Crocodiles in College

Crocodile term card outside [SL 14 B2-10]

Brasenose College has a long history of student societies. The Crocodile Club was founded in 1896 for the reading and discussion of lighter literature, and was so named in honour of a stuffed crocodile on the wall of a College member. The original club did not last long, but a later incarnation was founded in 1921 to foster interest in modern dramatic art. According to records in the College Archives, those with centre partings were not to be admitted as members, and meetings were always to be attended by a stuffed crocodile. The last mention of the club is in the 1937 edition of the College magazine, where the gift of a stuffed crocodile is recorded. This fearsome chap remains on one of the College walls to this day.

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Sir (Joseph) Herbert Thompson

The College Archives are an irreplaceable repository for letters from old members of the College, many of whom have lived extraordinary lives.

Thompson Sir H Photograph (copyright National Portrait Gallery)

Sir Herbert Thompson CIE, photo reproduced by kind permission of
the National Portrait Gallery, London.

One such member was Sir Herbert Thompson CIE. Thompson was one of the first intakes of discharged servicemen to enter the College after the First World War, in which he had served as a fighter pilot, initially with the Royal Naval Air Service. However, in a letter to College in 1967, he points out that his squadron were seconded to assist the Royal Flying Corps in their battles with Baron von Richtofen’s “Travelling Circus.” He also recounted how he shot down one of its aces, Hans Waldhausen. He wrote:

…Robert S[hackleton] flattered me by telling me he’d heard a broadcast on 27th September when the BBC got me to do a 3 1⁄2 min in “Today” on the 50th anniversary of the evening when, as a boy of 19, I shot down a German “ace (horrid word). The man, Waldhausen, might well have been the prototype of the “hero” of the recent popular reconstruction of World War I air combat, the film “Blue Max” – for his case was an exact parallel of that “hero”.

…I belonged to a Naval Squadron of fighter pilots who had been lent lock, stock and barrel to assist the RFC, who were hard pressed by Richtofen. Waldhausen had recently belonged to Richtofen’s Travelling Circus, hence his eminence…

[Extract of Letter from Herbert Thompson, 04 Nov 1967]

After the war, Thompson was elected Captain of the College Boat Club in 1920, and did much to restore its prowess by enlisting legendary 1890s stroke, C.W. “Bill” Kent to coach.

Thompson was initially employed as a teacher at the Imperial College School, before joining the Indian Civil Service. He was a member of the I.C.S. until Indian Independence, rising to be Resident in Lahore, and becoming Sir Herbert Thompson CIE.

Upon his return to England, Thompson immediately volunteered to coach the Brasenose College Boat Club alongside the renowned Gully Nickalls. He was also recruited by H.V. Hodson, who had also come out of the I.C.S., to become the rowing correspondent for The Sunday Times.

In true BNC style, he was without affectation despite his considerable achievements, and was known to all in the College Boat Club as ‘Tommo’ or ‘Tommy’.

Fighter pilot, passionate rower, gifted administrator, newspaper correspondent and genial friend, Sir Herbert Thompson CIE is the epitome of Brasenose men and women outside the tutorial room and beyond.

William O’Chee BNC 1984

The author would like to acknowledge the generous assistance of Helen Sumping and Laura Hackett at the College Archives.

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A quondam alumnus and his gift

A recent post on this blog pays tribute to the work that Sophie Floate is doing cataloguing Brasenose Library’s special collections. Amen to that – it is thanks to her work that I found out that, as I mentioned in the recent Brazen Nose, the library still has copies of eleven works, bound in nine volumes, presented by one of its most fascinating alumni, the ex-pirate turned MP, author and admiral, Sir Henry Mainwaring (c. 1587-1653), who matriculated in 1598.

The eleven works are:

  1. Liber posteriorum Magistri Pauli Veneti, by Paolo Veneto, Venice, 1491 (UB/S I 47, bound with numbers 2 and 6 below);
  2. Questiones Joannis Canonici super octo libros Physicorum, by John Canonicus, Venice, 1492 (UB/S I 48, bound with numbers 1 and 6);
  3. Expositio Egidii Romani super libros Posteriorum Aristotelis, by Giles of Rome, Venice, 1500 (UB/S I 5 5);
  4. Chrysostomi Iauelli Canapicii, philosophi clarissimi, quæstiones naturales super octo lib. Physicorum Aristotelis, by Chrysostomus Javellus, Lyons, 1567 (Lath L 3.11);
  5. Chrysostomi Iauelli Canapicii ordinis prædicatorum, theologi & philosophi, in primis nostræ ætatis eruditissimi, quæstiones in Aristotelis XI metaphysices libros, by Chrysostomus Javellus, Lyons, 1576 (Lath L 3.6);
  6. Fortunati Crellii in Posteriora Aristotelis analytica commentarii, by Fortunatus Crell, Neustadt, 1584 (UB/S I 47.1, bound with numbers 1 and 2)
  7. Psychologia anthropologica; sive, Animae humanæ doctrina, by Otto Casman, Hanau, 1594 (Lath L 3.1);
  8. Secunda pars Anthropologiæ: hoc est; Fabrica humani corporis, by Otto Casman, Hanau, 1596 (Lath L3.2)
  9. Othonis Casmanni Angelographia, seu, commentationum disceptationumque physicarum prodromus problematicus, de angelis seu creatis spiritibus a corporum consortio abiunctis, by Otto Casman, Frankfurt, 1597 (Lath L 3.4);
  10. Othonis Casmanni Somatologia, physica generalis, seu Commentationum disceptationumq[ue] physicarum syndromus problematicus, by Otto Casman, Frankfurt, 1598 (Lath L 3.3);
  11. Iacobi Zabarellæ Patavini Commentarii in magni Aristotelis libros physicorum, by Jacopo Zaberella, Frankfurt, 1602 (Lath I 5.16).

You can, thanks to Sophie’s efforts, find them listed online in the main Oxford library catalogue, SOLO – search on ‘Manwayring, Henry’ and select ‘Show only physical items’: this, at the time of writing, brings up eighteen entries of which these books are the last ten. And yes, I do mean ‘Manwayring’, neither the modern spelling ‘Mainwaring’, nor the ones he himself always used – ‘Maynwaring’ or ‘Maynwaringe.’ I will come back later to the reason for this seeming anomaly in the cataloguing.

We know the books came to us from Mainwaring, for they all carry near-identical hand-written inscriptions, presumably in the hand of a librarian “Ex liber Aulæ Regiæ & Collegij de Brasen-nose ex dono M[agist]ri Henrici Mainwaring hujus Collegij quondam alumni” or some variant thereon. Moreover, four of the books – numbers 4, 5, 8 and the volume that contains 1, 2 and 6 bound together – bear Mainwaring’s autograph signature on the flyleaves. Sophie has been of necessity cautious in cataloguing them as “presumably in his hand.” I would go further – by comparison with surviving signatures of his in the National Archives at Kew, there can be no doubt that the later ones, at least, are his. A couple of the books, interestingly, he has signed more than once, and seemingly at different times to judge from differences in the spelling of his name, in the forms of the letters, in pens and in ink. And I am inclined to think that the Latin motto Ne legito credere, nec contradicere added above the errata of number 6 is in his handwriting too.

There is a securely dateable early signature of his (Oxford University Archives, subscription register, SP 38, folio 113): on 14 July 1602 he signed his assent to the Thirty-Nine Articles and the Queen’s supremacy over the Church of England. This was normally a prerequisite to matriculation, but he had been under age to do this when he came up in 1598, so postponed it till the day before he took his BA:

Blog pic 1 OU archives signature.jpg

This 1602 signature is a classic piece of secretary hand, for example the ‘r’ that looks like a modern ‘w’ and the ‘e’ that looks like a Greek theta. By contrast, the three signatures on Lath L.3.11 display the full flourishes of his mature hand and the top one in particular exactly parallels examples of his signature in the National Archives at Kew from the 1620s and 30s:

Blog pic 2 Latham 3 11.jpg

The other three signed books contain intermediate forms, where he has moved away from secretary hand but not yet adopted the bold but simple flourishes of his mature signature, for example in the three-work volume UB/S I 47-48:

blog pic 3 UBS 47-48

What might account for the changes in his writing? Leaving aside any general change in fashions in handwriting, we know that at some point he studied under John Davies of Hereford. As well as a poet, this man was England’s leading tutor in calligraphy: he was in about 1612 to dedicate a poem to Mainwaring calling him “my most deare, and no lesse worthily-beloved Friend and Pupill.” It is not clear when precisely this period of study was, as Davies taught in both Oxford and London at different times. But the clear change in Mainwaring’s style of handwriting suggests to me that his time with Davies was after he had signed the subscription register in 1602 and so therefore probably after he went down from Brasenose and was in London. But these changes in his style of signature suggest that the ones with early forms, at least, must have come into his ownership quite early on.

Turning to the books themselves, at first sight, they look to be an unusual and almost random collection, but on closer inspection we can point to one or two things. Firstly, several are commentaries on Aristotle’s books on physics or metaphysics. And the places of publication seem to correlate closely with date – the three Venetian books are the oldest and would have been proper antiquarian finds when Mainwaring got them; the two from Lyons both date from early in the second half of the sixteenth century; while the six from the Rhineland straddle the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. No fewer than four are by a single author – Otto Casman, a Roman Catholic theologian and philosopher “determined, in the study of nature, rather to rely upon the decision of the sacred writings, than upon the doctrine of the ancient heathen philosophers”, whose books were nonetheless forbidden by the Catholic church a few years after his death (not that this prohibition stopped Mainwaring getting copies, though).

When and where did Mainwaring acquire the books? As we have seen, the ones with early forms of his signature he must have had early, perhaps even as an undergraduate (though it would have seemed unlikely that the last two could have made their way to Oxford so almost immediately after their publication). For the rest, he could have got them in London, where he spent a fair bit of time on and off in the forty years between taking his degree and having to flee back to Oxford as a Royalist refugee in 1642. It is also just possible that he came by them in his days as a pirate, but the sort of ports we know he frequented then (Mehdia in Morocco, Tunis, Lanzarote) seem unlikely candidates for a thriving market in books of Aristotelian commentary. The most likely occasion, however, seems to me to have been the trip we know he made overland across Europe to Venice and back in 1618-19 to offer the Republic his services as a naval commander. The outward leg would seem to have been via France and Turin. We know he came home via an unspecified city in Germany controlled by the Habsburgs – for which Freiburg seems to me the most likely candidate. So if he came out via the Rhone valley and back via the Rhine valley, he would have travelled to, or close to, the place of publication of all eleven books, and both Venice and Frankfurt were major centres of the book trade. We also know he departed Venice in some haste, leaving behind books and scientific instruments with his good friend the British ambassador there, Sir Henry Wotton (he of “an ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country” fame). We do not know whether he ever retrieved his possessions from Wotton, but it must be a real possibility that some of the volumes the college now holds are the very same books, brought back by Wotton on his recall to England in 1624.

Now why the unusual spelling of the donor’s name in the Bodleian catalogue? The reason, I’m told, is that it is because that is how his name appeared on the title page of his own best-known work, the Sea-Mans Dictionary. This work was written in the early 1620s and circulated widely in manuscript (for an excellent summary of this, see The Manuscripts of Sir Henry Mainwaring’s Sea-Mans Dictionary by Dr Amy Bowles of the British Library). Mainwaring had several presentation copies made by a leading copyist of the day, Ralph Crane, who for some reason adopted the ‘Manwayring’ spelling. When it finally made it into print in 1644, this spelling was carried through onto the title page, though we can be sure that Mainwaring himself, by now a Royalist refugee in Oxford lodging in his old college, had nothing to do with its publication. After all, his book received its imprimatur from one John Booker, an ardent Parliamentarian who was perhaps London’s leading astrologer and compiler of almanacs; and it was given a laboured and irrelevant Puritan-style preface of religious material by ‘RY’ –almost certainly Richard Younge, a pioneer in the field of supposedly improving tracts. But the ‘Manwayring’ spelling was adopted by the Library of Congress and so has set the standard for library cataloguers worldwide.

Ultimately, whether the books are textbooks that Mainwaring bought and used as an undergraduate or ones that he collected in later life, perhaps on his trip to Venice, is something we will never know. But thanks to the diligence of an anonymous college librarian in writing their provenance into the endpapers we can be certain that they belonged to one of our most intriguing alumni. Thanks, too, to Sophie’s work, they are no longer invisible among our special collection but their existence and provenance is now clear to researchers.

My thanks go to the college librarians and archivists, and also to the University archivists, for all their assistance.

David Bradbury, huius Collegii quondam alumnus 1981-84

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In Defence of Cataloguing Details

Even small inscriptions sometimes tell important tales.  One example of this is seen in the copy of Lucio Domizio Brusoni’s Facetiarum exemplorum’que libri VII (Lath. B.6.13) found in Brasenose College, Oxford.  This work is a collection of anecdotes drawn from classical and Christian authors and organised somewhat alphabetically by topic (de avaritia, de amore, de adultario, de aulicorum    officiis, etc) into seven books.  While its dedicatory epistle claims that these examples were chosen for moral edification, the resulting text is primarily a repository of humanist witticisms on various subjects.  It is, thus, a scholarly resource typical of the Italian Renaissance.  First printed in Rome in 1516, it was dedicated to Cardinal Pompeo Colonna and it contained endorsing epigrams from three members of the Roman Academy.

            Brusoni’s work was republished at least eight times during the next century.  The Brasenose copy is a revised version edited by the Alsatian humanist Conrad Lycosthenes, the nephew of the Protestant theologian Conrad Pellican, which was printed in Basel by Nicolaus Brylinger in 1559.  Though the text itself is of interest, the short, hitherto unknown, ownership inscription on the title-page is worthy of special attention.  It reads ‘Tho. Beconus pr[etium] iij s iiij d.’  This minute line of text reveals that this book was once owned by the English clergyman and bestselling devotional author Thomas Becon (1512-1567).  Moreover, it illuminates a largely overlooked aspect of his life and literary output.


            To make sense of the value of this inscription, we need some background.  Becon first rose to prominence as a bestselling author during the final decade of Henry VIII’s reign.  Between 1541 and 1543, he composed eleven original works and an extended preface, which circulated in twenty-five known editions.  The explosive popularity of these books–produced in cheap, octavo editions–made him a prime target for religious conservatives during the Prebendaries’ Plot of 1543.  He was made to recant his writing publicly at Paul’s Cross in London and to seek shelter in remote regions of the Midlands and East Anglia for the remainder of the reign.  His fortunes, however, radically changed on Edward VI’s accession to the throne.  Becon was made a chaplain to Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Edward Seymour, the Lord Protector of England.  In these two roles, he made crucial contributions to official statements of doctrine, such as the Book of Homilies (1547), the Catechism (1548), the Primer (1553), and the cornerstone of ensuing English liturgy, the Book of Common Prayer (1549).  He also continued to produce bestselling writing of his own and began to publish exclusively with John Day, the most significant printer in England during the second half of the sixteenth-century.

            The death of Edward and the accession of his Catholic sister Mary Tudor brought an abrupt end to this period of Becon’s career.  He was arrested in August 1553 and imprisoned in the Tower of London.  When he was released the following year (by accident, John Foxe would later claim!), Becon fled to the continent.  He first resided in Strasbourg, where he produced tracts of anti-Marian propaganda, designed to be smuggled into England.  He then relocated to Frankfurt, where he took part in the liturgical controversy that erupted there between two factions of English exiles.  These phases of Becon’s Marian exile are well-known and they largely run parallel to the careers of other English reformers.

            However, more obscure is Becon’s time in Marburg from 1556 to 1559.  During this phase of his exile, he was associated with the university and appears to have been a client of Philip I, the Landgrave of Hesse.  Such academic and political connections had a profound effect on his writing.  Instead of producing further polemical resources, Becon began to compile scholarly compendiums of quotations from biblical, patristic, and philosophical authors, including Solomon, Ben Sira, and Xenophon.  These loci communes were published in Basel by the famed printer and scholar Johann Oporinus.  Becon’s connection to Oporinus almost certainly came via his fellow exiles John Bale and John Foxe, who, after leaving Frankfurt, moved to Basel and found employment as correctors in his workshop.  The works that Becon published with Oporinus (with one exception, printed after the accession of Elizabeth) stand out from the popular devotional material for which he was known in England.  They were academic resources, which were owned by both Protestants and Catholics.  Thus, for Becon, there is an upside to exile: in Marburg he wrote learned, Latin works shaped by the intellectual environment in which he found himself.  For a brief moment, he was a humanist scholar, rather than a popular preacher and devotional writer.

            This brings us to Brusoni’s Facetiarum exemplorum’que libri VII.  The Brasenose copy of this text must have been sent to Becon or purchased by him after his return to England.  The preface by Lycosthenes is dated September 1559 and clear evidence of Becon’s role in the visitation of the Province of Canterbury dates from August.  However, the fact that Becon used the Latinate form of his name (‘Beconus’) in this inscription (which can be matched with samples of his handwriting found in the Parker Library, Canterbury Cathedral Archives, and Chetham’s Library) suggests that this text was likely obtained shortly after his homecoming.  Moreover, the relatively high inscribed cost (‘pro iij s iiij d’) probably indicates that this volume was given to him since in the immediate wake of his return to England Becon complained of poverty.  This raises the question of who might have given him this book.  As it was printed in Basel, the idea that Oporinus or someone connected to his workshop might have sent it is plausible.  Further credence is given to this theory in light of the fact that Lycosthenes, who revised and edited this edition, was married to Oporinus’ sister and Brylinger, who printed it, regularly collaborated with him.

            No matter how this work came into Becon’s hand, it stands out as a relic of his brief career as a continental humanist.  As a collection of scholarly wit and historical and literary examples, it illuminates Becon the Marburg academic, rather than the English devotional writer.  It supplies a reminder that exile, with all its attendant hardships, could sometimes provide early modern émigrés with possibilities that were not available to them in their native lands.  These key insights are only available because the inscription in this book was catalogued by Sophie Floate.  When I wrote my Ph.D. thesis at the University of Cambridge on Thomas Becon, this fascinating piece of evidence eluded me.  However, as an early career academic working in Canada, I was able to discover this finding online and to arrange to examine this text shortly after it was initially catalogued.  All this points to the indispensable need to catalogue details, no matter how small.  The digital possibilities of our age furnish novel opportunities to unearth the past collaboratively.  It is crucial that we seize hold of these opportunities!

Jonathan Reimer

St Mark’s College

Vancouver, B.C., Canada









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A tribute to the physicist Nicholas Kurti (1908‒1998)

Nicholas Kurti was elected a Fellow of Brasenose in 1947. Born and educated in Budapest, and then at Paris and Berlin, Kurti arrived in Oxford in 1933 to work at the Clarendon Laboratory. In 1956 he became famous for an experiment, which reached a temperature of one microkelvin. He went on to demonstrate the experiment for Tomorrow’s World in 1960. A Fellow of the Royal Society and Professor of Physics at Oxford University (1967-1975), he was an enthusiastic cook, well-known for a talk given in 1969 entitled The physicist in the kitchen. He is considered to be one of the founders of molecular gastronomy, a term now associated with several modern-day chefs.

His archive is held by the Bodleian Library.

Recently, scientists and chefs paid tribute to Kurti on the first day of the Science & Cooking World Congress Barcelona 2019. For more information about the event, and a tribute to Kurti’s work please read this piece by Professor Màrius Rubiralta, Director of the Food and Nutrition Campus of the University of Barcelona.

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Smoking Concerts at Brasenose

Smoking concerts were popular events during the Victorian era. At Brasenose they were held in two parts with a 30 minute interval, possibly in Hall. Below are a few examples from the College Archives of smoking concert programmes, which date from the early 1900s. Each programme cover features a man with a rather large nose, which has long been used as the symbol for Brasenose.

The surviving records in the Archives suggest that the Brasenose concerts were mostly musical events, although the following example includes a few dramatic performances by a Mr. Moon:

Smoking Concert Programme

Despite the formal programmes, it seems that these concerts were not entirely respectable events. In Fifty-Five Years at Oxford, G. B. Grundy (who matriculated in 1888, and was later Tutor in Ancient History) wrote the following:

While I am on the subject of college discipline and indiscipline I may mention as a warning to future governing bodies certain brief-lived institutions which came into being in my undergraduate days. The first of these was the smoking concert. The title suggests innocent amusement. In actual fact these concerts meant great disorder in colleges, because a number of guests were invited, whose names were unknown to the college authorities and who turned the college into a bear garden the moment the concert was over, doing a lot of damage.

(Grundy, G. B. (1946). Fifty-Five Years at Oxford. 2nd ed. London, p.52).

He was ‘glad to say that these concerts were not revived after the Great War’ (ibid. p.53).


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Brasenose Ale Revisited

On Shrove Tuesday each year the College observes its ancient custom of reciting verses in honour of Brasenose Ale. The origin of the Brasenose Ale Verses is unknown and only two survive from before the 19th century, both in secondary sources.

Like most large private institutions and households the College brewed its own beer, and every year verses would be written in praise of the brew with references to current events or members of College. By 1856 the Ale Verses were written by junior members and would be recited by the Butler on Shrove Tuesday. The performance would be accompanied by a special brew known as ‘Lambs Wool,’ a traditional recipe which involved heating the beer with sugar, spices and apples.

The May 1925 edition of The Brazen Nose notes the revival of this recipe in 1924 (p.50):

In 1924, when the Ale Verses were presented on Shrove Tuesday, they were accompanied, for the first time for many years, with the ancient loving-cup of ‘Lambs-Wool’, which is a preparation of beer, apples, and other ingredients. The only person who knew the old recipe was Henry Stannard, a college servant of long standing of whom we have a notice below. This year the same loving-cup was circulated and we trust that it will be continued in the future.

The brewhouse was demolished during the second stage of the erection of the New Quadrangle in 1886-1889, and the College stopped brewing its own beer. Between 1889 and 1909 no Ale Verses were produced, but in 1909 the poetic tradition (although not the brewing) was revived as part of the College’s Quatercentenary celebrations and continues annually today. In recent years the Verses have usually been set and sung to well-known songs. The majority of the Verses from 1815 onwards survive in some form in the College Archives. Collections were published in 1857, 1878 and 1901.

Authors of Ale Verses include Reginald Heber (Bishop and hymn writer), William Webb Ellis (credited with the invention of rugby football), Thomas Humphry Ward (author, whose more famous wife wrote as Mrs. Humphry Ward), Cuthbert John Ottaway (footballer), Frederic Edward Weatherly (songwriter), and Sir Arthur Evans (archaeologist).

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Although many of the books in the College library have marginalia these are usually scholarly notes relating to the text. Sometimes, however, there are drawings and doodles as well, which are always a welcome surprise! Two examples of marginalia of a more personal nature recently came to light during the cataloguing of the special collections here at Brasenose.

The College library has many bibles in its collections but this one, printed in London in 1595 (the Geneva bible, printed for Christopher Barker) has notes not commonly found in College library copies. It has been a common practice for hundreds of years for families to record birth and death dates of family members in the back of the family bible. This bible was obviously used for this purpose; a previous owner, John Meredith has also written his name several times on the inside of upper board of the binding, and the final leaf contains a list of family members, beginning with “Ann Merydith” born in 1680:

Lath L 4.10 births and deaths from bible Meredith family

This bible (also bound with a copy of the Psalms printed in 1594) came to be here at Brasenose through the bequest of a former Principal, Francis Yarborough, who left a substantial collection in 1770. He may have bought the book at an auction since he has no obvious connection to the Meredith family.

Another volume, recently catalogued, which caught my eye has a curious history of ownership, as can be discovered by the manuscript notes within its pages. Lath K 7.11 contains a doctrinal work on the Sabbath by Francis White, printed in 1635. This book has a complicated provenance history as there are at least three different owners.

The first name which appears on the first endpaper is “John Walpole” though I have not been able to identify him. On the next endpaper there are more intriguing notes: a previous owner has written:

“Ane Weste is my name and if my pene hade beene any better I would have [… illegible]” (written upside down).

In the same hand but at the back of the book there is this inscription:

“Henry Bullocke Henrie Bullocke

Thy birds shall leave theire arie rigion

The fishes in the aire shall flie

all the world shall be of one religion

all livinge things shall sease [sic] to die

all things shall change to shapes most strange

Before that I disloyall love

Or any way my love decay

Although I live not wheare I love

Ane Weste”

Lath K 7.11 Verse from folk song Ane Weste

The words are from a well known 17th century folk song of which there are several variations but the text seems to fit that of “The constant lover” by Peter Lowberry, perhaps sung to the tune of “I live not where I love” printed between 1601 and 1640 (see the English Broadside Ballad Archive

Is Ane dedicating this song to Henry? It’s difficult to make any definitive identifications of Henry or Ane since there are no other biographical details and women are particularly difficult to trace from this sort of period. The final provenance detail shows how the book came to be in Brasenose Library – through a group of graduating students in 1693. An inscription lists their names and these can be found in the Brasenose College Register. This was a fairly common practice at Brasenose and many books bear these kinds of inscriptions, but it is unusual to find quite so many details of previous ownership in one volume.


Sophie Floate

Antiquarian books cataloguer

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Brasenose College Turkey Work Chapel Cushions

Until quite recently there were nine embroidered cushions in the Brasenose College Chapel. At the beginning of this year they were removed for analysis, and were subsequently identified by an expert at the V&A as important examples of 17th century Turkish work, and potentially of national significance.

After some brief research, College Archivist Georgina Edwards found a bill dating from 1667 (a year after the consecration of the Chapel), which appears to detail the purchase of the cushions. There is a payment of 6 pounds and 2 shillings ‘for 12 toppes of cushions for the Chappell’ and of 3 pounds 11 shillings ‘for makeing them up [and] for a long cushion’ (see the images of the bill below).

The bill suggests that there were originally 13 cushions – 12 standard size and 1 long cushion. Of the nine remaining, the standard cushions measure approximately 38cm by 55cm, and the long cushion measures approximately 37cm by 70.5cm. The expert from the V&A suggested that the singular long cushion would have been placed in the centre of one of the Chapel’s altar steps, with six smaller cushions either side for kneeling on. It is possible that they were made especially for the consecration of the Chapel, which took place in November 1666. The existence of the bill almost certainly confirms the provenance of the cushions, and this increases their value and significance.

Considering that they have been in use for 350 years, the cushions are in remarkably good condition, with only a few wax marks and some fading of the wool. However, in order to ensure their future preservation they have now been taken out of use and are kept in the brand new archive store, where environmental conditions can be closely monitored and their security can be guaranteed. They have been wrapped in acid-free tissue and placed in archival quality boxes for their long-term storage.


The History of Turkey Work

‘Turkey work’ refers to a style of knotted embroidery which was used in England particularly during the 17th century. The technique derives from the type of carpets woven in the Middle East, which were brought to England in about the 16th century (see Encyclopaedia Britannica, available at

Turkey work was also used for chair covers and cushions, the latter being used in stalls in cathedrals, churches and colleges.


Design of the Brasenose Cushions

The cushions show the arms of the founders of Brasenose College, namely William Smyth Bishop of Lincoln, and Sir Richard Sutton, a lawyer. Four of the remaining cushions have Bishop Smyth’s arms, and five have Sir Richard Sutton’s heraldry.

Bishop William Smyth’s portrait, which hangs in Hall, and one of the cushions bearing his arms:

Sir Richard Sutton’s portrait, which hangs in Hall, and one of the cushions bearing his arms:

The cushions were assessed by an antique textiles and fans consultant and described as follows:

Four of the cushions are ‘designed with the Coat of Arms of Bishop Smith of Lincoln (?1460-1514) displaying a central chevron with three red roses, the whole having an upright flowering stem to each side, the lower border with the date 1666, the left, right and upper borders with a rose and lattice pattern worked in red, blue, green and yellow wools, the outer edge with narrow tufted trim, padded and with later light [or dark] green cloth backing.’

Five of the cushions are ‘designed with a shield displaying the Coat of Arms of Sir Richard Sutton (d.1524), the first and fourth quarters with a chevron and three bugles and the second and third with a chevron and three crosslets, the whole having a tree and leaves to each side, the lower border with the date 1666, the left, right and upper border with a rose and lattice pattern worked in red, blue, green and yellow wools, the outer edge with narrow tufted trim, padded and with later dark green linen backing.’

The nine remaining cushions will be professionally cleaned by a conservator. It is hoped that in the future they might go on display or that replicas will be made in order to ensure access to these important items.

Helen Sumping, Archivist (Maternity Cover)

 The 1667 bill documenting the purchase of the cushions:

 Bill for Chapel Cushions


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Brasenose College’s map of Whitechapel

In 1708 Brasenose College, Oxford, purchased the advowson or patronage of the parish of St Mary Matfelon, Whitechapel, from the parish of Stepney. This was confirmed by Act of Parliament in 1710 and gave the College the right to appoint Whitechapel’s rector when vacancies arose. This was controversial, unwelcome to many in Whitechapel. The right was given up in 1864. As a result of this link there is a map of the parish of Whitechapel at Brasenose College Archives (reference B 14.1/44). It is a beautiful thing, painted and drawn on vellum and in an excellent state of preservation, its colours still vivid.


It shows the parish shaded green and extending from Wentworth Street and Montague Street in the north across Whitechapel Street, Goodmans Fields and Rosemary Lane to Well Close, which is depicted as enclosed by what were probably timber palings with a pump in its south-east corner.

Whitechapel Blog Image 2

There is greater detail to the south as far as ‘The River of Thames’ in the L-shaped area that was known as Wapping-Whitechapel. This separated from Whitechapel in 1694 to become the parish of St John Wapping.

Whitechapel Blog Image 3

A splendid cartouche (above), bracketed by cornucopias, titles the map as ‘A Ground Plot of the Parish of St Mary Matfellon: Alias White-chappel And also ye Hamblet of Wapping Showing the true Buttings & Boundings of the Said Hamblet’.

This focus of attention suggests that the map might have been prepared with the separation in prospect. It can be no earlier than 1673 as the parish church of ‘St Marie White Chappel’ is depicted with a transept, a feature it lacked before the rebuilding completed in that year that gave it a cruciform or cross-axial plan.

Whitechapel Blog Image 4

The Survey of London and Brasenose College Archives would welcome any observations about the more precise dating of this map.

Peter Guillery, Survey of London


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