substantive research or direct access to source materials (e.g. family history, reprographics requests etc) until the start of Hilary term in mid-January.

Online enquiry form

Information about making appointments, regular opening hours, finding the Historic Collections Centre, etc.

monthly report November 2016

A few numbers about archives & manuscripts activity during November:

  • Number of enquiries: 76
  • Running total for 2016: 850
  • Number of researchers in person (unique users): 9
  • Number of person-days in the reading room: 12
  • Collections consulted: Woods, Malcolm, college records (2), Browning, medieval mss, Clough, Nicolson, Urquhart
  • No of non-research visitors: ca 85
  • Interesting events & activities: weekly Come Write In! sessions for local novelists participating in NaNoWriMo (4th year running); Balliol alumna using special collections for seminars with St Hugh’s & Worcester students (English); display of original and published material re Adam Von Trott for visiting Goettingen students; staffing college archives table at graduate history thesis fair; OUCS WW1 roadshow; 2 Unlocking Archives talks; Hebraica & Judaica Sunday symposium; display of special collections material for Balliol MCR private view; Tweets for #TheOxfordSomme

Unlocking Archives HT17-1

‘Your Dear youths’: schoolboy letters of the 1780s and a strange link to the Brontës

 Monica Kendall, Thursday 9 February 2017 at 1pm

Researching her family’s links with the Brontës, Monica Kendall idly googled an eighteenth-century ancestor’s name and his place of death. Surprised, she found that he was briefly mentioned as a schoolteacher in a biography. The book’s notes were even on Amazon. The notes led her to Morier Family, Class C, Box 1 in Balliol College’s Archives, which preserves letters written 250 years before by her four times great-grandparents. And serendipitously, a little piece of jigsaw from the 1780s had illuminated Charlotte Brontë’s time in Brussels in the 1840s.

Monica Kendall is a graduate of St Hugh’s College, Oxford. She is working on her third book.

and a partridge in a pear tree

A few numbers, recently collated, from the archives & manuscripts Sept 2015 – Aug 2016:

  • 2 million views (and more) of nearly 90,000 (and counting) images of archive & manuscript material on Flickr  – all as requested by researchers
  • 915 enquiries about the archives & manuscripts received by the archivist via  email/phone/letter
  •  380 visitors (approx) to the Historic Collections Centre at St Cross church during the Open Doors Oxford and Historic Churches Trust Ride & Stride weekend in September 2015
  • 150 medieval and early modern manuscripts (and counting) partially or completely photographed so far – all images online
  • 110 person-days of individuals’ research at St Cross using archives & manuscripts
  • 15 displays by the archivist of (all different) original material and facsimiles in St Cross and Broad Street, supporting teaching and other private events requested by  e.g. university clubs, literary societies, professional associations, Balliol and other teaching staff, senior members and alumni
  • 7 Unlocking Archives events – seminar on current research in the Historic Collections, now completing its 4th year. Topics & speakers. All talks illustrated with images of special collections material and with original material on display.
  • 6 Documents In Focus posters in the College Library during term time, each featuring a single item from the archives and manuscripts, aimed at current students
  • 5 seasonal displays by the archivist in the antechapel (with the lead pipe) of facsimiles from the archives and manuscripts – accessible to the visiting public as well as Balliol people, plus permanent blog posts of the material displayed
  • 2 major exhibitions, on Swinburne (curated by Dr Rikki Rooksby and the then Assistant Librarian, Fiona Godber) and Shakespeare (curated by the Librarian, Naomi Tiley)

College and university reports, logically, often concentrate most on what happens during the academic year, October-June, but of course Library and Historic Collections staff are working – making the collections available to students, researchers, the college and the public – all through the year. University Vacations can be even busier than term time in the archives, as students and senior researchers from institutions around the world are free to send research enquiries and travel to carry out research in person. That said, termtime never seems to be less busy…

Unlocking Archives 2017

Announcing the 5th year of Unlocking Archives talks! Yes, it’s already been four years and 25 events. Dates for Hilary Term 2017:

9 February (Thursday of 4th week) Monica Kendall: ‘Your Dear youths’: schoolboy letters of the 1780s and a strange link to the Brontës

27 February (Monday of 7th week) Giles Dawson: Celebrating George Malcolm – a centenary exhibition

9 March (Thursday of 8th week) Lucy Kelsall: Cataloguing Nicholas Crouch – an early modern private collection in Balliol Library

Unlocking Archives is an interdisciplinary graduate seminar series of illustrated lunchtime talks about current research in Balliol College’s historic collections: archives, manuscripts and early printed books, and the connections between them.

All talks will take place at 1pm in Balliol’s Historic Collections Centre in St Cross Church, Holywell. St Cross is next door to Holywell Manor and across the road from the English & Law faculties on Manor Road; see ‘Finding Us’.

All welcome! These talks are open to the public. Feel free to bring your lunch. The talks will last about half an hour, to allow time for questions and discussion afterwards, and a closer look at some of the Balliol special collections material discussed.

St Catherine

St Catherine of Alexandria, patron saint of Balliol College



Archive reference number MISC 24/5.

Seal of Balliol College featuring St Catherine, ca. 1588.

Modern impression. Original is 70 x 90 mm.

Henry Savage’s Balliofergus (1668), the first written history of the College, discourses at length on the etymology and proper pronunciation of the name Catherine, and more helpfully notes that in 1588 ‘…a new Seal was Fabricated, with the Image of St. Catherine in it, having her Sword in one hand, her Wheel in the other, and her Crown upon her head, with the several Coats of Arms placed, as in Dervorgilles [sic] Seal…’ (p.81-2) The above seal is an example of Savage’s new seal; its legend reads SIGILLVM * MAGISTRI * ET * SCHOLARIVM * COLLEGII*{ BAYLIOLENSIS [Seal of the Master and Scholars of Balliol College].  This Catherine is surrounded by the four shields also present on the College’s first seal, clockwise from top left as viewed: a lion rampant for Galloway; three garbs (wheatsheaves), the arms of the Earl of Chester; two piles meeting toward the base (the arms of the Earl of Huntingdon); an orle for Balliol. Dervorguilla was descended from the Earls of Chester and Huntingdon.

Catherine of Alexandria was an extremely popular saint throughout the Middle Ages, and has long been the patron saint of scholars. According to her legend, Catherine of Alexandria, a young noblewoman of the early Christian centuries, confounded the scholars of Emperor Maximinus with her learning and eloquence in defence of Christianity. After a period of imprisonment and torture during which she experienced mystical marriage with Christ and brought about many conversions (and consequent martyrdoms), including that of Maximinus’ empress, she was to be put to death on a wheel, but it miraculously burst into pieces. This frustration of evil intent follows a common topos of virgin martyrs’ deaths, as does Catherine’s eventual demise by beheading. Catherine’s death, however, was unusual even for a virgin martyr: angels removed her body to Mt Sinai, where the Monastery of the Tranfiguration, which became associated with the cult of Catherine much later, still houses her shrine. Her usual symbols are a wheel and a book, and may also include the more general symbols of the virgin martyr, a crown and a sword. St Catherine of Alexandria was officially delisted by the Vatican in 1961, but was reinstated in 2002.

St Catherine has been associated with Balliol since its beginnings in the 13th century; even before the college had a chapel, Dervorguilla had the north aisle of St Mary Magdalen repaired and ‘fitted up as an oratory dedicated to St. Catherine.’ (Jones History 7) Oliver Sutton, Bishop of Lincoln, writing in 1284, notes the dedication of the college to St Catherine in his approval of Dervorguilla’s foundation. He later (1293) permits the college to have its own chapel, which was dedicated to St Catherine and probably finished by about 1330.


Iconography of St Catherine can be seen throughout the college: in the Old Common Room, Library, Hall and Chapel, as well as over the porters’ lodge and in the Library Passage. The St Catherine window, the surviving parts of which are now in the Chapel, dates from the 16th century and used to be in the window between the Old Library and the chapel. This section portrays the removal of Catherine’s body by angels to Mt. Sinai. The glass roundel in the OCR shows Catherine’s – academic and spiritual – triumph over Emperor Maximinus and dates from the 17th century.


The wooden sculpture of St Catherine which with its attendant angels now adorns the east wall of the Old Library was originally part of the chapel screen, erected in the 1630s as part of a major Chapel refurbishment scheme. The screen was paid for by a very large donation by John Popham (1603-1637), grandson of Lord Chief Justice John Popham (1531-1607), who was instrumental in establishing the Blundell Foundation from Blundell’s School in Tiverton, Devon, to Balliol College, Oxford, and Emmanuel College and Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. It is not entirely clear from the surviving iconography that it is an effigy of Catherine, as her wheel and all but the sword hilt are missing, but the crown and sword mark her as a virgin martyr, and even with only a book Catherine is certainly the most likely candidate.


The stained glass wheel below is at the top of the east window in Hall; most of the Hall glass features heraldic shields.


The St Catherine’s Day Dinner, which takes place on the patronal feast of 25 November, is a long-standing Balliol tradition; it was certainly well-established by 1549. It used to be restricted to Senior Members but has included undergraduate members for at least the last hundred years. Invitations are restricted by the size of the Hall; normally undergraduate and graduate finalists attend, so that every Junior Member should have the opportunity to celebrate the patronal feast once in their time at Balliol. A Classicist still recites the College Grace in Latin at the beginning of the meal, but the Grace Cup no longer makes the rounds of the Hall. Accounts from the 1920s give the ingredients of the Grace Cup as claret, cloves (the alcoholic spiced cordial, rather than the spice itself), curaçao, cherry brandy and sherry. The dinner menu no longer includes peacock…


Balliol Archive Sources for St Catherine and the St Catherine’s Day Dinner

  • College seals: MISC 24/24*
  • Photographs of sculpture & stained glass: PHOT 58.23 , PHOT 59.5, PHOT 62 3b, PHOT 71.22
  • Administrative records of St Cat’s Dinners: 1568-1844 Bursars’ Computi (accounts); 1920, 30s and 50s, MBP 70 a & b, MBP 161c

Secondary sources

  • As always, John Jones’ Balliol College: A History. 2nd ed. rev. OUP 2005.
  • Rev H E Salter, The Oxford Deeds of Balliol College. 1913.
  • S. R. T. O. d’Ardenne and E. J. Dobson in Seinte Katerine, EETS s.s. 7 (Oxford: OUP, 1981), pp. 132-203.
  • Katherine J. Lewis. The Cult of St Katherine of Alexandria in Late Medieval England  Boydell & Brewer, 2000.
  • S. Nevanlinna & I. Taavitsainen, St Katherine of Alexandria: The Late ME Prose Legend in Southwell Minster MS 7.
  • Glasgow University Library Special Collections has a good online exhibition about the Legenda Aurea, or Golden Legend, the most popular non-liturgical book in the Middle Ages. http://special.lib.gla.ac.uk/exhibns/month/feb2003.html
  • more about the Monastery of the Transfiguration, Mt Sinai: http://www.orthodoxwiki.org/St._Catherine’s_Monastery_(Sinai)

termly report Michaelmas 2016

Week 6 MT 16 (November) Library Committee: Archivist’s report

This article reports on the Archivist’s work June-October 2016.

Reader & visitor numbers by month


  • Unique Users: 10
  • Seats occupied: 12
  • Visitors (non research): ca 50: (Traherne seminar, NADFAS visit, individuals, Bodleian trainees, Unlocking Archives)
  • Collections consulted: college records, Jowett, medieval mss, Monckton, Hopkins


  • Unique Users: 9
  • Seats occupied: 10
  • Visitors (non research): ca. 40: (Donors’ Day, individuals)
  • Collections consulted in person: Monckton, Malcolm, Greene-Reid, Nicolson, Browning, Hopkins, Arnold, AL Smith, Chalet, medieval mss


  • Unique Users: 9
  • Seats occupied: 11
  • Visitors (non research): 1
  • Collections consulted: AL Smith, medieval mss (3), Monckton, Harris, Mallet, JA Smith, Malcolm


  • Unique Users: 6
  • Seats occupied: 6
  • Visitors (non research):  260+ (Open Doors, patronal evensong)
  • Collections consulted:  Hill, AL Smith, Malcolm, medieval mss, Von Trott, college records


  • Unique Users: 7
  • Seats occupied: 8
  • Visitors (non research): Ca 50 (Balliol Society, individual visitors, Brookes  publishing students)
  • Collections consulted: Malcolm, medieval mss, college records, Nicolson diaries


  • Unique Users 41
  • Seats occupied 47
  • Visitors (non research) 400+

Remote enquiries

  • June 66
  • July 60
  • August 53
  • September 41
  • October 74
  • Total 294
  • 2016 running total 774

A handful of research topics from the reporting period:

Carolingian sermon collections; Graham Greene’s Cuba connections; Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson in the Monckton Papers; reception of Bridget of Sweden in England; JA Smith’s connections with Hull University’s Institute of Applied Ethics; the role of aviation in state formation in South Asia in the fourth decade of the 20th century; Higden’s Polychronicon and a continuation based on Tynemouth’s Historia aurea to 1347(?), re issues of national identity, propaganda, and the ethics of war in English historical and political writing composed during the reign of Edward III (1327–77).


  • Social media
    • Facebook: 14 posts (mostly weekly updates and event announcements), 937 total ‘Likes’.
    • Twitter: total 1670 tweets, 1380 followers.
    • Blog: 17 new posts, average 750 views/month, 45 followers.
  • Image management:
    • Oxfile (OUCS): used 48 times June-Oct, total 233 times, to send images, externally and within college, across archival collections.
    • Flickr: 2 million+ individual image views of 88,000+ images.
  • Outreach
    • ‘Document in Focus’ features prepared by Anna continue on display in Broad St Library
    • new antechapel displays: stained glass restoration, Remembrance (FS Kelly); decorative features quiz was very popular with visitors over the summer
    • planning George Malcolm centenary exhibition for HT with Giles Dawson
    • see also events, below



  • Traherne Collator Seminar – new digital tools for old books. Organised by Chris Palmer, Balliol Lecturer in Physics, and Julia Smith, General Editor of Oxford Traherne. This is a return to St Cross for the Traherne editors after a successful editorial meeting last year.
  • Unlocking Archives illustrated talk with supporting display of original manuscripts – Lesley Higgins on GM Hopkins,  ‘Spelt from Hopkins’ Leaves: Considering Archival “Remains”.


  • college Donors’ Day visitors


  • Oxford Open Doors Days & Oxfordshire Churches Preservation Trust Ride & Stride – 250 visitors
  • Exhibition ‘Look to the rock from which you were hewn’: Hebraica and Judaica at Balliol’, co-curated by Prof. Elliott Horowitz and Anna Sander
  • Anthony Powell Society display (Broad Street Library) by James Howarth & Anna Sander
  • Evensong for the patronal feast of the Holy Cross
  • Academic Society reunion display
  • AL Smith family reunion presentation & display


  • Exhibition open for Balliol Society weekend
  • display and brief presentation for Prof. O’Hare’s VIP visitors & college officers
  • staffing college archives stall at graduate history research fair with colleagues

Arrangement & description and collection care

  • Adlib records: manual copying (with edits) of JHJ’s 2003 Archive List and extant lists for modern papers to the Adlib database is about 75% complete – 5930 records at fonds-file levels. The next step is detailed description and (re)arrangement at file and item level, including new accessions.

Future events:


    • hosting weekly half-day NaNoWriMo Come Write In sessions for local novelists for a 4th year
    • display for Adam Von Trott students visiting again (memorial lecture @Mansfield)
    • Anna invited speaker at WW1 history ‘road show’ organised with OUCS and International Society for WW1 Studies in conjunction with their conference
    • Unlocking Archives talk – Dr Matthew Balensuela: ‘Medieval Musical Illustrations: Balliol MS 173A’
    • hosting symposium on Balliol’s Hebraica & Judaica: speakers Prof Martin Goodman FBA, Dr Rahel Fronda, Prof Joanna Weinberg, Prof Elliott Horowitz
    • Unlocking Archives talk – Prof Elliott Horowitz: ‘Balliol Judaica and Hebraica: an exhibition’


    2017 so far:

    • EPBs and manuscripts workshops with English tutors and students
    • ongoing regular Documents in Focus in the Broad St library and display boards in antechapel
    • thesis preparation and special collections research training with History undergraduates
    • private medieval manuscripts evening for Development Office
    • George Malcolm centenary exhibition including spring open weekend and related Sunday Concert
    • Leslie Woods memorial display and event
    • JCR and SCR private views
    • exhibition of medieval manuscripts and their conservation


Anna CPD:

  • attended Cambridge – London City – Oxford Archivists’ group meeting at Trinity College, Cambridge, on Records of College Servants and Domestic life in College (June)

Providing work experience & training:

  • hosted archivist & records manager at the Swedish Agricultural University (Alnarp-Lund) for a week in September under the ERASMUS Staff Exchange scheme, arranged visits to other Oxford archives

Anna Sander

MT 2016 (18 November)