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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Joyce Frankland

Since its foundation in 1509 several benefactions have been bestowed upon the College, which have allowed the academic community here to grow and prosper. These benefactions started with the endowments of the founders, William Smyth (Bishop of Lincoln) and Sir Richard Sutton (Lawyer). Smyth ‘gave the expenses of constituting & building the College’ and also endowed the College with many large estates around England, including property in Oxfordshire and Lincolnshire. Sir Richard Sutton complemented these estates with property at Burrough in Leicestershire, Oxfordshire and the White Hart Inn on the Strand in London.

Throughout the 16th century many more names were added to the list of benefactors, including Hugh Oldham (Bishop of Exeter),  John Claymond (President of Corpus Christi College) and Alexander Nowell (Dean of St Paul’s and Principal of Brasenose in 1595). Women also feature on the list, and interestingly some of the largest benefactions were received from women, namely Elizabeth Morley, Queen Elizabeth I and Joyce Frankland. Many of the original papers detailing these benefactions are kept in the archive and offer a brilliant insight into Tudor and Elizabethan philanthropy. These early College benefactors are also remembered through annual dinners or commemorations, and many of their portraits adorn the walls of some rooms in the College.

It is undoubtedly thanks to the founders, along with the early Principals and Fellows that these individuals chose to invest in Brasenose. The philanthropic efforts of William Smyth, for example, could clearly have been developed through his connection to such leading educational patrons as Lady Margaret Beaufort (the mother of King Henry VII).  Smyth is thought to have developed a connection with Beaufort during his upbringing close to her home at Knowsley Hall. Beaufort is of course well-known for her leading educational patronage and for being the founder of Christ’s College and St John’s College, Cambridge. However whilst Brasenose owns a portrait of Beaufort, (given by George Hornby, Fellow, in the 19th century) she does not appear to have contributed to the founding of the College directly.

One woman who did give to Brasenose was Joyce Frankland, for whom the Archives hold a large collection of papers relating to her accounts and everyday life. Joyce was the daughter of Robert and Joan Trappes. Her father was a London goldsmith and in 1549 she married her first husband Henry Saxey, a clothworker. After Henry’s death Joyce remarried, this time to another clothworker, William Frankland, but she was to outlive him too. Joyce experienced further tragedy when her only son, William Saxey, died in a horse riding accident in 1581. An acquaintance of Alexander Nowell, Frankland was said by him to have fallen ‘into sorrows uncomfortable, whereof I, being of her acquaintance, having intelligence, did with all speed ride to her house near Hoddesdon to comfort her the best I could, and I found her crying, or rather howling, continually ‘Oh my son, my son!’. And when I could by no comfortable words stay her from that cry and tearing of her hair, God I think, put me in mind at the last to say ‘Comfort yourself good Mrs Frankland, and I will tell you how you shall have 20 good sons to comfort you in these your sorrows … if you would found certain fellowships and scholarships to be bestowed upon studious young men, who should be called Mrs Frankland’s scholars, they would be in love towards you as dear children … and they and their successors after them, being still Mrs Frankland’s scholars, will honour your memory for ever and ever’ (Venn, 3.229).

Franklin 2

Joyce Frankland by Gilbert Jackson (1629)

Nowell’s words seem to have worked and on her death Frankland left a substantial amount of property to Brasenose, mostly in London and the surrounding counties as well as much of her silver collection. The income from the property benefitted the commons of the Principal and Fellows and endowed one fellowship and four scholarships.

Many members of College will be familiar with the portrait of Joyce Frankland which hangs in Hall, and others will also have seen the second portrait which hangs in the SCR. Both of these were left to the College by Frankland in her will. Recently researchers from the National Portrait Gallery in London have been using the Brasenose portraits and archives for research into British artistic practice and patronage between 1540 and 1620. This is just one of many research projects, which the College’s collections are being used for, indicating why we continue to conserve and maintain the collections for generations to come. Please visit the new Library and Archives Flickr site to see a selection of the Joyce Frankland Archives, as well as images of some of the other collections kept by the College.

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BNC Library participates in Oxford Traherne undergraduate studentship scheme

As part of the Oxford Traherne undergraduate summer studentship, I have been lucky enough to explore Brasenose’s impressive collection of rare books. Liz Kay gave us a comprehensive tour of Brasenose’s collections, presenting a snapshot of the broad range of rare books held at Brasenose, each with their own history and eccentricities. I was also struck by the variety of contexts in which the books are stored, from the traditional and atmospheric library at the top of Brasenose tower’s seemingly endless spiral steps to the more modern air-conditioned rolling stacks of the basement, providing an illuminating insight into the challenges and complexity of looking after these rare books and ensuring their survival for the future.

I returned to Brasenose to look at some particular items and was very pleased to discover that Brasenose, Traherne’s old college, still has some copies of works which he read and took notes from as an undergraduate. Though it is impossible to say whether these are the copies Traherne himself read, it was fascinating to examine these four-hundred year old books and the marks of earlier readers which they contain – it seems Oxford’s seventeenth-century students were as prone to marginalia as the students of today.

I would like to thank Liz Kay for her fascinating tour and the insight she gave us into both Brasenose’s historic collection and the challenges and responsibilities facing a 21st century library. She was extremely helpful and accommodating even in the midst of the renovation for the new library and contributed greatly to my research project and the studentship.

Christopher Archibald


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66 men of Grandpont

Regular readers of the Library and Archives blog may be interested to know more about a local history project, which has recently made use of the College Archives. A south Oxford community project, run by a group of local volunteers, has been researching the lives of 66 men from Grandpont (close to the Abingdon Road) who died in the First World War and whose names appear on the memorial in St Matthew’s Church.

Many of the men who died were Oxford College servants, and they included the son of Thomas Townsend, who was a servant at Brasenose from 1872 to 1916. The research offers an extremely interesting insight into the lives of those who resided in Grandpont and the social and cultural interests of many of the College servants and those in other professions, working in Oxford at this time.

A 40 minute documentary film has been produced by the project, under the direction of Liz Woolley, and is due to be shown at the Ultimate Picture Palace on 10 September as part of the Oxford Open Doors weekend. More information about the project can be found here.





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Modern architecture at Brasenose

Hidden away, between New Quad and Lincoln College, is what many consider to be an unremarkable concrete building. Commonly referred to these days as the ‘car park’, staircases 16, 17 and 18 were in fact designed by two of Britain’s most significant post-war architects, Philip Powell and Hidalgo Moya.

Modern architecture such as this is often much misunderstood, and modern buildings of the 20th century seem to appear particularly alien within a city such as Oxford, where medieval Colleges and magnificent examples of neoclassical and gothic architecture reign supreme. Whilst architectural designs from the arts & crafts and art deco movements are much loved, and even reflected in many of today’s fashion and interior crazes, many post-war buildings are often met with severe criticism. It is therefore hoped that this blog post will generate a greater understanding of Brasenose’s Powell and Moya building.

The history of this building begins in a post-war Brasenose, where rationing and conscription continued to affect College resources. Words such as ‘gloomy’ and ‘grim’ are often used to describe the post-war era, but it cannot be denied that this period also saw the emergence of some inspiring new ideas in the world of British architecture. One such event that celebrated these new ideas, not only in architecture but also in the sciences, technology, arts and design was the Festival of Britain. Held in 1951 the exhibition was an attempt to propel the country away from the experiences of the Second World War. The remnants of the main festival site on London’s South Bank can still be viewed today, in the form of the riverside walk and the Royal Festival Hall. Architectural inspiration was taken from the international style of architecture championed by the likes of Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier. Amongst these buildings stood the Skylon, a huge steel structure designed by none other than Powell and Moya. It stood at approximately 300 ft. high and gave the illusion that it was floating in mid-air. The Powell and Moya firm had been founded in 1946, and as well as the Skylon they were famous for their pioneering design of the Churchill Gardens housing estate in Pimlico – which had proved a successful effort to provide a housing solution to an area of London damaged during the blitz. As well as housing schemes they designed hospitals and university buildings and it was to be Powell and Moya who successfully brought modernism to both Oxford and Cambridge, beginning with Brasenose.

Site 1959

The building site after the demolition of the Bath-house

College resources might have been affected but following the war undergraduate numbers continued to increase, and to put pressure upon the College to provide more accommodation. A site was eventually found for a new building, when in 1959 every staircase, except one, had become equipped with toilets and bathrooms or showers. This made it possible to demolish the old College bath-house, built in 1911 when its popularity as a modern convenience was reported in the Brazen Nose. It had by all means replaced the 19th century student experience; one student in the 1840s described his room as ‘rather strongly scented with the salutiferous exhalations of a certain capacious necessary in its immediate vicinity’. Indeed the area was described as ‘the most squalid part of the College’, and also housed a dust-bin shelter and bicycle racks. The new accommodation building was envisaged as one of the most ambitious pieces of work projected by the College, not only because of its compact site, but also because of the architects chosen. The last major building completed in the College had been New Quad, designed by the Victorian architect Sir Thomas Graham Jackson and built between 1887 and 1911.

The feelings put forward in John Betjemen’s famous poem Slough, alongside such ideas conveyed in Le Corbusier’s Towards a New Architecture make it clear that radical changes had started to occur with regards to a new urban aesthetic before the Second World War. Brasenose had, since the construction of Old Quad, been concerned about the appearance of its buildings. Whilst 18th century plans to rebuild the College to neoclassical designs never came to fruition, it is interesting that when building New Quad, the Bursar had elicited the opinion of the designer William Morris, who said:

‘considering the historical value of what is left of old Oxford…those who have any share in the guardianship of its history & antiquity, should build a little as possible, should consider it a misfortune when they are forced to build; and also that when forced to build, they should make their building as modest and unpretentious as possible, chiefly taking care that the materials used should be harmonious with the old buildings.’

What Morris would have made of Powell and Moya’s branch of humane modernism, we can only surmise, but its clear that the College chose these architects because they were a practice who built ethically for the people in a modern way. The new building was financed initially by College funds but mostly by benefactions from Brasenose men and was completed in late 1960, when the Brazen Nose reported:

‘By general consent Powell and Moya have made a great success of a most difficult assignment: the architectural equivalent of a century in bad light on a turning wicket. On a site which had little to commend it they have produced a building with dignity and charm which is admirably adapted to the purpose it is to serve and contrives to make the most of a few surprisingly delightful views. As an expert said on the Third Programme, “Anyone who is interested in real modern architecture should go and see it”….In human terms the new building, which contains thirty-two bed-sitting-rooms, will enable every member of the College to spend two years in Brasenose. So we have achieved a goal that has sometimes seemed too much to hope for in the last few years.’

Newly built

The newly built Powell and Moya building

This building conicided with a period at Brasenose that saw a rise in interest towards the arts, most especially modern art. The JCR Picture or Arts Committee was formed, to purchase art and put on exhibitions within College. This had included a small exhibition of pictures by the Borough Group in 1949. Then in 1963, on completion of the new building, a sculpture by Henry Moore was placed outside. This piece, executed in 1960, was a substantial work in bronze, 45 inches long, entitled Reclining Figure on Pedestal. It was selected and loaned for the site by Henry Moore himself. By 1977 the College had welcomed its first Fellow in Creative Arts. This was Howard Hodgkin, who had a studio in Shoe Lane. During his year in College his paintings were exhibited in the HCR and at the Oxford Museum of Modern Art. Another, often overlooked, work of art remains part of the Powell and Moya building. This is the mosaic mural on the wall by Hans Unger and Eberhard Schuize which was based on the polyhedron, a mediaeval symbol of research and learning.

Room from BN.jpg

One of the thirty-two bed-sitting rooms in 1963

The Powell and Moya building was awarded a Bronze Medal by the Royal Institute of British Architects, alongside a First Class Award by the Oxford Civic Trust. The reputation of the building also inspired other Colleges to employ Powell and Moya to complete their extensions. This included Christ Church College (Blue Boar Quad) and most prominently Wolfson College, which was designed in its entirety by Powell and Moya in conjunction with Sir Isaiah Berlin and ‘laid out on the egalitarian principles which governed the college’. It might come as a surprise to many that the Powell and Moya building at Brasenose was Grade II listed in 1998, and though it has faced its difficulties, it should be appreciated as a fine example of 1960s British architecture. Each century the College has had to find new and ingenious ways to build, and the Powell and Moya remains as its 20th century example.

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Star turn for Deaths Duell

A Brasenose book is currently featuring in the recently opened Shakespeare’s Dead exhibition at the Weston Library. The exhibition is co-curated by our very own Fellow Librarian and English Tutor (Prof) Simon Palfrey; on discovering that the Bodleian copy of a particular book did not possess a crucial image we were asked to lend our copy for the exhibition.

The full title of the work in question is:

Deaths duell, : or, A consolation to the soule, against the dying life, and liuing death of the body. Deliuered in a sermon at White Hall, before the Kings Maiesty, in the beginning of Lent, 1630.

Donne, John, 1572-1631.

The second leaf of the BNC copy bears an engraved death portrait of John Donne signed “Martin DR [monogram]”. Sometimes the portrait was not printed hence the interest in the Brasenose copy.

The work is one of a number of sermons bound together to form a fat volume; the others are not by Donne but several different authors.

A photograph of the portrait and title page appears in the book that accompanies the exhibition and we now have a copy of this in the library. (Unsurprisingly it is entitled “Shakespeare’s Dead” and was written by Simon Palfrey and his co-curator Emma Smith. Look out for the skull on the spine and shelfmark F/MA 10 if you want to find it!)

This is not the first time that a BNC book has featured in a Bodleian exhibition however we are delighted that one of our books is making a guest appearance at an exhibition marking something as special as the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The icing on the cake is that this tremendous exhibition has been curated by a Fellow of Brasenose. If you are wondering about the reason for the inclusion of this work in the exhibition you might be interested in the following talk which takes place next month:

Donne to Death
11 May 2016 1.30pm — 2.00pm
Lecture Theatre, Weston Library (
Peter McCullough, Professor of English, Oxford

John Donne’s sermon, Death’s duell, was part of an early Stuart vogue for funeral sermons. Professor McCullough discusses Donne’s contribution to this genre, and looks at how this tradition is connected to the poetic and dramatic representations of death on display in the exhibition, Shakespeare’s Dead.

The talk is just one in a series of free talks that began earlier this year and Simon Palfrey will be participating in June talking about Shakespeare’s dead men and women as part of this series. Dates and booking information can be found here:

I urge you to cross the road to the Weston and immerse yourself in this engaging, eclectic exhibition. If you can’t spare the time just now you can always take a look at the accompanying book.

Liz Kay
College Librarian
April 2016

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Brasenose’s Old Cloisters Archaeology Blog 2

Once again Brasenose is learning about its past by improving for its future. Old Cloisters is back to being a reading room for Trinity term, however in the last few months a number of exciting discoveries have been made during the renovation works in Old Cloisters and in Deer Park (which is currently undergoing a redevelopment to allow the vents from the underground archives to be fitted, and to make the space fit the aesthetic of the new library). I was interested to learn from the archivist that Deer Park is its third appellation, previously being known as ‘St Mary’s Entry’ and then ‘Chapel Quad’.

While landscaping Deer Park the contractors quite unexpectedly came across a well shaft several feet beneath the topsoil, a few metres from the wall of the Medieval Kitchen. This was quite a find considering that the well is at least five metres deep, and stone-lined. It even has fresh running water at the bottom. The archaeologists were called back to college to investigate this interesting feature. Unfortunately, wells are not immediately datable, a consequence of the almost unchanging technology and materials used to construct them. However, the archaeologists were in luck. A sherd of Brill Boarstall-ware pottery was recovered from the fill of the construction trench, a lurid swamp-green Tudor glaze ware worth Googling. Pottery is a highly useful means of dating a site because it has changed form so regularly throughout history and geographical location, and has been assigned a relative chronology. The sherd’s presence in the fill tells us that it ended up beneath ground before the well was created, forming a terminus post quem (date after which) for the original construction of the well.

 wellSpecialists have confirmed that the pottery dates to somewhere in the 15th or 16th century. Sadly the archives have not presented any documentary evidence for the commissioning of the well. This is in some ways useful however because by the late 17th century new drainage and water systems were being well recorded. The archaeologists have therefore proposed that the well was created to supply the kitchen, which is a building apparently older than the foundation of the college, dating to the 15th century. The well also features a lead pipe than runs from the base to the surface, and an adjacent stone channel. These were added in a second phase, most likely when the well was capped. The pipe would have enabled water to be pumped from the well despite its closure. Graffiti can be seen in the interior of the well scratched onto three pieces of masonry, reading as Hg and 18. This may be some form of construction mark. The discovery of the well means that in Deer Park we have a piece of visible history that pre-dates any section of college as it can be seen today. In the future it might grant Brasenose finalists the wishes they need.

Perhaps more significant has been the discovery of remnants of wall painting in the Stocker Room that were revealed when panelling was removed with the intention to insert a new door into the south wall. The fragmentary remains would initially have covered the entire south wall, which is formed of large stone blocks and once had a large fireplace. The wall was covered in a rough plaster, then a skim coat and limewash to form the ground layer for the decorative paint scheme. The Wall Painting Condition Survey revealed that there is evidence of two previous painted schemes, separated by limewash layers, underneath the finest top layer. Clearly old stocker has undergone many refurbishments in its lifetime.

The most evident remains originally formed an overmantle scheme which included floral, grotesque and foliate motifs. Sadly only the right hand side is still extant. However, as mentioned, a number of other layers can be identified. These include a patchy brown layer, thin lines of yellow ochre (this may have formed scroll work), and a bright green paint layer. Interestingly this layer includes a clear red letter ‘S’ in either red lead or vermillion. Another letter, perhaps an ‘I’, ‘J’ or ‘T’ near the ‘S’ appears to have been purposely obscured with white limewash, leaving the ‘S’ still visible. It has been proposed that if it is a ‘T’ then the inscription refers to Thomas Singleton, who was Principal of Brasenose between 1595 and 1614. Another suggestion is that the letters were paired with a set on the other side of the fireplace, perhaps commemorating a married couple. The painting-out of a letter may indicate a death or divorce. The final scheme is brownish-green. The large scrolled pattern appears to include a grotesque animal, proposed to be an elephant. Interestingly this scheme is similar in both technique and style to an overmantle painting in Lincoln College, which dates to the first quarter of the 17th century. We may therefore be able to link this wall painting with the addition of a second storey to Old Quad in 1614-36, when it is likely there was a large scale renovation of the college’s interiors.


This wall painting is especially important because if the proposed date of the first quarter of the 17th century is correct, it had become popular to use panelling at this time, making painting from this period rare. The specialists have had a tricky job stabilising the friable mortar and preserving the painting during the current works. It is the current plan to incorporate both the well and the painting into the renovations for everyone to enjoy.


Francesca Anthony

3rd Year Classical Archaeology and Ancient History

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