Balliol College, Oxford

Balliol College, Oxford

name = Balliol College
university = Oxford
picture =
primary_colour = #202336
colours =
named_for = John I de Balliol
established = 1263
sister_college = St John's College, Cambridge
head_name = Master
head = Andrew Graham
JCR President = Adam Smith
undergraduates = 403
MCR President = Anna Lewis
graduates = 228
latitude = 51.7547
longitude = -1.2578
homepage = [ Homepage]
boat_club = [ Boatclub]

Balliol College (pronEng|ˈbeɪlɪəl), founded in 1263, is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England.

Balliol is Oxford's most popular college, measured in terms of the number of applications for entry from prospective students. In 2005, Balliol had the largest number of applications of any Oxford college both from undergraduate students and from graduate students (for at least the third year running), according to the college website. [ [ News] ] Balliol also traditionally attracts more international students than the other undergraduate colleges. As of 2006, Balliol had an endowment of £78m. [ [ Oxford College Endowment Incomes, 1973-2006] (updated July 2007)]

Traditionally, the undergraduates are amongst the most politically active in the university, and the college's alumni include several former prime ministers. H. H. Asquith (a Balliol undergraduate and British Prime Minister) once wryly described Balliol men as possessing "the tranquil consciousness of an effortless superiority". During Benjamin Jowett's Mastership in the 19th century, the College rose from its relative obscurity to occupy the first rank of colleges, and indeed continues to play a prominent role. In 2006, 45.1% of finalists got First Class Honours degrees, a higher proportion than any other Oxford college has ever achieved, and was placed second in the Norrington Table.


The College was founded in about 1263 (leading some to argue that it is the University's oldest college, a claim contested by University College and Merton College) by John I de Balliol under the guidance of the Bishop of Durham. After his death in 1268, his widow, Dervorguilla of Galloway, made arrangements to ensure the permanence of the college. She provided capital, and in 1282, formulated the college statutes, documents that survive to this day.

Student life

The college provides its students with a broad range of facilities, including accommodation, the great hall (refectory), a library, two bars, and separate common rooms for the fellows, the graduates and undergraduates. There are also garden quadrangles and a nearby sportsground and boat-house. The sportsground is mainly used for cricket, tennis, hockey and football. The majority of undergraduates are housed within the main college or in the modern annexes around the sportsground. Croquet may be played in the Master's Field, or garden quadrangles in the summer. The graduates are housed mainly within Holywell Manor which has its own bar, gardens, common room, laundry and computing facilities. Balliol is proud to have a long standing Music Society which organises four free Sunday evening concerts in the College Hall each term. Balliol is the only Oxford college to have its own bridge club.

Balliol also takes pride in its college tortoises. The original tortoise, who resided at the College for at least 43 years, was known as Rosa, named after the notable German Marxist Rosa Luxemburg. Each June, pet tortoises from various Oxford colleges are brought to Corpus Christi College where they participate in a very slow race; Balliol's own Rosa competed and won many times. Rosa disappeared in the Spring of 2004, and while numerous conspiracy theories have abounded, none is officially recognised by the College. However, on 29th April 2007, Chris Skidmore, a Graduate of Christ Church working at the House of Commons, donated a pair of tortoises - one to his own college, and one to Balliol, where he had attended an open day in 1999. The new tortoise, Matilda, is doing well. Taking care of the resident tortoise is one of the many tasks assigned to Balliol students each year. This position, known as "Comrade Tortoise", has been filled by a student every year, regardless of whether there has been a tortoise to care for or not. The Assistant Gardener, Steve Taylor who joined Balliol from Cotswold Wildlife Park assists Comrade Tortoise in the practical matters of testudinal care.

Balliol students are noted for their left-wing tendencies; the college ethos has been described as "conservatively left-wing". The JCR has had requests for the "Sun" and "News of the World" newspapers several times, but each time a majority of students voted against the idea. In 2008 it was voted by a GM that the JCR would receive a daily copy of the "Sun". Two weeks later, at the next GM, this decision was reversed.

Balliol's JCR is noted for being particularly active, providing many services for its members. These range from laundry facilities, one of the few entirely student-run bars in Oxford (the Manager, Lord/Lady Lindsay, is elected each year by students in the JCR) to a cafeteria (known as Pantry) which serves itemised cooked breakfast until 11.30am each day, Lunch 6 days a week, afternoon tea and cakes, and dinner 5 nights a week. Members of the JCR are encouraged to get involved with the running of these facilities.

Traditions and customs

Along with many of the ancient colleges, Balliol has evolved its own traditions and customs over the centuries, many of which occupy a regular calendar slot.

* The patron saint of the College is Saint Catherine of Alexandria. On her feast day (25 November), a formal dinner is held for all final year students within Balliol. This festival was well established by 1550 (in which year college archives say that a peacock was served).
* Another important feast in the College calendar is the Snell Dinner (normally held on the Friday of the 3rd week in March). This dinner is held in memory of John Snell, whose benefaction established exhibitions for students from the University of Glasgow to study at Balliol (the first exhibitioners were matriculated in 1699) one of whom was Adam Smith. The feast is attended by fellows of Balliol College, the current Snell Exhibitioners, and representatives from Glasgow University and St John's College, Cambridge.
* By far the most eccentric is The Nepotists carol-singing event organised by the College's Arnold and Brackenbury society. This event happens on the last Friday of Michaelmas term each year. On this occasion Balliol students congregate in the college hall to enjoy mulled wine and the singing of hymns. The evening ends with a rendition of "The Gordouli" on Broad Street, outside the gates of Trinity College. The Gordouli is an eccentric song written by Balliol students in the 1890s, inspired by (and inspiring) the rivalry between the students of Trinity and Balliol.

The College buildings

Front Quadrangle

The college has been on its present site since its inception by Balliol's Scholars as their residence. A lease dating to 1263 to them is the traditional 'foundation' date. The oldest parts of the College are the north and west ranges of the front quadrangle, dated to 1431, respectively the medieval Hall, west side, now the 'new library' and the 'old library' first floor north side. The ground floor is the 'Old' (ie Senior) Common Room. This means that Balliol's second library predates printed books. There is a possibility that the original Master's Chamber, south west side, adorned with a fine oriel window is earlier than these; it is now the Master's Dining Room. The Chapel is the third (perhaps fourth) on the site Butterfield 1857. Alfred Waterhouse designed the main Broad Street frontage of the college, with gateway and tower, known as the Brackenbury Buildings, in 1867-68 Staircases ('Stc') I-VII, the first Stc next to the Chapel is the Organ Scholars lodgings. These replaced earlier structures.

Garden Quadrangle

South-side is the front part of the Master's Lodgings on Broad Street from the Waterhouse improvements of the 1860s of the front quad. The neighbour to this is the Fisher Building of 1759 (Stc X) The undistinguished looking Stc XI, south west side, is in fact the oldest structure in this quadrangle, 1720, originally intended as accommodation for scholars from Bristol, hence its name. Continuing the west-side Stc XII-XIV dates from 1826, by George Basevi, and marks the beginnings of the college's academic renaissance being required for the increasing number of Commoners applying for places. Stc XV by Warren of 1912 filled in the last gap of the quadrangle; the ground floor and basement is the principal Junior Common Room. This unfortunately obscures the lines of the Salvin designed Stc XVI-XIX with Tower of 1853. As does the 1968 building by Beard Stc XX, replacing a Victorian structure. This completely hides a formal gateway similar to that at the Broad Street main entrance, this can be viewed outside from Little Magdalen Street, through the gap marked XIX one finds the small function room 'Massey Room'. At north side, of Stc XX is the 'Back Gate' which is part of the 1906 Warren building, west and north side, Stc XXI. At 1 St Giles Street is its neighbour which is part of the college and houses the Oxford Internet Institute. Beard's Stc XXII, replacing Victorian rooms, these were provided from the Vivian Bulkeley-Johnson benefaction. Beard's Stc XX and XXII are connected by the Snell Bridge accommodation at third floor level, which was provided from Glasgow University's Snell Benefaction.

The 'new' Hall (replacing that in the front quadrangle) is built on land given by Benjamin Jowett, a Victorian Master of the College. Also by Alfred Waterhouse of 1877, it contains a Willis organ for concerts, again instituted by Jowett. The ground floor contains the college bar and shop ie 'The Buttery' (west side) and the Senior Common Room lunch room (east side). The 1966 new Senior Common Room range (Stc XXIII)(northern and eastern sides) was a benefaction of the Bernard Sunley Foundation and contains some smaller rooms and the principal SCR lounge, replacing Victorian facilities. Below this is a Lecture Room {'LR XXIII'}. The east side of the quad is a neighbouring wall with Trinity College, at the southern end is the Master's Garden, in front of the Chapel, and the Fellow's Garden in front of the 'Old' (Senior) Common Room. The Tower forming the corner between the 'Old Hall' and 'Old Library' is also by Salvin, of 1853 and balances that at Stc XVI-XIX.

Manor Road and Jowett Walk

The 20th century saw several further additions to the college's accommodation, the Martin of 1966 ('Hollywell "Minor"') and Dellal (1986) buildings for graduates on Manor Road. Many undergraduates and some graduates live in buildings on Jowett Walk a phased development from the turn of the Millennium, shortly to be completed, containing a small theatre facility, five minutes' walking distance from the main College site; these two developments are on the curtilages of the Master's Field, the sports ground and pavilion facilities of the College. The majority of research and post-graduate students are housed in the Holywell Manor complex, on Manor Road a little further south of this. In 2008 it was announced that St Cross Church, next to the Manor, was to become the College's Historic Collections Centre, an extension to the Library's services. The church dates to the 15th Century.

The quad at Balliol is the scene of the well-known limerick about the philosophy of Bishop Berkeley:

:There was a young man who said, God:Must think it exceedingly odd:If he finds that this tree:Continues to be:When there's no one about in the Quad

and also of the ingenious response by the (Balliol-educated) Catholic theologian and Bible translator Ronald Knox:

:Dear Sir, your astonishment's odd::I am always about in the Quad.:And that's why the tree:Will continue to be,:Since observed by, Yours faithfully, GOD.

Notable people

In common with many Oxford colleges, Balliol has produced a wide range of graduates in the fields of economics, history, law, physiology, medicine, management, humanities, mathematics, science, technology, media, philosophy, poetry, politics, and religion. They have also contributed significantly to public life. Balliol people were, for example, prominent in establishing the International Baccalaureate, the National Trust, the Workers Educational Association, the Welfare State and Amnesty International.

Balliol has produced five Nobel Laureates: Sir Cyril Norman Hinshelwood (Chemistry, 1956), Sir John Hicks (Economics, 1972), Baruch S. Blumberg (Physiology or Medicine, 1976), Anthony J. Leggett (Physics, 2003) and Oliver Smithies (Physiology or Medicine, 2007). Seven more have been Fellows of the College: George Beadle (Physiology or Medicine), Norman Ramsey (Physics), Robert Solow (Economics), John Van Vleck (Physics), Gunnar Myrdal (Economics), Linus Pauling (both Peace and Chemistry) and William D. Phillips (Physics). Renowned evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins was a student there from 1959 to 1962. Adam Smith attended this college between 1740 and 1746 as a Snell Exhibitioner.

In politics, Balliol has produced three British Prime Ministers: H. H. Asquith, Harold Macmillan , and Edward Heath. At the mid point of the twentieth century members of the College held senior leadership positions in the three major political parties, those previously mentioned were supplemented by Jo Grimond (Liberal Leader), Denis Healey and Roy Jenkins both of whom had been Chancellor and both expected to serve as PM, the last named also led the Social Democratic Party and became President of the European Commission. The Mayor of London and former MP, Boris Johnson, attended Balliol.

Three kings, Olav V and Harald V of Norway, and Yang di-Pertuan Besar of Malaysia have studied at Balliol. Richard von Weizsäcker, President of Germany from 1984 to 1994, also studied at Balliol.

Shoghi Effendi, one of the appointed leaders of the Baha'i Faith from 1921 until his death in 1957, studied Economics and Social Sciences.

Balliol lawyers have also been prominent. Lord Bingham, who read History and has been the College's Visitor for many years, is the Senior Law Lord of the United Kingdom, while Sir Brian Hutton and Lord Rodger have held equivalent positions in Northern Ireland and Scotland, at one point, all three simultaneously.

Literary figures include Robert Southey, Matthew Arnold, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Arthur Hugh Clough, Hilaire Belloc, Ronald Knox, Graham Greene, Joseph Macleod, Anthony Powell, Aldous Huxley, Robertson Davies, Nevil Shute and Rory Stewart. Perhaps its most famous literary character, however, is fictional: author Dorothy Sayers' made her well-known detective Lord Peter Wimsey a graduate of, and noted cricketer for, Balliol.

Notable Balliol philosophers and thinkers include T.H. Green, Charles Taylor, Bernard Williams, R.M. Hare, among others.

Balliol members have had a predominance as holders of the office of Chancellor of the University from the 20th Century to the present; George Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Viscount Grey of Fallodon, Harold Macmillan, Roy Jenkins and Chris Patten, the last two being opposed in their election by Edward Heath and Lord Bingham of Cornhill respectively.

The College has also produced historian and history programme presenter Dan Snow, the journalist Christopher Hitchens and author and political activist Howard Marks.

Academics and visiting academics

As with all Colleges, Balliol has a more or less permanent set of teaching staff, known as Fellows. These include both Tutorial Fellows and Professorial Fellows, many of them with international reputations. These are supplemented by academics on short term contracts. In addition, there are distinguished visiting international academics who come to Oxford for periods of up to a year. This is effected through the George Eastman Visiting Professorial Fellowship. The official list of current senior members of the College can be found [ here] . There is an incomplete list of Balliol College academics past and present.

Institutes and centres

* Balliol, especially the Master, Andrew Graham, played a major role in 2000 and 2001 in setting up the Oxford Internet Institute. This was the world's first multidisciplinary research and policy centre in a university devoted to examining the impact on society of the Internet. It is a department of Oxford University, but is located in Balliol, and its Director is a Professorial Fellow of Balliol.

External links

* [ Balliol College main website]
* [ Junior Common Room website (undergraduate students)]
* [ Middle Common Room website (graduate students)]
* [ Balliol College Boat Club]
* [ A virtual tour of Balliol College (360° photographs)]
* [ Balliol College History & Archives]
* [ Balliol College in fiction]

* [ "The Oxonian Review of Books" (Oxford's postgraduate review, based at Balliol)]


* John Jones, "Balliol College: A History", Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, revised. 2005.

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