– 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.

Posts tagged “history

Q&A – founders and Bailleul

Q:  Is there any connection between Balliol and Baileul in Belgium?

A: Not exactly; there are a number of Bailleuls on either side of the French-Belgian border. It’s a generic toponym meaning ‘enclosed/fenced place’ (cf Irish & Scottish prefixes Bal/Balla, similar to English –ay/ey, -garth, -ton, -worth etc) and the various ancient Bailleul place names probably predate personal/family connections. The college founders’ direct connection is with Bailleul-en-Vimeu, on the French side, 150km from Bailleul-Estaimpuis in Belgium. I’d recommend Amanda Beam’s book The Balliol Dynasty as good modern scholarship about the family.

Balliol College during the First World War



From the Balliol College Annual Record October 1916 p.12 (the first of such updates):

‘The College in War Time

‘The College has received a large number of officers and men as residents for varying periods during the War, and has lent rooms from time to time for the purposes of a Recruiting Office, and of Recreation-rooms for soldiers quartered in Oxford. From Aug. 5 to 9, 1914, there were 3 officers and 120 of the 4th Oxford and Bucks. L.I. resident in College; from Sept. 3 to Oct. 3, 1914, from 100 to 150 men, with a varying number of officers, of the same regiment from Nov. 12 to 23, 1914, 4 officers and 268 men of the 6th Oxford and Bucks. L.I., the officers remaining for some months afterwards. From Jan. 1915 to Feb. 1916 about 50 sets of rooms in College were occupied by officers attending the Training School for Officers in oxford; each course lasted about a month, and in all nearly 600 officers resided in College for their period of training. Since March 1916 the College has been the headquarters of the 6th Officer Cadet Battalion, under Lieut.0Col. R. Wilkinson, D.S.O. from March 15 to May 25 there were 100 officer cadets resident in College at one time; from May 26 to July 11, 150; and since the latter date, 200, with brief intervals between the courses. From 5 to 7 officers of the Battalion have also lived in College as members of the Senior Common Room.
‘The College has lent large quantities of furniture to Territorials quartered in Oxford, and to the Serbian School established first at Wycliffe Hall and then in Linton Road, and has given hospitality to several Belgian and Serbian students.

‘Many of the College servants are or have been absent on Military Service.

‘The Master’s Field has been used throughout the War by soldiers quartered in College both for drill and games.’


From the Balliol College Annual Record October 1917 p.14:

‘The College is still partially occupied by 200 Cadets of the 6th Officer Cadet Battalion, now commanded by Lieut.-Col. H.P. Yates, D.S.O.; several Officers of the Battalion have been resident in College, and the Battalion Headquarters are also within the walls. The Master’s Field and the College Barge continue to be regularly used by the Cadets.
‘Only two Tutorial Fellows are in residence (in addition to the Master), and two Tutors not on the Foundation. The others are all engaged in military service or Government work. With only 40 Undergraduates, or thereabouts, and those largely occupied with military training, many College institutions are inevitably in abeyance; but the Boys’ Club survives actively. Dr. Walker arranges concerts on Sunday evenings for Cadets, Officers and members of the University, and there are occasional debates in the Junior Common Room. There is only one Undergraduate in residence who was up before the War; but there is every reason to think that the traditions of the College are being maintained and that there will be a revival of its full activities when the War is over.’


From the Balliol College Annual Record October 1918 p.18:

‘The College is still partially occupied by 150 Cadets of the 6th Officer Cadet Battalion, now commanded by Lieut.-Col. B. Evans; several Officers of the Battalion have been resident in College, and the Battalion Headquarters are also within the walls. The Master’s Field and the College Barge continue to be regularly used by the Cadets.
‘Only two Tutorial Fellows are in residence (in addition to the Master), and three Tutors not on the Foundation. The others are all engaged in military service or Government work. With only 40 Undergraduates, or thereabouts, and those largely occupied with military training, many College institutions are inevitably in abeyance; but the Boys’ Club survives actively, thanks mainly to the energy of Capt. M.L. Jacks. Dr. Walker arranges concerts on Sunday evenings for Cadets, Officers and members of the University, and there are occasional debates in the Junior Common Room. There are only two Undergraduates in residence who were up before the War; but there has been no break in the continuity of the life of the College, and it is hoped that when the War ends it will be ready to play its part in the difficult times that lie before us.’


From the Balliol College Annual Record October 1919 p.17:

 The College After the War

‘As soon as men began to be released from the Army, special arrangements were made by the War Office to enable ‘students’ of all classes to return to their studies. A large number of men began to apply to the College before the end of 1918; a few of these had been up before the War, most had been qualified for admission during the War. It seemed best to bring such men to Oxford as soon as possible after their demobilization, and every effort was made to get the rooms ready. On January 9, 1919, 150 Cadets left the College and a week later about the same number of undergraduates took their place. By the end of the Term 160 men were in residence, of whom 113 had been in the Rmy. In the Summer Term the numbers rose to 233, of whom 1898 were old service men. Of the men who were up before the War 33 returned to the College. Of the 147 who had been admitted, whether as Scholars, Exhibitioners, or Commoners, during the War, but who had postponed their residence, 28 had fallen, and of the remainder 95 have so far come up. These statistics show how quickly the College recovered in numbers and how substantial was the link with pre-war days. Before the War the number of undergraduates actually in residence rarely, if ever, exceeded 190. The present numbers are therefore abnormal, and naturally cause a good deal of discomfort, but the College was anxious to do its best for those who had been serving. Fortunately nearly all the Fellows who had been engaged in Government service were able to return for the Summer Term and to help in the work of the College during a most interesting period of its history.

‘This year, for the first time since 1914, a Gaudy was held. On June 27 the College entertained 110 old members, all of whom had seen service abroad during the War.’

Guest post – Farewell to the Library chairs

Welcome to our second guest poster, Mary Addison!

This post was originally published by Mary Addison on 16 November 2013 at http://www.addisonembroideryatthevicarage.co.uk/2013/11/16/farewell-to-the-library-chairs/, and is reposted here with the author’s kind permission.


Balliol library Chair 1950?-2013.

An Oxford college library is a wonderful place to work in but has lots of potential for distracting staff away from library housekeeping. Not only are the books an ever present source of temptation but the buildings and fittings themselves constantly vie to catch your attention – from the acanthus leaves carved into the top of oak bookcases (James Wyatt 1791-4), the ceiling bosses (also late C18th and including simple circlets of leaves, a green man and an ourobouros – the coiled self-devouring serpent ) to the bits of medieval stained glass which, in Balliol Library, include the earliest representation of the coat of arms now universally recognised as that of the university itself.


Balliol College Library: Photograph of 1962 of the New Library (now known as the Reading Room)

The Arts and Crafts style oak chairs, a variant on the Windsor chair, were also a striking presence.  Over the years broken spindles and legs have been repaired by the college workshop and until recently there always seemed to be enough spare parts. Over the last year, however, it had become increasingly apparent that new chairs were needed … and imminently.


Balliol College Library: old library chair with cushions

A supplier and style of chairs were chosen – an arcane process done behind closed doors and probably involving smoke, mirrors, hot towels, and baton changes as the Librarian, rather like Dr Who, went through several manifestations (Librarian/Acting Librarian/Librarian/Acting Librarian covering for the Librarian on maternity leave – all within 6 months). Surprisingly quickly a prototype appeared and took its place in the library accompanied by a box for comments.


Balliol College Library: The Old Library with the new chair (2013)

At first, armed with my dislike of the idea of change, I  thought there was too much of the G-Plan domestic dining room chair of the 60s about them but closer inspection revealed they were sturdy with well-made joints, very generously sized, had comfortable seats and back rests in well padded leather. They were quite – but not too – heavy, so no rocking  back on the 2 back legs with these chairs.


Balliol College Library: the Reading Room with the old chairs


Balliol College Library: the Reading Room with the new chairs

I dreaded the changeover. I had loved the old style chairs which brought with them a whiff of the country house style of the early 1930s. On the day of the swop over, those of us not involved in the logistics of chair moving kept to our lower library lair and out of the way as an enfilade of the old chairs were marched through the middle of our office on their way to temporary storage in the annexe.


Balliol College Library: the Old Library with the old chair


Balliol College Library: the Old Library with the new chair

The new chairs came in 3 lots and after the first batch were in place in the Old Library (1791 but in part going back to early C15) I emerged with some trepidation and a slightly heavy heart to survey the new character of the library. But the funny thing was, although my critical faculties were poised for attack and my aesthetic sensibilities were ready to take a bruising, the library looked little different from before. Excellent.


Balliol College Library: 1928 design

The practical advantages also became apparent very quickly.  While the old chairs were mainly loved for their looks, the increased comfort of the new chairs wheedled its way into the students’ hearts. Indeed,  suddenly people remembered how the the spindles on the back of the old chairs were a torment and how the oak seat, though hollowed out in an attempt at bottom friendliness, needed more than one of the custom-made cushions which albeit in plentiful supply had got thinner and thinner with age. Now, girls (usually) could be seen working with their legs tucked up into the chair and one or two people even fell asleep with head lolling on the back rest (as opposed to slumped on the table in front).  (Were they too comfortable?) Bags could be hooked more easily over the back of the chair which should help keep the floor free of at least some personal belongings. From our point of view each chair occupied a smaller floor area and the arms slipped under more of the desks and tables; even shelving books was easier.  People liked them. What a relief.


Balliol College Library: Library chair 1950?-2013

The old library chairs had been part of the library for about 80 years, which sounds pretty amazing for a set of chairs. All of the ones we replaced must have been more than 50 years old as they appear in a photograph of 1962 when the mezzanine was put in to make the Reading Room (see above) as we know it today. (It was originally the dining hall until a new one was built by Waterhouse in the C19th). The College Archivist did some rootling around in her archives and came up with an original order and drawings for a similar chair dating from 1928. Hand annotation on these papers indicate certain modifications were to be carried out and that further amendments could also be made. In fact there were considerable changes. The carved Catherine Wheel (St.Catherine is the college’s patron saint) disappeared as did the little table top going across the arms at the front. Our chair has slightly more elegant legs and the design origins in the Windsor chair are also more apparent. Indeed, virtually the only design element linking our chairs with the 1928 drawing is the very unusual curve of the arm when viewed from the side, but this feature is so distinctive as to make me feel certain that chair and drawing have a familial relationship. The Archivist suggests that there may be further drawings and letters in amongst college documents which might resolve these issues and give us a firmer date for the chairs’ first appearance. Such research is tempting but at the moment it is not a high priority project.


Balliol College Library 1959 (Before major internal reorganisation) with old library chair

We were all fascinated that the firm supplying the 1928 chairs and the joinery was based in St Aldates. If there was a workshop, the company must have occupied quite a big footprint and as yet we haven’t worked out quite where. Much land there belongs to Christ Church and buildings may have been converted for different use, knocked down or may even still be there but behind buildings fronting on to the road. This is also another area for further research. If anyone knows anything about it, we would love to hear from you.


A letter of tender (26/10/1928) for Balliol Library chairs from Thomas S Bott, shop-fitter, display case maker, proprietor of machine joinery works under his name at 35 St Aldates, Oxford.


Balliol College Library: a corner of the Reading Room with old library chairs


Balliol College Library: corner of the Reading Room with new library chairs

Adam von Trott – burial

A historical tidbit about one of Balliol’s better-known alumni, Adam von Trott zu Solz, who was one of the key figures in the 20 July Plot to assassinate Hitler in 1944. I was prompted by an enquiry today to investigate where his grave might be. It will come as no great surprise to those familiar with WW2 history to learn that is no known burial place for Adam von Trott; this was standard treatment of executed resistance fighters by the Nazi authorities. It’s an effective (and far from outmoded) method of preventing grave sites from becoming places of pilgrimage… Balliol College does not hold this information; I am translating (loosely!) from the blog of the Adam von Trott Foundation in Imshausen, Germany (http://stiftungtrott.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/tage-im-august/ – in German). I wouldn’t normally post about this small a piece of research, particularly as I found the information solely online, but I thought it was worthwhile as I couldn’t find any mention of his burial place or lack thereof in English, and there is still active research interest in the life and work of Adam von Trott. A memorial stone and cross for him stand in Imshausen.

Q&A access to college collections and using archives for historical research

Q: I need to use primary sources for my essay/dissertation. Are there interesting sources in College archives? Where do I start?

A: The Lonsdale Curator is always glad to hear from students and tutors and to discuss potential sources in the College archives and elsewhere. At the moment I have students working on club and society records, the Swinburne Papers, the Jowett Papers and the Urquhart Papers. While college libraries are normally open only to members of that college, college archives and manuscript collections are open to anyone with a bona fide research question that requires access to the original source material. Primary sources are very exciting, but they are not always the most efficient way to get distilled information – after all, the reason or method in which the information was originally gathered and recorded, whether 25 years or a century or more ago, may well have had nothing to do with the kinds of information you want to get out of that record, or the way we think about it now. So make sure you exhaust secondary sources first – someone may have done a lot of the legwork for you!

Here’s something I prepared earlier about using archives for historical research:

These readings are recommended for anyone planning any type of research project that will require consultation of archival or manuscript material.

  • from the Institute for Historical Research – article
  • from the University of London Research Library Services – article
  • Archival Research Techniques and Skills – student portal
  • University of Nottingham: Document Skills – Introduction

A few notes:

  1. Plan ahead.
    • Many archives are not open full time and have very limited space for researchers; it may take some time for the archivist to answer your enquiry, or to get a seat, so plan your visit in advance.
    • Make sure you need to see the original material (see below), and if you do, that you are as prepared as possible.
  2. Do your secondary reading first, and find out which of your primary sources have been published, edited, calendared or indexed.
    • You will need that information in order to engage fully with the primary sources and make the most of your valuable research time.
    • Secondary sources often cite relevant primary sources and their locations.
    • Published sources may be available to you more easily and with less travel than original ones.
    • You will be better equipped to make enquiries of and ask for assistance from archivists and manuscript librarians.
    • The professionals you deal with will be able to tell whether or not you are well prepared, and you are likely to get more detailed responses if your enquiries are well informed. If it’s clear you haven’t read basic printed sources, they are quite likely to send you away to do that first. If you ask for primary sources which have been published, you will be given the published version.
  3. Use the online archive networks.
    • There is an ever-increasing amount of information online about archives, from general national databases to subject-specific portals. A few of the networks are listed here.
  4. Ask for help.
    • You are not expected to know everything about where to find primary sources. It’s more complicated and less systematic than identifying published sources, and archivists and curators are specialists in this kind of lateral thinking. (But do your homework first!)

Q&A pronunciation

Q: How do you pronounce Balliol?

A: Bailey’ll, emphasis on the first syllable. Not Bally-all, Ball-oil or Bailey, a la Sir Humphrey of Yes, Minister.

College Grace & Prayers

Balliol’s 1282 statutes contain the earliest college reference to saying grace: ‘singulis etiam diebus, tam in prandio quam in coena, dicant benedictionem antequam comedant, et post refectionem gratias agant’ – ‘every day both at dinner and supper they shall say a blessing before they eat, and after the meal they shall give thanks.’

Balliol, like most colleges, has a very short Latin grace for every day, which is said only by High Table, led by the senior Fellow present. Balliol does not hold Formal Hall. The short grace is:

ante cibum (before the meal): Benedictus benedicat. – Amen. (‘May the blessed one give a blessing.’)
post cibum (after the meal): Benedicto benedicatur. – Amen. (‘May the blessed one be blessed. – Amen’)

The full Latin grace is said once a year, by a Scholar, at the St Catherine’s Day Dinner in November:

Post cibum:

Benedictus est Deus in donis suis. Response: Et sanctus in omnibus operibus suis.

Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini est. Response: Qui fecit coelum et terras.

Sit nomen Dei benedictum. Response: Ab hoc tempore usque ad saecula.

Tribuere digneris, Domine Deus, nobis omnibus bona facientibus ob tuum sanctum nomen vitam aeternam.

In memoria aeterna erit justus. Response: Et ab auditione mala nunquam timebit.

 Justorum animae in manibus Dei sunt. Response: Ne tangant eos instrumenta nequitiae.

Funde, quaesumus, Domine Deus, in mentes nostras gratiam tuam, ut tuis hisce donis datis a Johanne Balliolo et Dervorguilla uxore, caeterisque omnibus benefactoribus nostris, rite in tuam gloriam utentes in vitam una cum fidelibus omnibus resurgamus, per Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum.

Deus pro infinita sua clementia Ecclesiae unitatem et concordiam concedat, Reginam conservet, pacemque huic regno populoque Christiano largiatur, per Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum.

After the meal:

Blessed is God in his gifts Response: And holy in all his works.

Our help is in the name of the Lord Response: Who hath made heaven and earth.

May the name of God be blessed Response: From this time forth for evermore.

Vouchsafe, Lord God, to bestow eternal life on all of us if we do that which is good, for the sake of thy holy name.

The just man shall be held in eternal memory Response: And he shall fear nothing from evil report.

The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God Response: so that no means of wickedness should touch them.

Pour, we beseech thee, Lord God, thy grace into our minds so that, using fitly and to thy glory these thy gifts made through John Balliol and Dervorguilla his wife and all our other benefactors we may rise again to life in heaven with all the faithful, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

May God of his infinite mercy bring unity and concord to the Church, preserve the Queen and grant peace to this kingdom and the Christian people, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

All the colleges’ graces are recorded and translated in College Graces of Oxford and Cambridge (Perpetua 1992), compiled by RH Adams.

College Prayer

Almighty God, Who hast in Thy good providence disposed the hearts of men to mutual charity, that here on earth in diverse brotherhoods they may prepare the coming of Thy heavenly kingdom, we give Thee thanks for every human fellowship, but more especially that Thou hast prospered this our ancient house, and still dost guide the footsteps of her children, not weighting our merits nor measuring Thy fatherly affection. Send forth Thy light upon those assembled here and on our brethren dispersed through all the world, that we and they being knit more closely in the bonds of friendship may likewise frow in love of Thee and obtain together those eternal mansions which Thou hast promised by the mouth of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This prayer is printed in HWC Davis’ A History of Balliol College (1899, rev. ed. 1963).

Bidding Prayer

The current form of Balliol’s Bidding Prayer enumerating major Benefactors is here. It is reproduced in John Jones’ Balliol College: A History.