Tag Archives: Oxford University

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.

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.



Notes in the margin

This month’s University Archives blog looks at some of the stranger annotations which appear in the University’s records over the centuries. Administrative records of any organisation can be fairly dry affairs. They were created because a job needed doing and the University’s officers and administrators, in the main, dutifully carried our their tasks. Many of the records in the Archives here, however, show that the people who wrote them were not that different from us today. They got bored at meetings, they criticised their colleagues, and they couldn’t resist a joke at someone else’s expense.

As well as recording the important business of the day, some records can contain extra notes and annotations in the margins, or sometimes right in the middle of the text, which add unexpected details. Although mostly mere scribbles and doodles (‘marginalia’ seems too grandiose a term for these), some of the notes are making a very different point. The following is just a very small selection of what we’ve found.

One of the earliest registers of University business in the Archives is a register kept by the Chancellor. Known as the Chancellor’s Register (Registrum Cancellarii), it was maintained by successive Chancellors from 1435 to 1469 and contained a range of business with which they, or their specially-appointed commissaries (deputies) personally dealt. The Chancellor’s powers were wide and as well as being head of the University, he also had to act as judge, magistrate and keeper of the peace in Oxford.

Throughout the register there are little pointing hands drawn in the margins, directing the reader to something important. Known as manicules, these were commonly used for centuries as a way of highlighting key points or interesting parts of a text, much like the fifteenth-century equivalent of a post-it note.

Manicule from Chancellor's Register Hyp/A/1

Pointing finger, or ‘manicule’, in the Chancellor’s Register, 1435-59 (from OUA/Hyp/A/1)

In other places, there are more elaborate doodles which appear to serve no purpose whatsoever other than to quell the boredom of the writer. On one page, written by one of the Chancellor’s commissaries, John Beek, during his deputising for the Chancellor in September 1451, there is an elaborate circular drawing. This must have taken some time to do as it is carefully drawn. Perhaps the business that day was particularly dull?

Doodle from the Chancellor’s Register, 1451 (from OUA/Hyp/A/1)

Some records in the Archives also show evidence of officers’ recordkeeping skills being criticised by their colleagues. A Register of Congregation contains a terse exchange of 1580 written in the margin in which the Registrar (and writer of the register) Richard Cullen receives a complaint from an unhappy anonymous critic. The note is written next to a blank list of inceptors (those who were proceeding to higher degrees) in Theology, Civil Law and Medicine. The names haven’t been filled in yet. The anonymous critic starts things off, complaining about the emptiness of the list:

‘Mr Cullen, you must use to make your book more perfit and not leave their names owt so long til thei be quite forgoten’

Richard Cullen retaliates, firmly passing the blame onto someone else, namely one of the University’s Bedels:

‘not forgotten but the bedell not paynge of me for regestring this act hath dune me injurye and so you’

The matter seems not to have been resolved within the pages of the register. The entries remained empty. Let’s hope the people receiving their higher degrees were not forgotten as a result.

Exchange recorded in margin of Register of Congregation (NEP/supra/Reg KK, fol 311r).

Less commonly, the University’s records have been annotated to make a joke. Robert Veel, who matriculated from St Edmund Hall on 6 May 1664, was the victim of such a joke. Robert signed his name in the University’s subscription register, as every student was required to do at that time, confirming his assent to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England.

Someone, we don’t know who, then thought it hilarious to write in the word ‘py’ after Robert’s surname, so he is now listed for posterity as Robert Veel py (ie veal pie). It looks as if the comedy addition to the register was done at pretty much the same time as Robert wrote his name, but we don’t know whether it was a bored administrator who snuck the joke in, or perhaps one of the students signing their name further down the page after Robert who saw an opportunity. Either way, the joke made it into Joseph Foster’s Alumni Oxonienses, the multi-volume register of members of the University up to 1888, published in the late nineteenth century. There, Foster rather cheerlessly describes the insertion ‘doubtless as a jest’.

Subscription entry for Robert Veel (from OUA/SP/41)

It will be interesting to see how the transition from paper to digital records in the University affects the survival of doodles and other annotations like this in the future. Born-digital records offer many benefits, but they could, rather sadly, hail the demise of such notes in the margin.

Mysterious donors, salaries and swordfish – a year in the life of the University’s accounts

As the University’s financial year draws to a close (it runs from 1 August to 31 July), this month’s University Archives blog takes a look at how the University managed its finances in years past. Financial records might, at first sight, seem a little dull, but take a closer look and they can yield some unexpectedly fascinating and intriguing details.

Until 1868, the Vice-Chancellor was personally responsible for maintaining the University’s accounts. That seems an improbably large amount of work for one person, but it wasn’t as onerous as you might think. The central University administration had been, until the late nineteenth century, very small; the only senior officers were the Vice-Chancellor, Registrar and two Proctors. The business of that central administration was also very small – most went on in colleges, independent bodies which are not part of the central University.

The Vice-Chancellor maintained a series of volumes of accounts. These were the successors to rolls of accounts which the Proctors had kept during the fifteenth century. The volumes, written in a combination of Latin and English, contained neat and well-organised summary accounts detailing University income and expenditure for the preceding financial year. Just one year’s worth of these accounts can shed some very interesting light on what was going on at the University at that time.

The accounts for the financial year October 1698 to October 1699 were drawn up by the Vice-Chancellor at the time, William Poynter. As was customary, they were arranged into money received (ie income) and money spent (ie expenses). Money spent was further divided into ordinary expenses and extraordinary expenses. The ordinary expenses were things which the University generally had to pay for every year, such as salaries (or ‘stipends’) of University staff. Extraordinary expenses were a much more varied affair. They could include expenditure on building projects, one-off purchases by the University, or costs incurred by random events.

The money received in that year was much as you’d expect. Written in Latin, the accounts record rent received from tenants and other income from the University’s estates and investments, income from University fees and benefactions. The final line in the list of receipts is rather intriguing however. This records the sum of one pound and ten shilings received from ‘ab Anonymo qui Nomen suum celatum Voluit’, ie from an anonymous man who wanted his name concealed. Was this an anonymous benefaction from someone too modest to publicise their name, or something more controversial? Unfortunately we’ll probably never know.

Receipts 1698-9

Vice-Chancellor’s accounts for 1698-9 showing receipts (from OUA/WPgamma/21/6)

Then there are the lists of ordinary expenses. Also in Latin, they are mostly regular salary payments, but even these can reveal more then they first appear. One particularly large stipend is paid to the Keeper of the Archives, or ‘Custos Archivorum’ to give him his Latin title (meaning ‘guardian of the archives’). In this year, the Keeper, Dr John Wallis, was paid the princely sum of forty pounds. Just two lines below, the stipend of Dr Thomas Hyde ‘bibliothecario’ (ie Bodley’s Librarian) is given. This is the relatively measly sum of six pounds, thirteen shillings and fourpence. Why the discrepancy when both might appear to us to be doing similar kinds of jobs? Well, that was due to the differing roles of Drs Wallis and Hyde and the importance which the University gave to one and not the other.

The Keeper of the Archives was the University’s chief weapon in its constant battles with Oxford city. A new post created in 1634, the Keeper took a prominent, hands-on role in the University’s many disputes with the city. He was responsible for gathering written evidence and providing the documents the University needed to fight its case in court to protect its privileges and rights within Oxford. The Keeper was a key part of the University’s defensive arsenal against its ancient rival, and one of the most significant officers in the seventeenth-century University after the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor and Proctors. His stipend reflected that importance and he was remunerated accordingly.

Bodley’s Librarian, on the other hand, responsible since 1602 for the day to day running of the Bodleian Library, was not seen in quite the same way. More of an administrator than a University champion, his much smaller stipend reflected this perceived lower status.

Ordinary expenses 1698-9

Vice-Chancellor’s accounts for 1698-9 showing ordinary expenses (from OUA/WPgamma/21/6)

For the list of extraordinary expenses, the volume switches into English – maybe because of the more random and miscellaneous nature of the transactions involved. There are a range of one-off payments to individuals doing work for the University (carriers, printers and the ‘University Ingraver’), ad hoc payments to University staff (eg the Musick Master), and payments for work being done around the University, such as repair of the organ at St Mary’s Church.

The payments also allude to other things going on in the country at the time which had an impact on the University. There is an oblique reference to the credit crisis in England in the late 1690s, the University having lost money ‘by the fall of guinnys’ [guineas].

Extraordinary expenses 1698-9

Vice-Chancellor’s accounts for 1698-9 showing extraordinary expenses (from OUA/WPgamma/21/6)

Further down the list of extraordinary expenses is a payment by the University of two pounds and six shillings to the Bedel of Beggars for a new coat and badge of office for two years. The Bedel of Beggars later became the University Marshall, the head of the former University Police. A role still in existence today as the head of the University Security Services, the Marshall can be easily spotted at ceremonial occasions due to the size of the badge which they wear.

On the line below is a record of a payment by the University for the sizeable sum of £10 for a ‘swordfish placed in the Museum’. This would have been the Old Ashmolean Museum, opened only 16 years before where the Museum of the History of Science is now. Quite why the University wanted a swordfish, and whatever happened to it, is not known.

Again there are hints at much more involved and interesting stories in these seemingly uninspiring lists of payments. The very last extraordinary expense was the sum of fifteen pounds paid to ‘Mr Sherwin the University Bayliffe for his extraordinary paines about the Repaires and Buildings in the University’. Who knows what ‘extraordinary paines’ this man went to. Unfortunately there is no other record in the Archives here to show exactly what Mr Sherwin had battled with.

The University’s financial management was taken over from the Vice-Chancellor in 1868 by the Curators of the University Chest. The amount of work had increased by this time and the University had received criticism during the 1860s about how it managed its finances. In an attempt to find a more robust way of controlling its money, it created a new body of nine persons known as the Curators of the Chest (‘Curatores cistae academicae’) together with a new post of Secretary to the Chest to support them. The Secretary was the first professional non-academic University officer, although not, at that point, a professional accountant. The Secretary of the Chest is now the University’s Director of Finance.

An interesting and detailed history of the University’s finance and accounting practices can be found on the University Finance Division website at History of Finance Division | Finance Division (ox.ac.uk).

‘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 academic papers of Abdul Raufu Mustapha

Abdul Raufu Mustapha (1954-2017), born in Aba, in what is now Abia State in south-eastern Nigeria, was appointed University Lecturer in African Politics at Oxford University in 1996, becoming the university’s first Black African University Lecturer. In 2014 he was appointed Associate Professor of African Politics. His academic papers were donated to the Bodleian Libraries by his widow, Dr. Kate Meagher, in 2018 and 2020 and catalogued recently with the generous support of the Oxford Department of International Development, St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and Dr. Mustapha’s family.

Mustapha’s research interests related to religion and politics in Nigeria, the politics of rural societies, the politics of democratization, and identity politics in Africa. His papers contain substantial research materials relating to fieldwork examining the political consequences of rural inequalities, conducted at Rogo Village, Kano State, Nigeria, for his D.Phil. thesis, ‘Peasant Differentiation and Politics in Rural Kano: 1900-1987’ (St. Peter’s College, Oxford, 1990). This fieldwork was followed up in the 1990s by further research using questionnaires for household heads and interviews focusing on topics such as land holding, assets, income, expenditure,  corn production, village life and politics. There are also materials relating to other research projects and articles by him.

Rogo questionnaire

Questionnaire for household heads, Rogo, Feb 1998. Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 15476/4

In later years, Mustapha studied the issues posed by radical Islamist sects in northern Nigeria, creating a transnational Nigeria Research Network of scholars to study Muslim identities, Islamic movements and Muslim-Christian relations. This culminated in the publication of a research trilogy on Islam and religious conflict in northern Nigeria, comprising Mustapha, A.R. ed., Sects and Social Disorder: Muslim Identities & Conflict in Northern Nigeria (Boydell & Brewer, 2014); Mustapha, A.R. and Ehrhardt, D. eds., Creed & Grievance: Muslim-Christian Relations and Conflict Resolution in Northern Nigeria (Boydell & Brewer, 2018); and Mustapha, A.R. and Meagher, K. eds., Overcoming Boko Haram: Faith, Society and Islamic Radicalization in Northern Nigeria (Boydell & Brewer, 2020).

During his time in Oxford, Mustapha worked to support students from Africa and was the patron of the student-run Oxford University Africa Society. He served as an Associate Editor for the journal, Oxford Development Studies. Within Nigeria, he was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Kano-based development Research and Projects Centre, and of the editorial board of the Premium Times newspaper. Internationally, he was a member of editorial advisory groups for the journals, Review of African Political Economy, and Africa. He participated in the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, where he served in many capacities. He wrote reports for the Working Group on Ethnic Minorities, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, and the project on ‘Ethnic Structure and Public Sector Governance’ for the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, Geneva.


Henri Cartier-Bresson comes to Oxford

Hello! I have just started a new job at the Bodleian.

I have been here for 65 days and it’s been quite strange. There are documents and books and unusual things scattered across 28 libraries, and 3 museums jammed with treasures, and botanical gardens with the biggest leaves I’ve ever seen. I haven’t yet visited everywhere, or begun to understand the vast collections that I’m now responsible for.

As Curator of Photography, I am fascinated by all the photographs that have seeped into the library over the years, through legal deposit, and literary papers, and political archives, and sprawling collections of ephemera. It’s well known that the Bodleian holds the archive of WHF Talbot and many precious photographs from the dawn of photography, but did you know that we also have the Talbot family seed bank? – hundreds of little folded envelopes with scribbled handwriting describing the plants that were grown in the Lacock Abbey Gardens. I discovered that we have six copies of the 17th century translation of Ibn al-Haytham’s treatise on optics, the book that brought the modern science of light to Europe. And we have two beautiful portraits by Julia Margaret Cameron that were once owned by Anna Atkins, the great pioneer of early botanical photography. We have Helen Muspratt’s own cameras, and a Daguerreotype of Maria Edgeworth taken at one of the first portrait studios, and who knows what else?

I will write more blogs and introduce everyone to all the wonderful things in our photography collections, but today I would like to tell you about the time that Henri Cartier-Bresson came to Oxford.

Henri Cartier-Bresson was one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century. He thought of photography as the art of capturing a single fleeting moment that articulated something profound about the people and places he saw. And so he would wander the streets, looking for a fragment of life crystallised in a split second. If he was quick, he’d catch it and create an impossibly perfect image. And so he captured children and horses; a cyclist on the move with a newspaper in front of his face; a figure in flight, leaping across a puddle; a fire breather spitting flames into the air; a smiling infant balanced on her father’s outstretched palm. Photography made into the search for a decisive moment.

The Bodleian has a fine collection of his photobooks – Images à la sauvette, Les Danses à Bali, People of Moscow, Les Européens, China in Transition, Man and Machine, and more – but we had no original photographs.

At least, we didn’t until Heather Rossotti contacted me a month or so ago with a signed photograph that Cartier-Bresson had given to her mother in 1975.

Photo: Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1938; © Henri Cartier-Bresson; © Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos.


Sunday on the Banks of the River Marne is a beautiful photograph of a group of people having a nice picnic by the river. Looking down the bank towards a boat; picnic hamper open; man pouring wine into a glass tumbler. The scene is lovely and the Rossotti family kindly wanted to donate it to us, along with a small parcel of documents.

The donor’s mother was Dr Hazel Rossotti, a chemist and Fellow of St. Anne’s college. In 1974, she had nominated Cartier-Bresson for an honorary doctorate. He was delighted, writing back right away to accept the honour.

Dear Sir,

I want to thank you for your very kind invitation from the Hebdomadal Council of the university to accept an honorary degree of doctor of letters. – I want to let you know how honoured I am. –

May I accept it on behalf of a particular conception of photography which perhaps may be summarised as an expression of the world in visual terms and also a perpetual quest and interrogation? It is at one and the same time the recognition in a fraction of a second of a fact and the rigorous arrangement of the forms visually perceived which give to that fact expression and significance. – A conception of photography which is shared by many.

Very sincerely yours,

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Photo: Hazel Rossotti, 1975; by kind permission of the Rossotti family.


In the summer of 1975, Cartier-Bresson came to Oxford and attended the ceremony in a bright red robe and mortar board. A bewildering Latin eulogy was read to him. He did not understand a word of it, but John G. Griffith, the university orator, still took great pains to craft a speech worthy of the photographer; corresponding back and forth with Dr Rossotti to craft phrases and sharpen ideas.

He has indeed gone one better than Homer’s Odysseus, who ‘saw cities of many men and sensed their casts of mind’, in that he has left behind brilliant evidence of his glimpses of even the most chance-sent moments, now recorded for the unending delight both of his contemporaries and of posterity, whether the fancy gazing at Danses à Bali or From One China to Another or whatever else he has captured in the briefest of split seconds and rendered eternal by his art.

By way of thanks, Cartier-Bresson gave Dr Rossotti a signed photograph of a Sunday picnic at the edge of a river. The letters, and ceremonial booklets, and a transcript of the orator’s address were all kept by Dr Rossoti. They help us to tell the story of Cartier-Bresson’s visit to Oxford and to explain how this photograph came to exist.

It’s not very much in the scheme of the Bodleian’s treasures, but it’s a fitting tribute to him – a photograph and a small archive that illuminates a fragment of time; a little moment in Henri Cartier-Bresson’s own life.

Oxford University: Stories from the Archives

This month sees the publication of a brand new book, Oxford University: Stories from the Archives. This is the first book about the University Archives to be published in 50 years and is an illustrated collection of stories about the University of Oxford as told by its own records.

The University Archives was established in 1634. Based in the tower of the Old Bodleian Library, it is the institutional archive of Oxford University and looks after its historic administrative records. It provides a service making those records available to all who need them, by they University administrators here in Oxford or historians from across the world.

The book is designed to be a readable and entertaining introduction to these records. It consists of fifty-two chapters, each showcasing an item from the Archives to tell a story about the University’s history. Arranged chronologically, these span 800 years and include documents, photographs, plans and drawings, models and objects. Each tells its own story, giving a unique perspective on the University’s history and presenting it in a way rarely seen before.

Copy of an illuminated charter of Edward III, 1375, written into the Chancellor’s book, (OUA/NEP/supra/Reg A, fol 13r)

Some of these items are impressive artefacts in their own right, such as the early charters and statute books of the University; others are relatively modest documents which tell a much more interesting story than their appearance may first suggest.

The stories told cover a range of issues and subjects. Some show how the University reacted to the changing world around it, to major national and international events such as war (both civil and global) and its relations with governments and monarchs. They show it having to change in the face of external, often unwanted, pressures such as the coming of the railways in the 1840s, and the rise of student protest in the 1960s.

Matriculation form of Christian Cole

Matriculation form of Christian Cole, 1873 (from OUA/UR/1/1/5)

Other documents illustrate how the University instigated change. The opening up of membership of the University to members of all religions, and none, in 1871, and the admission of women in 1920 were key developments in increasing inclusion and diversity amongst the student population. Beyond Oxford, the book looks at the University’s initiatives in widening access to higher education through its adult education programmes in the north of England in the early twentieth century, and in West Africa in the 1940s.

Closer to home, the book looks at the effect of the University on Oxford city and its people; from its sometimes difficult relations with the city in the past, to co-operation and reconciliation in the twentieth century. Badly-behaved students appear, as do the University Proctors, upholding the discipline and the ‘morals’ of the University over many centuries. The idiosyncrasies and peculiarities of the University are also not forgotten. The book tells the stories of the University’s MPs, its very own Police force, and some of its ceremonial traditions.

Green lamps issued by the Proctors for affixing to undergraduates’ cars c1926-1960s (OUA/PR 1/21/7/1-3)

There are stories about the University’s buildings and institutions such as the construction of the University Museum of Natural History, and the failed proposal to build a futuristic Pitt Rivers Museum in North Oxford in the 1960s. The chapters on the Bodleian Library’s stories look at its foundation and early years, including the admission of the very first overseas reader in 1603, as well as the more recent transformation of the New Bodleian into the Weston Library.

Some famous faces appear in the book such as Albert Einstein and Oscar Wilde. But there are also the stories of people you might not have expected to find in a history of Oxford University. The book includes some very personal, human stories which we can relate to today.

It’s hoped that the book will bring all of these stories, many of which are relatively unknown, to a wider audience and that even those who already know the University well will find something new and interesting here.

Cover image of Oxford University: Stories from the Archives

Oxford University: Stories from the Archives is published by Bodleian Library Publishing and can be ordered through their website at Oxford University: Stories from the Archives – Bodleian Libraries (bodleianshop.co.uk)

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.
Format: Print journals

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

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

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 .

Admission of the Proctors

Every year, on the Wednesday of the 9th week of Hilary Term, the University admits its new Proctors and Assessor to office. These are senior officers of the University, responsible for scrutiny and discipline, whose role is to oversee student matters and uphold the University’s statutes and policies. The two Proctors (a Senior Proctor and a Junior Proctor) and the Assessor are selected from the fellows of three colleges (one for each) on a rota basis and each officer holds their position full-time for 12 months.

The role of the Proctor is ancient. First referred to in 1248, the two Proctors were the principal officers of the University, along with the Chancellor. They were responsible for discipline and order, both in terms of academic studies and conduct. At first the Proctors were chosen from among the fellows of colleges, one Proctor for each of the two ‘nations’ into which the University was divided at that time. The Senior Proctor was chosen by the ‘southerners’ and the Junior Proctor by the ‘northerners’. The procedure for their election was complex until 1574 when they began to be elected annually by Convocation (the body of MAs of the University at that time). This lasted until the early seventeenth century when, following a number of rigged elections and some chaotic and pretty violent meetings of Convocation, a new way of selecting the Proctors had to be devised.

Illuminated transcript of the Proctorial cycle, 31 December 1628 (OUA/Long Box 21/2)

The Proctorial cycle, instituted in 1628 at the initiative of King Charles I and the Chancellor of the University, William Laud, established the basis of the current system of selecting the Proctors from each college in turn. Drawn up by two mathematicians, the prearranged order (at that time spanning 23 years) was designed to avoid the conflict of recent years and ensure that the larger colleges didn’t dominate the process (although they did have more frequent turns).

The new cycle came into effect in 1629 and ten full cycles had been completed by the time a new cycle was introduced in 1859. Later amendments have since been made to the cycle to incorporate new colleges and halls; and from 1960 the women’s colleges were permitted to elect a Representative, now known as the Assessor. The Assessor was formally incorporated into the Proctorial cycle in 1978.

The incoming Proctors and Assessor are admitted to office each March at a ceremony held, in recent years, in the Sheldonian Theatre. Due to the pandemic, the 2020 ceremony took place without an audience, and the 2021 ceremony was held online. This year’s admission ceremony, on Wednesday 16 March, is the first to be held in person and in full for three years.

Senior and Junior Proctors’ copies of the Laudian Statutes, 1636 (OUA/WPgamma/25c/3-4)

Senior and Junior Proctors’ copies of the Laudian Statutes, 1636 (OUA/WPgamma/25c/3-4)

As part of the ceremony, the incoming Proctors place their hands on two ancient volumes of University statutes while they swear their oaths of office. These are copies of the 1636  Laudian Statutes held in the University Archives. The Laudian Statutes, so named because their compilation took place under the Chancellorship of William Laud, represented a watershed moment in the history of the University: it was the first time that all the University’s statutes and regulations had been brought together and recorded in one place. They remained at the heart of University governance for several centuries.

The copies of the statutes used in the ceremony were specially made  in 1636 for the Senior and Junior Proctors.  They were to be their personal copies, handed down from Proctor to Proctor as the most important tool for their job. They have recently been handsomely recovered in leather wrappers, fit for their ceremonial role. The statutes are personally escorted to and from the ceremony each year by staff of the University Archives.

The statutes are of course no longer current, but along with a bunch of historic keys which is handed to the Proctors during the ceremony, they are symbols of the ancient but continuing power which the Proctors hold within the University.