Category Archives: Activity

New catalogue: Archive of John Hungerford Pollen and the Pollen family

The archive of John Hungerford Pollen and the Pollen family has now been fully catalogued and made available to readers. The catalogue is available to view online via Bodleian Archives and Modern Manuscripts.

The collection contains a wide range of correspondence, including letters sent between John Hungerford Pollen and John Henry Newman. While most of these letters relate to the creation of Newman’s University Church in Dublin, they also bear testament to a lifelong friendship. Other notable correspondents in the collection include Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, Evelyn Waugh, and the poet and artist David Jones.

The archive also contains many visual pieces such as numerous sketchbooks belonging to John Hungerford Pollen and various photographs, including a portrait of John Hungerford Pollen by the renowned early photographer Julia Margaret Cameron as well as family photographs of home life at Newbuildings.

Photograph of the Pollen Family (John and Maria Hungerford Pollen with their ten children)Photograph of the family of John Hungerford Pollen (with beard, standing centre), unknown photographer, Archive of John Hungerford Pollen and the Pollen Family, Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 17906 Photogr. 3.

Personal records in the collection include: an account by John Hungerford Pollen’s wife Maria of the aid she and her daughter Margaret gave to Italian police to recover some stolen Burano lace; a transcript of the diary of Anne Pollen between 1870 and 1881 detailing her life prior to becoming a nun at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Roehampton; and the wartime diaries kept by her sister Margaret between 1914 and 1919.

More information on the collection and Pollen family can be found in a series of blogposts posted in November 2020 to mark the bicentenary of John Hungerford Pollen’s birth.

-Rachael Marsay

Photographic material in the Zoology Archive: H.N. Moseley, the Challenger Expedition and early panoramas, 1872-1876

The Zoology Archive is a collection of research, lecture and laboratory notes, illustrations and papers from Oxford Zoologists and the Department of Zoology, dating from the late 19th century to the 1990s. One of the eminent Oxford Zoologists whose papers are included in the archive is the naturalist Henry Nottidge Moseley (1844-1891). Moseley, with much experience in research and laboratory work abroad, had in 1871 accompanied the English Government Eclipse Expedition to undertake observation of the total eclipse from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and India on 12 December 1871. Although Moseley’s papers contain some photographs of this journey, including the equipment and expedition staff in-situ at the observation station in Baikur, India [1], it is the collected photographs of the four year Challenger Expedition voyage which predominate in his photographic albums.

H.M.S Challenger embarked December 1872 to conduct global oceanic research; the expedition  is seen as the foundation of modern oceanography. Five years after returning to England’s shores in May 1876, Moseley would succeed George Rolleston as the Linacre Professor of the Department of Human and Comparative Anatomy (now, Zoology). These photographic albums comprise copies from the glass plates selected for Moseley’s collections and feature Moseley’s contemporary captions alongside the photographs. An entire list of photographs and holding collection information for Challenger Expedition photographs can be found in Brunton, E.V.  (1994) ‘The Challenger Expedition, 1872-1876: A Visual Index.’ The Natural History Museum, London. [2]

[3] ZOO MA 200 (Challenger 2) Panorama of Kyoto, Japan. [1872-1876].

[4] ZOO MA 207 (Challenger 10) pp.12-13. Two panoramas of the harbour in Bahia, Brazil, c.1873.

The first panoramic camera was not invented until 1898, so for those interested in capturing overviews of an entire landscape, like Moseley, it was a case of manually arranging photographic plates of two landscapes together to create the perspective of a panorama. The content of the photographs collected by Moseley also shed light on how the natural history of his environment piqued his interests. Moseley, appointed expedition botanist, was said to always be the last one to return from shore to ship, such was his zeal for the natural history and landscapes in their location [5].

[6] ZOO MA 204 (Challenger 8) Panorama of Levuka, Ovalau Island, former capital of Fiji until 1877. There is a tangible line where the plates (and then, prints) have been joined together to create an unbroken panoramic effect. [1872-1876]

As well as early photography, modern photographs relating to Oxford and Zoology in the archive include Zoology department photographs, 1960s, and photographs of the opening of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund [ICRF] Laboratory, 1987.

Retro-conversion work is currently being undertaken on the Zoology Archive, including enhancement of file and collection level cataloguing descriptions, re-housing and a publication of a new online catalogue to be made available in the coming months of 2022.

  1. Bodleian Libraries, ZOO MA 199 (Challenger 3)
  2. Department of Zoology archive copy available at ZOO MA 198b
  3. Bodleian Libraries, ZOO 200 (Challenger 2)
  4. Bodleian Libraries ZOO MA 207 (Challenger 10) pp. 12-13
  5. Moseley, H.N. entry in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography available at https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/19389
  6. Bodleian Libraries, ZOO MA 204 (Challenger 8)

“Procuring, Prostitution, and Perjury”

Perhaps unsurprisingly for an institution that did not formally admit women as members until 1920, the early records of the University are dominated by men – with academic progress records documenting their achievements; the minutes of Congregation and Convocation recording their appointments, actions and voices; and accounts noting how they chose to spend money. In contrast, the actions of women are seldom documented, unless they happened to be wealthy and gave large parcels of land for the use of the University.

An exception to this comes from a quirk of Oxford’s history – the existence of the Chancellor’s Court. The Chancellor’s Court was effectively the University’s own judicial system. Believed to have originated in 1214, when the Award of the Papal Legate ensured that arrested clerks would be handed over to the Chancellor, the powers of the Court grew over the years. By 1290, it had the power to hear all cases where one party was a University member; by 1341 the Chancellor had the right to banish people from the city; and by 1355, the Court had powers to enforce the peace of the city (by punishing those carrying weapons, for example). It is the records of the Court that detail the daily lives of “lower class” women and attitudes towards them.

One such woman is Lucy Colbrand. She appears in the first volume containing records of the Chancellor’s Court, the Chancellor’s Register 20 March 1435 – 3 March 1469 (Reference: OUA/Hyp/A/1). The Register is not an easy document to penetrate. The entries (written on a mixture of parchment and paper sheets) are thought to be in handwriting of individual Chancellors and their representatives (known as Commissaries). Furthermore, there is evidence that these entries were made hurriedly, perhaps even verbatim. The entries also use “scribe specific” abbreviations – just as we now have our own ways of shortening words when writing under time pressure. It’s rather like trying to read the prescriptions of dozens of different doctors!

Image of handwritten Latin on page from the Chancellors' Register

The page in the Chancellor’s Register, documenting Lucy’s transgressions (OUA/Hyp/A/1)

Fortunately, we are able to turn to the Reverend H.E. Salter’s two-volume transcription of the Register (Registrum Cancellarii Oxoniensis 1434-1469 (1932)) which removes the need to decipher handwriting, but still preserves the entries in their original Medieval Latin, the formal written language of this period. The entry relating to Lucy, dated 13 March 1443/4, can be found on pages 92 to 93 of Volume I.

A translation of the passage reads:

In that same year, namely the year of the Lord’s Incarnation 1443 on the day after the day of St Gregory the pope, Lucy Colbrand, procuress and whore, was publicly banished for numerous insurgencies and perjuries for which she had previously sworn that she would leave outside the University and its precincts forever. However, notwithstanding her oath, she did not leave but she was, within the University, the cause of ensuing quarrels, whoredoms, arguments and murders; therefore because she was thus the reason and cause for further evils and disturbance of the peace, and because she herself [was] incorrigible and unreforming after imprisonment, therefore on the aforesaid day she was banished publicly in the presence of many doctors and masters in writing in the form which follows:
‘In the name of God, Amen. We, Thomas Gascoigne, acting Chancellor of the University of the school of Oxford, do decree that you, Lucy Colbrand – who have been in the presence of the official judicially and at other times lawfully convicted of the frequent disturbance of the peace, of procuring, prostitution, perjury and many other outrageous trespasses and offences, and have confessed the same, and are wholly incorrigible — are to be banished on account of the aforementioned matters. According to this writ we banish you, warning you the first time, the second time, and the third and final time that you must leave and depart within three days from this University of Oxford and beyond its precincts, not to return again under the penalties and threats according to the privileges granted to us on that account.’
Enacted on the day of St Benedict the Confessor at Oxford at Carfax; and the punishment of incarceration is imposed on anyone who illicitly receives her into the University or its precincts.

The Medieval Latin of the original immediately presents its own challenges to understanding the entry. By the Medieval period, Latin had evolved to include words for new concepts, often specific to the context in which they were used. Even more of a headache for the would-be reader, sometimes words changed their meanings from those used in Ancient Rome. For example, in the first line, Lucy is described as “pronuba et meretrix”. “Meretrix” is straightforward, translating as “prostitute”, but in Classical Latin “pronuba” means “bridesmaid”, a word that does not fit comfortably in this context! An investigation of this word in its medieval context indicates that there was a complex vocabulary surrounding the sex industry active during this period. There were specific words, not just for prostitute, but also for brothels (lupanaria), brothel keepers (fautor lenocinli), and pimps (leno). “Pronuba” was sometimes used to describe a female pimp, but it was also specifically used to mean “procuress”, meaning someone who received money from a client for providing the introduction to a sex worker, perhaps the equivalent of running a modern-day escort agency.

The passage also gives us insight into the punishments used (not only towards prostitutes) at the time. The least harsh penalty was abjuration. In this context, it can be interpreted as a promise to withdraw from the University to a set radius (for example, five miles) for an agreed period of time (for example, one year). Imprisonment was another punishment option, probably deeply unappealing at a time when the city’s prison had been nicknamed the “Bocardo”, thought to have been derived from the word “Boggard”, meaning toilet. Finally, the Chancellor had the power to exile individuals from the University and its precincts (technically within two miles of Carfax tower, although in 1444 the King gave the Chancellor permission to banish disturbers of the peace to a distance of 12 miles), a punishment that also carried public shame as it was announced at Carfax on market days.

detail of map of Oxford in 1400 showing the Bocardo and CarfaxAs well as transcribing the Chancellor’s Register, Salter also “retro-created” a map of how Oxford might have looked in 1400. The Bocardo would have been located within the North Gate, and Carfax is by St Martin’s Church (only the tower of the church remains today, known as “Carfax Tower”). This vibrant modern update of Salter’s work is an extract from the brand new “British Historic Towns Atlas, Volume VII, Oxford” and is kindly provided by and is copyright of The Historic Towns Trust, 2021. 

Lucy seems to have, through numerous infractions, worked her way through the system of punishments to the most severe available, obviously trying the Chancellor’s patience in the process. It’s clear that at some point previously, she did abjure, and thus her reoffending is referred to as a “perjury”, a breaking of her oath. It is notable, however, that at the time of abjuration, Lucy’s crimes must have been substantial, for the period of withdrawal was “forever”. It’s evident that she had also already spent some time incarcerated (“after imprisonment”) – again, given the structure of the wording, most likely for the same crimes. Her refusal (or inability due to financial circumstances) to stop offending seems to have infuriated the authorities – the words “incorrigible” and “unreforming” are often amplified by words of repetition and continuation – “previously”, “ensuing”, “numerous”, “further”, contributing to the impression that Lucy seems to have been before the Chancellor a number of times in the past.woodcut print of a line drawing showing a woman on a cart in a market placeSource: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

This sense of exasperation is supported by the immediacy of the writing. Although, this provides some challenging palaeography, it nevertheless, in this circumstance, conveys the feelings of the author. The first paragraph heaps up her crimes: although it is clear that the crimes of sexual immorality are the focus of the punishment, it is made plain that she is an “unseemly” woman – she is not quiet and submissive. She quarrels, argues, and is disruptive. The second paragraph apparently gives us the precise words spoken by the Chancellor when handing down his sentence, possibly in the very speech that Lucy would have heard. Although recorded for administrative purposes, the direct language places the reader in Lucy’s shoes: “You… have been… lawfully convicted and… have confessed… we banish you… you must leave”. The use of the “the first time, the second time, and the third and final time” conveys a sense of rhythmic emphasis given to this warning – we can practically hear the speaker’s delivery when reading the piece.

pen and ink sketch of document with seal

A piece of marginalia from later in the Register depicts the form of official decrees (OUA/Hyp/A/1)

The order in which Lucy’s crimes are listed is also of interest, as the crimes do not fit our preconceptions of importance. As identified above, those regarding sexual immortality are front and centre, but the list goes on – she does not respect authority, she breaks her oath, and causes arguments. It is one of the last crimes listed that provides the surprise, as the passages cites her involvement in murders (plural). It is not clear from the passage to what extent Lucy was involved or how active a participant she was. It may perhaps have been a passing involvement, as it is not mentioned at all in the direct speech of the second paragraph. Yet, it does seem to convey the sense that involvement in murder is of the least concern to those in power, certainly behind being a quarrelsome and argumentative woman!

Unfortunately, this is the first and last we hear of Lucy in the University’s records. She makes no further appearance in the Chancellor’s Court records. A cursory search of non-University contemporary judicial documents (such as Rogers’ Oxford City Documents and Salter’s Records of Mediæval Oxford and Munimenta Civitats Oxonie) appear not to record her name. We have no information on whether Lucy continued to exercise her profession and her temper outside the city boundaries, or whether the Chancellor’s harshest punishment finally “reformed” her character. It would seem that, to quote Laurel Ulrich, “well-behaved women seldom make history”.

For further information on the Chancellor’s Court and prostitution in Medieval Oxford the following sources are a good starting point:

Salter, H. E. Registrum Cancellarii Oxoniensis, 1434-1469. Oxford, 1932. Print. Oxf. Hist. Soc. (Ser.) ; v. 93-94.

Kavanagh, H. (2020) The Topography of Illicit Sex in Later Medieval English Provincial Towns. MPhil thesis. Royal Holloway, University of London. Available at: https://pure.royalholloway.ac.uk/portal/files/37318718/2020KavanaghHMphil.pdf (Accessed: 8 December 2021)

Karras, RM. “The Regulation of Brothels in Later Medieval England.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 14.2 (1989): 399-433. Web.

Mazo Karras, Ruth. “The Latin Vocabulary of Illicit Sex in English Ecclesiastical Court Records.” The Journal of Medieval Latin 2 (1992): 1-17. Web.

Second cataloguing project of the Philip and Rosamund Davies U.S. Elections Campaigns Archive

The Vere Harmsworth Library houses the Philip and Rosamund Davies United States Elections Campaigns Archive, collected and donated since 2002. I am halfway through the exciting project of processing the accessions donated between 2011 and 2021. Tasks include sorting, listing, rehousing material and recording box level metadata which will eventually form a full updated version of the current archive catalogue, presently available at Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts.

To overestimate the depth and breadth of the archive collection would be near impossible: the material, ephemeral in nature, covers all levels of elections from grassroots and interest groups and political parties, to Presidential. Formats currently being catalogued in the archive include printed literature, posters, audio visual material, buttons and objects such as items of clothing, mouse mats, flip-flops, socks, emery boards, calendars and dolls. The origin of the material is also wide ranging, including state and national party conventions, circular mail, caucus events and rallies. The campaign material allows researchers and those with an interest in American politics, history and culture to observe variations in the approach and style of political campaigns, and the shifting priorities of the electorate of the United States.

Literature including pamphlets and flyers disseminated during the state of Utah midterms and local elections, 2018, including leaflets related to Prop 3 [Proposition 3 on the expansion of medicare]. Material from MSS. 21407 uncat.

Fascinating finds in this second cataloguing project include insights into movements which exerted social and political influence over a period of time such as the Women’s Temperance Movement, established 1874, and nuclear disarmament movements such as Freeze Nuclear Weapons campaign for the 1984 elections. A more recent example is material relating to Rock the Vote.  Founded in 1990, Rock the Vote is a non-profit and non-partisan organisation aimed at empowering young, new voters to register and use their right to vote. The 2012 material relating to Rock the Vote comprises snappy and digestible literature such as stickers, postcards and leaflets disseminated, as well as a Democracy Lesson plan which forms part of RTV’s established high school civic education programme and guidance for teachers.

Rock The Vote material, MSS. 21400 uncat.

I have also been rehousing much of the collection as I sort and list, whether that be measuring for oversize kasemake boxes to store large campaign posters and window or yard signs, or deciding how best to house the many campaign buttons (there is a deluge of campaign buttons in the material!).

A box of buttons a day keeps the archivist at play. Featuring a reworked Rosie the Riveter for the successful Bill Clinton- Al Gore 1992 Presidential campaign (Al Gore was Clinton’s running mate and VP candidate). Material from MSS. 21395 uncat.

Watch this space for more tasters of more U.S. election campaign material being catalogued in the next couple of months!

Her Majesty’s stationery

When I came across a large tranche of letters from Queen Victoria to one of 19th-century Britain’s longtime Foreign Secretaries, George Villiers, 4th Earl of Clarendon (in office 1853-58, 1865-66, 1868-70), I didn’t expect to find one of the most striking things about them to be the queen’s writing paper.

Queen Victoria wrote hundreds of letters to George Villiers over a span of 21 years, mainly about foreign policy matters, but while these letters have been partially published (in a 1907 edition which you can find in the Bodleian Libraries and digitised at Project Gutenberg) what those published transcripts don’t convey is the festive, even gaudy, quality of the queen’s headed writing paper.

Continue reading

A lot of pun? An early nineteenth-century book of conundrums

There are many different traditions associated with this time of year, not least the pulling of crackers on Christmas Day. And what cracker would be complete without a terrible joke?

A recent donation to the Bodleian Library included this manuscript volume, described in pencil on the inner flyleaf as containing ‘162 conundrums’ and dated as c.1814-1820. According to The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, a conundrum is: A question asked for amusement, typically one with a pun in its answer; a riddle; a confusing and difficult problem or question.

Marbled front cover of a nineteenth century notebook

Early nineteenth-century book of conundrums, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 21625

This volume contains 162 questions or riddles, undoubtedly collected for amusement’s sake. The questions or riddles are written in several different hands which suggest the volume was passed round family and friends to add their own. The questions are numbered and listed at the front of the volume, and the answers are provided in a numbered list at the back of the volume. Unfortunately, there is no clue as to the identity of any of the contributors apart from a label on the front pasteboard which suggests that the notebook was bought from Martin Keene’s book and stationery shop in College Green, Dublin.

Inside of volume showing page of conundrums

Manuscript book of conundrums, showing questions 92-98, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 21625

List of answers inside manuscript book of conundrums

Manuscript book of conundrums, showing answers 40-104, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 21625

Here is a selection:

Why is a drawn tooth like a thing forgotten? Because it is out of the Head.

Why is a spectator like a beehive? Because he is a beholder.

What is the Elegy of a Turkey? Its Leg.

Why are the bucks and does in Windsor forest like the Queen? The King’s own deer.

Reading through the conundrums, it is somewhat reassuring to find that the tradition of sharing terrible puns is many centuries old! I wonder if this particular volume was ever passed around the family at Christmastime?


The play’s not decent

As it’s pantomime season, the University Archives’ blog for December looks at the control the University once had over theatres and entertainment in the city of Oxford.

It’s perhaps not widely known that the Vice-Chancellor of the University had, for many years, a huge amount of power within the city. Power not only over the students and staff of the University, as now, but also over the people of the city and their daily lives. From the University’s earliest days, the Chancellor (and, later, the Vice-Chancellor) had authority over all kinds of business in the city. This included activities which we wouldn’t associate with a university today such as the regulation of local trades and food and drink, provision of public utilities and services, and the right to administer law and order. The Vice-Chancellor also gained the power to allow, or refuse, the staging of plays.

From 1881 every intended theatrical performance or public entertainment in the city of Oxford needed the permission of the Vice-Chancellor before it could go ahead. These ranged from plays and concerts to film screenings (in later years) and other entertainments such as boxing tournaments. The Oxford Police Act of that year gave the University the power of theatre censorship, with the right to veto any play which it thought unsuitable. Unfortunately the townspeople of Oxford appear to have had very little say in the matter.

The University worried about the corruption of its youth and frowned upon its students (who were all male at this point) fraternising with the opposite sex. Before women were first admitted as students in 1920, the University saw them as a moral danger to undergraduates, to be avoided at all costs. Actresses were considered to be one of the worst types of women and, as a result, the University kept close eyes on theatre companies visiting the city. It maintained registers of all performances (plays, films, concerts etc) which sought permission to be put on in Oxford.

These registers occasionally note particular issues with the plays staged, and these almost always involved trouble caused by (in the University’s view) the female members of the casts. One play, ‘Little Miss Nobody’, performed in Oxford in May 1899, caused complaints to be brought to the University Proctors. A note in the register, written in red ink, says ‘the girls out continually with members [ie students] and with them at the stage door. The Proctor was told the play was not decent’.

Little Miss Nobody register entry

Register entry concerning ‘Little Miss Nobody’, 1899 (from OUA/PR/1/29/1)

Another, ‘Lord Tom Noddy’, playing in Oxford for a week in June 1896, also caused trouble. A further red note in the register remarks that a number of undergraduates were caught talking to the women in the cast who were lodging in Beaumont Buildings and ‘A number of members saw and cheered them off at the station on Sunday’. The final note (which hints at more) states ‘had a lot of trouble with them’.

Lord Tom Noddy register entry

Register entry concerning ‘Lord Tom Noddy’, 1896 (from OUA/PR/1/29/1)

Sometimes it was the content of plays themselves which gave the University authorities cause for concern, especially when the title was, to them, somewhat suspect. The play ‘A Gay Girl’, which hoped to transfer from a successful run at the Grand Theatre, Maidenhead, to the Empire Theatre on Cowley Road in 1905, caused the University some consternation. Letters between the Grand and the Empire were sent to the University to reassure authorities that the play was morally sound. A copy of the script was even sent over. The Grand tried to allay their fears stating ‘surely if it contained a double meaning [it] would not be commonly used by ladies’. The University must have been persuaded as the play was given permission to perform and ran for a week in May that year.

Of course the behaviour of undergraduates attending the plays was another problem the University had to deal with. A series of audience disturbances at the Empire and the New Theatre in the early 1900s, some involving students, led the University to consider pushing for the Empire to be shut down. In the end it joined forces with the city authorities to issue stern notices to anyone, town or gown, who disturbed the performances. Undergraduates were threatened with the University’s own punishments for such antisocial behaviour as making noise, using bad language and joining in with the play’s dialogue.

Proctors notice 1903

Proctors notice, 1903 (from OUA/PR/1/23/9/2)

The power of the Vice-Chancellor over entertainment in the city finally ended in 1968. Following many years of campaigning, the national fight to abolish theatre censorship led to the passing of the Theatres Act 1968. This repealed the 1881 Oxford Police Act and the Vice-Chancellor had no further power over what passed for entertainment in the city of Oxford.

 

Mystery items in the Clarendon archive

Did we just find Victorian condoms in the Clarendon archive?

Emptying out a leather wallet found with a box of mainly 1850s letters sent to the 4th Earl of Clarendon, I came across a few stray items: a bad sketch of a woman called Josephine, a scrap of newspaper [*see an important update at the end!], and some folded tissue. It’s not unusual to find scrumpled bits of tissue paper in archives, and sometimes that tissue is wrapping something precious, so it’s always worth investigating.

This tissue struck me as unusual, however – what caught my eye was the shaped and curved edge, and the tiny hint of ribbon. Was this a folded glove, perhaps?

Tubes of yellowed paper or parchment or tissue with ties of narrow blue ribbon

Folded tissue with ribbon

Continue reading

Call for contributions: Afghanistan regime change (2021) and the international response web archive collection

On 4 October 2021, the International Internet Preservation Coalition (IIPC) initiated a web archiving collection in response to recent events in Afghanistan. Colleagues at the University of Oxford, and beyond, are invited to contribute nominations for websites to be archived in the collection.

The collection theme is Afghanistan regime change (2021) and the international response. The focus is on the international aspects of events in Afghanistan documenting transnational involvement and worldwide interest in the process of regime change, documenting how the situation evolves over time.

A post on the IIPC’s blog, by the collection’s lead curator Nicola Bingham (British Library), provides further details of the background and scope of the collection.

How to contribute to the collection:

  1. Please read the Collection Scoping Document and accompanying IIPC blog post for more details on the collection and a full overview of the collecting scope.
  2. Enter nominations for websites, and a small amount of basic metadata, via the collection’s Google Form. The Google form accepts website nominations in non-English scripts.

This post is based on Nicola Bingham’s blog IIPC Collaborative collection: “Afghanistan regime change (2021) and the international response”.

The Langdon Hills map

This month’s University Archives blog looks at one of the most beautiful and colourful items in the University Archives: a 1585 plan of a farm and surrounding land at Langdon Hills in Essex. How did Oxford University Archives end up with a map of Essex? The reason is a bequest to the University which took place exactly 400 years ago.

In 1621 the University was given two plots of land in Essex by Thomas White, a clergyman and former Canon of Christ Church. The gift was intended to establish and provide ongoing financial support for a new professorship at the University: the White’s Professor of Moral Philosophy.

Portrait of Thomas White

Portrait of Thomas White (Bodleian Library LP 81)

Donations to the University like this were not unusual. Wealthy individuals wanting to perpetuate their name, or gain some kind of connection with the University, gave land and its associated income (eg from renting the land to tenants) to endow new academic posts or institutions. In the original deed of benefaction which conveyed the two plots of land (known as Langdon Hills and Blackmans Farm) to the University, White set out what he wanted the income from the estate to be used for. The principal one of these was to pay for the salary, or ‘stipend’, of the professor – the sum of £100 a year.

The trouble with estates is that it costs money to run them – sometimes more than the income that you get from them. White’s gift came with its own problems for the University. During the period 1621-1798 the income from the property was never enough for everything it was supposed to pay for. In 1832 the University discovered that the estate, having been neglected by its tenant, was in such ‘a grievous state of dilapidation’ that it was completely unlettable. The University had to spend nearly £2000 on repairs so it could be let again. Until the works were completed, nearly a decade later in 1841, the estate gave the University no income and not one of the post-holders was paid. The situation never really improved and so, by the 1920s, the University decided to part with the estate. By 1924, both plots of land had been sold.

When the University acquired the estate back in 1621, it also acquired a number of much older historical documents as part of the property transaction. These included two plans of the estate – one of Langdon Hills, and one of Blackmans Farm. They had been drawn up in 1585 for the then owner of the estate, Sir Thomas Mildmay. Like many wealthy landowners of the time, Mildmay commissioned surveyors to survey his estates and produce plans of them. Expensive to produce, they would have been a status symbol for him as well as having a practical purpose. Mildmay commissioned John Walker, a surveyor from Essex, and his son (also John), to survey this estate as as well as a number of others he owned in the county.

Plan of Langdon Hills estate

Plan of Langdon Hills estate, 1585 (OUA/SEP/2/1/2)

The larger of the two plans, concerning Langdon Hills, shows the size and use of the farm, including detail of trees and gates and, at the bottom of the plan marked ‘A’, an impressive Tudor house which appears to have been Langdon Hills Hall. The Hall is no longer there, but a farm, Langdon Hall Farm, with the same recognisable field boundaries, can be found just outside Basildon.

Detail of house at 'A'

Detail of house at ‘A’ (from OUA/SEP/2/1/2)