– 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.

Latest

termly report – Michaelmas 2017

 This report covers the Archivist’s work May-November 2017.

A) Enquiries, researchers & visitors

 

May

  • Enquiries: 60
  • Researchers – unique users:  5
  • Seats occupied: 7
  • Collections consulted in person:  Oriental mss, western medieval mss, Jowett papers
  • Files produced May-Sept:  33 boxes, 83 files, 50 items and 74 mss
  • Visitors (non-research):  ca. 20

June

  • Enquiries: 62
  • Unique users:  4
  • Seats occupied:  4
  • Collections consulted in person:  Nicolson diaries, college records, medieval mss (2)
  • Visitors (non-research): ca. 55

July

  • Enquiries: 54
  • Unique users: 11
  • Seats occupied: 16
  • Collections consulted:  Monckton (4), Morier, college records, Strachan-Davidson, Clough, medieval mss, David Urquhart
  • Visitors (non-research): ca. 50

August

  • Enquiries: 44
  • Unique users: 6
  • Seats occupied: 12
  • Collections consulted in person:  Monckton (2), medieval mss, TH Green, Rawnsley, Jowett
  • Visitors (non-research): 3

September

  • Enquiries: 61
  • Unique users: 3
  • Seats occupied: 5
  • Collections consulted in person:  College records, medieval manuscripts (3)
  • Visitors (non-research): 400+

October

  • Enquiries: 55
  • Unique users: 10
  • Seats occupied: 13
  • Collections consulted in person:  College records,  medieval mss (3), Browning, Nicolson, Monckton (2), Jowett, TH Green, Caird, RBD Morier, AL Smith
  • Files produced: 20 boxes, 14 files, 61 items and 24 mss
  • Visitors (non-research): ca. 55

November (incomplete at the time of reporting)

  • Enquiries: 43
  • Unique users: 8
  • Seats occupied: 15
  • Collections consulted in person:  College records,  medieval mss (3),  David Urquhart, Jowett, TH Green, RBD Morier, AL Smith, Oppenheimer, FF Urquhart
  • Files produced: 6 boxes, 3 files, 11 items and 34 mss
  • Visitors (non-research): 110+

Period totals

  • Enquiries: 379
  • Unique users: 47
  • Seats occupied: 72
  • Files produced: 53 boxes, 97 files, 101 items and 98 mss
  • Visitors (non-research): 860+

2017 running totals

  • Enquiries: 677
  • Unique users: 79
  • Seats occupied: 116
  • Visitors (non-research): 920+

*Files produced: one production slip may record anything from a single item to a complete box. These numbers tell more about the amount of fetching and carrying involved than about the volume, breadth or detail of material consulted. The number includes material consulted by the archivist while researching responses to remote enquiries as well as those produced to researchers in person.

 – A box may contain up to 10 bound volumes or 6 files containing several hundred individual items. Numbers of boxes given do not include files.

– A file may contain up to 200 items. Numbers of files given do not include items. 

– Individual items may range from a single letter to a bound volume. Numbers of items given do not include medieval ms codices.

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

‘I am assessing materials available and avenues of research on the history of the church of St Lawrence Jewry.’  (May)

‘[I would like to consult] the archives of James Justinian Morier… I am particularly interested in any correspondence, diaries or drawings/paintings relating to his accompanying the British intervention in the Russian-Iranian agreement that led to the signing of the treaty of Gulistan on the 24th October 1813.’ (June)

‘I am writing a book about the 1848 revolutions and I am interested in Arthur Hugh Clough, Arthur Stanley and Benjamin Jowett.’ (July)

‘I am looking in letters sent from India for evidence of health and health care in C19 India.’ (August)

‘I am looking for evidence of payments made in connection with the plates contained in Oxonia Illustrata to David Loggan, the engraver, ca 1670-1675, either by the colleges  or by the dedicatee (Sir Henry Littleton).’ (September)

‘My research work relates to the Anglo-American expatriate circle around Katherine Bronson in Venice during the 1880s.’ (October)

A digest of remote enquiry topics is now included in the monthly blog reports as well.

B) Arrangement & description and collection care

Lists by JHJ; edited and posted online by Anna:

  • Letters of Muriel Hatherley Rendell, later Cathcart
  • Papers relating to St Mary’s Portsea during WW1 (Hilda Pickard-Cambridge & OA Hunt)
  • Papers of AC Bradley, Fellow of Balliol
  • Courtenay Peregrine Ilbert (1841-1924), Balliol 1860 (Fellow 1864, Bursar 1871-1874)
  • Papers of Francis Oppenheimer
  • Papers of Peter Lyne re St Cross Church

Papers of AF Giles (Balliol 1936), 100+ fascicled letters to his parents while a student at Balliol and active in student politics and the Union, 1936-1939 (2 volumes & 3 mounted photos). Listed by Anna and posted online.

The Caird Papers have been physically numbered to correspond with JHJ’s relisting and better descriptions. The TH Green, David Urquhart and Morier Family papers have additional descriptions and clearer numbering. and improved physical numbering.

Medieval mss: boxing more than 100 manuscripts for the first time resulted in the need to adjust some of the shelving on N5. Shelving changes, shelf check and updated finding aid are complete.

Conservation: treatment of several medieval manuscripts was completed over the summer in preparation for the MT exhibition. In particular, MS 354 (Richard Hill’s commonplace book) has had key repairs to the sewing structure and badly softened page edges, and has been reboxed to replace an old non-acid free Maltby’s box. While it is still fragile and requires careful and minimal handling, it is now safe to produce for (a very limited number of) researchers again.

Engagement

Social media

  • Facebook: 1003 Likes. Weekly updates, links to blog posts, notices of events, etc.
  • Twitter: 2172 total Tweets, 1602 followers
  • Blog: 30 new posts

Image management

  • Oxfile (OUCS) – used 24 times Sept-Oct, total 339 times, to send images, externally and within college, across archival collections.
  • I have been working with Emma Stanford and her successor at the Bodleian to correct some old (1997-2000) errors and missing images in the Balliol sets on http://image.ox.ac.uk/ , as the old site will be taken down once the contents have been checked and added to http://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/ .
  • Images created: 20K. More than 111K images on Flickr and 2.75 M views.

Outreach & Events

May

  • Anna & Gabrielle – handling workshop for Balliol English students
  • Unlocking Archives talk: Nikki Tomkins (OCC) on conserving Nicholas Crouch books for Wellcome project
  • Watford Girls’ Grammar school groups – manuscripts activity (repeat visit but new activity)

June

  • Bodleian archives & mss trainees – tour & careers talk (repeat visit)

July

  • Oxford Research & Innovation Support Conference delegates – general tour (recommended)
  • Dr Juliana Dresvina & students from St Peter’s College Summer School at Magdalen College – medieval manuscripts workshop

September

  • Open Doors – 7th year, medieval mss exhibition open, 300+ visitors
  • Balliol Society Weekend – medieval mss exhibition open
  • Evensong for the patronal feast of St Cross
  • Exhibition continues open all Michaelmas term
  • Visit to exhibition and service of Evening Prayer by participants in college incumbents’ conference

October

  • Antechapel displays and ‘Document in Focus’ features in Broad St Library, prepared by Anna, continue
  • Bruce’s Brunch talk by Anna re college history & special collections
  • Individual visitors to exhibition including Fellows and Old Members

November

  • with colleagues, staffed the College Archives stall at the postgraduate history thesis fair, Examination Schools
  • with Librarians, hosted an MCR viewing of the medieval manuscripts exhibition plus open display and discussion of early printed books (ca 15 attending)
  • Medievalists visiting exhibition, introduction and Q&A with Anna: tutors with students from Harris Manchester, Mansfield, the Education Department, Middlebury CMRS (Keble), Bodleian Conservation department’s preservation volunteers & staff
  • DIY Digitization workshop with Prof Henrike Laehnemann (SEH) for Palaeography, History of the Book, Digital Humanities Method Option MSt (following on from Prof Wakelin’s workshop in 2016)
  • Handling workshop and medieval manuscripts exhibition with Helen Appleton for Balliol 2nd year English students (return visit)
  • Oxford Conservation Consortium staff visiting exhibition (i.e. from the Grove Cottage studio)
  • Oxford Conservation Group visiting exhibition (conservators from Bodleian, Ashmolean, ORO, independents etc.)

Future events

Scheduled so far:

  • Display re Balliol’s WW1 poets and poetry (spring 18) & related talk/event
  • Book launch for Lynda Dennison’s ‘Oxford: All Souls-Lincoln’ volume of An Index of Images in English Manuscripts, from the time of Chaucer to Henry VII, c.1380 – c.1509, series ed. Kathleen Scott (Balliol has the largest section!) (HT18)
  • 3rd Holywell Manor Festival (April 18)
  • Visit from Wolvercote Local History Society (June 18)
  • Open Doors Oxford (Sept 18)
  • Exhibition of Reconstructing Nicholas Crouch project (MT18) & related talk/event
  • Oxfordshire Record Society AGM & visit to exhibition (Sept 18)
  • Loan of Gerard Manley Hopkins material to Campion Hall for display during GMH Symposium (Sept 18)
  • Display of photos and archives for Chalet Trust event (Sept 18)

CPD/training/staff

Anna CPD:

  • Attended Archives Hub training meeting for college archivists (June)
  • Attended ‘Recent conservation and research on the two Winchester Bibles: a day symposium’ at the Weston Library (June)
  • Oxford-Cambridge & Inns of Court archivists’ meeting (July)
  • Chapter on handling special collections material finally appeared in Loffman, Claire, and Harriet Phillips, eds. A Handbook of Editing Early Modern Texts. Routledge, 2017. (July)
  • Visit to Somerville College Library & Archives (August)
  • Attended OCG-OAC-CCL talk by Chris Woods (one of the authors) on BS 4971, the new environmental standard for the conservation and care of archive and library collections (November)
  • Attended talk by Matthew Holford (Bodleian) about the use of TEI (text encoding initiative) for creating electronic catalogues of medieval manuscript books from hard-copy data in print catalogues, based on his experience of projects at the Bodleian and at Christ Church (November).

Balliol student Kai Dowding (Balliol 2017, MSt Medieval Studies) is working with Anna on Friday afternoons in MT-HT for practical archival experience.

More details, more often, on social media:

https://balliolarchivist.wordpress.com/
https://twitter.com/balliolarchives

https://www.facebook.com/balliolarchives

http://www.flickr.com/photos/balliolarchivist/collections/

– Anna Sander, MT 2017 (November)

 

monthly report October 2017

Some numbers about archives & manuscripts activity during October:

  • Number of enquiries: 55
  • Running total for 2017: 634
  • Number of researchers in person (unique user): 10
  • Number of person-days in the reading room: 13 (open 16 days)
  • Collections consulted: college records,  medieval manuscripts (3), Browning papers, Nicolson diaries, Monckton archive (2), Jowett archive, TH Green papers, Caird papers, RBD Morier archive, AL Smith archive
  • Productions (consulted by researchers in person or by the archivist in response to enquiries) – actual numbers may be slightly higher:
    • 20 boxes containing from two bound volumes to 4 thick files of individual items, not including
    •  14 files – up to 200 items per file, not including
    •  61 individual items from a single letter to a bound volume, not including
    •  24 medieval ms codices
  • No of non-research visitors: ca. 55
  • images created: 1100
  • events: Anna gave the first Bruce’s Brunch talk (Balliol Chaplain’s weekly lunchtime seminar) of the academic year; Librarians hosted English Faculty 18th Century Seminar with a display of rare books; Librarians hosted Oxford Brookes publishing course students.

Some of the enquiry topics received in October:

  • advice re archives cataloguing and preservation
  • advice re student/volunteer projects in archives
  • requests for permission to quote from or publish images of archival material
  • requests for (new) digital images of medieval manuscripts
  • college portraits and paintings, including mural paintings
  • stained glass in Chapel
  • records of college livings and related estates/property
  • C19 overseas students at Oxford
  • Balliol men who were German casualties in WW1
  • Balliol JCR Presidents
  • Biographical research re / info on Balliol or related archives of
    • C18 and early C20 College servants
    • G Moberly (Balliol 1822)
    • GO Roos (Balliol 1887)
    • F Oppenheimer (Balliol 1890)
    • AB Muir (Balliol HT 1915)
    • Shoghi Effendi (Shogi Hadi Rabbani in Balliol’s records), Balliol 1920
    • EF Webb (Balliol 1926)
    • DM Davin (Balliol 1936)
    • MR Hardwick (Balliol 1945)

#mss2017 Introduction

Introduction

I have produced numerous small displays of medieval manuscripts for teaching and college events since I became responsible for the collection and moved it to the new premises in 2010-11, but this is the first major exhibition of Balliol’s western medieval manuscripts in the Historic Collections Centre at St Cross Church. It may even be the first exhibition of this collection that has been open to the public.

Because it’s rare for these ancient, unique and delicate objects to be exhibited, even to members of the College, I wanted to show as large a selection as possible, and to provide a broad overview of the collection. I have included manuscripts from the whole medieval period covered by Balliol’s collection (C11-16), representing a range of provenances, decoration and handwriting styles, contents, sizes, formats, physical condition, and conservation issues. Exceptions prove the rule; not everything in the exhibition is medieval, western or a codex (book-shaped) – or even manuscript (handwritten). Two manuscripts are shown closed; one is displayed upside down. Some mss are well known to scholarship and have been exhibited before; others are relatively unknown. All are catalogued (1-450 by RAB Mynors, 1963), but to widely varying degrees of detail and emphasis. Visitors may be surprised by the variation in the amount of documentation about not only conservation work but provenance and donation.

Focusing on the theme of damage and conservation removed possible restraints of e.g. period or subject, while avoiding a miscellaneous ‘Treasures of…’ approach. The manuscripts’ move to new premises was a good point in their history to assess their current condition and their needs for the foreseeable future, continuing to build on Balliol’s first several years as members of the Oxford Conservation Consortium.

Damage to manuscripts can occur at any stage of their existence – during production, while in storage, and in use (both voluntary and involuntary). I need only quote from the litany of woes turned up in the 2014 condition survey: dirt, losses, pest damage, staining, ink corrosion, text loss due to trimming, water damage, cockling, pleating, old repairs, smudging, ink fading/abrasion, ink offset, flaking gold, tears – to name a few. ‘Losses’ is a particularly painful catchall term including anything from a torn away corner to an excised illuminated initial to whole missing pages.

Conservators plan and carry out repairs to these amazing objects with great professional skill and enormous patience. Similar problems come up again and again, yet every case has to be treated individually, combining scientific understanding, practical knowledge and a creative approach. Much of their work is hidden inside a book’s binding once treatment is complete. Most items are not intended to, and do not, look ‘like new again’ after repair; they show their old scars as part of their material history, but are made safe to handle again (carefully) without causing immediate further damage.

In addition to repairs, however, the conservation team also help their members with advice and support on a wealth of related subjects: pest and environmental monitoring, preservation materials, all aspects of exhibition production, borrowing and loan of objects, transport, general and specialised handling and cleaning training for staff, loan of specialist equipment and advice on purchase, disaster preparedness and emergency response planning and training, and as we all do, career advice and visits for students.

Not every manuscript shown has been conserved – or at least not to modern standards – yet. The exhibition features a number of fine examples of the work of the Oxford Conservation Consortium and previous conservators known and unknown, but it marks a milestone rather than an endpoint. The OCC has been providing conservation services to Oxford’s special collections since 1990. Balliol joined it in 2006 at the instigation of Dr Penelope Bulloch, then Fellow Librarian, and with support from John Phillips and the Balliol Society. The OCC became an independent charity in 2014, and Balliol’s Archivist and Finance Bursar sit on its management committee. The OCC now cares for the historic collections of 17 colleges. They also maintain the Chantry Library of conservation-related publications, which is available to everyone.

A great advantage of OCC membership is the ability to plan not only a full year’s work but strategies and priorities for years to come. We have been able to move from a reactive programme of occasional work on individual manuscripts to proactive long-term planning that includes detailed conservation of key individual items but emphasises improving the condition and care of the collection as a whole.

Curatorial initiatives for the medieval manuscripts comprise a network of related projects:

Completed:

  • 2014 condition survey
  • boxing of all manuscripts (nearly 100) previously without boxes
  • 2017 exhibition

Ongoing:

  • Conservation treatment/repairs
  • Replacement of old/worn/substandard boxes
  • Improving descriptions and updating bibliography
  • Digitisation for documentation & research
  • Supporting teaching and research in person
  • Documenting manuscript fragments in early printed books
  • Workshops on correct handling of special collections material for students preparing for research using archives and manuscripts

The aim of all of these activities, and others as yet in the planning stages, is to improve preservation and access for all the manuscripts.

Preservation means ensuring the continued survival, and improved physical condition, care and handling of, all manuscripts. This is the responsibility of all staff and users of material. An archivist’s regular preservation tasks may include removal of rusty paperclips and staples, rehousing in acid-free archival quality folders and boxes, photography and scanning for cataloguing (to minimize use of the original), and training students and researchers in good handling practice.

Access is not only hands-on consultation of original material, but also improved access to better information about the manuscripts; images are an important source of information. It also includes improving understanding of the manuscripts as texts, physical objects and cultural products. Access is provided by staff and institutions, with input from researchers and scholarly publication.

Conservation means specialist professional treatment and repair of individual manuscripts, with the aim of ensuring that future careful handling/consultation/display does not actively cause further damage. Work is planned by staff in consultation with conservators, and carried out by the conservators.

Each of the manuscripts displayed is augmented by a number of prints from digital photographs, mostly enlarged details. While no facsimile edition or digital image can replace direct encounters with original manuscripts, they can support and augment research in person. An exhibition can only show one opening of a codex, or (usually) one side of an original document, at a time, in a single geographical place, to a limited number of people, for a limited period of time. Digital images can help to provide more access to information about, and contained within, the manuscripts, to more people in more places over a longer period. [more about digital images as tools for manuscript studies – not as substitutes for the original]

Digital photography of the manuscripts is carried out as part of my work as archivist, prioritised by researchers’ enquiries. Depending on the request and time available, I may photograph all or part of the manuscript, though in the case of part photography, ideally I will return later to complete the set. Images are sent to individual enquirers for ease of download, and also posted to Flickr at full resolution. Neither the original requester nor online users are charged for access to the images; widening access in practicable ways to collections that cannot be made generally available in person is part of the College’s obligations as a Charity, and of its aims as a higher education institution responsible for these historic collections. So far I have posted images of more than 100 of the medieval manuscripts online, many of them complete, in addition to some of the archives, personal papers, and key research resources, and the Balliol Flickr collections have had more than 2.5M views altogether (as of October 2017).

The supplementary images in each display case provide a window into other parts of the book and a magnified view of tiny details that can be hard to appreciate with the naked eye. If you are inspired by the original manuscripts on display to explore the wider world of manuscript studies, links to more images of these and many more of Balliol’s medieval manuscripts, and a starter list of print and online sources, are provided in the Further Reading post.

A note about display: I have chosen to display most of the manuscripts exhibited on the grey foam wedge supports we routinely use in the searchroom, with the pages in many cases held in place by fabric-covered lead pellets (known as ‘snakes’). Using ordinary supports shows a little of how we, curators and researchers, work with manuscripts; it looks less ‘produced’ than museum-style stands, but after all the collection is owned by a small institution and a very small department. Only a few sets are new for the exhibition, and all will be used after it. This saves huge amounts of specialist time, money and materials in making custom-fitted card or acrylic stands for each, and means that all the display materials will be used again for years to come, for research, teaching and future exhibitions, since the wedge sets can be used in interchangeable combinations to suit the size and opening angle of any volume. Only the four tiny books in case 9 needed their own stands made, as they had to be strapped into place to remain open.

I have also chosen not to print copies of the exhibition catalogue except for use while visiting in person; those who would like a hard copy are welcome to print the PDF version or any combination of the blog posts for their own use. Any exhibition of physical items is ephemeral, but a catalogue should have the lasting effect of opening the exhibits, though in an inevitably limited way, to a wider audience than could possibly attend the exhibition itself. An online catalogue can be accessed and printed at any time according to the needs of the user, and can also be augmented and corrected into the future.

I would like to thank Jane Eagan and her team of dedicated professional conservators at the Oxford Conservation Consortium for a decade of not only repairs to Balliol’s archives and manuscripts, and latterly to some of the early printed books as well, but also for their expert advice and support on all aspects of the material wellbeing of the historic collections, including environmental monitoring and amelioration, pest monitoring and treatment, local and international loans and exhibitions, project grant applications and planning.

I thank also Annaliese Griffiss for proof reading – all remaining errors are mine – and invaluable help preparing the exhibition, as well as her ongoing work on the Manuscript Fragments project, and Sian Witherden for good conversations about tiny books and for her contribution on book vandalism.

– Anna Sander, BA, MPhil, MScEcon, Archivist & Curator of Manuscripts, Balliol College

Photographs in this catalogue are by Anna Sander for Balliol College except where otherwise indicated.

The catalogue as printed for use by visitors to the exhibition is available as a PDF here. The print version is restricted to a single opening (one A4 double-page spread) per manuscript, which is as much as anybody can stand to read while walking round an exhibition; this online version, a series of blog posts tagged #mss2017, contains more detail and more images for most entries, as well as Further Reading sections for specific topics not included in the more general Further Reading post. The print version entries will also be used as Special Collections in Focus posters in Balliol Library and Holywell Manor during Michaelmas Term 2017.

 

#mss2017 Case 14: MS 384

MS 384, open to full page miniature of the martyrdom of St Thomas à Becket

MS 384 is a 15th century Flemish Book of Hours, made in the Low Countries for the English market according to the Use of Sarum. I am sometimes asked about the pre-Reformation liturgical books lost from the College chapel. Books of Hours would not have been among them – they were designed for the private devotions of secular individuals at home.

It is not known who gave the book to the College, or when, but from a note inside it, it was not at Balliol before the 18th century. It bears marks of having been a much-used family devotional book, and has a remarkable history ( or at least legend) of preservation against the odds; the anonymous donor writes: ‘The Book was found in the thatch of an old house… now my guess is that at the beginning of the Reformation, this Book was committed to Atkins of Weston to be secured ‘till a turn might happen… Pray Sir my humble service to Mr Harris and all friends at Colledge.’

MS 384 does corroborate this story in several ways: there is rather heavy, ingrained dirt across all surfaces, which would fit with its having been stored in the inevitably smoky thatch of a house. Burn marks on its lower edge might indicate a thatch fire – perhaps this is how it was rediscovered. It shows a few signs of contact with water, and of damp conditions. Otherwise, it is in remarkably good condition – it was rebound, probably in the 18th century, but does not show much evidence of earlier intervention in the text block. The only essential repair needed in 2017 was to secure a long tear across the lower part of f.70. unusually, this tear did not start at the edge of a page; rather, it looks as though a guideline ruled with a dry point may have (after several centuries) weakened an already thin and fragile area of parchment.

MS 384 – L, detail of miniature damaged by devotional kissing; R, rather dirty liquid damage from head edge

 The other type of damage evident in this manuscript affects two miniatures, with similar partial removal of the faces of the central figures. Such damage to saints’ images, and sometimes to the associated texts, has often been assumed to be deliberate ‘de-face-ment’ by anti-Catholic reformers – but Kathryn Rudy and others have more recently asserted, with excellent evidence, that some such instances are the result of devotional kissing. Both Thomas à Becket (a frequent victim of the deliberate type of damage) and John the Baptist have suffered loss of paint here, but not of drawing or parchment surface – the painting has not been scratched or scraped, neither text nor image has been struck through, and the faces are still clear despite the smudging. Both also look as though the damaged areas have been somewhat damp. Viewers may draw their own conclusions!

work on MS 384 by Celia Withycombe of OCC:  fine bridges of Japanese paper connect the edges of an irregular tear, 2017.

More about devotional damage in manuscripts:

  • John Lowden, Manuscripts tour ‘Treasures known and unknown in the British Library’ – Kissing Images section
  • Kathryn M. Rudy, “Dirty Books: Quantifying Patterns of Use in Medieval Manuscripts Using a Densitometer,” Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art 2:1-2 (Summer 2010) DOI: 10.5092/jhna.2010.2.1.1

More about defacement of images of Thomas of Canterbury (Thomas Becket):

  • Sarah J Biggs, ‘Erasing Becket,’ British Library Medieval Manuscripts Blog, 2011.
  • Cambridge University Library, ‘The Face Defaced,’ Bodily Memory section of Remembering the Reformation exhibition, 2009-2017. Individual author unidentified.

 

#mss2017 Case 3b: MS 350

MS350 opening ff 11v-12r (Herefordshire Domesday)

This manuscript of 170 folios includes three separate texts on Anglo-Norman legal subjects: a late 12th c copy of the Herefordshire section of Domesday book (first written in the late 11th c); an early 13th c copy of the earliest treatise on English common law ‘Treatise on the laws and customs of the kingdom of England in the time of King Henry II’, known simply as ‘Glanvill’ after its late 12th c author; and an early 14th c copy of ‘Britton’, the earliest summary of English law to be written in French, probably in the late 13th century. The first two texts are in Latin – with an Anglo-Norman French charm against snake bites appended to the end of the Domesday extract – and ‘Britton’ is in Anglo-Norman French. From the Herefordshire connection, Mynors thinks it likely to have been another gift to the College from George Coningesby, but there is no internal or external provenance documentation.

MS 350 is displayed open to ff. 11v-12r, part of the Herefordshire Domesday, with entries for the Wormelow and Elsdon hundreds. This opening shows surface dirt, particularly in channels from the head edge, liquid staining at the edges, and ink oxidation of the red initials – most have darkened from bright orange-red to silvery purple. Some of the red and green ink, though not blue, has come through from the verso. The manuscript was rebound, or at least recovered in white vellum (calf skin) in 1892, but this rebinding may have reused medieval wooden boards – it is impossible to tell from the outside. The manuscript is in generally good condition, and only needs some surface cleaning and repairs to the split parchment cover.

The ‘Glanvill’ text in MS 350 is heavily decorated with intricate penwork initials, but no other colours are used and there is no gold. Penwork decoration, the most common form of textual ornamentation in medieval manuscripts, is often done by the main scribe; in this case, the rubrics, red ink chapter headings/incipits/explicits both within the text and in the margins, seem to have been completed along with the main text, while the red and blue initial letters and exuberant decorative penwork were done later and perhaps by another hand. NB the different hues of red ink used, a darker red for the rubrics and a brighter orange red for the initials and decoration. The penwork of the initials Q (Quandoque) and U (Utroque) lace together in alternating colours, and in two places the rubrics and decorative flourishes run across each other.

The margins of this text are home to a good number and variety of lively penwork beasts and human faces many more than the lion, rabbit, goat and dragon featured here. Some grow out of the flourishes of initials, while others are separate figures, mostly in the lower margin, reaching up to feed on the red and blue foliage, and sometimes fruit. As is usual, though not universal, marginal figures appear without comment and seem unrelated to the text, though close study (anyone?) might reveal puns and wordplay – often decoration is (at least) a navigational tool and a memory aid.

More about the texts in this manuscript

  • Domesday: online exhibition from The National Archives http://bit.ly/2hw6xRq. The Herefordshire section of Domesday as found in this manuscript was edited by VH Galbraith and J Tait as Heredfordshire Domesday, circa 1160-1170 (Pipe Roll Society, London 1950).
  • Glanvill: explore http://www.earlyenglishlaws.ac.uk/
  • Britton: HL Carson, ‘A Plea for the Study of Britton’ (1914) http://bit.ly/2huYfZK
  • Anglo-Norman French language: hub for all things A-N http://www.anglo-norman.net/
  • John Hudson, The Formation of the English Common Law: Law and Society in England from King Alfred to Magna Carta (Routledge, 2nd ed 2017) – a briefer distillation of his weightier tome on the subject, The Oxford History of the Laws of England (OUP, 2012).

MS 350 full set of images: http://bit.ly/2hsx9Fu  

guest post – manuscript fragments in early printed books

As part of Balliol College’s project to survey the use of manuscript fragments in its early printed book collection, I have had the pleasure of spending many hours systematically inspecting each book in search of these hidden treasures. Currently only a fraction of the way through the collection, we have already found fragments in over 35 early printed books, testifying to the frequency of the practice.

These fragments, found in books ranging from 10cm-40cm in length, appear in many forms. Some are full page flyleaves or pastedowns, many are stubs which give support to the inside covers, others are cut into strips and used to reinforce sewing supports beneath their coverings. One small book of multiplication tables has used a document complete with notary mark and curved edging as its cover, repurposing a serious legal record as something creative and even decorative – from legally binding to mathematical binding!

It’s easy to see why manuscript fragments were favoured for this type of work. In a period where texts were transitioning from parchment to paper, the difference between the two materials in terms of durability must have been marked. Combined with the availability of manuscripts, and the value apparently placed on print (as a new and exciting technology) over commonplace manuscript texts (such as we see in the fragments), recycling parchment in this way was a very practical way of strengthening bindings and protecting the paper pages.[1]

The types of texts being used in the early printed books in the collection are various. The majority so far have been in Latin, with some in English and at least one in French. Most are from the 14th and 15th centuries, but some fragments seem to be as early as 13th century. In terms of content, there are legal documents, personal letters (how our curiosity has been piqued by the sad tale of the man whose wife has left him with 3 children to care for!), ecclesiastical texts, musical notation, and what appears to be a homily emulating the enraged style of the 10th century Archbishop Wulfstan.

One of the aims of the project is to photograph these fragments to make them available online. This poses a number of challenges.  The early printed books themselves date from 15th and 16th centuries and are, as one would expect, fragile. The spines will not lie flat without causing damage which, when one simply wants to read the text, is no problem at all, but when the use of the fragments is to strengthen the very structure of the book, careful thought needs to be given to how to access fragments  tucked away down towards the fragile spine. In a number of instances, photographs have simply not been possible for this reason.

Conversely, the condition of some of the bindings have actually enabled us to see the fragments better, as some have deteriorated to leave fragments exposed. One of the frustrating things for the curious medievalist is the suspicion that leaves of medieval texts have been used in a binding, but having no way to access them.[2] When later binding is found in poor condition, a curious mix of reactions occurs: a clear desire to protect the book, combined with mischievous delight at what might be revealed. In these cases, it is often that a parchment spine has cracked or disintegrated, or that pastedowns are now lifting.

In all cases, the photography of these fragments is tricky. To photograph stubs, the book must be supported on foam blocks and opened at a suitable angle depending on the flexibility of the spine. The parchment itself is not smooth, and the camera can struggle to focus on the right part of the book. In order to take a picture of useable quality, some contortion is generally needed, trying different angles with the camera whilst carefully holding down fragments with a pair of bone holders. Seasoned yoga practitioners and the addition of a third or fourth hand are desirable attributes!

The photographs get labelled and uploaded to Balliol’s Flickr account for interested parties to view. Medievalists can examine the texts and try to identify them; book historians can see further examples of binding techniques from the early modern period; and we can also perhaps use these fragments to tell us something about how the texts that they came from were valued during this time. Whilst many of the texts that we are discovering might be understood to be commonplace (the legal documents, for example, or other texts which appear to be unremarkable in terms of appearance), some were clearly prized at the time of writing. The musical notation of 470d13, for example, is decorative, using red and blue inks for initials, and the script is in a neat gothic hand. Care was obviously taken in the writing of this text, but by the time of binding, the value of the early modern work (Cunningham’s Cosmographie) was deemed to be far greater. Of course, this does not necessarily indicate that Cunningham’s work was intrinsically more important than the medieval one: it could be that the rest of the medieval text had deteriorated beyond reasonable use as a codex, or that some other flaw had been found in it, making this particular version redundant. What these fragments do tell us is what texts were available to the binders at the time and how the material was repurposed.

It would be interesting to survey the use of these fragments, identify them and see what (if any) correlation could be found between the types of text and the individual book binders (this would involve examining a far larger collection than Balliol’s alone), but by increasing the accessibility of these fragments through this project, further research on this interesting topic can contribute to wider understanding of the phenomenon.

 – Annaliese Griffiss, Michaelmas term 2017. Follow Annaliese’s archival adventures on Twitter @aglaecwif!

[1] Whilst the vast majority of the fragments are on parchment, there are also examples of paper manuscripts being used as flyleaves as well.

[2] Though Erik Kwakkel has experimented with the use of x-rays. https://medievalbooks.nl/2015/12/18/x-rays-expose-a-hidden-medieval-library/

Photos of the manuscript fragments discovered so far, with descriptions, are appearing on our Flickr site at https://www.flickr.com/photos/balliolarchivist/sets/72157683085214934/ and descriptions of the fragments with links to their host volumes’ SOLO catalogue entries are also at http://archives.balliol.ox.ac.uk/Ancient%20MSS/msfragments.asp

monthly report September 2017

Some numbers about archives & manuscripts activity during September:

  • Number of enquiries: 61
  • Running total for 2017: 578
  • Number of researchers in person (unique users): 3
  • Number of person-days in the reading room: 5
  • Collections consulted: college records,  medieval manuscripts (3)
  • Productions (consulted by researchers in person or by the archivist in response to enquiries), over 4 months since late May when a new production slip system was introduced – numbers doubtless incomplete:
    • 33 boxes containing from two bound volumes to 4 thick files of individual items, not including
    • 83 files – up to 200 items per file, not including
    • 50 individual items from a single letter to a bound volume, not including
    • 74 medieval ms codices
  • No of non-research visitors: ca.400
  • images created: 1300
  • events: Oxford Open Doors (7th year), patronal evening prayer service, Balliol incumbents’ conference visit to exhibition and evening prayer service, Balliol Society visitors to exhibition, individual visitors to exhibition

This month I’ve included a snapshot of numbers about enquirers’ place of origin (or at least geographical  research base) and enquiry type – I don’t do this every time as they get very repetitive; proportions are fairly consistent throughout the year and from year to year. Private family history enquiries may make up less of the annual total now that basic research sources such as the College Register and War Memorial Books have been available online for more than 5 years; individuals can use them without reference to the archivist, and they are being mentioned in e.g. family history/WW1 research forums as well. More about September’s enquiries (calculated out of 61):

Origin of enquiry

  • Internal (Balliol) 9, 15%
  • Oxford (outside Balliol) 17, 28%
  • Rest of UK 24, 39%
  • Other countries 11, 19% (Germany, France , Netherlands, Australia, USA, Italy, Canada)

Type of enquirer

  • Private (mostly biographical or local history) 20, 34%
  • Academic 18, 29%
  • Student 7, 11%
  • Institutional/admin 16, 26%

Some of the enquiry topics received in September:

  • advice re archives cataloguing and preservation
  • advice re student/volunteer projects in archives
  • requests for (new) digital images of medieval manuscripts
  • C17 college accounts
  • Buittle Castle
  • college hymn
  • college portraits and paintings
  • college rules for students in the 1920s
  • records of college livings and related estates/property
  • development of the tutorial system, late C19-earlyC20
  • history of the role of Visitor of the College
  • Balliol JCR and MCR Presidents
  • history of adult education in Oxford, late C19-early C20
  • Biographical research re / info on Balliol or related archives of
    • people who were not members of Balliol
    • Nathanael Konopios (Balliol 1630s/40s)
    • GM Hopkins (Balliol TT 1863)
    • R Browning (Hon Fellow 1867)
    • J Ashton Cross (Balliol 1868)
    • R Younger, Baron Blanesburgh (Balliol TT 1880)
    • OV Darbishire (Balliol 1888)
    • J O’Regan (Balliol 1889)
    • AR Cunliffe (Balliol 1890)
    • HJ Rofe (Balliol 1890)
    • CE Goetz (Balliol 1891)
    • FF Urquhart (Balliol 1891)
    • CN Dyer (Balliol 1897)
    • JS Mann (Balliol 1912)
    • HG Greene (Balliol 1922)
    • C Gilpatric (Balliol 1938)
    • JR Schlesinger (Balliol 1947)
    • Egerton Richardson (Balliol 1954)