Opening of the first folio of Balliol College's Manuscript number 238A, the first volume of a 15th century encyclopaedic work by Domenico de Bandini, showing an illuminated border (photo: copyright Balliol College)

Historic Collections

Balliol College has rich and varied historic collections of institutional archives, personal papers, manuscripts and printed books. These are curated by the Library’s professional team and can be consulted by appointment. Enquiries are welcome to library@​balliol.​ox.​ac.​uk.

As well as supporting teaching and research in the College, the historic collections are open for school visits and public exhibitions and talks

Discover more on our historic collections blog

The collections are housed at two city-centre locations: a purpose-built Historic Collections Centre inside St Cross Church on St Cross Road and the medieval library on Balliol’s Broad Street site. Staff will advise which site to come to and supply more information about working with the collections when appointments are made. There is wheelchair access to and within the Historic Collections Centre. Please let us know in advance if you have mobility restrictions or other disabilities so that we can help you to plan your visit.

Institutional archives

Architectural plans by Alfred Waterhouse showing an elevation of the frontage of Balliol College onto Broad Street, dating to 1867

Arguably the oldest of all the Oxford colleges, Balliol has one of the longest continuous histories of any educational institution in the English-speaking world. The College Archives contain well over 10,000 items, covering all aspects of the College’s history from its earliest years to the present: College governance, finance, and community are represented in items that range from early statutes and medieval property deeds to minutes and photographs of College societies. Read more about the history of the archives or browse the archives.

Personal papers

Watercolour from the sketchbooks of the Morier family, several of whom were diplomats in 18th and 19th centuries, showing a turbaned man leading an ox-drawn carriage whose paasengers are veiled women. Reference: Morier N2 7

Balliol holds many collections of modern personal papers, with notable strengths in 19th- and 20th-century politics, diplomacy and education, including Balliol alumni T.H. Green, and Harold Nicolson, Benjamin Jowett (Master of Balliol (18701893), and the papers of the Mallet and Morier families; and an extensive holding of literary manuscripts including material by Balliol alumni Matthew Arnold, Arthur Hugh Clough, and Graham Greene, and Robert Browning, Balliol’s first Honorary Fellow. Here is a listing of most the papers held by Balliol.


Illuminated illustration from a 15th century manuscript containing a translation of Ovid's Heroides into French. The illustration shows two women in medieval costume, one seated and reading, with a dog, the other stands holding a bow and arrows.

Balliol’s Library includes 400 early manuscripts, its highlights including a part of the Domesday Book (11601170), Richard Hill’s memorandum book (the unique source of many English carols) and the library of William Gray, Bishop of Ely, which has been called ‘by far the finest, as well as the largest, private collection to survive in England from the Middle Ages’. It also holds non-western manuscript material in a wide variety of languages, scripts, dates and physical formats.

A scholarly catalogue of Balliol’s manuscripts was published by Sir Roger Mynors in 1963 (Catalogue of the Manuscripts of Balliol College Oxford, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963). Thanks to Oxford University Press we are able to make Mynors’ catalogue available online.

Printed books

17th century engraving of a dragon from Athanasius Kircher's Mundus Subterraneus, Balliol Library 30 h 10

Balliol also has 20,000 early printed books dating back to the 15th century, including large bequests from the book collector Sir Thomas Wendy in 1677; Fellow of the College Nicholas Crouch in 1690; and clergyman and antiquary George Coningesby in 1766. These cover all areas of intellectual endeavour. Later printed special collections include large collections by and about Graham Greene (see the Graham Greene exhibition catalogue) and Algernon Charles Swinburne (see the Swinburne exhibition catalogue), and books written by and about other Balliol alumni. Balliol’s printed collections have particular strengths in English literature, science, theology, law, and Indian history.

Many but not all of these collections are searchable through Search Oxford Libraries Online (SOLO) catalogue.