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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Brasenose and the Ashmolean

The Ashmolean, the University of Oxford’s museum of art and archaeology, was officially founded in 1683. It is perhaps most famous for being the earliest public museum in England. Named after Elias Ashmole, it was originally founded as a scientific institution for research and education, where Ashmole’s collection, along with items from John Tradescant’s Ark were displayed. So what has the history of the Ashmolean got to do with Brasenose?

2017 marks the 400th year since Elias Ashmole’s birth. He did not attend University, having been educated at Lichfield Grammar School and tutored privately in Law. He subsequently practiced in London before the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642. A committed royalist, in 1644 he was appointed King’s Commissioner of Excise at Lichfield and was then given a military post at the royalist stronghold of Oxford. During his time at Oxford Ashmole was able to devote time to study, and developed an interest in natural philosophy, mathematics and astronomy. Whilst in Oxford Ashmole lodged in Brasenose, though he does not appear to have matriculated as a student in the College’s records. During the Civil War era Brasenose remained loyal to the King; indeed as the King’s headquarters Oxford was full of strangers – ‘soldiers, life-gauards, grromes, mayds, King’s pastrymen and yeomen, Lieftenants, Lords and ladyes’. The Colleges themselves effectively became hotels for these supporters and several resided at Brasenose, including Ashmole. Also in residence at Brasenose were Sir John Spelman (member of the King’s Council 1642) and Sir Henry St. George (Garter King of arms). Of course, Ashmole may have encountered the Brasenose Fellows still in residence, including Thomas Sixesmith, a Senior Fellow, who had been responsible for publishing Edward Brerewood’s writings, including Tractatus quidam logici in 1628. Brerewood was in fact a Brasenose student who became the first professor of astronomy in Gresham College. Ashmole’s presence at Brasenose can perhaps be explained by his connection to the Mainwaring family; he had married Eleanor Mainwaring in 1638, which affiliated him with the wealthy Cheshire family, many of whom studied at Brasenose. Ashmole left Oxford in 1645, but his period residing at Brasenose clearly greatly influenced him.

Later members of Brasenose also played an important role in the history of the museum. No less than three Brasenose men would become Keepers of the Museum. These included:

  • John Whiteside (Keeper 1714-1729), a student of Brasenose from 1696 to 1700. Whiteside was an experimental philosopher, keen astronomer and is regarded as the founder of physics teaching at Oxford.
  • Sir Arthur Evans (Keeper 1884-1908, BNC 1870-1874) who was in fact the first undergraduate to take archaeology as a special subject in the Modern History School at Oxford. His work at the Ashmolean transformed the institution, establishing its world-wide reputation as a museum of important archaeology. It was during Evans’ tenure that the Museum moved from Broad Street (now the Museum of the History of Science) to Beaumont Street. Evans is chiefly remembered for his discoveries at Knossos on Crete, but left the museum in 1908, it having been amalgamated with the University Galleries.
  • Edward Thurlow Leeds (Keeper 1928-1945, Fellow of BNC 1938-1946, Honorary Fellow 1946-1955). Leeds was from 1908 to 1928 Assistant Keeper of the Museum and focused much of his research on Anglo-Saxon archaeology.  He was the first to integrate documentary and archaeological evidence to study the historical past with particular reference to Oxfordshire, as well as the first to excavate an Anglo-Saxon settlement site (at Sutton Courtenay).

To find out more about current events at the Ashmolean please visit

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A biography of John Idowu Conrad Taylor

John Idowu Conrad Taylor the renowned Nigerian lawyer is a seminal figure in Lagos. During his time practicing at the Nigerian Bar he was a commanding lawyer, well remembered for several high profile cases. In tributes paid to him after his death, at the young age of 56, he was remembered as bold, independent, fearless; a classical legalistic conservative lawyer who had received his legal training in England and went on to contribute immensely to the development of Nigerian case law. The former head of state of Nigeria said of Taylor: “In an age which corruption, intrigues, back biting and the love of office and power are fast becoming a virtue, Mr. Justice Taylor stood out from the crowd with a detachment that has brought immense dignity to the High Office of a Judge”.

John Idowu Conrad Taylor was born on 24 August 1917 at Victoria Street (close to Tinubu Square) in Lagos, Nigeria, the fourth child of Eusebius James Alexander Taylor and Remilekun Alice Taylor (née Williams). A well-known lawyer and nationalist in his own right, E. J. A. Taylor had been called to the Bar on 10 July 1905 and gained the nickname ‘the Cock of the Bar’. John Taylor’s education began in Lagos where he attended the Olowogbowo Methodist School (primary) and then the Methodist Boys High School (secondary) before leaving for England in 1929. It was in England that he completed his secondary education at Culford School in Bury St. Edmunds, between April 1929 and July 1936. His younger brother Alaba Taylor would also follow in his footsteps to be schooled at Culford. During his time at the school John was a school prefect and was described as ‘a fine sportsman’, being captain of the Athletics team, as well as playing rugby, hockey and cricket. He also won the Senior Boxing Cup.

In September 1936 he entered King’s College, London – the 1937-38 King’s College Calendar shows that he was a registered student in the ‘Faculty of Laws’. However in 1937 he transferred to Brasenose College, Oxford. His name was entered in the College admission book on 18 December 1936, where his home address was listed as Wycliff House, 58 Lewisham Park, London, S13. He matriculated at Oxford on 9 October 1937 (Michaelmas term), as a ‘commoner’ i.e. he did not hold a scholarship or an exhibition. He was the only African student to matriculate in 1937, and though the list of matriculants mainly included men from England, there were many other students from overseas (including Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Canada, Egypt, South Africa, Argentina and Serbia).

From Michaelmas term 1937 to Trinity term 1940 Taylor lived in Oxford. During his first year (1937-1938) he resided on staircase XIV, room 3 (which cost him £15 a term) and during his second year (1938-1939) he lived on staircase XII, room 7 (£16 a term). The termly rates for room and board varied depending on which room a student could afford; payments ranged from £9 to £20. By 1939 war had broken out and its repercussions were being felt in Oxford. The Brasenose buildings were requisitioned by the military authorities from the beginning of the war and this meant that the students who were still in residence had to live elsewhere. Most undergraduates were moved to the Meadow Building at Christ Church College, and whilst we have no record of where Taylor lived from 1939-1940 it is likely to have been at Christ Church, where the Brasenose and Christ Church students (in some cases) even amalgamated their sports teams to make up the numbers. During this time the Principal of the College was William Teulon Swan Stallybrass, a lawyer (University Reader in Criminal Law and Evidence, editor of Salmond on Torts and Honorary Bencher of the Inner Temple) whose influence was widely felt around the College. He loved sport, especially cricket and was the leader in many Brasenose social gatherings. Taylor was probably also influenced by his tutor at Brasenose: Sir (Claud) Humphrey Meredith Waldock, the jurist and international lawyer. In 1947 Waldock became Chichele Chair of public international law at Oxford and later served as the British Judge in the European Court of Human Rights (1966-1974) and in the International Court of Justice (1973-1981). The College law society, the Ellesmere, was flourishing between 1937 and 1939. Luncheons and moots were regularly held and Taylor would have had every opportunity to participate in the life of the society. Whilst at Oxford Taylor also boxed (lightweight division) for Oxford University Amateur Boxing Club. He boxed in two Varsity matches (Oxford against Cambridge), but lost both in 1938 and 1939.

He had applied to join the Middle Temple on 6 September 1937 and was admitted on 6 October 1937. His first certificate of character was supplied by the Headmaster of Culford School who wrote ‘Taylor obtained his London Matriculation in September 1936, his subjects being English, French, History, Elementary Mathematics, Heat, Light and Sound. He is a boy of good average ability, a conscientious worker, and of sterling character’. The second was supplied by a Police Magistrate from Lagos. His report was equally favourable: ‘Mr J. I. C. Taylor…was known to me as a little boy, and his parents…are well known and highly respected people in Lagos; he has had the advantage of an early upbringing in a Christian home, and I believe him to be a gentleman of respectability who will live up to the reputation of his own august parents and uphold the traditions of whatever College into which he may be admitted.’ He was ultimately awarded a 2nd Class B.A. (Honours) degree in Jurisprudence, graduating on 27 July 1940, and on 14 January 1941 he was called to the Bar at the Middle Temple.

In December 1941 he returned to Nigeria where he joined his father’s law firm. On 22 June 1944 he was awarded an Oxford M.A. (in absence). The M.A. is a status within the University and did not entail further study or examination; at Oxford students can progress to the degree of MA on application, 21 terms after matriculation. Following his father’s death in 1947 Taylor was made head of the law firm and went on to serve on the Nigerian Bench for a total of 17 years. One well-known case the firm defended, in 1944 (before Taylor senior’s death) was that of a group of King’s College boys in Lagos. King’s College was a colonial government college which had been requisitioned by the army. This situation meant that its students were forced to move out and in response they wrote a petition protesting of the problems created by this move. Unfortunately the Taylor’s were unsuccessful; the student’s appeal was ignored and their ensuing strike culminated in the detention, trial and expulsion of 75 pupils, whilst their 8 ring leaders were conscripted into the British Army to fight in the 1939-1945 Second World War.

Taylor continued to play sport when he returned to Nigeria and between 1947 and 1949 captained the Nigerian cricket team. By 1956, aged 39, he had risen to the position of Judge of the High Court, Western Region (Nigeria) and four years later he was Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. In 1964 he became Chief Justice of the High Court of the Federal Territory of Lagos, a position he held until 1967. When Lagos State was created on 27 May 1967 Taylor became the first Chief Justice of the new state, which restructured Nigeria into a Federation of 12 states. Today Lagos is considered to be the financial centre of Nigeria, as well it’s most populous state. John Taylor died on 7 November 1973. His funeral was held at the Wesley Cathedral, Olowogbowo, where Dr Dr. Bolaji Idowu delivered a sermon of remembrance. The John Idowu Conrad Taylor Memorial Lecture, organised by the Nigerian Bar Association (Lagos branch) is held annually and delivered by an eminent jurist and he also has a street in Lagos named after him.


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An Archaeologist in the Archives

(Brasenose Archaeology Blog III by Francesca Anthony)

This summer I was given the wonderful opportunity of spending a few weeks working in the college’s archives, alongside the archivist Georgie Edwards. I had been eager to undertake such experience as archives are always cited as a possible career path for those interested in the heritage sector.

I had not previously been inside an archive. My preconceptions were limited to the misinformed view that it would be a slightly chaotic, gloomy space full of old documents and books, a treasure-trove of history strewn across shelves. I was correct about the stores being a magic treasure-trove of insight into the people and buildings of the college, but I was entirely wrong about the level of organisation and protection afforded to the records. Currently Brasenose is in the process of building a state-of-the-art archive store on site, with many of the documents being held off site. And yet, even the small temporary store was crammed full of grey boxes of varying size, protecting information regarding the history of the college and its occupants, dating from as early as the 1500s. These custom-made boxes are acid free and designed to last several hundred years. From the very start of my work experience it became apparent that many of the ethical questions and decisions that we apply in the archaeological field are relevant to archive work. Much of Georgie’s work is devoted to ensuring the documents are afforded the greatest possible protection so that they can be accessed by future generations. This means that many hours are spent moving documents and objects from their original files, boxes, or cases, into those that are known to be chemically neutral and will not have a negative impact upon the condition. Whilst I was there Georgie focused some of her time on placing college photos into new plastic wallets. This allowed me to look at photos from the early twentieth century, including JCR matriculation photos. I was jealous to see that in previous years the JCR was encouraged to take an informal group photo half-way through their degrees, one of which was ‘silly’ (imagine beer tankards, large hats, cuddly toys), showing that for many decades at least, Brasenose has lived up to its moniker as the happiest college in Oxford.

One of the greatest delights of the Brasenose archive is its sheer breadth. The ‘documents’ refer to a vast variety of materials and records. One of my favourites was a map from 1601 which covered the area of Oxford where I now live. The map was laid out by basic ink lines indicating topographical features such as the river and meadow boundaries, and yet a few features, such as a gate, were drawn in three dimension. Another map from the same century revealed how such a document could be an important statement of wealth. The map of college lands in Lincolnshire was beautifully gilded and embossed, with ornate flowers and paintings of compasses. This map was especially interesting because it was created before the introduction of enclosure, so showed the specific land strips farmed by college tenants. I was also fascinated to discover that the archives include fabric records, namely clothes. My favourite was a mid-19th century stripped velvet blazer that had belong to a member of the ‘Vampires’. It transpired that the ‘Vampires’ were a college cricket society who became infamous for their drinking escapades. Another college society I discovered was the ‘Crocodile Club’. In a rather different vein they were a reading club. I was shown one of their society meeting minute books, which included a beautiful hand-drawn picture of a crocodile in the front cover. The society’s mascot was a stuffed crocodile which I stumbled across when helping to clear a tutor’s office. However long you are at college, there is always more eccentricity to encounter.


1600s Map of Burrough

In my two weeks Georgie allocated me a number of diverse roles, in order that I gain a comprehensive understanding of an archivist’s job. One of my first tasks was to sort out several hundred letters that had been found in a box in a basement room. This involved identifying any key figures or places in the letters so that they could be cross-referenced in the database, chronologically ordering them, and creating a catalogue reference. The letters transpired to be correspondence between/regarding John Arderne Oremerod, the Senior Bursar in college in the mid eighteen-hundreds (1848-1863). In contrast to the large quantities of minute papers that the college has stored, these surprisingly personal letters were a refreshing insight into the governing of college at that date. Once I had overcome, and learnt to decipher, the handwriting, they were also surprisingly funny. For example, the college was revealed to be exceptionally concerned about its venison stock! One cutting comment from the bursar to Principal Cradock remarked upon the University’s Vice Principal struggling to recover from his love affair with a woman who had married another man days after their dalliance. It really felt like I was reading a sitcom; the fellow Chaffers kept disappearing around the country and confusing the rest of the academic staff with his choices of residence; Ormerod regularly provided the principal with an in-depth description of his ailments, including his pulse-rate; Ormerod’s brother the Arch-Deacon was complained to be very “fat and weepy”. My favourite anecdote was Ormerod’s expedition to the river to prove a Brasenose fellow wrong about the presence of eels, but he himself managed to find one and killed it with an oar, upsetting his family by bringing such a trophy home.

My other tasks included organising correspondence from ‘The Visitor’, a nominal college position that initially allowed someone outside college to arbitrate on disputes. On hearing this, my housemates did question whether I was actually archiving for MI6. I also worked through a messy box merely entitled ‘Styler’. Styler was Brasenose’ Vice Principal in the 1960s. I organised a strange collection of personal effects, including his tutorial notes, holiday photos, diaries, correspondence and dinner invitations, once again showing how varied the material is that an archivist encounters. Styler’s box also included hundreds of photo slides, some in very poor condition. I had to attempt to put these into some form of logical order. To my surprise my degree came in useful because Styler had been a classics tutor, so many of his slides recorded classical sites or material remains.

I enormously enjoyed my weeks unearthing the college archives. Not only did it appeal to my historical investigatory nature, but it felt worthwhile helping to protect such an incredible record of the college that I call home.

Francesca Anthony

MSt in Classical Archaeology


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