– 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 “memoirs of Oxford


On the last Friday of Michaelmas Term, one of Balliol’s particularly pleasant traditions occurs: Nepotists’ Carols. The Arnold and Brackenbury Society invites Balliol to mulled wine and carol singing in Hall. It is a ticketed event, but all Balliol people are invited to sign up for tickets. But why Nepotists?

Here is the explanation, with many thanks to Dr. Maurice Keen and Prof. Jasper Griffin, in non-alphabetical order, Socii Emeriti of Balliol College, former Nepotists and past Presidents of the Arnold & Brackenbury Society:

At some point in the ?1940s, an undergraduate member of Balliol became disgruntled with the established system of having to be elected by the members to join any college club or society such as the Devorguilla, Arnold, Brackenbury, etc, or rather, with his own failure to have been elected to any of them. The solution he devised was to set up his own society, called the Nepotists, for the purpose of hosting invited guests to sing carols and partake of mulled wine and other seasonal refreshments at the festive end of Michaelmas term.  (Hardly a subversion of the undemocratic process!) Attendance was by invitation only, but there were a great many invitations issued. The singsong was not held in Hall, but either in members’ rooms or in the Massey Room. One year John Prest offered II.5 (a commodious first-floor set); the piano-movers narrowly escaped terrible injury, in which they were more fortunate than the absent host’s painting of a horse, which, thanks to the scornful attentions of a certain person who was not then Master, had to be taken to the Ashmolean’s conservation department and repaired at the Nepotists’ expense.

Eventually, the originator having departed and the expense to the society (who paid for and mulled the wine) becoming somewhat onerous, the Nepotists accepted an offer from the Arnold and Brackenbury to contribute to the event. The two did coexist for a time, with overlapping membership, but I suspect it was not long before the single-function Nepotists was subsumed into the general proceedings of the A&B.

I would not be surprised if the current system of free ticketing has something to do with fire marshals’ regulations about numbers of people in Hall as well as being a vestige of the invitations-only event.

A postscript, both to the post and to the event – the Gordouli, which shall be explained elsewhere, is now sung at the end of Nepotists’ Carols; when the final carol and ‘Jerusalem’ have been rendered, somebody in the crowd starts a loud, tuneless and sustained  ‘GOOOORRRRR’, which is taken up by the others. Everybody departs to the Trinity wall part of the garden quad, there to sing, or roar, the Gordouli in contemporary form; the words and lack of tune vary, but the essence is that Balliolenses are pleased not to be Trinity men. (The Balliol-Trinity feud is all contrived as well, which shall also be explained elsewhere.) My informants wish to emphasise that while the Gordouli was performed after more college events when they were undergraduates than it is now, it was sung by a small minority of persons and was generally not highly thought of.  It did not form part of the Nepotists’ event.

More details – not least the identity of the Nepotists’ originator – and precise chronology remain to be ironed out, but that’s the gist!


HE Salter’s Oxford Deeds of Balliol College (OHS 1913), an invaluable source of transcripts of our medieval deeds about the Broad Street site and properties within Oxford, is now online: http://www.flickr.com/photos/balliolarchivist/sets/72157625224325659/

Celia Fiennes writes of her visit to Oxford ca. 1700: http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/text/chap_page.jsp?t_id=Fiennes&c_id=8

Mozley, Thomas. Reminiscences: chiefly of Oriel College and the Oxford Movement. 1882.

available via the Internet Archive Texts service

Burke, Barbara. Barbara Goes to Oxford. 1907.

Early C20 Oxford life out of term time through the eyes of a young Irish woman who is eager to take it all in.

available here via the Internet Archive texts service