– 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 “Individuals

Q&A: the Register

When using the Balliol College Register images online, I am confused by sets of usually 3 initials in parentheses, following the Balliol years in the education section of many entries. What do they mean?

Initials in parentheses are those of that student’s Balliol tutor(s). You can find a list of tutors’ initials just before the Index, and then use the Index to find that tutor’s own entry.

College Register 2nd edition 1833-1933

College Register 3rd edition 1900-1950

#WW1 – Hardit Singh Malik (Balliol 1912)

The BBC has a fascinating series of stories on their WW1 At Home site – here is an index of all the Oxford related ones. The one that interests me particularly is that of HS Malik, the first Indian pilot in the Royal Flying Corps.

I can recommend his autobiography, A Little Work, A Little Play, published by his daughter in (?)2010, as an excellent read of a fascinating life lived in decidedly interesting times on several continents. Here is a review.

There is not a great deal of information about HS Malik’s time at Balliol (1912-1915) in the College Archives, but what there is illustrates his long-standing enjoyment of college cricket, his WW1 flying career and his abiding friendship with his tutor Francis Fortescue Urquhart, known as ‘Sligger’, a Modern History don and the first Roman Catholic Fellow of an Oxford college since the Reformation.


Please click on the images for more information and full archival references. To use these images, please send a completed copy of this form to the Fellow Librarian, who deals with all such requests on behalf of the Master and Fellows.

The series of five photos from Urquhart’s personal albums, now in the College Archives, is bookended by group photos of ‘Past v Present’ cricketers from the college’s sport albums, once kept in the cricket pavilion and documenting all college sport except rowing, which had its own set of albums in the boathouse – these are also now in the College Archives. HS Malik appears first in 1913 as a ‘Present’ cricketer and finally in 1931 as a ‘Past.’ Some cricket match records from the period also survive.

In his first year at Balliol, Malik is still wearing his Eastbourne College cricket blazer; by the next year, he has a Balliol blazer. The informal, light-hearted snap at the Pavilion is from about the same time as the last, Trinity Term 1914, just weeks before war was declared.

The first of Sligger’s wartime photos, from May-June 1916, is the only one of Francis Urquhart and HS Malik together – at this time they will have been discussing ways for Malik to fulfil his desire to join either the French or the British air force. The next also predates HS Malik’s groundbreaking acceptance as an officer in the RFC – at this point, summer 1917, through FF Urquhart’s connections, Malik is working as an officer ambulance driver for the Croix Rouge Français. (Urquhart volunteered at the American Hospital in Neuilly -sur-Seine during University vacations.) The caption of the next two photos, also from Francis Urquhart’s own albums, marks a milestone for HS Malik and for the Service he entered – he has become a pilot in the newly-formed RAF (merger of RFC with Royal Naval Air Service in April 1918).

Though he took his History degree in 1915, HS Malik returns to college cricket as a ‘Present’ for the 1920-21 year, while undertaking mandatory studies preceding posting to the Indian Civil Service.

The last photo is once again a ‘Cricket Past and Present’ group – HS Malik and his family are back in England as he takes up the post of Deputy Trade Commissioner in the Indian High Commission for three years from 1930. This posting to England came in time for Malik to see his friend and tutor again before Urquhart’s death in 1934.

The photos on this page are provided for educational and personal research purposes. Permission must be obtained in advance of any reuse or publication, including on the Internet.

Further reading:

Biographical entry for HS Malik in the Balliol College Register – see 1912 sections of the 2nd and 3rd editions

More of Francis Urquhart’s WW1 photos – see Vol. 7

Correspondence from HS Malik’s later career in the Monckton archive at Balliol:

  • Letters to and from Walter Monckton, 1956-60
    • Dep. Monckton 6R, fols. 85-7, 113-14, 147, 155, 243, 303, 309
    • Dep. Monckton 7R, fols. 19, 37, 41, 75, 82, 114-15, 143-8, 154, 158-9, 162
    • Dep. Monckton 12R, fols. 64-70, 75
  • Copy of letter to T.E. Peppercorn, 1956, Dep. Monckton 7R, fols. 147-8.

exhibition archive – Ernest Walker letter

Part of this exhibition was originally a Document of the Week in Michaelmas Term 2005. It features two letters from Dr Ernest Walker to Cedric Glover, written from Oxford in August 1916 and demonstrating something of the strange contrasts of Oxford life during wartime.



August 11, 1916

My Dear Cedric,

Very glad indeed to have news of you: I was wondering whereabouts you were. Where is Ronald? [?Knox] Greetings to him, and also best remembrances to your father and mother, please!

Balliol is a queer place nowadays: I don’t suppose we shall have 20 people up next term. We went on with the regular concerts (fortnightly) up till the end of the summer term 1915, doing our Strauss and Reger and Kreisler and our songs in German as usual up to the end: but we then suspended operations, inevitably. For the last year we have been having “by and fors” (in the wide sense of the word, including any military birds of passage that could do things – some of them quite good), with the same quality of music as usual, but no printed programmes [p.2] of any kind and no audience except masculines. We got a quite fair lot of people always: though I don’t mean to say that some of them mayn’t have found it slightly strong meat when an old Magdalen man, quartered in Oxford, gave them a dozen or so of the biggest Hugo Wolf songs on end, or when I played Reger after the news of his death reached here. I daresay we may be able to go on with something of the same kind next term – there has been a steady flow of officer-cadets into Oxford, hundreds of them. But I really haven’t a notion about the future, in any way at all. The OUMC and the OUMO have formally [p.3] amalgamated (with the Holywell Room): I expect the MO would certainly have been bankrupt in isolation, and the MC would have been in a queer way: as it is, the joint society is financially very shaky indeed for the time being, but I dare say we shall keep it going more or less. The Ladies Society goes ahead as usual, except there they refuse  to engage Herschel or the Aranyis or apparently anyone whose great-great-great-grandparents were Germans. Miss Marga Deneke is on the concert committee, and has had a good many of her plans squashed in absurd fashion. It’s a queer world, and during the last two years, some individuals in it have [p.4] turned out even queerer than one could have expected.

 You seem to have been managing to get a lot of music added to your collection, anyhow. Don’t know of any translations of Pohl or Thayer, myself. Can’t stand the Debussy ‘cello sonata, except for very little bits of it: the man seems to have written himself out. Grovlez sent me his last piano things, and I was very much disappointed with them – just the ordinary fashionable Parisianism, I thought: nor do I care for his violin sonata, which I ran through with Miss Gates (I think) not long ago. Don’t know the last Scriabin, nor the Tcherepnine quartet: but I came across some very fine songs of T. lately. Well, I suppose some day or other we may get music normally again!

I heard from Oboussier the other day: he asked after all his friends and I gave him what news I could.

I should be delighted to hear from you again! All best from

Yours [ver]y sincerely,

Ernest Walker.

[top of p.1] (In Merionethshire for the moment, but back in Oxford next week.)

[Editor’s note: Thanks to Kamile Vaupsaite for deciphering the names of Thayer and Grovlez!]


22 August 1916

28, St Margaret’s Road, Oxford

My Dear Cedric,

Many thanks for your note; I am quite reassured. The matter had various ramifications into which I needn’t go: as you no doubt understand that in this very queer world it is important that the whole of the Ladies’ Club’s various oddities should be kept altogether dark, for the sake of the Arányis (who don’t know anything of them), and Miss Deneke and everybody else!

I quite forgot, by-the-bye, when sending on the message to his friends from Oboussier, the Swiss fiddler who was at Worcester for the year before the war, that a relative veteran of 1913 like you might never have met him! I lose count of dates so easily as a permanent limpet here.


I must look up Mr. Jarnach. When this whole bad dream is over and we have more music together, I must show you some things of a wild young Anglo-French creature, a Home Student at Cherwell Edge, who is working with me. She is liable to come the most ultra-modernist croppers any minute, and I doubt if her songs can be sung in tune: but she produced a few weeks ago a [B flat?] Prelude that seems to be really beautiful in its way, and quite unlike anything I know.

I am at present engaged in some music for a children’s play by Mrs. Balfour (Harold Joachim’s sister). It is all about vegetables, and one has to represent musically the essential characteristics of carrots and cabbages and so on: I am rather pleased with a very first-impressionistic but quite unmistakable Cauliflower that I have just evolved: it starts – [MS music]

All very best wishes, and looking forward to any amount more of music together!

Yours very sincerely,

Ernest Walker.

Ernest Walker (1870-1949) , musicologist, composer, organist and Hon Fellow of Balliol

The Balliol Music Society’s 1745th Sunday Concert on Oct 16 2005 (Sunday 2nd week) was the annual Ernest Walker Concert, commemorating Dr Walker’s contribution to College life, and in particular College music, during his long career at Balliol 1887-1925.

Ernest Walker came up to Balliol in 1887 to study Litterae Humaniores (Classics) under WR Hardie and RL Nettleship. He received his BA in 1891, became assistant organist to John Farmer at Balliol and earned a BMus (1893) and DMus (1898). He became organist and director of music at Balliol upon Farmer’s retirement in 1901; although he gave up the post of organist in 1913 on religious grounds, he retained the directorship until his retirement in 1925. Under his direction, the Sunday Concerts developed to a very high standard.

In addition to his involvement in College music, he was instrumental in the University’s musical life as a busy teacher and examiner; he held the posts of Choragus of the University 1918-1922 and Lecturer for the University Professor of Music from 1899.

Dr Walker was well-known in the musical world beyond Oxford as a prolific and insightful critic, reviewer and musicologist. His voluminous correspondence portrays a thoughtful and self-effacing character possessed of a whimsical sense of humour and a great deal of affection and regard for his many friends and colleagues – not to mention decided musical opinions!

Ladies’ Club: the Oxford Ladies’ Musical Society, founded in 1898 because the university musical society did not admit women, and still in existence – though now co-ed – as the Oxford Chamber Music Society. Papers of the OLMS are in the Bodleian.

Sources :

  • Balliol College, MSS Ernest Walker and accrual Accn 05/139, letters to Cedric Glover
  • Bodleian Library, music MSS
  • Bailey, C. ‘ Walker, Ernest (1870-1949)’, rev. Jeremy Dibble, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/36688, accessed 26 Sept 2005]
  • Balliol College Register (1933, 1950)
  • Deneke, M. Ernest Walker (1951)
  • Hull , R. ‘Ernest Walker’, Music Review, 10 (1949), 205–6

Lunchtime talk: Unlocking the Archives 2

Announcing the second talk in our new series about research in Balliol’s special collections:


John Bray, Limner-Binder, and Three Sequences of Manuscripts Made in Oxford (1450-84)

Holly James-Maddocks, University of York

This paper identifies the hand of one Oxford-based illuminator (John Bray, d.1493) in three sequences of manuscripts housed today in Balliol, Merton, and Exeter Colleges. His collaboration with four London illuminators for their production prompts an assessment of the evidence for peripatetic book artisans and for the reliance of the Oxford trade on the supply of London labour.

Holly James-Maddocks is a PhD student at the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of York, completing the thesis ‘Collaborative Book Production: Scribes and Illuminators in Fifteenth-Century London’. She will continue her studies of the London book trade as the Katharine F. Pantzer Jr. Fellow in Descriptive Bibliography at Harvard University’s Houghton Library in 2013-14.

* * *

When: Friday 26 April, 1-2 pm

Where: Balliol Historic Collections Centre, St Cross Church, Manor Road (next to Holywell Manor).

Who: all welcome

Feel free to bring your lunch. The talk will last no more than half an hour, to allow time for questions and discussion afterwards, and a closer look at some of the Balliol MSS discussed.

Unlocking the Archives is a new series of talks opening up the college’s archives and manuscripts to a wider audience and future researchers, given by scholars from Oxford and around the world about their work on material from Balliol’s special collections.

More Unlocking Archives dates for your calendars:

  • 24 May: Dr Stephen Golding (Univ, Radiology) on researching the first history of the ‘Chalet des Anglais’
  • 20 June: Dr Robin Darwall-Smith (archivist, Magdalen & Univ) on cataloguing the papers of Benjamin Jowett at Balliol

= = = = = = = =

2 April update: Many thanks to Holly for a fascinating paper! It will be presented to another audience at a later date, and, we hope, the new research (and perhaps photographs) will be published as well, so no summary here. Stay tuned!

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: Baruch Blumberg, nobel laureate

Q: What was Baruch Blumberg’s Nobel Prize for?

A: Dr Baruch S Blumberg, Master of Balliol 1989-1994, was awarded the 1976 Nobel Prize in medicine for his 1967 discovery of the hepatitis B virus.

How to contact Oxford college archives

If you are doing family history research or for any other reason want to find biographical information about a former member of an Oxford college who has been deceased for more than a year or so, you should get in touch with the archivist.

College alumni or development offices deal with living alumni. College offices / senior tutors / registrars deal with current students. Contacting them about deceased members of college will result in an email round-robin and a delay in response.

If you are not sure which college your research subject belonged to, check these sources according to period:

If you do know, or once you find out, which college your research subject belonged to, contact that college’s archivist for further information. Contact details for all colleges that have an archivist are available at http://www.oxfordarchives.org.uk/college%20archives.htm

If you have a query that may apply to several or all colleges, you can save a lot of cutting and pasting of addresses by sending it to the college archivists’ mailing list at oac[at]chch.ox.ac.uk.

Alumni Oxonienses online

Good news for family historians and anyone else looking for information on individual former members of the University of Oxford – Joseph Foster’s Alumni Oxonienses 1500-1714 is online and searchable at British History Online, home of the digital Victoria County History and much else. The digitised volumes have been on archive.org for years, but this is certainly easier to use. Roll on 1714-1886…

FAQ: Balliol Boys’ Club

Q: I am looking for information about a former member of the Balliol Boys’ Club. What was the Balliol Boys’ Club and what information do you have about the members?

A: A club for the boys of the St Ebbe’s area of South Oxford was started with Balliol support in 1907 and consolidated in 1921 as a memorial to one of the founding student members, Keith Rae (TEK Rae, Balliol, 1907).   It flourished until the late 1960s, when it was swallowed by City developments.  The 1921 endowment survives as the Keith Rae Trust which supports Youth Clubs and similar organisations.

The place to start for any researcher is the published history of the Boys’ Club: A Short History of the Balliol Boys’ Club, 1907-1950, by Cyril Bailey, and a later update A History of the Balliol Boys’ Club 1907-1971 with John Roughley and other adding to Bailey’s work. Copies of both editions are often available through second-hand dealers on the internet – try searching with Bookfinder.

Balliol Boys’ Club Papers in the College Archives:
1. Minutes & Membership

  • A. Minute books, Balliol Boys’ Club Committee
    • 1906-1908
    • 1919-1923
    • 1924-1927
    • 1946-1950
    • 1957-1970
  • B. Register of members 1940-1946, with addresses, employers etc.
  • C. Address book, members and friends, n.d. (ca 1930)

2. Log books, recording daily attendances and activities.

  • 1907-1908
  • 1908-1909
  • 1909-1910
  • 1911-1912
  • 1912-1913
  • 1913-1914
  • 1914-1915
  • 1915-1916
  • 1916-1917
  • 1917-1919
  • 1919-1921
  • 1921-1922
  • 1922-1923
  • 1924-1926
  • 1926-1927
  • 1928-1930
  • 1931

3. Club History

  • A. Papers concerning the foundation and early days of the Club, 1906-1910.
  • B. Papers concerning a scheme to finance the emigration of Club members to Australia, including details of
    Herbert Poole and Frank Slatter, who sailed together 29 Jan. 1921.
  • C. Papers concerning the building and opening of Keith Rae House, including plans and correspondence with
    Edward Rae, 1921 [see also MBP 359].
  • D. Papers concerning an extension to Keith Rae House, 1933.
  • E. Newspaper cuttings, various dates.
  • F. Photographs, various dates.
  • G. Typescript, ‘A short history of Balliol Boys’ Club 1907-1950’, by Cyril Bailey (printed at Oxford 1950).
  • H. The Master’s file concerning the Club and Keith Rae Trust, 1950-1960.

4. Printed material

  • (a) Annual Reports
    • i. 1907-1908 to 1909-1910.
    • ii. 1919 and 1929-1930 to 1937-1938 lacking 1931-1932 to 1933-1934.
    • iii. 1966. Not found July 2003.
  • (b) Magazines
    • ‘The Balliol Club Magazine’,1913, 1914, 1915,
    • ‘The Club at War’, being the War Edition of ‘The Balliol Club Magazine’, issues 1-11 [complete], 1916-1919 [Cordeaux & Merry, University vol., 6774].
    • ‘The Balliol Club Magazine’, 1920, 1921, 1924, 1927, 1928, 1931 (“Volume 1”), 1932 (“No 2”), 1933 (“No 3″), 1935 (“No 5”), 1937 (no number) and 1938 (no number).
  • (c) Souvenir: ‘The Opening of Keith Rae House, Oxford. Saturday November 19th, 1921’.
  • (d) C. Bailey, ‘A Short History of the Balliol Boys’ Club, 1907-1950’, printed in Oxford 1950. There are also duplicates (in some cases several copies) of some of (b)-(d) above; see also MBP 32(2), MISC 43, MISC 79.6.

5. Accounts and financial papers including vouchers and paid cheques for some periods, 1907-1969.

6. Miscellaneous: including award certificates of various kinds (amateur dramatics; athletics); boxing programmes and related material; scraps; relics (trophies etc.).

7. Miscellaneous acquisitions 1986-1993: numerous photographs, cuttings and memorabilia.

8. Papers and correspondence concerning the closure of the Club 1971-3.

9. Arthur Greenwood’s Club Cricket Cap, Club badges and medals. Presented by Aubrey Greenwood, 1993.

10. Club badges presented by A.E. Marchetti and G. Wakeman, 1987; different from each other and the badge in 9. above.

11. The Club’s paid cheques 1932-1933.

12. The cap badge and medals of T.H.K. Rae, killed at Hooge 1915. Presented by Colin Rae 1993.

13. The printing block for the illustration of the new Club House which appears opposite p.24 in Bailey op cit (see 4(d) above).

14. An address by Edward Rae, Balliol Boys’ Club Anniversary Service 19 Nov. 1922.

These records are open to researchers and can be consulted in the usual way, in the college archives at St Cross Cross, Holywell, by prior appointment with the archivist.

The Balliol Boys’ Club magazines for 1913 and 1921 have been digitised and are available to view online here.

Aside from mentions in minutes, accounts of Club Camps etc, Balliol does not have in its records systematic membership lists or other personal information about the involvement of individual Balliol students or local Oxford boys in the Club.

The Balliol Boys’ Club war memorial now hangs in the college archives at St Cross Church, Holywell. All names on the memorial are listed online here.

Further reading:

Information re JA Cowles, a former member of the Balliol Boys’ Club, at the Canadian Letters and Images Project.


Under this stone lies Gabriel John
In the year of our Lord one thousand and one
Cover his head with turf or stone
‘Tis all one, ’tis all one, with turf or stone
’tis all one.

Q: The grave marker of [past member of Balliol] in [X cemetery] in [Y city/county/country] is in a shocking state of disrepair. Why on earth doesn’t Balliol College look after it properly??

A: Because Balliol College is not responsible for the maintenance of gravestones of its deceased members or employees, eminent or obscure. The college has been known to contribute to appeals for the restoration of individual gravestones or other memorials, but is not responsible for organising, funding or maintaining such upkeep. The college does, however, welcome information on the burial places of its past members and will add it to that member’s individual dossier in the College Archives, though some sort of corroborating evidence is required, e.g. images of the memorial and its surroundings. Memorials within the college precinct – which of course the college is responsible for and does look after – are listed online here. A few known burial places of e.g. former Masters of Balliol are listed here. 

This query comes up regularly, and is in the same category as the Blue Plaque Question. Some of the response to that question applies here as well.

Q&A – complaints and returns department

Q: Your response to my enquiry is not what I hoped for. Please check the records again and give me a different answer.

A: Readers may be astonished to learn that I regularly receive this professional insult, generally in response to a negative result of a search for an individual possible member of Balliol. As all researchers know, to be certain of a negative result normally requires considerably more research than to confirm a positive, which may only need checking one source. In order to be sure that no record of an individual exists, one has to check several series of potentially relevant records.  I will then do my best to provide possible explanations for the lack of evidence, and to suggest further avenues of enquiry.

Enquirers are kindly requested not to ask me to research an enquiry again unless additional relevant substantive information is provided which was not included in the original question.

If I am not overly forthcoming in my explanations, it may be because I know that enquirers do not wish to hear, unless they are true researchers as well as family historians, that the information they have has probably been fabricated, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, in knowledge or in ignorance, by misleading, misinterpretation or misunderstanding. In the majority of cases it happens through garbling of family narrative down the generations rather than deliberate deceit, but the latter is not unknown either.

If I am asked to reply to the same enquiry again, I may do so, pulling the enquiry to bits and pointing out the full range of inconsistencies and impossibilities inherent in it.  I will also be frank about any evidence of deliberate fabrications; they do exist. This is constructive for the researcher, but not always pleasant.

I often feel that I am a professional exploder of family myths, but I take some little consolation in the knowledge that if my well informed, carefully researched and considered responses to enquiries are not quite the ones the enquirers expect, they will simply be dismissed, and the myths remain intact.

Q & A – Charles Jennens

Q: Could you please help me in my quest to find the grave site of Charles Jennens who was educated at Balliol College, Oxford  and died in London on May 14, 1882?

A: You seem to be asking about two different people, as the dates of death in your enquiry and in the external information you quote are different. Charles Jennens (1700-1773) was a member of Balliol and later wrote several libretti for Handel, including that of Messiah. Balliol College holds no information on his burial place, but I see from his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (available online by subscription and free through many public libraries via http://www.oxforddnb.com) that ‘Jennens died at Gopsall Hall on 20 November 1773 and was interred in the family vault at Nether Whitacre church, Warwickshire.’

Balliol’s Admissions Book lists Charles Jennens eldest son of Charles Jennens, admitted to Balliol 10 Feb 1716 as a Fellow Commoner. A photo of his entry in the Benefactions Book of 1715 is below; as Jennens came up at the age of 15, it is likely that his father made this gift to Balliol on his behalf.


Q: I understand that a ring that once belonged to Elizabeth Barrett Browning and was the symbol of the great epic ‘The Ring and the Book’ by Robert Browning was given to your Library by Fannie Barrett Browning, and that you own it. May I see the ring, or an image of it?

A: The ring in Balliol’s Browning collection, though it did indeed belong to Robert Browning, is not the ring which is referred to as ‘the ring’ in ‘The Ring and the Book’.

Description of the ring from ‘The Ring and the Book’:

Do you see this Ring?
‘Tis Rome-work, made to match
(By Castellani’s imitative craft)
Etrurian circlets found, some happy morn,
After a dropping April; found alive
Spark-like ‘mid unearthed slope-side figtree- roots
That roof old tombs at Chiusi: soft, you see,
Yet crisp as jewel-cutting. There’s one trick,
(Craftsmen instruct me) one approved device
And but one, fits such slivers of pure gold
As this was, such mere oozings from the mine,
Virgin as oval tawny pendent tear
At beehive-edge when ripened combs o’erflow,
To bear the file’s tooth and the hammer’s tap:
Since hammer needs must widen out the round,
And file emboss it fine with lily-flowers,
Ere the stuff grow a ring-thing right to wear.
That trick is, the artificer melts up wax
With honey, so to speak; he mingles gold
With gold’s alloy, and, duly tempering both,
Effects a manageable mass, then works.
But his work ended, once the thing a ring,
Oh, there’s repristination! Just a spirt
O’ the proper fiery acid o’er its face,
And forth the alloy unfastened flies in fume;
While, self- sufficient now, the shape remains,
The rondure brave, the lilied loveliness
Gold as it was, is, shall be evermore:
Prime nature with an added artistry
No carat lost, and you have gained a ring.
What of it? ‘Tis a figure, a symbol, say;
A thing’s sign: now for the thing signified.

The ring described is a Castellani ring, elaborately decorated with lily flowers. The ring at Balliol is very plain, with the word ‘VIS MEA’ on it, but no Etruscan Castellani work and no lilies. Fannie Barrett Browning mistakenly thought that it was ‘the ring’, but Browning’s own description shows that the ring in the poem is completely different. Scholars have unfortunately followed Fannie’s mistaken identification.

Balliol’s ring:

It is not clear whether ‘the ring’ in the poem actually existed, or was just in Browning’s imagination. There is a full account of this in ‘The Poetical Works of Robert Browning, Volume Seven, The Ring and the Book’ ed. Stefan Hawlin and Tim Burnett, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998 p.8 and Appendix D, pp 326-36. They conclude that the VIS MEA ring given to Robert Browning by Isa Blagden is not the ring in the poem. They think that a ring which resembles the ring in the poem is to be found in the British Museum, Finger Ring 356.

Some Balliol links

Stained glass

Images of the stained glass in Balliol Chapel are available from the Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi HERE  and a couple of bits of medieval stained glass in the Library as well, HERE.  You can read all about the stained glass in the chapel, before and after rearrangements in 1912, HERE

College History

Henry Savage’s history of the College is the first history of any Oxford college based on documentary research. It is more of a fund-raiser than a work of scholarship, however. This copy was owned by Lord Eliock in the early 18th century and has a few mss notations to the back material of that period which seem to have been made by someone well-informed on Balliol matters. In the early 20th century it was owned by Edward Hilliard, then Bursar of the college. Balliofergus is already available at gateway.proquest.com/openurl?ctx_ver=Z39 .88-2003&res_… but as the images are scratchy black and white reproductions and the EEBO service is only available by subscription, this copy will help to make the text more widely accessible http://www.flickr.com/photos/balliolarchivist/sets/72157625334030481

Frances de Paravicini’s college history

 HWC Davis’ college history (1st ed)

Victoria County History entry for Balliol College

Benjamin Jowett

LA Tollemache, Benjamin Jowett, Master of Balliol (1904)

Abbott & Campbell The Life and Letters of Benjamin Jowett (2 vols) 

Abbott & Campbell’s edition of Letters of Benjamin Jowett


There is a growing collection of WW1-related Balliol resources online HERE. Included (so far) are:

The complete Balliol College War Memorial Book  (2 vols, 1924). This is an invaluable biographical source for details of each of the Balliol men who died in WW1, including three college servants and those who were admitted to the college but were never able to take up their membership.

The complete 2nd edition of the Balliol College Register (1934), covering Balliol matriculations 1833-1933 and including all who served (not only British and Allied forces) in WW1 – except college servants, of whom those who died are included in the War Memorial Book, above.

Early volumes of the Balliol College Annual Record, the old members’ magazine, starting in 1914-15. This includes summaries of College life during the war years as well as updates on serving Old Members.

The manuscript diary of Alfred Balmforth, 1892-1917 (Balliol 1911), including his record of life at Balliol, Army training and the early part of his active service.

Letters from France by Capt. Arthur Hugh Sidgwick (1882-1917, Balliol 1901) to his family, particularly his sister Ethel, 1916-1917, containing detailed accounts of fighting, life in the Army, etc. With newspaper cutting of his obituary.

JHB Armstrong’s photo album covering his time as an Australian officer cadet in Balliol July-October 1917.

The Souvenir‘ magazine of A Company, 6th officer Cadet Battalion, 10 Nov. 1917-26 Feb. 1918

The Souvenir‘ magazine of A Company, 6th officer Cadet Battalion, 5 April 1918 – 23 Oct. 1918

The Club at War’ is the WW1 edition of  the Balliol Boys’ Club magazine, issues 1-11 [complete], 1916-1919.

FF Urquhart’s photo album covering the period 1914-18 provides an evocative look at the involvement of Balliol men in the First World War.

Other resources:

An edition by FF Urquhart of Stephen Hewett (Balliol 1911)’s A Scholar’s Letters From the Front is also available online via archive.org, HERE.

An edition by his mother of Arthur Innes Adam (Balliol 1912)’s letters, Arthur Innes Adam, 1894-1916. A record founded on his letters is available online via archive.org HERE.

 Balliol’s memorial plaques, inscriptions, etc, including those for the fallen in both world wars, are listed HERE.


Though November be the month to ‘remember, remember’, though we say ‘lest we forget’ around this time of year, sometimes we do forget. Corporate as well as individual memory can fail, and in this case it seems to have done – temporarily, I hope.  The casts above have come adrift from their identities. The first head and hand are said to be those of Arthur Hugh Clough. I have no idea who the second is supposed to be; it’s not listed in any of the collection catalogues I’ve come across – yet. None of the three items has any identification written on or stored with it. There is a story that Benjamin Jowett was once given the skull of Oliver Cromwell, and bequeathed it to the Ashmolean. This is highly unlikely, but the supposed death mask of Clough (the bearded full head) does look remarkably like several examples of what are said to be death masks of Cromwell – though not at all like others. So who are they really, and how can we tell?

I am currently sorting out a lot of old correspondence and deposit documentation about the collections, and it may be that some clues turn up there. But the mystery will continue for a while…

American servicemen at Balliol during WW2

Balliol College ran Short Leave Courses for thousands of mostly American and Canadian servicemen and women between August 1943 and October 1945. The Courses each ran for a week, comprising lectures on aspects of English life and culture, discussion and social events. They were intended to be a break from military life – interesting and intellectually stimulating, but relaxed. Course members lived in college and had the use of the college library. As administrative aspects of the Courses had nothing to do with Balliol itself, there are no systematic records of the Courses or their participants in the Archives. Course participants were not registered with the College or the University.

Student records and where to find them

There is much confusion about how Oxford – the colleges and the University – works, and how to find records of a particular individual.  As and when I find myself formulating a particularly succinct and helpful response to someone on this subject, I will post the relevant excerpts. For instance:

Each of the 39 colleges of the University of Oxford holds records only about its own members. To check membership of the whole University, you will need to contact the central University Archives (for pre-1932 records) http://www.oua.ox.ac.uk/ or the Degree Conferrals Office (post-1932) degree.conferrals[at]admin.ox.ac.uk. If they have a record of your subject having been a member of the University of Oxford, they will also have information about college affiliation, which you can then follow up by contacting the relevant college via www.oxfordarchives.org.uk.