Category Archives: 19th century

Oscar Wilde in the Chancellor’s Court

For LGBT+ history month, the University Archives’ blog looks at one of Oxford University’s most famous alumni: playwright and poet, Oscar Wilde. Wilde was a student at the University in the 1870s. He matriculated from Magdalen College in 1874 and studied classics (Latin and Greek), as did most students at the University the time. A brilliant student, he achieved first class honours in his Classical Moderations examination (or ‘Mods’, taken roughly mid-way through the BA degree) in 1876.

Oscar Wilde 1876

Oscar Wilde as an undergraduate, 1876

Alongside his impressive academic performance, Wilde also cut an equally impressive figure in his personal life, dressing stylishly and somewhat flamboyantly for the time. Having joined Apollo, the University Masonic Lodge, he also developed quite a liking, so the story goes, for masonic regalia. Wilde frequented the jewellers and gentlemen’s outfitters of Oxford to stock up and, as we will see, bought a lot of things which were probably not on the shopping list of your average undergraduate.

In late 1877 Wilde’s spending got him into trouble. He owed money to some of the shops at which he’d bought his goods on credit, and whether he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, pay, he ended up before the University’s Chancellor’s Court in the November of that year for non-payments of debts.

The Chancellor’s Court, whose ancient origins lay in the establishment of the post of Chancellor, back in 1214, was the University’s own court. For many centuries it had jurisdiction over University members, both in civil and criminal cases, and for much of that time, also over the people of the city of Oxford. By the late nineteenth century it had lost many of its earlier powers and was chiefly a debt-recovery court, used frequently by Oxford shopkeepers and tradespeople to recoup money owed to them by students at the University.

Two such shopkeepers who were owed money by Wilde did exactly this and took him to the court in November 1877. Wilde received two summonses within that month to appear before the Court.

Oscar Wilde summons 1877

Summons issued to Oscar Wilder, 8 November 1877 (Chancellor’s Court papers 1877/78:2)

The first summons was for the case brought against him by Joseph Alison Muir, a tailor of the High Street. According to the tradesmen’s bills, submitted as evidence to the hearing on 16 November, Wilde had ordered a considerable number of items from him over a period of two years, which amounted to over forty pounds’ worth of gentlemen’s attire. This would be roughly £4000 today. They included a ‘superior fancy angola [angora] suit’, ‘superior angola trousers’ and ‘India gauze pants’. Wilde had already paid roughly half of the bill but still owed the tailor over £20.

Chancellors Court bills 1877

Bills presented as evidence to the Court, 1877 (Chancellor’s Court papers 1877/78:1 and 1877/98:1)

His second summons to appear in the court, only two weeks later, was for the case brought by George Henry Osmond, a jeweller of St Aldates’. Wilde had purchase jewellery and Masonic regalia there, including gold and ivory collar studs and a Masonic apron and sword. Again, he had only part-paid the bill of over £15, still owing the jeweller just over £5.

In both cases, Wilde was ordered to pay the money owed, plus costs (for the summons and the hearing itself). The costs were sizeable: for the second case he was ordered to pay nearly £3 in costs (on the original debt of £5). Wilde was so outraged by this that he wrote a very angry letter to the court in protest. The letter survives amongst the papers for that case. The costs, he claimed, were ‘a most extortionate and exorbitant claim’. He was so incensed that he intimated that the procedure of the court itself was so corrupt that it was in need of investigation by the University Commission. By this he meant the University of Oxford Commission (Selborne Commission), which had just begun its meetings at Oxford, looking into the financial arrangements of the colleges. It seems unlikely that Wilde’s plea ever reached the Commission’s ears.

Extracts from letter of Oscar Wilde to the Chancellor’s Court, 1877 (Chancellor’s Court papers 1877/98:3)

He ended the letter ‘I trust that this monstrous claim will not be allowed to remain’ but it appears that his protests were to no avail. The official accounts of the cases in the Chancellor’s Court registers here in the Archives record that both were settled by payment of the debt in full. There is no indication that Wilde’s letter of protest let him off in any way.

Wilde’s contretemps with the University authorities did not adversely affect his studies, fortunately, and he performed as brilliantly in his final examinations in Literae Humaniores (Classics) the following summer as he had done in this Mods, achieving first class honours again. He also won the University’s prestigious Newdigate Prize for English Verse that year for his poem ‘Ravenna’ (having spent time there the previous year) which he read publicly at the 1878 Encaenia ceremony in June.

The Chancellor’s Court continued its decline and was used less and less as the nineteenth century wore on; very few cases were held throughout the twentieth century. The very last case to be put before the court took place in 1968 and eleven years later, in 1979, the court was formally abolished.

Wilde’s time at Oxford is discussed by Richard Ellmann in his 1988 biography ‘Oscar Wilde’ as well as within his many other works on Wilde.

For more information about Wilde’s involvement with freemasonry whilst at Oxford, see the article by Yasha Beresiner at OSCAR WILDE Freemasons (freemasons-freemasonry.com)

Stories about Wilde’s time in Oxford, and of other LGBT+ students at the University throughout its history, can be found on the ‘Queer Oxford’ website at Queer Oxford – Celebrating 600+ years of LGBTQ+ history and heritage in the city Oscar Wilde called ‘the capital of romance’.

 

Bicentenary of the Anti-Slavery Society: first minute book digitised

On 31st January 1823 a group calling itself the Committee on Slavery assembled at the Kings Head Tavern, Poultry, in the City of London. William Smith M.P. was in the Chair and those present included Zachary Macaulay, Samuel Hoare, Thomas Clarkson, Samuel Gurney, Thomas Babington, Thomas Hodgkin and William Wilberforce junior. The committee agreed that it was ‘deeply impressed with the magnitude and number of the evils attached to the system of slavery which prevails in many of the colonies of Great Britain, a system which appears … to be opposed to the spirit and precepts of Christianity as well as repugnant to every dictate of natural humanity and justice’ and resolved to found an association ‘for mitigating and gradually abolishing the state of slavery throughout the British dominions’ (MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 20, E2/1, pages 1-2).

Opening page of the minute book of the Anti-Slavery Society recording, in manuscript, its first meeting.

Opening page of the first minute book of the Anti-Slavery Society, MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 20, E2/1, page 1 [click to enlarge]. © Anti-Slavery International      To mark the organisation’s bicentenary the minute book has been digitised and is now available on Digital Bodleian.

This was the beginning of a campaigning organisation, the successor of which is still in existence today, two hundred years later. The Committee on Slavery changed its name a number of times during the 19th century but came to be known as the Anti-Slavery Society and extended its focus from British territories to a commitment to end slavery worldwide. It merged in 1909 with the Aborigines Protection Society (founded in 1837) which campaigned against the ill-treatment of indigenous peoples. In 1990 the Society changed its name to Anti-Slavery International and continues to campaign against modern slavery, forced labour and human trafficking.

 

The Society’s archive was purchased for the Bodleian Library in 1951, with further tranches of papers added in later decades, and is available for consultation in the Weston Library. The archive includes:

  • minute books from 1823 to 1935
  • long runs of correspondence from many parts of the world, bringing examples of slavery to the Society’s attention
  • correspondence with government departments
  • territorial files
  • lantern slides and photographs
  • financial papers
  • newspaper cuttings and printed ephemera
  • the records of associated groups such as the Mico Charity, the Committee for the Welfare of Africans in Europe and the British Armenia Committee

The Bodleian also holds The Anti-Slavery Reporter, published by the Society since 1825 with various changes of title.

The archive records key events during the Society’s history including the organisation of the first World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840, the campaign against the atrocities perpetrated against enslaved labourers in the Congo and in Peru, the lobbying of the League of Nations and later the United Nations leading to international agreements to end slavery and the promotion of human rights for indigenous peoples. The Society’s work had a global reach from the apprenticeship system in the Caribbean, forced labour in Russian timber camps and pass laws in Africa to lynching in America and Mui Tsai in China and southeast Asia.

Oil painting of the Anti-Slavery Society Convention in 1841 showing packed room of delegates listening to a speaker.

The Anti-Slavery Society Convention in 1840 by Benjamin Robert Haydon. Oil on canvas, 1841. NPG 599. © National Portrait Gallery, London. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

To mark the organisation’s bicentenary the minute book recording the first meeting has been digitised and is now available on Digital Bodleian.

 

Radcliffe Square before the Camera

This month’s University Archives’ blog looks at a small and rather battered plan which we hold showing the area between St Mary’s Church and the Old Bodleian Library. It shows the outlines of the buildings which used to exist in Radcliffe Square before the Radcliffe Camera was built.

Plan of Radcliffe Square

Plan of site of the Radcliffe Camera, showing properties which occupied the site before the Camera was built. undated (OUA/UD 28/33)

The plan shows which buildings used to stand along Catte Street, together with the names of the individuals or colleges who owned and occupied them.  Superimposed on them is the familiar circular outline of the Camera. Catte Street was originally a narrow street running from the High Street up to New College Lane, occupied by houses, shops and businesses which filled much of the open space that we’re used to today. These buildings even joined directly onto the Old Bodleian Library, known then as the University’s Schools quad, and marked ‘Schools’ at the top end of the plan. Duke Humfrey’s Library is indicated by ‘Library’.  The plan shows the surrounding colleges: All Souls and Brasenose, the latter of which has much detail including the chapel, woodyard and the rather alarmingly-named ‘Bogg House’. St Mary’s Church is shown at the bottom of the plan.

We know that the plan was kept and used for many years by the University as part of its collections of plans and drawings of University buildings. It bears the marks of two former plan referencing systems in its bottom right-hand corner. What we don’t know is when the plan was made, by whom, or why.

The Radcliffe Library (as the Radcliffe Camera was originally known) opened in 1749, the brainchild of Dr John Radcliffe, physician, politician and former student of the University. A wealthy man, he bequeathed to the University, in his will of 1713, a large sum of money (£40,000) for the building of a new library. Radcliffe not only decided exactly where he wanted his library to be, he also made provision in his will for the purchase and demolition of the houses on Catte Street which were, at that time, in the way.

Architect Nicholas Hawksmoor began drawing up plans for the new building in 1714. Grand plans were afoot to make the area south of what is now the Old Bodleian Library into a ‘forum universitatis’, an impressive central space and focal point of the University. Certain people were rather sniffy about the houses on Catte Street, Charles I remarking in the previous century that the houses there ‘take off from the lustre and dignity of the University’. It sounded like the plans for the Radcliffe Library were just what was needed to realise the vision and clear away the occupants of the Catte Street properties at the same time, whether or not they wanted to move.

A circular library was planned from the outset, but despite Radcliffe’s will stating precisely where the building should be, early aborted plans played around with its location. One proposal suggested joining it onto the west end of the Old Bodleian from Selden End of Duke Humfrey’s Library, sticking out into – and taking up rather a lot of – the gardens of Exeter College. Another located it in what is now Radcliffe Square, but stuck directly onto the south side of the Old Bodleian. Neither was aesthetically very satisfactory and the final location, mid-way between the Old Bodleian and St Mary’s was eventually settled upon.

Radcliffe died in 1714 leaving his estate and the plans for the new library to his executors, the Radcliffe Trustees. The Trustees began the long and tortuous task of acquiring the properties they needed. Despite Radcliffe’s foresight in his will, it still took many years for the Trustees to navigate through the complicated freeholds and leaseholds on each property and negotiate with all the different property owners. As well as private individuals, they had to deal with the five colleges who owned and leased out some of the houses. Brasenose College, for example, had several properties on the site including student lodgings, a coach house and a brewery. In 1719 the college brokered a deal with the Trustees: in exchange for their Catte Street properties, they wanted the Trust to purchase them houses to the south of their quadrangle. It’s said that in order to facilitate this, a plan was drawn up in 1720 by the Trustees, showing the various properties and their owners, with, superimposed on top, the outline of the proposed circular library.

This sounds very much like our plan, but ours is not as old as 1720 – the handwriting, for example, is not from that period. A version of the 1720 map which was apparently, at the time, kept in the Radcliffe Library itself, was later engraved and published in James Skelton’s book Oxonia Antiqua Restaurata of 1843.

Plan of Radcliffe Square

Plan of Radcliffe Square from ‘Oxonia Antiqua Restaurata’ by Joseph Skelton (1843)

Legal obstacles further complicated things and an Act of Parliament had to be created in order to allow the sale of some of the properties to go ahead and the Trustees to acquire the last of the properties. In the end it took nearly 20 years to acquire all the properties on the site and have them demolished. The very last one, the house and garden adjoining the south side of the Old Bodleian, was demolished in 1733, leaving the Library with the familiar appearance which it has now.

In 1736, John Radcliffe’s last surviving sister Hannah, who was looked after by his will until her death, passed away, meaning that the funds for the new library could finally be released. The long years of negotiation over, work to construct the library began. Hawksmoor had died in March that year, before building work had even begun, and James Gibbs took over the commission. The foundation stone of the new Library was laid on 17 May 1737 and Radcliffe Square was born. The building work was completed in 1748 and the Library officially opened on 13 April 1749.

The Radcliffe Library became known as the Radcliffe Camera in 1861 when its collection of scientific books moved out to the newly-created University Museum, the new science hub of the University. To differentiate the Radcliffe Library from this collection of books (now housed in what was called the Radcliffe (Science) Library), it was renamed the Radcliffe Camera (‘camera’ being the Latin word for ‘room’) and officially became a reading room of the Bodleian Library.

The Camera finally passed from the ownership of the Radcliffe Trustees to the University in 1927. As part of the property acquisition, the University also acquired a large number of deeds and documents relating to the houses which the Trust had purchased and demolished to build the Camera. These deeds came to the University Archives at about the same time, and we think that the plan arrived along with the deeds.

Many of those deeds were several hundred years old and told the stories of the people who had lived and worked in those properties over the centuries. One of the earliest relates to House number 10 on Catte Street. Dated 6 February 1425, it is a grant of the land (a tenement with shops) from John Whytewonge to John Dolle, bookbinder, and Jane his wife.

1425 deed for House 10, Catte Street

The oldest surviving deed for House no 10 on Catte Street, 6 Feb 1425 (OUA/UD 27/7/1)

Unfortunately we still don’t know much more about our plan. It certainly appears to be much later in date than the information it is showing, maybe a copy of part of the 1720 plan, but it’s difficult to say when or why it was made. Perhaps it was compiled at the time that the University acquired the Camera site. Maybe it was compiled by the Radcliffe Trustees to help them identify the many deeds and documents they were transferring to the University along with the property. Perhaps it was the University’s attempt to understand things from its side. Whichever it is, it is a fascinating plan which shows a very different Oxford than the one we’re used to.

For more information about the Radcliffe Camera and its history, see Stephen Hebron’s 2014 history, Dr Radcliffe’s Library: The Story of the Radcliffe Camera in Oxford. For an interesting chronological journey through the buildings of Brasenose College, see the College’s website at College buildings – Brasenose College, Oxford

A wooden model of Hawksmoor’s early plan for the Camera was given to the Bodleian in 1913. A short blog was written about it in 2008 at Radcliffe Camera model by Nicholas Hawksmoor – The Conveyor (ox.ac.uk)

The Pass School

One of the most frequent enquiries received by the University Archives is along the lines of “My ancestor studied at Oxford, what subject did they study?” This is a deceptively simple question, as it assumes that the route to an Oxford BA has always had its current “shape” – a student is interested in a subject, they apply to specifically study that subject, they receive (if successful) a BA in that subject, usually with an honours class.

However, this was not the case for hundreds of years in the University. Instead, the system we know now is the result of the culmination of an astonishing number of changes to the examination statutes during the 19th century. The full history of these and the motivations behind them would comfortably fill a volume, so in this year, the 150th since its introduction in 1872, we’re going to look at the lead up to and implementation of one such (little known) change – the introduction of the Pass School.

From the early days of the University, then codified in the Laudian Statutes of 1636, students followed a common curriculum. In their first year, students studied grammar and rhetoric via the medium of Latin. From their second year, they studied logic and ethics. From their third year onward, they also studied Greek and Geometry. All of these subjects were studied via the works of Classical authors (Romans and Greeks) and can roundly be described as ‘Literae Humaniores’. The means of examination was oral – students were required to participate in debates and answer questions from a panel of examiners in order to demonstrate their knowledge of specific topics.

However, in the decades leading up to 1800, both Oxford’s curriculum and the means of examination were criticised. The narrow focus on the Classics seemed out-of-step with the range of subjects being methodically studied at other, newer universities, and the need to pass the BA before preceding to study any subject other than the Classics (with very few exceptions) was seen as a barrier to scientific studies. In addition to this, the examination system had become a farce. The questioning sessions had become a set series of questions, with students learning the answers by rote. There was no “ranking” of those examined – all successful candidates were awarded a BA.

It’s unsurprising therefore that many students never bothered to be examined or graduate, and the University, in the face of public contempt, sought to improve the system. Two resulting “themes” in the ensuing changes to the examination statutes throughout the 1800s can be identified – the separation of “pass” and “honours” candidates and the erosion of the common curriculum (through the introduction of new subjects and the ability to specialise).

Page of the original copy of the Laudian statute showing requirements for the BA degree

The first page of statutes relating to the exercises required for the BA degree in the first edition of the Laudian Statutes, 1636 (OUA/WPgamma/25c/1)

The Examination Statutes of 1800 retained the common and familiar curriculum, but made the method of examination more vigorous. A board of six examiners were appointed, with the requirement that at least three examiners were present at every examination. Furthermore, a separate “extraordinary” examination was instituted, which candidates could attend instead of the “normal” examination, which aimed to stretch the most able students. The highest performing twelve students were deemed to have passed, and their names were published, in order of merit.

The attempt was a disaster, with few entrants to the extraordinary exam, and a total of 10 individuals receiving honours between 1802 and 1807. In 1807 the Examination Statutes were again rewritten, but this time the changes were far more successful. Students were examined in much the same way, but all took the “same” examination. Honours were awarded to those who were deemed to have done exceptionally well – both through demonstrating a better understanding of the texts and ideas discussed, but also through displaying having read more widely. Successful students were placed in three groups, with their names arranged alphabetically within the groups – first class, second class, and the remainder who had “satisfied” the examiners. Furthermore, the same statute decreed that there should be two groups of classes – one for Literae Humaniores and one for the Mathematics and Physical Sciences elements of the exam. Thus, it was possible to get a “double first” – for exceptional performance in both elements.

These statutes set the tone for the changes over the next six decades. Class divisions remained, although the number varied, peaking at five (Classes 1-4, and the remainder). The examination of those seeking honours, and those aiming for a pass was gradually, increasingly separated. From 1830 candidates were required to submit in advance to the proctors not only their names, but also the lists of books which they intended to cover and discuss during the examination. Based on the lists of books submitted, examiners would divide candidates into two groups in advance – those to be examined for honours and those seeking a pass – and examine the two groups separately.

The subjects in which candidates were examined were also increasingly separated. In 1825, an additional examination for those seeking honours in Mathematics and Physical sciences was instituted. Once a candidate had passed the Literae Humaniores examination, they could say that they wished to be examined for honours in Maths and Science, and their name would be submitted for a later examination, by a separate group of examiners.

The most significant change came in 1850 when four final examination schools were introduced – Literae Humaniores; Mathematics and Physical Sciences; Natural Sciences; and Law and Modern History. However, the defenders of the common curriculum ensured that this did not mean the end of the dominance of the Classics at Oxford. In order to receive a BA, a student had to pass the examination in two subjects, and one of them had to be Literae Humaniores. All students were first examined in the Classics and only if they passed in that school could their names be passed to the examiners in one of the other three schools. Curiously, this would appear to mean that a student could not “only” study Literae Humaniores!

A depiction of a student's nightmare of examinations

The “horrors” of the common curriculum and oral examination clearly continued to weigh on the undergraduate mind during the 1800s (G.A. Oxon 4° 412 (v.1), folio 12)

However, the writing was on the wall for the defenders of the mandatory study of the Classics. In 1864 the statutes were changed to allow those who were placed in classes 1 to 3 in a single subject to obtain a BA. By 1870, this was extended to those obtaining fourth class honours. As such, those defending the common curriculum were forced to rely on the curriculums for examinations taken earlier in the students’ time at Oxford in order to retain at least some focus on Literae Humaniores – Responsions (introduced in 1808, and by the 1870s generally taken in the first year, with the stronger colleges often insisting on them being taken during the first term of residence) and Moderations (introduced in 1850 and taken roughly halfway through the student’s time at the University).

A student trying to translate from English to Greek during an examination

A caricature of an undergraduate taking “smalls” (the name given to Moderations) depicting the continuing importance of the Classics in examinations (G.A. Oxon 4° 412 (v.1), folio 48)

The recognition of new subjects and the separation of pass and honours candidates culminated in the new examination statutes of 1872 – the first year in which the examination statutes merited a separate printing to the other statutes of the University. The honour schools of Literae Humaniores, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, and Natural Sciences were retained; Law and Modern History had been split into two schools in 1871, and Theology had been introduced as a separate subject in 1869. There were four classes in each subject.

The greatest change in these statutes was the introduction of a specific school for those seeking a pass degree. A pass degree was no longer simply failing to be placed in a class in one of the honour schools. Instead, it was an entirely different course, with a surprisingly modern and revolutionary structure, content and method of examination. The curriculum was separated into groups (subject themes) and had “units” within those groups including some previously side-lined subjects within the University, specifically modern languages. The groups and units in 1872 were as follows:

Group A – essentially Literae Humaniores
A1 – Two books. Either both Greek or one Greek and one Latin. One to be a book of philosophy, one of history.
A2 – The outlines of Greek and Roman history
Group B – essentially Languages, Politics and Law
B1 = English history and literature; OR modern European History with Geography
B2 = French or German language and literature
B3 = The elements of political economy
B4 = A branch of Legal Study
Group C – essentially Mathematics and the Sciences
C1 = The elements of Geometry
C2 = The elements of Mechanics, Solid and Fluid, treated mathematically
C3 = The Elements of Chemistry
C4 = The Elements of Physics

Within this modular and varied course, it was mandated that students had to take and pass at least three units, giving candidates a wide selection of subjects to select from and explore. The examinations for each unit were separate from each other and could be spread over the candidates’ final two years in Oxford.

A marked up copy of the pass school regulations

A copy of the 1883 edition of the Student’s Handbook, owned by a student at the time. One motivation for the publication was to help students navigate the increasingly complex curriculum. The pages relating to the Pass School are clearly marked, indicating options of interest.

The passage of this course into statute was not straightforward. First suggested as a concept to Hebdomadal Council in February 1870, the statute was not passed by Convocation until March of 1872. In the interim, the statutes were the subject of much debate in Congregation, with amendments (often multiple and competing amendments to the same clause) being suggested and sent back to Hebdomadal Council in the intervening years. This prevarication was clearly a source of frustration to the University authorities. When the statutes came to face yet another contested vote in Congregation in February 1872, Dr Pusey, evidently frustrated, was recorded as saying “The last vote [relating to the Honour School of Literae Humaniores] was on principle, the present was a question of expediency. Let the statute pass.” (Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 10 February 1872). The statute passed, by 67 votes to 43.

It is notable that the main suggested alterations and objections were not to the idea of a pass school per se, but related to details as to its implementation. One of the amendments that was included in the final version of the statute was the rule that candidates had to take and pass either unit A1 (essentially Literae Humaniores) or B2 (French or German). This is a curious compromise between attempts to preserve an aspect of the common curriculum (the Classics) with the attempts to introduce a brand-new subject (modern languages) as part of a route to the BA. In a move that seemed to ensure the diversity of the curriculum for those taking the Pass School in an age of increased subject-specialisation, students were not permitted to take more than two units from any one group.

Pages of text containing suggestions for new examination statutes 1869

A copy of the recommendations of the Examination Committee, first proposing the reconstituted Pass School (OUA/HC 1/6/2, folio 45v)

The course came in for criticism, especially in its early days, notably in terms of academic perception. PA Wright-Henderson, a tutor at Wadham College, thought the new pass school widened the ever-expanding gulf between “passmen” and “classmen” which was “founded on the questionable assumption that the passman was an entirely different creature from his counterpart reading for honours.” Pass School coaches were depicted as “cramming” the students by rote in advance of examination (harkening back to the preparation for the questioning sessions of the examinations before 1800), in contrast to the idea of encouraging honours school candidates to read widely and explore their subjects. Passmen were commonly depicted as idle (which is a questionable assumption given that their examinations were spread over a longer period of time) with Edwin Palmer (Corpus Professor of Latin) in 1877 described the teaching of passmen as “a sort of police supervision”.

A caricature of a common perception of a "passman"

A depiction of one of the critical perceptions of “passmen”, spending his time with “ease”, “bliss”, “indulgence”, and rowing, before a period of cramming, and afterwards receiving a BA. A “testamur” was a certificate signed by the examiners, certifying you had passed an exam, and “ploughing” was slang for failing. One of the criticisms of the modular curriculum was that it meant that a candidate only had to repeat a smaller amount of work if they failed one of the three units (G.A. Oxon 4° 413 (v.2), folio 309)

However, the pass school provided a useful route by which the University could introduce new subjects as a part of the BA without (or before) developing a new honour school, and a means by which students interested in those subjects could incorporate them into their degrees. This is most clearly demonstrated with the incorporation of diplomas and certificates within the Pass School. First appearing in the Examination Statutes of 1905, diplomas (and later, certificates) offered a University-issued qualification (although not the equivalent to a degree), which could be obtained in a shorter timeframe, in new “practical” subjects such as Geography, Education, Economics, Engineering, Anthropology and Forestry. As early as 1908, candidates for the pass degree were able to use certificates and diplomas in lieu of completing units – a diploma counted for two units, whilst a certificate could be used in lieu of completing one unit.

Perhaps it is due to this public perception of the school or the emphasis of “otherness” but the pass school did begin to wane in popularity relatively quickly. According to figures compiled for the sixth volume of The History of the University of Oxford, in the 1870s, 30% of undergraduates took the pass school. By 1910, the number had decreased to 16%. Nevertheless, the pass school continued to add further subjects to its growing options over the years. In 1886 Group D was created – Elements of Religious Knowledge. This was followed three years later by a rather different addition when the preliminary examinations of many of the science-related honour schools became units. In 1904, Group E “military studies” was introduced. By 1930, Hebrew, Spanish and Italian formed part of the roster, alongside separate units for English Literature and History.

Although its popularity waned over the years, the pass school did not leave the statutes in this modular form until 1992. However, the existence and structure of the pass school reflects many of the pressures and social opinions that came to bear upon the University examinations in the 1800s. Its introduction marks the beginning of the dominance of the Honours School and the recognition of classes, alongside a desire to simultaneously widen the curriculum whilst permitting specialisation. Its innovative structure can be seen as providing a means for the University to pave the way to a more dynamic and diverse curriculum.

Sources
eds. Curthoys, M. C; Brock, M. G. The History of the University of Oxford: Volume VI: Nineteenth-Century Oxford, Part 1. Oxford: OUP, 1997, especially Chapter II, “The Examination System” by M.C. Curthoys.

Brockliss, Laurence W. B. The University of Oxford: A History. Oxford: OUP, 2016, especially Part II.7 – “Students and Teachers” and Part III.9 “A century of Reform”.

Cox, G. V. Recollections of Oxford. London: Macmillan, 1870.

Mallet, Charles Edward. A History of the University of Oxford, Volume III: Modern Oxford. London: Methuen, 1924.

 

 

African Poetry Project: an intern’s view

What do we mean when we say ‘African poetry’? Do we mean poetry by an African writer? But who counts as an African writer? A poet born in Africa? A poet living in Africa at the time of writing? And what does ‘poetry’ mean here? Are we referring to traditional verse forms like sonnets, villanelles, quintets, with regular metre and rhythm, printed in verse collections or neatly typewritten in English? What would happen if we broaden our definitions, if we recognize the various types of communication, broadcast, and preservation of traditions and how they may inform how poetry is carried in different cultures? What if we were open to these forms? These are the questions which I have been helping to answer over the past few weeks during my internship in the Bodleian Library’s Archives and Modern Manuscripts department. By using broader defining terms and broader answers to these questions, we can dive back into the archives to find new sources of African poetry which may have been buried.

This project is associated with the African Poetry Digital Portal, an initiative of the African Poetry Book Fund. The Fund promotes and advances the development and publication of the poetic arts through its book series, contests, workshops, and seminars and through its collaborations with publishers, festivals, universities, conferences and all other entities that share an interest in the poetic arts of Africa. The Portal is a new and evolving resource for the study of the history of African Poetry and will provide access to biographical information, artefacts, news, video recording, images and documents related to African poetry from antiquity to the present. It will also feature specially curated digital projects on various aspects of African poetry. The first two sections of the portal—‘The Index of Contemporary African Poets’ and ‘The African Poets and Poetry in the News’ have been developed with the support of the Ford Foundation and the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

The Bodleian Library is one of the collaborating institutions working on the project. When I said ‘dive back into the archive’, the archives of most interest to us are the collections of records relating to Africa, many of which were created during the colonial era. While the collections under consideration also include those more commonly associated with ‘African poetry’, such as the protest songs and poems in the Archive of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, this is what the project is designed to do – to recover the occluded and the lost voices, of which there are many in the collections.

Guided by the APDP’s brief, I began by creating a list of search terms. The project’s definition of an ‘African’ with regards to poetry is: “The poet must be African, which we define as someone who was born in an African country, is a citizen of an African country, or has at least one parent who is/was an African.” Their definition of poetry is a broad one, and too extensive to quote here, but to give a hint of what it entails, my list of search terms ended up including, without being limited to:

poetry, proverb, saying, aphorism, motto, epigram, verse, rhyme, ballad, song, incantation, folk, folklore, custom, history, fable, art, runes, oral, chorus, vernacular, oath, tradition…

With this list of terms, I first tackled the online catalogue, Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts. There were limited results here and the outlook seemed bleak. But then I began to gingerly approach a selection of scanned and OCR’d handlists, each of which gives an outline of what each collection includes. Ctrl + F is your friend here. And a good playlist. It was slow progress, and the names are enough to make one doubt: Lord Scarborough. Sir Mark Wilson. Humphrey William Amherst. Searching for ‘folk’ turns up more instances of ‘Norfolk’ and ‘Suffolk’ than African folk songs. ‘Customs’ finds lengthy papers on ‘Customs and Tariffs’ instead of traditional African customs. ‘Histories’ of African tribes look promising, until you see the author – a John, Charles, or George – and realise the history is a type of history written for a particular reason, and not the one we’re looking for.

But there are flashes of discovery. A vague handlist entry tells us about a letter which might contain something of interest:

f. 35. Philip (JOHN) to James Crapper concerning his attack on slavery, his own experiences and findings among the… [Khoekhoe people], and the English translation of a song from Madagascar.

When I had a hunch that here might be an example of African poetry just waiting to be found, I requested the box up from the subterranean levels of the Weston Library. Such was the case for Rev. John Philip’s letter to James Crapper dated 29th September 1830. Having collected the item, I could see that Philip includes in his correspondence ‘A Song Concerning the Dead’ which is ‘translated literally from the Madagascan language’. Squinting through his handwriting, we can make out the origins – he overheard the song while anchoring for a short time in a coastal town. He provides a commentary on the ‘Song’ and compares its beauty to that of Gray’s ‘Elegy’. This is success – a Madagascan poem, composed by an unknown African poet, housed among colonial records and now given its literary due thanks to the project.

Photograph of a handwritten letter including text for a Song Concerning the Dead, 29 September 1830‘Song Concerning the Dead’, letter from John Philip to James Crapper, 29 Sep 1830, Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Afr. s. 4, fols. 35-36

Another example might be the Papers of Lord Claud David Hamilton, who spent much of his life involved in colonial affairs, as well as travelling through and researching Kenya. The handlist reads:

HAMILTON. (Lord Claud David). Correspondence on the Masai [Maasai] tribe, Kenya, with collections of tribal folk-tales and songs, articles on life in Kenya and a MS history of the Masai.

As expected, we find his unpublished (rejected) manuscript on the Maasai. Perhaps more unexpectedly, this manuscript is bursting with Maasai songs, prayers, and poems in various African languages, neatly typewritten. These range from women’s fertility prayers at an ‘ol-omal Ceremony’ to a ‘Song of the Il-Peless age-set’. While we cannot attribute the songs to a named poet or verify the accuracy of his transcriptions of course, these certainly originate from the Maasai tribes and are certainly poems – ‘African poetry’, if we take APDP’s definition.

Hamilton’s and Philip’s papers are just two examples of many more discoveries that we have made, and so far, after combing through catalogues and calling up boxes, I have found fifteen definite instances of African poetry. And the list of boxes for further checking is still extensive. While my internship is over, the project is definitely not – and I’m sure there is much more to find.

-Kelly Frost

This internship was sponsored by the Mellon Foundation as a part of the grant awarded to the African Poetry Book Fund  and University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries for the development of the African Poetry Digital Portal. Collaborators include: the University of Cambridge, the University of Cape Town, the University of Ghana, the University of Lomé,  the University of Michigan, Northwestern University, Oxford University, and the Library of Congress.

The Earls of Clarendon catalogue is now online

You can find the new catalogue of the family and working papers of seven Earls of Clarendon (2nd creation) online at Bodleian Archives and Manuscripts.

The archive adds considerably to the Bodleian’s existing collections of Clarendon family papers, which include the seventeenth-century state papers of the very first Earl of Clarendon (1st creation) who was chief advisor to Charles I and Lord Chancellor to Charles II. His heirs in the Hyde and Villiers families took up the mantle and continued to serve the British government and the royal family well into the twentieth century. Notable postings included the 4th Earl of Clarendon serving as Viceroy of Ireland during the Great Famine and later as Foreign Secretary, and the 6th Earl of Clarendon serving as Governor-General of South Africa in the 1930s.

The archive includes approximately 800 letters from Queen Victoria and correspondence with monarchs and statesmen including Frederick the Great of Prussia and Viscount Palmerston. It also includes intimate family and estate papers, including letters between mothers and sons and husbands and wives.

I have been blogging about interesting items I’ve found along the way, ranging from 19th-century condoms to letters from the front during the American War of Independence (plus one extremely cute dog) and you can find those posts all here at the Archives and Manuscripts blog.

‘Hummings and other clamorous noyses’ – keeping the peace at Encaenia

Encaenia hasn’t always been the solemn and serious ceremony it is now. For much of its life, it was the victim of some very bad behaviour – some of which was formally sanctioned by the University, but most of which was not. Until the Sheldonian Theatre was built in 1669, the Act (the predecessor of Encaenia) took place at St Mary’s, the University Church. By the late fifteenth century, however, this, once sober occasion had begun to turn into a much less respectable and rather outrageous event.

As well as the conferral of honorary degrees, the Act (effectively the University’s annual graduation ceremony) also contained a theatrical element absent from the modern Encaenia ceremony. It attracted travelling players and musical performers, and was livelier and more exuberant than it is now. Part of the exuberance came from a character at the event who was appointed by the University almost deliberately to lower the tone. The Terrae Filius (‘son of the earth’, meaning someone of very lowly origins) was an anonymous speaker whose role was to poke fun at the University and give a satirical speech about the honorands.

Whilst originally a solemn and serious participant in the proceedings, the Terrae Filius’s speech gradually descended over the years into downright rudeness. Although the University officially tolerated this licensed outrageousness, some of the individuals present (especially those on the receiving end of the rudeness) did not. Some speeches were so offensive that the Terrae Filius was attacked and beaten afterwards. In other years the speech gives were expelled from the University, forced to retract their speech, and even arrested on the spot and taken to Oxford’s bocardo prison.

The theatricals and the insults of the Terrae Filius appealed to many undergraduates and visitors from outside Oxford and the came to the Act in large numbers. The crowds and the general spirit of licentiousness proved a dangerous cocktail with undergraduates seeing the event as an opportunity to misbehave. They made noises which disrupted the ceremony (‘Hummings and other clamorous noyses’), were rude to the honorands, and deliberately sat in the wrong seats, ie those set aside for more senior University individuals. The University started having to issue notices to undergraduates warning them of the consequences of their bad behaviour.

Notice of 1652

Notice of 5 July 1652 concerning student behaviour at the Act (from OUA/WPgamma/28/8)

The Act became such an undesirable part of the University’s calendar that by the late seventeenth century it wasn’t even held every year. It seems that the University looked for any excuse not to have to hold it. Some years there were ‘not enough honorands’; other years, it wasn’t held for fear of sparking political disturbances. The event had become so rowdy that many thought it no longer appropriate to be held in a church. As a result, the Sheldonian Theatre was built and the Act moved there in 1670.

The Act was held only three times in the first half of the eighteenth century: in 1703, 1713 and 1733. The Terrae Filius didn’t even speak at the 1713 Act, his speech apparently having been burnt. His very last appearance in 1763 was in a much reduced, and heavily-censored, role.

The 1733 Act, famous for involving the composer George Frideric Handel, was the last traditional Act to take place. It was replaced shortly afterwards by the new annual Encaenia ceremony, a much-reduced version of the Act. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, Encaenia (also known as the Commemoration) was becoming an important part of the University calendar again. Unfortunately rowdy undergraduate behaviour was also becoming a regular part of Encaenia. The move to the Sheldonian had not curbed the behaviour, it had simply moved it to a new location. Student rowdiness was such a part of the tradition of the event that although the Terrae Filius had long been consigned to history, his spirit lived on.

University notice concerning students banished for disruption of Encaenia 1843 (OUA/WPgamma/26/2/18)

In June 1843, four students were banished from the University for between one and five years each for ‘grievous violation of the peace’ at the Sheldonian Theatre. The University issued numerous notices over the following decades chastising the undergraduates for their continuing bad behaviour, repeated without fail each Encaenia.

University notice concerning behaviour at Encaenia, c1840 (from OUA/WPgamma/26/2/19)

The notices reminded undergraduates that they had no formal right to even be at the ceremony. Encaenia was technically a meeting of Convocation (the body of MAs and higher degree holders of the University) of which undergraduates were not members.

University notice of 24 June 1867 concerning student behaviour (from OUA/WPgamma/26/2/84)

By the time Encaenia 1867 was about to take place, the University was issuing strongly-worded notices to its undergraduates about the impact of their behaviour. It was not only bringing the University into disrepute, it was even, allegedly, putting people off accepting an honorary degree from Oxford. They just couldn’t face the ‘ordeal’ of it.

The problem of undergraduates’ bad behaviours at Encaenia was finally solved in the 1870s. The Curators of the Sheldonian Theatre were established in 1872, a direct result of the Encaenia disturbances. A new body set up to take responsibility of the Sheldonian, one of its first acts was to tackle the issue of crowd control at Encaenia. Until that time, entry to the Sheldonian had not been restricted in any way and any member of the University, undergraduate or otherwise, could turn up. In 1872 the Curators decided to admit undergraduates to Encaenia by ticket only. In 1878 they went even further, deciding on 30 May that year that undergraduates would no longer be allowed at Encaenia. Removing undergraduates from the ceremony entirely finally enabled the University to bring Encaenia back under control and into the realms of respectability.

For more information about the chequered history of the Terrae Filius, see the article by Bromley Smith and Douglas Ehninger ‘The Terrafilial disputations at Oxford’ at  https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00335635009381578

The Acts of 1713 and 1733 are discussed by H Diack Johnstone in his article ‘Handel at Oxford in 1733’ available at https://www.jstor.org/stable/3138069?seq=1 and in his chapter ‘Music and Drama at the Oxford Act of 1713’ in Concert Life in Eighteenth-Century Britain (ed Susan Wollenberg, 2017).

Further information about the Encaenia ceremony today can be found on the University’s website at https://www.ox.ac.uk/news-and-events/The-University-Year/Encaenia

 

The Kingsland Mercury and The Lost Kingdom

One of the undoubted literary gems of the Bodleian Library is Jane Austen’s collection of juvenilia. Self-titled Volume the First, it contains sixteen of Jane’s earliest works including stories and verses, some of which were first written when Jane was as young as eleven or twelve.(1) While Volume the First reminds us that every author began somewhere, it also reminds us of how early or juvenile work can be treasured and preserved by its creators and their families alike, sometimes well beyond the lifetimes of the original intended audience. However, not all of the literary manuscripts at the Bodleian Library were created by world famous names and examples of juvenilia, shown here by two recent acquisitions, are no exception.

The Kingsland Mercury

Around 1854, two children identified as S. Horn and Edward Woodall, living in the Mardol Head neighbourhood in central Shrewsbury, decided to set up their own miniature periodical which they called The Kingsland Mercury. Written by hand on tiny pieces of folded paper and sewn together, four editions and three ‘free’ supplements dating between March and October 1854 have survived in surprisingly pristine condition (with, alas, a few missing pages). The main topic of conversation and commentary was the Crimean War but The Kingsland Mercury also included local and ‘comic’ news alongside stories, poetry, riddles, and letters to the editor, all mirroring the grown up newspapers of the day.

A small handwritten mock up of a newspaperThe Kingsland Mercury Supplement, 9 April 1854, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 18763

One of the letters to the editor gives us a clue that this tiny homemade newspaper was founded sometime before the first surviving issue from March 1854 and also had a far wider circulation than just its immediate creators. The letter writer complained that:

…really the time which some of the Subscribers of the Kingsland Mercury keep that paper is almost intolerable. Instead of reading it at the first opportunity they have, they keep it in their pockets sometimes for a day or more. Now this is too bad, & it shews that they don’t care… when those whose names are last on the list get it.

It is also likely that there were other contributors to the paper beyond the named editors due to requests from the editors for ‘original pieces on any interesting subject’ and also the occasional change in handwriting.(2)

The emphasis on the Crimean War demonstrates an awareness by the child-editors of a world beyond their own immediate environs. This awareness is also demonstrated by the inclusion of an anti-slavery poem by Edward Woodall entitled ‘The negro’s wrongs’ strongly criticising the ongoing practice of slavery in the United States, emphasising the conscious denial of education by the slave owners alongside the physical brutality they practised. Such inclusions hint at the beliefs and understanding of the adult society in which the children were brought up.(3)

The Lost Kingdom

The second example of juvenilia also demonstrates an awareness of a wider, diverse world with multiple histories. The Lost Kingdom, a ‘mocked-up’ historical adventure novel set around the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru, was created by C.M. Carter at St Margarets in West Runton, Norfolk (Carter gives the location more specifically as ‘the Den’). The 422 page handwritten novel, which includes several full-page watercolour illustrations, was completed on 25th June 1922. The novel was then hand-bound with black thread between two paste board covers with bright watercolour paintings on the top cover and spine.

The illustrated cover of a child's mock up of a novelFront cover of The Lost Kingdom, by C.M. Carter, c.1922, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 17192

The action-packed narrative is an epic Indiana Jones-style adventure, reflecting the contemporary derring-do of Boys’ Own type publications and adventure fiction written by authors such as John Buchan. In The Lost Kingdom, the ‘hero’ of the story, Mr Bernard Morgan (a widower and one of the early New World settlers who lived in ‘what was to become New York’) is summoned by a letter from a friend to come to the aid of the Incas under the threat of Spanish colonisation.

Much of the story is centred around the adventures of his daughter Stella, conveniently being looked after by a family in Peru at the start of the tale, who is later joined by her two brothers during their school holidays. Whilst the gender of the author remains unknown, the use of a prominent female character alongside the Morgans’ attempt to help the indigenous population against colonising forces seem remarkable for something of this date (even if their representation is somewhat muddled to modern eyes).

Illustration of ‘The Gorge of Death’: ‘Poor Stella was sent shooting from the back of the llama and hurtled into the fear-full dephs [sic] below…’, from The Lost Kingdom, by C.M. Carter, c.1922, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 17192

The way the story keeps going throughout the 400 or so pages is also remarkable, demonstrating the author’s dedication to the work. Subtle changes in the handwriting suggest Carter had a little help now and then: a more in-depth inspection of the item might tell us how much of a collaborative effort it was – was it a collaboration between friends or siblings, or perhaps something which drew on a mutually imagined ongoing adventure?

The main story ends on page 402 with the return of the Morgans to the United States. This is followed by several more pages with commentary on the First World War (The Great War as it was then called) and a poem on ‘The Fall of Peru’ – an interesting and somewhat unexplained juxtaposition, perhaps an effort on the part of the author to make some sense of both the contemporary world and its history.

These items of juvenilia offer an interesting mix of fact and fiction presented through young eyes in a medium that was both familiar and grown-up. In each case, while we are lucky to actually have their names and locations, we know a lot less about the authors than we do about Jane Austen. What links them and the Austen juvenilia together however is a determination to put pen to paper – to amuse as well as educate, and to share stories.

-Rachael Marsay

 


Footnotes

  1. Bodleian Libraries, MS. Don. e. 7. The volume is available to view on Digital Bodleian and more information can be found on the Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts website.
  2. On 3rd April 1854, the paper noted a change in editors with J. Woodall taking over from S. Horn – perhaps a moving on or a falling out.
  3. It is likely that the Woodall family were clothiers: in an 1851 directory, a John Woodall is listed as a woollen draper and clothier in Mardol Head. Samuel Bagshaw, History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Shropshire (Sheffield, 1851).

Oxford and the Birth of Reading University

The origins of Reading University have been described as being that of a “University of Oxford extension college”. However, to really understand what this means and the nature of the relationship between the two institutions, it’s necessary to first understand Oxford’s push towards “University Extension” in the 1800s, what that term signifies, and the motivating ethos behind it.

The idea of “University extension” was essentially to make a University-level education more affordable and accessible to a greater number of people. The idea first started to gain traction in Oxford in the first half of the nineteenth century, when both the Low and High-Church parties within the University became interested in opening up the University to potential clergymen from poorer backgrounds. The debates about how best to increase access to University-level education rumbled on throughout the century, until they culminated in a meeting, held in Oriel College in 1865 to “consider the question of the Extension of the University”. Many of the resulting sub-committees looked at options for Oxford itself (such as new colleges or permitting non-collegiate students). However, some of the sub-committees investigated how to provide such an education “outside the walls” of Oxford, responding to a national swell in demand from the country’s growing towns and cities. Although difficult to imagine now, Oxford was one of only nine universities in the UK in 1860.

The result of these investigations came in 1878, with the formation of a Standing Committee of the Delegacy for Local Examinations to provide “lectures and teaching in the large towns of England and Wales” (reconstituted as a separate Delegacy, the Delegacy for the Extension of Teaching Beyond the limits of the University, in 1892). The aim of this committee was not to create outposts of Oxford across the country, but an outreach programme, encouraging the growth of local centres managed locally, which would provide high-quality educational opportunities.

Extract from Extension Lectures: Lecturers’ and Examiners’ Reports. 1885-1939

Extract from Extension Lectures: Lecturers’ and Examiners’ Reports. 1885-1939 showing the first class held by the Delegacy at Reading (OUA/CE 3/28/1)

Reading was one of the earliest such Extension Centres, starting life in 1885. The first lectures, held in the evenings and aimed at a mature audience, focused primarily on English Literature. Looking at other such initiatives in the Reading area, it’s unsurprising that the Delegacy’s work began so early in Reading. There was a clear thirst for adult education in the town. Classes in “the Arts” (which we’d now refer to as the Humanities), run by the Science and Art Department (a subdivision of the Government’s Board of Trade) had been operating from West Street, Reading, since 1860.

Yet, the idea of building to house these lectures, and provide a focus for adult education in the town came not from the Government, nor from Oxford. Instead, Walter Palmer, a local biscuit manufacturer and President of the Reading University Extension Association in 1891, made the suggestion. This local initiative clearly demonstrated the town’s commitment to the cause, and the academics in Oxford involved with the delegacy were keen to support the scheme. After a little “behind the scenes” campaigning, Christ Church College (home to many of those involved with the Extension Delegacy) wrote to the Reading Association, offering the services of H J Mackinder (an academic at Christ Church, specialising in Geography) “with a view to giving system and completeness” to the work of the Reading University Extension Centre and “for the advancement, the co-ordination and the deepening of study.” The offer was unanimously accepted in Reading, and when the doors of “The University Extension College in conjunction with the Schools of Science and Art, Reading” was opened for the first time in September 1892, Mackinder was its principal.

Photograph of the first site of the University Extension College – rooms and the vicarage on Valpy Street

Photograph of the first site of the University Extension College – rooms and the vicarage on Valpy Street “bounded on the south by the churchyard of St Lawrence”. Image courtesy of University of Reading, Special Collections, (MS 5305)

In its first year alone, the College had 658 students. No students were full-time, but instead classes were arranged to accommodate the needs of the working populace of the town, being hosted in the evenings or on Saturdays. The space afforded to the classes allowed them to increase in range. The Oxford Delegacy and the Government Science and Art department continued to offer a variety of courses such as chemistry, biology electricity, mathematics, and art but these were supplemented with more overtly practical and vocational courses, such as Pitman’s Speed Certificates in typing and classes in machine drawing and wood carving. This variety reflected Reading’s aim to design a curriculum that would “fuse university training (producing thinkers) with technical training (producing the adept).”

This successful novel approach from Reading, of bringing together different locally run initiatives within a central hub, fast attracted other participants. For example, by 1893, the College offered training approved by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons. However, a core issue remained in that, under the legislation of the time, as a local college, Reading had little power to issue its own qualifications. Thus, when Reading made its biggest gain to date – a new department of agriculture, supported by the surrounding County Councils and the Board of Agriculture – it was unable to offer an accompanying recognised qualification.

It was in such cases, as well as running extension classes, that Oxford could provide direct and meaningful support to the College, by offering oversight and university-backing, leading to recognised qualifications. Although the University, at that time, did not offer its own degrees or diplomas in Agriculture, there were those in Oxford with expertise in this area, such as the holders of the Sibthorpian Chair of Rural Economy. Thus, Mackinder was able to advocate for Oxford’s backing of the Agricultural Diplomas issued by Reading, reporting to the Extension Delegacy in 1894 that the Reading College Council would “much prefer this University as Examining Authority, to any other body”. His arguments clearly resonated, as later that year Oxford’s Convocation (the University’s body of MAs and higher degree holders) passed a decree, authorising the issuing of Agricultural Diplomas at Reading by a Joint Committee, made up of representatives of the Oxford University Extension Delegacy and the Reading College Council. These were to be Reading’s first full-time students.

Sketch of the British Dairy Institute, as it opened its new building in Valpy Street

Sketch of the British Dairy Institute, as it opened its new building in Valpy Street, following its move from Aylesbury to Reading in 1893-1894. Image courtesy of University of Reading, Special Collections, (MS 5305)

Again, Reading’s innovation provided a template for further success, as in 1895, the British Dairy Farmers Association agreed to move the Dairy Institute to Reading. This was placed under the aegis of a different Joint Committee – this one made up of representatives of the British Dairy Farmers Association and the Reading University Extension College.
This collaborative relationship continued to operate well for a period of time. Oxford clearly recognised contributions of key individuals in Reading, for example, by conferring the Honorary Degree of MA on Herbert Sutton, Chairman of the Reading College Council. It also demonstrated its understanding of the educational achievements offered by Reading when, in 1899, Convocation voted to grant Reading College “affiliate status”. This status, offered to select universities and colleges in the UK and around the world, gave special privileges to alumni of these institutions when they came to Oxford, recognising that their prior academic achievements could exempt them from certain Oxford requirements (such as first year examinations and so forth).

However, there was evidence of growing tension between the two institutions from the late 1890s onwards. It became clear that were those in Oxford who were resistant to the developing interconnection. In 1898, again at the instigation of Mackinder and the Extension Delegacy, Hebdomadal Council (the “cabinet” of the University) proposed the introduction of an honour school of Agricultural Science. Crucially, this degree course would be open to students at Reading, Reading would provide some of the teaching, and Reading would have a say in the curriculum. However, certain individuals within the University campaigned against the involvement of “foreign bodies” in the core business of the University, and this proposal was rejected in Congregation by 47 votes to 45.

Extract from Reports by H. J. Mackinder on the progress of the University Extension College, Reading

Extract from Reports by H. J. Mackinder on the progress of the University Extension College, Reading; 1895-6, 1896-7, 1897-8, 1898-9. Courtesy of Christ Church Archives (GB xvii.c.1)

There was, likewise, a growing sense of frustration and of being constrained in Reading, as Oxford degrees were not open to Reading students, largely owing to Oxford’s requirements that all students were to live within a mile and a half of Carfax Tower. WM Childs (a tutor, then Vice-Principal (1900), then Principal (1903) of Reading) wrote “Oxford had always been kind to us; she had helped us, and was still helping us… But her rules of residence, the corner-stone of her system, debarred her from admitting to degrees students attached to a university college twenty-six miles from Carfax”. As such, the only degree courses open to Reading students were those offered by London University, who offered an external degree system to colleges across the country. However, the syllabus and examinations set for these were entirely governed by London, and Reading resented these confines.

Even the pre-existing collaborative work between Oxford and Reading became the subject of scrutiny. From 1900 the Extension Delegacy had worked with Reading to issue the Reading “Associateship Diploma in Letters or Science”. The Diploma was the result of an extensive period of study – requiring students to attend no fewer than 72 lectures and classes in Science subjects, or 24 lectures and classes in Arts subjects, and pass final examinations in each subject. The examiners were a joint board made up of external examiners from Oxford Delegacy and internal examiners from Reading. Once having obtained a diploma, students could attend a ceremony (akin to a degree ceremony) at Reading, and thus become Associates of the College. The diploma was particularly popular with students at Reading training to be teachers, as the examinations could be counted towards their qualification by the Department of Education. However, in 1905, Reading received correspondence from the Government Board of Education stating that, following their review of teacher training regulations, they would no longer accept the Diploma examinations in lieu of standard teacher training examinations. The crux of the issue appears to have been that the Board of Education saw the diplomas as being issued by the Delegacy and not by the University. Childs appealed to the University’s Hebdomadal Council, writing that “no examination conducted by the Delegacy can meet the present difficulty… the only course which can relieve us of our present difficulties, and satisfy the Board of Education, is that an Examining Board of the University should be appointed”. Thus, in May 1905, Oxford University’s Convocation had to issue a decree clarifying that this was an examination done in partnership with the University (as opposed to solely by the Delegacy) and that the syllabuses were to be approved by Convocation.

Extract from Extension Lectures examination papers 1900-1901

Extract from Extension Lectures examination papers 1900-1901 showing the special papers set by the Delegacy for the Reading Diplomas (OUA/CE 3/26/10)

These areas of tension occurred simultaneously with a period of growth at Reading. The College had relocated to a new site on London Road, donated by Alfred Palmer, which would allow for expansion. Construction on the College buildings began early in 1905. As a growing, mature, and successful institution, being fettered by requirements for external interference in both syllabuses and examinations must have been increasingly irksome, and it is clear that Reading began to plan for long-term independence. Some of the changes made to establish Reading as an institution that could operate independently were directly drawn from the Oxford pattern – a tutorial secretary was appointed, a tutorial scheme for teaching students was introduced, internal examinations (called “collections”) were scheduled, as were termly meetings between individual students and the college principal. When Childs succeeded Mackinder as principal of the college in 1903 (thus removing one of the strongest ties between Oxford and Reading), plans for Reading to obtain its own University Charter gathered pace.

Letter from the Registrar of Reading College, to the Dean of Christ Church College

17 November 1903 – Letter from F. H. Wright (Registrar of Reading College) to T. B. Strong (Dean of Christ Church College). Courtesy of Christ Church Archives (GB xvii.c.1).

The letter pictured above is from the Registrar of Reading College, to the Dean of Christ Church College, following Childs’ appointment as Principal of Reading. The first Principal, Mackinder, had been a member of Christ Church, but Childs was not. Thus, Childs’ appointment reflects one of the many examples of Reading’s increasing independence in this period.

Childs wrote “The College had now passed beyond the stage permitting direction from Oxford. That arrangement no longer enabled the Principal to discharge his responsibilities comfortably to himself, or to others” and that if Reading were to become a University “we should be released from the fetters of external examinations, and we should be empowered to shape our own curriculum”.

Preparation for University status, nevertheless, took some time to come to fulfilment. The College had to ensure it had sufficient accommodation for both sexes. In 1905 the College opened St George’s Hostel for female students and in 1908 it opened its new accommodation hall for men (Wantage Hall), which could accommodate 76 students.

An undated photograph of Wantage Hall

An undated photograph of Wantage Hall, modelled on the traditional college quadrangle arrangement. Image courtesy of University of Reading, Special Collections, (MS 5305)

The College also began to focus on the make-up of the student body in preparation for University status, by giving preference in admission to students reading for degrees (offered via the University of London) or those taking other higher courses of study. In 1909, it reorganised its governance constitution to enable members of the Academic Board of the College to be better represented on the Council of the College, and thus more closely resemble the constitution of other universities. However, one of the key issues to resolve was that of funding, and for that, Childs turned to local supporters. To set out his case, and garner support, he published a pamphlet called Statement of the Case for University Independence in January 1920. The pamphlet enumerated the objections of the College to continued “subjection to disabilities born of accident” making clear Reading’s lack of control over the subjects it taught: “A university is one thing; a college is another. A university, for example, grants degrees and controls the curriculum and examinations leading to those degrees. A college can do neither…” Childs’ arguments were clearly met by a receptive audience, and over the next five years, sufficient funds were accumulated to sufficiently endow a new University, with a notable donation by George William Palmer, grandson to the man who had first suggested a college at Reading in 1891. On the 17 March 1926, Reading received its Royal Charter as a University.

Following the award of the charter, Childs published another pamphlet, titled The New University of Reading: Some Ideas for Which it Stands. The pamphlet concludes “And my readers will understand why I mentioned with particular gratitude the kind letters we have received from the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, and from the Dean of Christ Church; for to Christ Church and to Oxford we are proud to be able to trace the original impulse of our own foundation”. Whilst Childs’ acknowledgement is perhaps fair, in that the work of the Oxford Extension Delegacy may have provided an impulse, it is clear from Reading’s history that the sustained work and innovative initiatives that led to Reading’s success really came from the local area. Perhaps a more telling acknowledgement of Reading’s achievements and the “direction” of the debt owed can be found in a form of words that appear in the minutes of the Oxford Extension Delegacy when discussing the development of another centre “suggests the consideration of… the method adopted in the case of Reading”.

With thanks to our colleagues in the Special Collections Service at the University of Reading, especially Sharon Maxwell and Guy Baxter, for their assistance and insight.

Further Sources
Childs, W. M. Making a University : An Account of the University Movement at Reading. London: J. M. Dent, 1933.
Childs, W. M. The New University of Reading : Some Ideas for Which It Stands. Reading, 1926.
Goldman, Lawrence. Dons and Workers: Oxford and Adult Education since 1850. Oxford: Clarendon, 1995.
University College, Reading. Statement of the Case for University Independence. 1920.

The records of the Delegacy for the Extension of Teaching Beyond the limits of the University are held by the Oxford University Archives, as part of the records of the Department for Continuing Education. Please contact enquiries@oua.ox.ac.uk for more information.

If you are interested in researching particular individuals who attended Reading in its early days, Reading Special Collections holds the following sources. Please contact specialcollections@reading.ac.uk for more information:

Annual reports and accounts … / University College, Reading.
Holdings: 1892/3-1900/1 – 1924/25.
Journal
Format: Print journals

Calendar and general directory / University Extension College, Reading.
Holdings: 1892/3 – 1897/8.
Journal
Format: Print journals

Calendar / University College, Reading.
Holdings: 1902/3 – 1925/6.
Journal

Oxford University and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln

By the late nineteenth century, Oxford University had developed strong links with the United States of America going back many years. It had conferred honorary degrees on US ambassadors and ministers, including a Doctorate of Civil Law in 1762 for Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers and signatory to the Declaration of Independence. Other figures in the history of the US had studied here: William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, and Charles Chauncy, President of Harvard from 1654 to 1672, were both students at the University in the 1600s.

So when news reached Oxford of the assassination on 15 April 1865 of the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, the University felt the need to respond.

Abraham Lincoln, c1863

Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth President of the United States, 1863 (source: “Alexander Gardner, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Courtesy of The Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/96522529/”)

In the days following the assassination, the Chancellor of the University, the Earl of Derby, wrote to Hebdomadal Council, the University’s executive body, proposing an address of condolence be sent to the US. Hebdomadal Council approved the idea at its meeting of 3 May and the text of the address, in the form of a letter, was drafted. As it was to be sent under the corporate seal of the University, the letter had first to be approved by Convocation (the body of MAs and higher degree holders of the University). Before its next meeting on 5 May, copies of the letter were made available to members of Convocation so that they could read what was proposed to be sent.

Hebdomadal order, 1865

Printed notice of the meeting of Convocation to be held on Friday 5 May 1865 (from OUA/HC 1/7/3)

The University’s letter itself does not survive in the University Archives, but the text of the letter was copied into the register of Convocation as part of the record of its proceedings. The text of the letter read:

“We the Chancellor Masters and Scholars of the University of Oxford request your Excellency to convey to the Government and People of the United States of America the assurance of our sincere condolence on the occasion of the appalling calamity which has recently befallen your country.

It is not the practice of this University to notice in its corporate capacity events which do not directly affect the well being of our own country. But at this singular and lamentable crisis we are conscious of the full force of those recollections of the past which must at all times lead the British nation to regard with a community of interest the fortunes and destinies of a friendly and a kindred people. In accordance with these sentiments it is the anxious desire of the University to express to your Excellency the abhorrence with which we together with the whole civilized world regard the assassination of the President of the United States.

We would also at the same time express in common with all ranks of our countrymen our earnest hope that by the orderings of a merciful Providence the American people may speedily enjoy the restoration of internal peace and national prosperity.”

Letter to US ambassador, 1865

Text of letter to the US ambassador from the Register of Convocation, 5 May 1865 (OUA/NEP/subtus/Reg Bu, pp364-5)

Whilst formal addresses by the University were much used at this time as a means of conveying messages from the University as a corporate body, most often to send congratulations or condolences to the current monarch and Royal Family, or to other universities around the world, this expression of sympathy with another nation was unusual. As stated in the letter, the University didn’t generally comment on, or even formally ‘notice’ events which didn’t affect it or the UK directly. But it felt strongly enough about this ‘singular and lamentable crisis’ to step outside of its own conventions.

Convocation approved the text, the University’s seal was attached and the letter was sent. A response from the American ambassador was received and read to Convocation some days later on 11 May but unfortunately the text of that letter does not survive here.

The University’s close relationship with the US has continued and today its citizens are one of the largest groups of international students, academic staff and alumni at the University. Honorary degrees have been conferred on many US citizens including Abraham Lincoln’s successors Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton; and a University centre for American studies, the Rothermere American Institute exists to promote the study of the culture, history and politics of the United States.

For more information about the University’s links today with the US, see its website at United States of America | University of Oxford .