Category Archives: Spotlight

‘Handicapism is a mental disease of the able-bodied …and it affects us all…’

So reads a pin badge found in the collection of Keith Armstrong at the Bodleian Libraries Special Collections. The Bodleian holds just one box of Armstrong’s collection (the rest are held by the Bishopsgate Institute in London), but within it we can find evidence of Armstrong’s multifaceted life. Born in South Africa in 1950, Armstrong was an activist and public campaigner for disability rights. At six months old, he contracted polio, confining him to a wheelchair for most of his life. He spent much of his childhood in Oxford, attending Ormerod School, a school for children with physical disabilities. In his adulthood, he helped found the Liberation Network of People with Disabilities, and at different intervals, he was a member of the London Transport Passenger Committee and the committee of Camden Dial-a-Ride.

His collection at the Bodleian Libraries gives us an insight into the different aspects of Armstrong’s life: as a campaigner and voice for disabled rights; a creator of typewriter art; and a poet. It also shows us a darker side to his beliefs. At age 16, he began editing and publishing his own poetry and literature magazine, The Informer. The first issue of his magazine contained an article written by a contributor, Brian Crittindon, containing a repeated number of racial slurs and seeming to argue for Jim Crow laws in the US and against immigration into the UK. As the editor-in-chief of The Informer, it is impossible to ignore Armstrong’s role in producing and distributing material containing hateful language. With the records available, it is difficult to know whether Armstrong held onto these views into adulthood, or if he would have looked back with regret later in life. Whilst his achievements as a disability rights activist are undeniable—his work led to improvements in train and tube access, and to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995—it does remind us of the fact that when examined from all sides, those we admire in history often held views that are incompatible with our own values. It’s therefore important to be able to understand and appreciate the work of those who came before us, whilst acknowledging the impact of their faults and facets which were harmful to others.

Written by Kasturi Pindar, Bodleian Libraries intern, Summer 2023.

UK Disability History Month – 16 November – 16 December (

Collection: Papers of Keith Armstrong, typewriter poet | Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts (

‘On the roll’: a brief history of matriculation

It’s that time of year again when a new cohort of undergraduates arrives in Oxford to matriculate at the University. Matriculation is the formal admission of a student to membership of the University. Students, who have already been admitted to their colleges (which are legally and administratively separate from the central University), are then presented by that college to the University for matriculation. In celebration, the University Archives’ blog for October looks at matriculation through some of the records we hold of this longstanding Oxford tradition.

The history of matriculation is somewhat obscure for the University’s early years. Before the existence of colleges, students lived in private lodgings and were under the supervision of individual teaching masters. It’s generally understood that the University required every scholar to be on the roll or in the register (in rotulo or in matricula) of one of these masters. It appears, however, that this requirement was not enforced and there are, sadly, no surviving rolls or registers in the Archives documenting these early students. For the first few centuries of its existence, the University repeatedly tried, and seemingly failed, to get its students systematically recorded.

In 1420 a royal ordinance was issued which enacted that all scholars should reside in a college or hall, under the guardianship of a principal and that they, and their servants (more about them later), should swear an oath to observe the University’s statutes. The fact that this ordinance had to be revived in 1552, and the continued absence of any records of this process, suggests that it, also, was ignored. The 1552 ordinance is in fact the reason behind the creation of the earliest surviving list of persons residing in colleges and halls of the University. This list appears in a Chancellor’s register of the period, a register used for a wide range of University business.

Christ Church members 1552

Entry listing members of Christ Church in the Chancellor’s register, 1552 (OUA/Hyp/A/5, fol 68v)

The list is divided into sections for each college and each starts with the senior members of that college: masters (magistri in Latin) being denoted by the prefix ‘Mr’, and doctors, by ‘D’. It then goes on to list the junior members, ie students. There is no information about when a particular person entered the University or how long they’d been at the college. It isn’t, strictly-speaking, a record of matriculation at all, merely a list of names providing a simple snapshot in time.

In 1564 the University appointed a committee to look again into matriculation and draw up new regulations governing it. Their work culminated in the University’s first matriculation statute introduced in 1565. This required all scholars and privileged persons (more about them later, too) who, if 16 or over, should swear to observe the University’s statutes. The 1565 statute required students to be registered within seven days of their admission to a college or hall (or if living in the town under the supervision of a master), and to give the University certain personal information such as their age and place of residence.

The statute also established a scale of fees at matriculation whereby different amounts were charged depending on the matriculant’s social status. At the top of this list were the sons of princes, dukes and marquises (who paid 13 s 4d to matriculate). There then followed (in descending order) the sons of counts or viscounts; barons, bishops or baronets; esquires, deacons or archdeacons; knights and gentlemen. Until finally, at the bottom, the sons of plebeians (who paid only 4d). The ranks were peculiarly arranged – higher status individuals were separated into very small categories whilst the remaining 90% of the population were lumped together, effectively, as ‘plebs’.

The statute also made provision for a register or book of matriculations to be kept by the University. The very first matriculation register of the University was created that year. It is divided into sections, one for each college or hall. At first the entries are very much like the 1552 list of names, simply a snapshot roll-call for certain years, and not proper matriculation records. There are also long gaps in the register in which hardly any entries are recorded. Clearly the colleges were still not co-operating with the new matriculation statute. But the University persisted and in 1568 it set up yet another committee to look at the issue. The first proper matriculation entries in this register begin in c1571, presumably as a result of their efforts. In Christ Church’s entry (the first college listed in the register), for example, the first dated matriculation is in 1572. But there are still gaps in the register after that which suggest that matriculations were not being systematically recorded.

From 1581, a new restriction on matriculation came into force. From that date all matriculating students over the age of 16 were required to declare their assent to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, the Book of Common Prayer and the oath of Royal Supremacy. In order to demonstrate this assent, the matriculating student swore the oath of supremacy and signed his name on pages bound up in a register with a copy of the Thirty-Nine Articles. This effectively barred anyone who was not a member of the Church of England from entering the University; students who were Roman Catholic, Jewish, Muslim or non-conformist protestants, for example, were now excluded.

The University appears to have tightened up its recording of matriculations after this and the entries in the register become fuller and more comprehensive. Each student was now required to provide the following information to the University: his age, the rank or status of his father, and his county of origin. Age was required by the University as it determined whether or not the student was required to take the oath of supremacy (if under 16, he was not required to do so). The father’s rank or status was still required in order to determine the matriculation fee. The county of origin was useful to colleges, as certain college fellowships and scholarships were limited to those born in specified counties, but it is not clear why the central University needed that information. From 1616, the registers begin to note whether the person matriculating was the eldest or second son, etc. Eldest sons of certain ranks were granted privileges relating to their studies, such as dispensations from particular University requirements. From 1622, the matriculation registers also contain the name of the student’s father and (it is not clear exactly which), either the parish in which the student was born, or the parish in which the father resided.

Christ Church matriculations 1570s

The first Christ Church matriculations, 1570s (OUA/SP 1, fol 20v)

What is also clear from the earliest matriculation entries, such as those of Christ Church, is that the ages of students matriculating ranged more widely, and, by and large, students were much younger than today. In the list pictured, Robert Sydney matriculated aged only 12; Edward Montague, aged 13. Putting aside the possibility of less-than-truthful entries, it is certainly the case that students matriculated at a younger age in centuries past. In the late 16th century, their ages ranged between 7 and 30, with one record found of a five-year old, Audley Mervin, matriculating in June 1618 (but it is suspected this might be a clerical error for ‘15’). The general trend has been for students to get older over the centuries until they reach the, more usual, age of 18+ as today.

Some students may have wanted to avoid having to assent to the beliefs of the Church of England and so deliberately came up to Oxford before they were 16 (at which age it became compulsory). Some may have been young boys sent to Oxford at the same time as an older brother. What other records held here show is that most of these very young matriculants rarely proceeded to a degree.

The information given by the matriculants was not checked or verified, as far as we know, and so was not necessarily entirely accurate. Like many records kept by archives, the information these registers contain has its limitations. It is what someone wanted the University to believe, not necessarily what was the case. Some students deliberately understated their social rank in order to pay smaller fees, for example; there’s evidence from college records that students sometimes assigned themselves a lower status to the University, and a much higher one to their college.

There’s also evidence that not every student at a college even matriculated. The University’s matriculation records contain errors and omissions when compared to college admission records. Students unwilling to subscribe, for example, might avoid matriculating entirely. It appears, however, that attendance at colleges without matriculation was rare by the end of the 17th century and had mostly ceased by the middle of the 18th.

A far greater range of people were admitted to membership of the University at this time than today. One large group of these were privileged persons. Privileged persons (personae privilegiatae) were, generally, of two types: servants or tradesmen. Servants (servientes) could be either personal servants or common servants. Any University member could bring his personal servant to Oxford with him and have him admitted to the status of privileged person. ‘Common servants’ included lower-ranked University officers such as bedels, or college servants such as manciples or cooks. The other type of privileged person were tradesmen and workmen of the town (privilegiati), people such as booksellers, brewers or carriers. Privileged status conferred on them the right to trade with the University and its members and gave them access to a large and wealthy customer base that the non-privileged tradesman did not have. Privileged persons appear in the matriculation registers until the late 18th century, often in a separate list at the back of the volumes.

In 1870 the University introduced a new system for recording student information at matriculation: the matriculation form. Completed by each matriculating student, in their own hand, this asked for personal information. For the first 20 or so years, the form was very small, requiring students to give much the same type of information as they had done for years past: ie name, age, whether the matriculant was the eldest or second child, place of birth, father’s name and ‘quality’, date of matriculation and college.

Oscar Wilde's matriculation form

Matriculation form of Oscar Wilde, 1874 (from OUA/UR 1/1/6)

Dates of birth, school and father’s present address were added to the form in 1894, a useful addition for both the University at the time and the genealogist of the future. But one has to wonder how practically useful some of the other information on the form now was. The University had asked for the same kind of information from its students for centuries, long after some of it was of any use at all. Would the fact that a student was a third son be of any relevance in 1890? One suspects not, as the privileges that status had once offered had long since disappeared.

The social ranks had also changed quite dramatically over time and the particular terms used had changed, or lost, their meaning so much that by the 19th century they’d become rather meaningless. Matriculating students were using, and misusing, outdated terminology established over 200 years earlier. In 1891 the confusion felt on all sides led the University to change the question from father’s rank or ‘quality’ to occupation.

A very significant change to matriculation took place in 1871. Subscription at matriculation remained obligatory until 1854 when it was abolished by the Oxford University Act. But religious tests for membership of the University were not finally abolished until 1871 when the Universities Tests Act enabled those of all faiths and none to matriculate. This began the opening up of matriculation to a greater number and range of people.

The University took a little longer to allow women to matriculate. Although women had been studying in Oxford, at the women’s colleges set up in the city from the 1870s onwards, they were still not allowed to matriculate. Women could sit and pass University examinations but until they could matriculate, under the University’s longstanding regulations, they were not allowed to graduate. This finally changed in 1920.

Isobel Matthew's matriculation form

Matriculation form of Isobel Millicent Matthew, 1920 (from OUA/UR 1/2/1)

The first woman to matriculate, Isobel Millicent Matthew, did so on 7 October 1920. As her matriculation form shows, the University had to change its standard male-centric matriculation form for its new women matriculants. But instead of taking the opportunity to review the forms and see whether the information they were asking for was relevant to the 20th century, the University decided to simply tweak them, change their colour, and replace all masculine vocabulary with feminised versions. As a result, the form now asked its female matriculants for some entirely irrelevant information: no-one in the University would ever need to know whether the matriculant was an eldest daughter. This had no bearing on any University procedure. The men’s forms were also restructured into this new, enlarged format, but the redundant information continued to be collected.

The matriculation registers continued to be maintained after the forms were introduced in 1870. These were completed, as they always had been, by University administrative staff and from the 1870s, they simply copied the information from the forms into the registers, effectively creating a second (often much more legible) copy of the information. By 1924, however, the time taken to maintain the parallel series of matriculation registers could no longer be justified and the University decided to stop keeping them. From then on, the forms themselves were to be the official record of matriculation. The last register entries were made in 1925.

The University continued using the matriculation forms all through the twentieth century. The occasional review added another piece of required information to the form (such as the type of school attended, nationality, or proposed subject of study) as demands grew on the University to report statistics of the nature of its student body. It therefore had to add to the forms the kind of information which it needed to answer the questions being asked of it by others (such as social origin, class, income and background). By and large, however, the content, and purpose, of the forms remained the same.

With the advent of computerised student systems in the 1980s, the University revised the matriculation form yet again, with a view to standardising data collection and speeding up the production of statistics. The inevitable progress of technology meant that the decision to stop creating paper matriculation forms at all was finally taken in 2005.

Much has been written about the University’s early matriculation records. A good discussion of the period between 1571 and 1622 can be found in Andrew Clark’s Register of the University of Oxford Vol II, Part I, (published by the Oxford Historical Society in 1887).

For further information about how to access the information in the matriculation records, please see the guidance on the University Archives’ website at The guidance includes links to published registers, available online, of those who matriculated before 1892. It also provides contact details for sources of information regarding students matriculating after 1892.

For a detailed look at the changing student body of the University over time, see Lawrence Stone’s chapter entitled ‘The Size and Composition of the Oxford student body 1580-1910’ in The University in Society, Vol I Oxford and Cambridge from the 14th to the Early 19th Centuries (Princeton, 1974).

The University recently commemorated the 150th anniversary of the 1871 Universities Tests Act with the creation of the ‘Opening Oxford 1871-2021’ website at

For information about matriculation today, see the University’s main website at

Preserved in Time: A Snapshot of Moss Side in the Archive of Daniel Meadows

Moss Side, Manchester, spring of 1972. On a sunny day, a group of children gather round an old barber’s shop, set into a row of single-storey Victorian buildings. They jostle for space as they peer at photographs on display in the window. The eldest among them holds up a toddler on their hip—perhaps a sibling, relation, or friend—to better see the photographs. To their left, outside the shop next door, stands a rack of second-hand clothes for sale. To the right is Jimmy Thomson’s Tattoo Parlour. Three teenage girls stand outside the tattoo shop, watching the flurry of activity. [1]

Moss Side covers just 1.84 square kilometres of Manchester, pushing up against Hulme to the north and Whalley Range to the south. [2]. In the 1950s, this neighbourhood became home to a small but growing Caribbean population, early arrivals of what is now known as the Windrush Generation. In the 1950s and 60s, many Caribbean people chose to move to Manchester where they knew others, family or friends, or if they had been stationed in nearby Lancashire during the war. Settling in and around Moss Side, a Caribbean community soon laid down roots in the neighbourhood. [3]. In the 1950s, Caribbean people made up the second-largest ethnic group in Manchester after white British people and by 1981 there were over 6,000 people from the Caribbean living in the city. These people came predominantly from Jamaica, but there were other from countries such as Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and what was then known as the West Indies Associated States. [4].

Moss Side has long been stigmatised as an ‘inner-city problem area.’ [5]. In 1981, protests against racist and aggressive policing tactics in Moss Side turned into violent clashes lasting two nights, further consolidating the view of the neighbourhood as a site of violence and crime. This followed similar events in Brixton, Toxteth and Handsworth, caused by high unemployment, poor housing provision, a lack of investment, and racial tensions. [6]. However, photographs of Moss Side held in the Bodleian Libraries Special Collections show a very different story. Taken almost a decade before the disturbances of 1981, but twenty years after the first arrivals from the Caribbean, they are a window into the daily life of this deprived, but neighbourly area.

The shop described above, around which the children gathered to peek at photographs in the window, was the Free Photographic Shop, which had been set up by a photography student at Manchester Polytechnic called Daniel Meadows. Hailing from rural Gloucestershire, Meadows came to Manchester in 1970 and lived in Moss Side. In January 1972 he rented a barbershop at 79b Greame Street, converting it into a photographic studio in which local people could have their picture taken free of charge. Once developed, Meadows’ subjects received a copy of their photograph to keep. [7]. The studio was open for two months during which time Meadows photographed over 200 people, despite the shop being open only one day per week. [8].

The Free Photographic Shop at 79b Greame Street, MS. Meadows 46

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The man with many faces

Is there anyone who doesn’t like to doodle? This is clearly not a modern trait. As ‘Doodle Day’ 2023 approaches in September, it seemed timely that we should come across some rather charming drawings by one of the examiners signing his name in two ‘Registers of Examinations’ held by the University Archives.

Frederick York Powell (1850-1904) was a law lecturer and examiner (he later became the Regius Professor of Modern History, 1894-1904) whose duties included lecturing and examining on political economy for the Pass School. The Pass School was introduced in the second half of the nineteenth century for those students who did not seek honours and offered the opportunity to study a different combination of subjects (see this previous blog for more details on the The Pass School)

Powell was an examiner for Pass School Group B (which included political economy) from 1877 until at least 1888, but he did not examine every term or every year. It is through his records of examinations that we meet his doodles.

Whenever Powell was the one to write the list of names of successful candidates, he bracketed together the names of the three (or sometimes four) examiners, who signed their names underneath, and drew a face as part of that bracket. Powell had extremely neat and legible handwriting, which was not always the case of examiners at this time.

Signatures of examiners for Pass School Group B, 1883 (from OUA/UR/3/1/27/1)

One of the fascinating things about Powell’s doodles is that whilst he consistently draws faces, they are all different. It’s tempting to wonder whether these drawings were actually caricatures of his fellow examiners or other academics in Oxford. The pictures are not always kind, sometimes showing exaggerated features:

Signatures of examiners for Pass School Group B, 1883 (from OUA/UR/3/1/27/1)

Signatures of examiners for Pass School Group B, 1883 (from OUA/UR/3/1/27/1)

It is important to remember that these registers were administrative records and were the official record kept by the University. As such, it’s all the more striking that Powell doodled so frequently – it wasn’t a momentary slip in an instance of absent-mindedness, but something he did consistently across several years. It is tempting to speculate as to whether his fellow examiners approved of such decorations or rather disapproved of his flamboyant style.

The second register featuring Powell’s doodles is the Register of Examinations for Modern History, 1872-1913, where he was an examiner from 1886 onwards. The examples in this volume are typical Powell style but the faces are different. The one below looks rather like Voldemort in Harry Potter!

Signatures of examiners for Modern History, 1887 (from OUA/UR/3/24/1)

Of all the faces drawn by Powell, of which these are only a selection, my favourite is shown below. The face looks rather elegant and distinguished with quite a head of hair:

Signatures of examiners for Modern History, 1888 (from OUA/UR/3/1/24/1)

Details of face drawn by Powell as examiner for Modern History, 1888 (from OUA/UR/3/1/24/1)

There are no other examples of examiners doodling or drawing like Powell in these two registers. If Powell was hoping to inject a little light heartedness or fun into a serious administrative record and perhaps encourage others to do the same, it does not look like this happened. It would be interesting to discover whether Powell continued to doodle once he was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History in 1894. I could find no further examples of doodles by Powell from this date onwards within any records held by the University Archives.

According to his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (subscription required), Powell seems to have been a rather original yet disorganised character, not necessarily renowned for his scholarship but for his generosity of his time and sense of fun. I rather suspect that Powell may have continued to doodle no matter what position he held.

For other examples of drawings and doodles on records in the University Archives see Notes in the margin | Archives and Manuscripts at the Bodleian Library (
For further information on Frederick York Powell, see his Wikipedia entry.

Uncovering Histories of Humanitarianism: the Aborigines’ Protection Society 1837-1866

By Zoë Laidlaw, University of Melbourne.

This is the fifth in a series of posts by researchers drawing on the archive of the Anti-Slavery Society, part of the Bodleian’s We Are Our History project.

The Aborigines’ Protection Society (APS) and the Anti-Slavery Society merged in 1909, formalising a history of engagement and occasional rivalry stretching back to the 1830s. The APS had long argued that concern for the welfare of Indigenous peoples in Britain’s empire was a logical extension of anti-slavery activism. But, while key personnel moved between the two societies, public support for the APS remained much more muted. Not least, this was because the APS struggled to explain its remit. In 1847, a decade after starting work, the APS acknowledged that many still asked ‘Who are the Aborigines, and who is their Friend?’ but struggled to address these basic questions:

“Government documents and other publications have given a currency and acceptation to the word Aborigines, which, however, is not so general as to render explanation unnecessary … When the overflowing or restless population of a civilized country quit their homes, and seek a country where a wider space is open before them, they often find the land imperfectly occupied by a race of men greatly differing from themselves. These are the so-called Aborigines of the country; and the interests of both races are involved in the character of the intercourse which ensues between them.”

As this comparative and pejorative definition of ‘Aborigines’ suggests, the APS was both Eurocentric and paternalistic. Its leaders recognised that British colonialism led to Indigenous peoples’ dispossession and exploitation, but they argued for the radical reform of colonialism rather than its eradication. In the utopian future they envisaged, colonisers and colonised alike would be more civilised, Indigenous rights recognised and protected and Britain’s empire more economically productive.

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Oxford University and Photography

In honour of World Photography Day, on 19 August, the University Archives blog looks at some of the photographs that we hold here and how the University used photography to record its people and its activities, and to present itself to the outside world.

Photographs are so commonplace today that it’s easy to forget that for many decades the taking of photographs was a much less frequent event. It often surprises users of the University Archives how few photographs we hold. But for many years, the University did not have its own photographic studio or photographers and so any photographs that were taken were done by outside firms at considerable expense. Photography was, as a result, used sparingly by the University, reserved for special occasions only, and did not form part of its day to day activities until the late 20th century.

The University took very few photographs of its students, for example. Where these were taken and where they have survived, they tend to be found in college archives rather than in the central University’s records. Colleges had a different, much closer, relationship with their students than the University, and their photographs span both formal teaching and informal social activities.

But despite the paucity of photographic material in the Archives, it is possible to identify trends and themes in the University’s relationship with photography. The examples below highlight just a few of these.

Photographs as gifts

Something of which we have a few examples of here is the commemorative album of photographs. From the late 1800s to the mid 20th century, there appears to have been a custom of presenting a very senior or long-standing member of staff on their retirement with an album of portrait photographs of their colleagues. It shows the precious and special nature of photographs in more distant decades.

One such case from a relatively early date is the gift given to Henry Stephens, University Marshal and Bellman, who retired in 1913, having been in post since 1888. In 1914, his colleagues (former and past) put together a beautifully-inscribed album comprising portrait photographs of every single one of the many University Proctors with whom he had worked over that period.

Title page from Henry Stephens' photo album

Title page of the commemorative album of photographs presented to Henry Stephens, Marshal and Bellman in 1914 (OUA/PR/1/25/1)

Stephens worked with fifty Proctors during his 25-year career. Each academic year saw the admission of two new Proctors (Senior and Junior) and each page of the album contains, in a variety of styles, their photographic portraits.

Page showing proctors for 1888-9

Photographs of the Proctors of 1888-89 from the album presented to Henry Stephens in 1914 (OUA/PR/1/25/1)

It must have been an expensive and time-consuming gift to create. At what point it was returned to the University by Henry Stephens or his family, we don’t know, but it made its way back to the Proctors’ Office and was transferred to the Archives along with their records over 50 years later.

Departmental posterity

Another developing use of photography, from the late nineteenth century onwards, was the custom adopted by certain University departments of taking photographs of their students: each year’s intake for example, or those attending summer schools or conferences.

One department which was very careful to record its activities in this way was the Department of Continuing Education, the adult education arm of the University. Its predecessor, the Delegacy for the Extension of Teaching beyond the limits of the University (or Extension Delegacy for short), was a pioneer in the field of adult education from its origins in 1878 and it appears there was already an awareness, in its early days, of how ground-breaking its work was. It wasn’t long before it was photographing its activities for posterity, one very early example of which was the biennial Summer Meeting.

The Summer Meeting first took place at Balliol College, Oxford, in August 1888. It was a summer school open to all extension students of Oxford, Cambridge and London Universities. Students stayed in lodgings in Oxford and attended a full programme of lectures and classes. A significant development in the availability of university-level education to adults, the Summer Meetings attracted students from all around the UK.

An album of photographs of the early Summer Meetings survives in the University Archives, including its earliest photograph which is identified as the very first Summer Meeting of 1888.

Photo of First Summer Meeting

The first Summer Meeting at Oxford, 1888 (from OUA/CE/5/1)

As the photograph shows, the majority of the students were women. The Extension Delegacy was one of the first University departments to offer a university-level education to women, long before they were allowed to matriculate as full students. The Summer Meeting was only one of a number of pioneering activities which the Delegacy undertook and it led to the formation of other important adult education movements such as the Workers Educational Association (WEA), launched at the Summer Meeting of 1903.

Letting the outside in

A key way in which the University began to use photography in the twentieth century was to present itself to the world outside Oxford. Most of the photographic prints which we have in the University Archives here were not taken by the University itself, but by the press. It appears that from the early 1950s onwards the University began to be asked more and more by the national and local press for its permission to photograph its activities and events.

Generally-speaking at this time, the University was reluctant to let the press in and many of the requests it received from photographers were refused. Although aware that the outside world was interested in what went on at Oxford, the University resisted the intrusion; self-promotion, in particular, was seen as anathema to many within it. On the rare occasions when it did agree to filming or photography by outside agencies, the University demanded a high level of editorial control over the images produced.

One significant example of this was a visit in the early 1950s from the Central Office of Information (COI). The COI was, from 1946 to 2011, the UK government’s marketing and communications agency. It produced public information materials (such as leaflets, posters and short films) on a range of public issues such as life in Britain, health and education, often for the promotion of Britain overseas. In April 1952, the COI’s Photographs Division wrote to the University asking to create a ‘picture set’ illustrating life at Oxford University intended for overseas distribution. The University agreed and the COI’s photographers visited in May that year.

The Archives contains a set of about 25 photographs taken by the COI with the working title ‘The University of Oxford – Life in Britain’s Oldest Seat of Learning’. They show a carefully-curated view of student life in Oxford including shots of the city, undergraduates in colleges, libraries and tutorials; a degree ceremony; the Proctors; punting and other sports; and a debate in the Union. These were sent to the University for its approval and each bears a descriptive text on the back written by the COI. Some of these have been heavily annotated and corrected by an unnamed University official.

Photo of the High Street by Central Office of Information

View of ‘The High’, taken by the Central Office of Information. Undated (1952) (from OUA/VC/3/5)

It appears that the project then led to an even more ‘intrusive’ request from the COI just four years later. The COI wrote again to the University in 1956 asking, this time, to create a short film about it. The Foreign Office and Commonwealth Relations Office had asked the COI to produce a film for the Overseas Information Services about life in a British university and Oxford was chosen. The University agreed to co-operate officially, despite opposition from some senior. The COI’s appointed production company, Greenpark Productions, visited in 1957 to take more photographs and to film.

From the surviving correspondence about this, it appears that the COI’s request was the only one of several received at the time with which the University was prepared to co-operate. And it continued to demand a high level of control over the finished product. The COI was obliged to send the University a copy of the proposed voiceover script for the film which it edited enormously. The finished film, entitled ‘Oxford’, which ran for 15 minutes, was released in 1958 and shown in a special screening in the city at the Ritz Cinema.

More requests to photograph and film at Oxford followed and the University appears to have been rather less dismissive of these in the years after the COI film. As photographs began to give way to the filming of University events, the University started taking over from ad hoc visits from the outside press, recording its own events and managing its public face itself. The University not only became more aware of the financial advantages of doing this, it was also part of a realisation in the late 1960s that it needed to exercise more control over its brand and manage its relations with the outside world on its own terms, rather than through the lens of the external press.

Photography and filming of University activities and events is now run by the University’s Educational Media team (formerly the Media Production Unit). Not only do they produce content but they also provide advice and expertise to others creating their own University-related content.

The print archive of the Central Office of Information is held by the British Library at Central Office of Information Archive – The British Library (

Its business records are held by the UK National Archives and the films they produced are preserved and made available by the British Film Institute at BFI National Archive | BFI

Further information about the history of the Department for Continuing Education and its predecessors, including the Summer Meetings, can be found at The history of continuing education at Oxford | Oxford University Department for Continuing Education


‘Probable Prospects’: Richard Hill and Black Activism in The Archive of the Anti-Slavery Society

By Olivia Carpenter, Department of English and Related Literature, University of York.

This is the fourth in a series of posts by researchers drawing on the archive of the Anti-Slavery Society, part of the Bodleian’s We Are Our History project.

Afro-British writer, politician, and activist Richard Hill was born in 1796. Hill was born in Jamaica but spent much of his youth in England, where some of his earliest efforts on behalf of Abolitionism and the rights of free Black people in the British Empire took place when he agreed to act as an agent of the London Anti-Slavery Society in 1830. A series of several letters exchanged between Hill and the Society’s President and Secretary are among the Bodleian’s collection of the Society’s papers. These letters, exchanged over a period of just over two years, allow us to trace Hill’s experience of traveling to Haiti on behalf of the Society. The Society sent Hill to ascertain the condition of this first and only new Republic created by formerly enslaved people who had fought and won a war to become a free, independent nation. Reading Hill’s correspondence with Thomas Pringle can help us gain a greater understanding of Black British anti-slavery activism in the early nineteenth century and what Haiti’s unique sociopolitical history meant for Black organizers like Hill, who hoped to establish Black freedom in the British Empire. The letters also give us unique insight into the day-to-day successes and struggles of a nineteenth-century Afro-British activist as Hill worked to earn a living in precarious circumstances while remaining committed to developing his career.

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Oxford and Japan – 150th anniversary of the admission of the first Japanese student at Oxford

2023 is a significant year for anniversaries in the University’s progress towards the diversification of its student body. The year 1873, 150 years ago, saw not only the admission of the University’s first known black student, Christian Cole of Sierra Leone, it is also believed to be  when the first Japanese student attended Oxford: Tats (aka Tomotsune) Iwakura.

Iwakura was admitted to the University (‘matriculated’) on 29 May 1873. The information he gave the University on his matriculation form, written in his own hand, stated that he was born in Miako, Japan. Aged 19, he was the third son of the Prime Minister of Japan, Tomomi Iwakura.

Tats Iwakura matriculation form

Matriculation form of Tats Iwakura, 1873 (from OUA/UR 1/1/5)

Iwakura came to Oxford during a time of great change at the University, and his arrival reflects a number of movements by the University in later nineteenth century towards opening itself up to a greater range of students.

Under ‘college’, Iwakura has written ‘Unattached’. This refers to the Delegacy for Unattached Students (later known as Non-Collegiate Students). This was a University body set up in 1868 in order to allow students from a wider social range to attend the University by reducing the cost of their time here. Membership of a college or hall was expensive and it was this which put an Oxford education out of the financial reach of many. Membership of the Delegacy for Unattached Students, this new alternative means of being a student, was cheaper, and therefore became a possibility for people who had been hitherto excluded.

At about the same time, another major change took place at the University. Until 1854, every person matriculating at the University had to declare their agreement (by subscribing) to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England. This effectively barred from the University all those of any other faith, or none. The Oxford University Act of 1854 had abolished subscription at matriculation and at graduation as BA, but it wasn’t until 1871 that the Universities Tests Act abolished subscription for all degrees and for all offices (except, somewhat understandably, degrees and professorships in theology). Catholics, Jews, Muslims and members of other faiths, or none, were now able to become senior members of the University.

A result of both the Unattached Students scheme and the 1871 Universities Test Act was that the student body at Oxford slowly began to become more diverse. And it’s into this new climate at the University that Iwakura arrived.

Tomotsune, or Tats, Iwakura (Source:

It’s clear, however, that a student from Iwakura’s background did not need the financial assistance which came from being an Unattached Student. So why did he come to Oxford in this way, and not as a member of a regular college? A clue may be the fact that once he was here, the archives are silent on what Iwakura did, apart from recording his migration (ie transfer between colleges) to Balliol College in January 1874. It was not uncommon for Unattached Students to transfer to a regular college after they had arrived at the University. In these records, Iwakura is now known as Tomotsne, no longer Tats.

There is also no record in the Archives here of Iwakura passing any examinations or of receiving a degree. This suggests that he was not here to study as a traditional undergraduate, working his way to a BA. In fact it appears that, despite the aim of the Unattached Students scheme being to attract students from poorer social backgrounds, it actually also enabled wealthy mature students to come to study in a private capacity. Unattached Students were often, like Iwakura, older than regular undergraduates, from overseas, and already graduates of other universities. What isn’t recorded on Iwakura’s form is that he had already spent time studying at Rutgers College in the United States alongside his brother Asahi in 1870.

Generally speaking, it is very difficult for the University Archives to identify the first person from a particular country to matriculate. The reason that we are able to do this, albeit tentatively, in the case of Iwakura, is that he and number of students from other parts of Asia and the Middle East are listed separately in Joseph Foster’s Alumni Oxonienses, a published register of all those admitted to the University between 1715 and 1886.

The Alumni Oxonienses (and, to some extent, the University itself at that time) had difficulty dealing with personal names that were not of Western European origin. As a result, in the back of the Alumni are separately listed all those students whose names fell into that category, under the heading “Indians, etc”. Although it is a highly disrespectful categorisation, it does enable us to more easily identify those students coming from countries such as Japan, India and Thailand. Many, it’s interesting to note, are the sons of high-status individuals such as princes and government officials.

There is no record here of how Iwakura found being a Japanese student in 1870s Oxford. He appears not to have suffered the cruelty of racist caricaturisation in the popular press that Christian Cole had to endure, but as his student experience is unrecorded in the University Archives, we don’t know what life would have been like for him here.

Iwakura’s matriculation marked the beginning of a long association of the University with Japan. It has an international office in Tokyo and over 1500 alumni currently in Japan. More about the University’s links with Japan can be found on its website at

For more on Iwakura’s time at Rutgers, see the interesting article on the College’s ‘Rutgers Meets Japan: early encounters’ website at

Further information about Christian Cole, the first known black student at Oxford, can be found at


Zachary Macaulay and the ‘Anti-Slavery Reporter’

By Iain Whyte

This is the third in a series of posts by researchers drawing on the archive of the Anti-Slavery Society, part of the Bodleian’s We Are Our History project.

In the various commemorative items produced in 2008 to mark the bi-centenary of Britain’s abolition of the slave trade, the names and portraits of Wilberforce, Clarkson, and Buxton appeared frequently and less so those of the formerly enslaved such as Olaudah Equiano and Ignatius Sancho.  But one name almost universally absent was that of Zachary Macaulay. Better known as the father of Lord Thomas Macaulay, the historian and politician, Zachary played an invaluable role both in the Parliamentary campaign against the trade, and later plantation slavery in the British Empire, and in galvanising public opinion through local committees. A shy and in many ways inhibited man, he never made a speech, but his first hand experience in Jamaica and along the Sierra Leone river enabled those in Parliament to speak with authority, and above all the research and writing he did in the 1820s to expose the reality of slavery, provided ammunition against the powerful attempts to shore up the profitable system. This was most marked in his founding in 1825, and editorship throughout the vital campaigning years, of the Anti-Slavery Monthly Reporter, a magazine that survives to this day under the auspices of the charity and campaigning group Anti-Slavery International.

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New catalogue: Literary Manuscripts and Correspondence of James Elroy Flecker

Guest post by Lilia Kanu
Easter intern at Bodleian Libraries Archives & Modern Manuscripts

Photograph of James Elroy Flecker [c.1911-1914], Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 21234/1

A collection of books and manuscripts related to the poet James Elroy Flecker (1884-1915) has now been catalogued and is available to view at the Weston Library. This small collection spans the period from 1902 to 1951, with papers dating from his late school years up to decades beyond his death. Although it is a small collection, the contents of these five boxes are nonetheless fruitful and intriguing.

Flecker was born in London and first attended Dean Close School in Cheltenham, where his father was headmaster. In 1902, he won a classical scholarship to study at Trinity College, Oxford, where he spent his time writing poetry characterised by his growing interest in Parnassianism and being a sociable conversationalist with his peers. After several stints as a schoolmaster in schools in London and Yorkshire, in 1908 he attended Caius College, Cambridge where he studied oriental languages to prepare for consular service. From 1910, he was stationed in Constantinople [Istanbul], and then Beirut, as vice-consul, but he oscillated between his posts abroad and living in England due to bouts of illness.

He married Helle Skiadaressi (1882-1961) in 1911. Due to his long-term struggle with tuberculosis, he retired and moved to Switzerland in 1913, where he lived out his final years. Here, he continued to write and published his most notable work, The Golden Journey to Samarkand (1913). He died aged 31 in January 1915, and many of his poems were posthumously published, as were his two acclaimed plays Hassan (1922) and Don Juan (1925).

This collection was brought together from several different sources by Howard Moseley before arriving at the Bodleian. The boxes include a plethora of items, including manuscript drafts of Flecker’s published and unpublished poetry and plays written throughout his life, as well as his personal correspondence with other notable contemporaries such as John Mavrogordato and Edward Marsh. There are also books which Flecker owned and annotated, including one with an 18 line comic poem inscribed into the title page of The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini (1904). There are also posthumously produced sources, such as a proof copy of T.E. Lawrence’s An Essay on Flecker (1937), alongside ephemera and clippings from publications such as The Times containing obituaries, featuring his poems, or reviewing various productions of Flecker’s plays. Amongst the materials produced after his death are letters from his wife, Helle, to the same recipients of the letters written by Flecker himself which are also present in the archive.

A striking element of this collection is the broad temporal and geographic scope from which these items were produced: there are letters written from Switzerland, manuscript poems written in Beirut, and postcards sent from his alma mater – and family home – in Cheltenham. These materials had obviously been in different hands and travelled across continents, with many of the manuscripts or bounded books being accompanied by postcards or letters between Flecker and others. The same names continuously pop up in his correspondence, evincing some valued, long-lasting friendships. There is much evident interaction with these materials, as seen by the extensive marginalia, fingerprint marks, and other signs of use. Each item can be placed at distinct points of Flecker’s lamentably short life, the latter fact which is heightened by the sentimental features of the posthumous sources written about his life and his impact – a quality which, as a fervent Parnassian, Flecker might have been averse to! You get a sense of the impact Flecker had in his loved ones’ lives; the letters from his wife to Flecker’s friends are characterised by black edged writing paper as a symbol of mourning, and Heller Nichols’ copy of Hassan features a cut-out from The Times stating that ‘it was James Elroy Flecker’s dream to live long enough to see his first play Hassan produced’. In some of his items, Flecker’s personality shines through – especially amusing was reading of his preference to write in ink, noting below a typescript copy of one of his poems, ‘excuse the typing on a mad writing machine’!

Printed copy of Hassan in German, translated by Albert Langen, München, 1914 (inscribed ‘W. Heller Nicholls’), Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 21234/4

Typescript draft of ‘The True Paradise’ [c.1914], by J.E. Flecker, Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS.21234/1

This is overall a lovely small collection of materials relating to Flecker, and will be of interest for early 20th century English poetry and further insight into Flecker’s life.

-Lilia Kanu, Balliol College

This collection complements the Literary Papers of James Elroy Flecker already held at the Bodleian Libraries.