– 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 “traditions

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

Masters of Balliol

It seems unbelievable, but Balliol does not have a complete list of Masters; indeed, we cannot be sure who the inaugural head of house was, or whether he was known as the Master – the title wasn’t used consistently for centuries after the college was founded. Here is what we do know:

in 1283 Robert de Alburwyke. Fellow of Merton 1284, 1286; dead by 1306.

in 1284, 1292 Walter de Fodringeye. Fellow in 1273. Executor of Devorguilla’s will. Canon of Lincoln 1298. His own will was proved 1315.

in 1295 Hugh de Warkenby. Fellow or Master of University Coll. in 1307. Canon of Chichester 1313, Treasurer 1320, 1330.

in 1307 Stephen of Cornwall.

in 1321 Thomas de Waldeby. Living 1359.

in 1324 Henry de Seton. Fellow in 1321. Vicar of Lund, Yorks 1327.

in 1328 Nicholas de Luceby. Fellow in 1321.

in 1329 Richard de Chikwelle.

in 1332, 1337 John de Poklyngton. Fellow of University Coll. in 1340.

in 1340, 1345 Hugh de Corbrigge.

in 1349 William de Kyrneshale. Fellow in 1337.

in 1356 Robert de Derby. Fellow of Oriel in 1360. Junior Proctor 1360. Died 1361.

in 1360, 1361 John Wyclif. Translator of the Bible into English. Died 1384. ODNB.

in 1366 John Hugate. Fellow in 1361.

in 1370, 1395 Thomas Tyrwhit. Died 1395-1399.

in 1397 Hamond Askham. Fellow in 1370.

in 1407 William Lambert. Dead by 1414.

in 1411, 1416 Thomas Chace. Chancellor of the University 1426. Chaplain to Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, 1434. The first part of the College Library was built at his expense, 1431. Died 1449. Master Thomas Chace and the Fellows at prayer are depicted in a window now in the Chapel

in 1420, 1422 Richard Rotherham. Chancellor of Hereford 1422. External Rector of Balliol 1433. Died 1455.

in 1423, 1427 Robert Burley. Rector of St. Nicholas, Abingdon 1430. Vicar of Cumnor 1440. Died 1452-1458.

in 1428 Richard Stapilton. Fellow in 1411. Apparently resigned 1429, but mentioned as Master 1433.

in 1440, 1441 William Brandon. Fellow in 1431. Junior Proctor 1431, Senior Proctor 1432.

in 1450, 1456 Robert Thwaytes. Chancellor of the University 1446. Died 1458.

in 1458, 1465 William Lambton. Fellow in 1446. Junior Proctor 1446.

in 1469, 1475 John Segden. Fellow in 1438. Senior Proctor 1440. Died 1476-1482.

in 1481, 1483 Robert Abdy. Fellow in 1450. Junior Proctor 1456. The second part of the College Library was built by him. Died 1483: buried in St. Mary Magdalen (memorial brass, now lost). Will dated 7 April 1483, proved at Oxford 12 July 1483.

in 1484, 1495 William Bell. Fellow in 1467. Will dated 4 May 1495: requested burial in St. Mary Magdalen.

in 1496, 1511 Richard Barnyngham. Fellow in 1486. Died by 1515.

1512-1518 Thomas Cisson. Fellow in 1495. Died 1526-1543.

1518-1525 Richard Stubbes. Fellow in 1510. Died 1525-1529.

1525-1539 William Whyte. Resigned, probably under duress. Will proved 1547.

1539-1545 George Cotes. Fellow in 1522. Fellow of Magdalen Coll. 1527. Junior Proctor 1531. Bishop of Chester 1554. Died 1555.

1545-1547, 1555-1559 William Wright. Fellow in 1527. Resigned, probably under duress. 1559.

1547-1555 James Brookes. Fellow C.C.C. 1532. Bishop of Gloucester 1554. Judge at the trials of Cranmer, Ridley and Latimer. Zealous Romanist. Died in prison 1560. Buried in Gloucester Cathedral (no monument). ODNB.

1559-1560 Francis Babington. Fellow of St. John’s Coll. Cambridge 1551. Fellow of All Souls in 1557. Proctor 1557. Rector of Lincoln 1560-1563. Died abroad, about 1569. ODNB.

1560-1563 Anthony Garnet. Fellow in 1551. Resigned 1563. Living 1597, then a prisoner in Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison.

1563-1570 Robert Hooper. Died 1570-1571.

1570-1571 John Pierse. Fellow of Magdalen 1545. Bishop of Rochester 1576, Salisbury 1577. Archbishop of York 1589. Died 1594. Memorial in York Minster. ODNB.

1571-1580 Adam Squier. Fellow 1560. Proctor 1567. Resigned 1580. Dead by 1588.

1580-1610 Edmund Lilly. Fellow of Magdalen 1563. Proctor 1573. Vice-Chancellor 1585, 1595. Buried in St. Mary’s, Oxford, 1610.

1610-1616 Robert Abbott. Born Guildford. Fellow in 1581. Bishop of Salisbury 1615. Died 1617. ODNB.

1617-1637 John Parkhurst. Born Guildford. DNB says his election was part of a campaign to secure the Tisdale benefaction (his wife was a Tisdale). Fellow of Magdalen 1581. Proctor 1597. Died 1639. ODNB. Will: Berks. Died and buried at Shillingford, Berks. where he was Rector.

1637-1648 Thomas Laurence. Born in Dorset. Fellow of All Souls in 1618. Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity 1638-1648. Expelled 1648. Died at Colne, Somersham, Hunts, 1657. ODNB.

1648-1651 George Bradshaw. Fellow in 1633. Nominated Master by the Parliamentary Visitors, 1648. Resigned, 1651.

1651-1672 Henry Savage. Fellow. Nominated Master by the Parliamentary Visitors 1651. Author of the first College History 1668: Balliofergus. Portrait in Hall. Died 1672. ODNB. Will: OU Chancellor’s Court. Buried in Chapel.

1672-1678 Thomas Goode. Fellow in 1629. Canon of Hereford 1660. Buried in Hereford Cathedral 1678 (no memorial). ODNB.

1678-1687 John Venn. Son of Simon Venn of Lydeard St Lawrence. Vice Chancellor 1686. Died 1687. Buried at Lydeard St Lawrence 12 Oct 1687: table top tomb in churchyard south of the tower. Not to be confused with the homonymous regicide.

1687-1704 Roger Mander. Vice-Chancellor 1700. Died 1704. PCC will. Buried in Chapel, where there was a stone.

1705-1722 John Baron. Vice-Chancellor 1715. Died in College 1722. Buried in Chapel, where there was a stone.

1722-1726 Joseph Hunt. Buried at King’s Sutton, Northants 1726; his father’s burial place Burghclere, Hants is mentioned in his PCC will. Hunt was born and baptised there.

1726-1785 Theophilus Leigh. His election was controversial. Vice-Chancellor 1738. Died 1785. Buried at Adlestrop.

1785-1798 John Davey. Blundell Fellow 1752. Died 1798. Vicar of Bledlow, Bucks; buried there.

1798-1819 John Parsons. Fellow 1785. Gave the lead in establishing University Honours Degree examinations, and in the opening of Fellowship examinations. Vice-Chancellor 1807. Bishop of Peterborough 1813. Buried in Chapel 1819 (memorial survives, now in the Antechapel). Portrait in Hall. ODNB.

1819-1854 Richard Jenkyns. Fellow 1803. Vice Chancellor 1824. Largely responsible for the opening of Scholarship examinations, 1827. Dean of Wells 1845. Died in the Master’s Lodgings 1854. Buried in Wells Cathedral. (His original monument has been replaced by a floor slab). Portrait in Hall ODNB.

1854-1870 Robert Scott. Fellow 1835. Dean of Rochester 1870. Died 1887. Portrait in Hall. ODNB.

1870-1893 Benjamin Jowett. Fellow 1838. Regius Professor of Greek 1855. Vice Chancellor 1882. Died 1893. Buried in St. Sepulchre’s Cemetery, Oxford. Bust in the College Office, portraits in Hall, Library etc. ODNB.

1893-1907 Edward Caird. Snell Exhibitioner 1860. Professor of Moral Philosophy, University of Glasgow 1866. Died 1907. Buried in St Sepulchre’s Cemetery, Oxford. Portrait in Hall. First lay Master. ODNB.

1907-1916 James Leigh Strachan Davidson. Fellow 1866. Died 1916. Buried in Holywell Cemetery, Oxford. Portrait in Hall. ODNB.

1916-1924 Arthur Lionel Smith. Fellow 1882. Died 1924. Buried in Holywell Cemetery, Oxford. Portrait in Hall. ODNB.

1924-1949 Alexander Dunlop Lindsay. Fellow 1906. Vice-Chancellor 1935. Founder, University of Keele. Died 1952. Portrait in Hall. Bust in Library. Lord Lindsay of Birker,1945. ODNB.

1949-1965 Sir David Lindsay Keir. Fellow of University Coll. 1921. Vice-Chancellor, Queens University, Belfast 1939. Portrait in Hall. Died 1973. ODNB.

1965-1978 John Edward Christopher Hill. Fellow 1938. Portrait in Hall. ODNB

1978-1989 Anthony John Patrick Kenny. Fellow 1964. Portrait in Hall. Knighted 1992.

1989-1994 Baruch Samuel Blumberg. George Eastman Visiting Professor 1983. Portrait in Hall. Nobel Laureate.

1994-2001 Colin Renshaw Lucas. Fellow 1973. Vice-Chancellor 1997-2004. Knighted 2002. Portrait in Hall.

2001-2011 Andrew Winston Mawdsley Graham. Fellow 1969. Acting Master 1997-2001.

2011-      James Drummond Bone. Snell Exhibitioner 1968. Professor, Dean and Vice-Principal, Glasgow. Principal, Royal Holloway. Pro-Vice-Chancellor, University of London. Vice Chancellor, University of Liverpool.

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.

Balliol Bidding Prayer

The College was established in the first place by philanthropy, and has been sustained by Benefactors ever since. The Bidding Prayer which is reproduced below recites, in the chronological order of their deaths, the names of Balliol’s major Benefactors since the earliest days. It is traditionally read out by the Master in Chapel on special occasions, especially at the service before the annual Gaudy (old members’ reunion, nowadays usually 3 year groups at a time), and on the feast of St Catherine of Alexandria, the College’s Patron Saint.


We render most humble and hearty thanks unto Thee, O Eternal and Heavenly Father, for all Thy gifts and graces most bountifully and mercifully bestowed upon us; and namely, for Thy benefits, our Exhibitions and maintenance here at the study of virtue and good learning, by the liberality of John Balliol and Dervorguilla his wife, Founders of this College; Hugh de Vienne, William Burnell, Sir Philip Somervyle, Sir William Felton, Thomas Chace, William Gray Bishop of Ely, Dr John Bell Bishop of Worcester, William Hammond, Mr Peter Blundell, the Lady Elizabeth Periam, Dr John Warner Bishop of Rochester, Sir Thomas Wendy, Dr Richard Busby, John Snell Esquire, Dr Henry Compton and Dr John Robinson, successive Bishops of London, the Reverend Henry Fisher, the Reverend Thomas Williams and Jane his wife, Dr Richard Prosser, Dr Richard Jenkyns Master of this College, Miss Hannah Brackenbury, Francis Charles Hastings Duke of Bedford, the Reverend Benjamin Jowett Master of this College, Sir John Conroy, James Leigh Strachan Davidson Master of this College, Thomas Allnutt Earl Brassey, Eustace John Jervis-Smith, William Lambert Newman, Kenneth Edelman Chalmers, James Hozier Baron Newlands, Gerard Henry Craig-Sellar, Mrs Charlotte Byron Green, Francis Fortescue Urquhart, Andrew Cecil Bradley, Percy Hide and Anne his wife, Oliver Gatty, Sir Walter Nicholson, Sir George Leveson Gower, Bernard Sunley, Vincent Massey Governor-General of Canada, Vivian Bulkeley-Johnson, Sir Theodore Tylor, Hugh Salvin Bowlby, the Reverend Dr John Stewart MacArthur, Mrs Annie Billmeir, James Westlake Platt, Harold Greville Smith, Roy Herbert Thomson Baron Thomson of Fleet, William Alexander Waters, Ian Robert Maxwell, Sir William Younger, William Appleton Coolidge, Douglas Roy Skinner, John Thomas Hamilton, Sir James Colyer-Fergusson and others our pious benefactors: most humbly beseeching Thee to give us grace so to use them, as may make most for our furtherance in virtue, and increase in learning, for the comfort and salvation of our own souls, and the benefit and edification of the human race, and, above all, for the glory of Thy Holy Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Amen.


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!