Balliol College, Oxford

Balliol College
Oxford - Balliol College - - 1329613.jpg
Balliol College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg
Blazon: Azure, a lion rampant argent, crowned or, impaling Gules, an orle argent.[1]
LocationBroad Street
Coordinates51°45′17″N 1°15′28″W / 51°45′17″N 1°15′28″W / 51.7547; -1.2578
Boat clubBalliol College Boat Club
Balliol College, Oxford is located in Oxford city centre
Balliol College, Oxford
Location in Oxford city centre

Balliol College (əl/)[3] is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. One of Oxford's oldest colleges,[4] it was founded around 1263 by John I de Balliol, a rich landowner from Barnard Castle in County Durham, who provided the foundation and endowment for the college.[5] When de Balliol died in 1269 his widow, Dervorguilla, a woman whose wealth far exceeded that of her husband, continued his work in setting up the college, providing a further endowment, and writing the statutes. She is considered a co‑founder of the college.[6]

Among the college's alumni are three former prime ministers (H. H. Asquith, who once described Balliol men as possessing "the tranquil consciousness of an effortless superiority", Harold Macmillan, and Edward Heath), Harald V of Norway,[7] five Nobel laureates, and numerous literary and philosophical figures, including Adam Smith, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Aldous Huxley. John Wycliffe, who translated the Bible into English, was Master of the college in the 1360s.[6]

In 2012 Balliol had an endowment of £62.5m.[8]


Foundation and origins

Balliol College was founded in about 1263 by John I de Balliol under the guidance of Walter of Kirkham, the Bishop of Durham. According to legend, the founder had abducted the bishop as part of a land dispute and as a penance he was publicly beaten by the bishop and had to support a group of scholars at Oxford.[9] After de Balliol's death in 1268, his widow, Dervorguilla of Galloway (their son and grandson each became Kings of Scotland), made arrangements to ensure the permanence of the college in that she provided capital and in 1282 formulated the college statutes, documents that survive to this day.

Along with University and Merton, Balliol can claim to be the oldest Oxford college. Balliol’s claim is that a house of scholars was established by the founder in Oxford in around 1263, before Merton in 1274 and University in around 1280.[10][11]

New Inn Hall

Under a statute of 1881, New Inn Hall, one of the remaining medieval halls, was merged into Balliol College in 1887.[12] Balliol acquired New Inn Hall's admissions and other records for 1831–1887[13] as well as the library of New Inn Hall, which largely contained 18th-century law books.[12] The New Inn Hall site was later sold and is now part of St Peter's College, Oxford.

The Masque of Balliol

In 1880, seven mischievous Balliol undergraduates published The Masque of B-ll--l, a broadsheet of forty quatrains making light of their superiors – the Master and selected Fellows, Scholars, and Commoners – and themselves. The outraged authorities immediately suppressed the collection, and only a few copies survived, three of which found their way into the College Library over the years, and one into the Bodleian Library. Verses of this form are now known as Balliol rhymes.

The best known of these rhymes is the one on Benjamin Jowett. This has been widely quoted and reprinted in virtually every book about Jowett and about Balliol ever since.

First come I.
My name is J-W-TT.
There's no knowledge but I know it.
I am Master of this College,
What I don't know isn't knowledge.

This and 18 others are attributed to Henry Charles Beeching. The other quatrains are much less well known.

William Tuckwell included 18 of these quatrains in his Reminiscences in 1900, but they all came out only in 1939, thanks to Walter George Hiscock, an Oxford librarian, who issued them personally then and in a second edition in 1955.[14]

Balliol–Trinity rivalry

The whole of the front of Balliol College as seen from Broad Street, looking west.

For many years, there has been a traditional and fierce rivalry shown between the students of Balliol and those of its immediate neighbour to the east, Trinity College.[15] It has manifested itself on the sports field and the river; in the form of songs (of greater or less offensiveness) sung over the dividing walls; and in the form of "raids" on the other college. The rivalry reflects that which also exists between Trinity College, Cambridge and Balliol's sister college, St John's College, Cambridge.

In college folklore, the rivalry goes back to the late 17th century, when Ralph Bathurst, President of Trinity, was supposedly observed throwing stones at Balliol's windows.[16] In fact, in its modern form, the rivalry appears to date from the late 1890s, when the chant or song known as a "Gordouli" began to be sung from the Balliol side.[17]

The traditional words run:[18]

Face like a ham,
Bobby Johnson says so
And he should know.

The shouting of chants over the wall is still known as "a Gordouli", and the tradition continues as the students gather to sing following boat club dinners and other events. The traditional Gordouli is said to have been sung by Balliol and Trinity men in the trenches of Mesopotamia in the First World War.[19]

Balliol became known for its radicalism and political activism in the 20th century, and saw an abortive coup in the 1960s in which students took over the college and declared it "the People's Republic of Balliol".[20] The contrast between the radical tendencies of many Balliol students and the traditional conservatism and social exclusivity of Trinity gave the rivalry an extra edge. The fact that Balliol (in contrast to Trinity) had admitted a number of Indian and Asiatic students also gave many of the taunts from the Trinity side a distinctly racist tone: Balliol students, for example, were sometime referred to as "Basutos".[21]

In Five Red Herrings (1931), a Lord Peter Wimsey novel by Somerville alumna Dorothy L. Sayers, Lord Peter (a Balliol man) is asked whether he remembers a certain contemporary from Trinity. "'I never knew any Trinity men,' said Wimsey. 'The Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.'"[22] Sayers also alludes to the rivalry in Murder Must Advertise (1933): Mr Ingleby, a Trinity man, comments, "If there is one thing more repulsive than another it is Balliolity."[23]

One of the wittier raids from Balliol, in 1962 or 1963, involved the turfing of the whole of Trinity JCR (complete with daffodils).[24] The last incident suspected to relate to the feud was the vandalisation of Trinity's SCR pond, which led to the death of all but one of the fish.[25]

Women at Balliol

For over seven hundred years Balliol College admitted men only. New College had in 1964 resolved to admit women, but had been prevented from doing so without the approval of the University, which argued that this would be detrimental to the existing women's colleges. On 2 June 1971 a consilium at Balliol voted 26-2 to admit women, and at the next College Meeting on 6 December 1971 it was resolved 30-8 to admit women 'as soon as the change in its Statutes permitting this was approved by the Privy Council'. Permission was granted by the University on 8 March 1977. With the appointment of Carol Clark to a Tutorial Fellowship in Modern Languages in 1973, Balliol became the first ancient all-male college to appoint a female Fellow.[26]

Before the full admission of women as undergraduates, the College had decided to establish a co-educational graduate institution. The decision was made on 16 March 1964, and the senior tutor approached St Anne's College shortly after this. The creation of the Balliol–St Anne’s Graduate Institution with St Anne's in 1967 led to the coeducation of men and women on the Holywell Manor site. Following the arrival of women at Balliol and men at St Anne's in 1979, the joint Graduate Institution was terminated in 1984 by the consent of both Colleges. Holywell Manor is now solely a part of Balliol College.

In 1979, along with many other previously all-male colleges, Balliol accepted its first cohort of female students.[27] The first woman undergraduate to reside at Balliol was Elena Ceva-Valla, who arrived on 16 September 1979. In 2010, the college unveiled a sundial in the Garden Quad commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of the admission of women to the college,[28] inscribed with the phrase "About Time". The first portrait of a woman in Hall since that of the co-Founder, Dervorguilla of Galloway, was unveiled in 2012, depicting benefactor and Oxford Internet Institute founder Dame Stephanie Shirley.[29]

In 2018 Dame Helen Ghosh succeeded Sir Drummond Bone to become the College's first female Master.[30] In the same year Dame Frances Kirwan became the twentieth Savilian Professor of Geometry and the first woman to hold that post.[31]

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