Week 92: Betting in the Common Room – College betting books

College betting books were a common feature of collegiate life in Oxford. They record all the wagers made between Fellows in the Senior Common Room (SCR) and they are a mine of historical detail, evoking a world of collegiate friendships and rivalries, political debates, idle conversation after dinner and gentle teasing while on a boat on the river or lounging on Portmeadow. The bets generally follow a common formula – X bets Y a certain stake (usually bottles of wine or port) that something will or will not occur.

Exeter College’s first SCR betting book begins in 1812 and runs until 1837.  The nature of the bets recorded illustrates the ‘genteel but not intellectual’ ethos of the College in those days.

Betting Book 1812

Betting Book 1812 entry. Sibthorpe catches a goose

The book was presented by Humphrey Waldo Sibthorpe, who features in many of the early bets, including winning one that he would catch a goose:

“Jones bets Sibthorpe that he (Sibthorpe) does not catch a goose on Portmeadow on foot. Dated – Houseboat off Portmeadow, June 22nd 1812. Sibthorpe won.”

There is a later bet on how many throws it would take to hit a willow tree:

Forshall bets Yonge that he hits the willow on the other side of the river in ten throws. April 16th 1822. Forshall won.

Betting book 1822

Betting book 1822 entry. Hitting the willow.

Bets on the matrimonial chances of the Fellows, who had to resign their fellowships on marriage, and on sporting feats, reflect the relative youth of the Fellowship at that time. There are early signs of Exeter’s future prowess in athletics (the College formed the first Athletics Club in the university in 1850) in bets on races between milestones at Kidlington in 1817, and a failed bet that Exeter’s boat, the White Boat, would be Head of the River in 1831.

The White Boat 1824

The White Boat 1824

Kidlington race bet 1817

Kidlington race bet 1817

There are bets in 1820 on the cost of furniture for the Common Room, and that the two pear trees in the garden would produce 200 pears in one harvest.

Betting on the weight of pears 1820

Betting on the number of pears 1820

Fellows also wagered (rather rudely) on the weight of one of their number:

“Johnson bets Eliot that he (Eliot) weighs more than 170 lbs – Johnson lost”

William Dalby, who matriculated aged 15 and was made a fellow 3 years later, aged 18, took on a bet in November 1812 to give the number of volumes in the Library within thirty minutes. The outcome is not given.

How many books in the library?

How many books in the library

The bets touch on national politics as well as College life. In the early period there are many bets on the situation in France and the outcome of the war with Napoleon. One bet in March 1815 predicted that ‘ Buonaparte will be in possession of the country from Cologne to Basle by 1st July ‘ and a later one speculated on his ability to escape from St Helena within a year of arrival.

Betting on Napoleon

Betting on Napoleon

Interest in domestic politics are seen in bets on the position of the prime minister (Lord Liverpool) and taxes, including the Property (or income) tax, introduced as an emergency tax during the French Wars and retained after 1815.

Election pledges were also scrutinised and a bet on the repeal of the Malt Tax in 1835, to produce a list of MPs who had voted against their election pledges in order to support Robert Peel, has echoes of more recent political U-turns.

Betting on election pledges

Betting on election pledges

This page also includes a bet on the height of Ben Nevis and an election result in Devon.

Bets on coronation of George IV

Bets on coronation of George IV

Interest in the  activities of the Royal family resulted in bets in 1820 on cries of ‘Long Live Queen Charlotte’ at the coronation of George IV and the outcome of the Parliamentary enquiry into his queen, Caroline of Brunswick.

Last entry (1837)

Last entry (1837)

And the final entry in May 1837 predicts the death of William IV and his consort, Queen Adelaide before the end of the year. William did die on 20 June 1837 and was succeeded by his niece, Victoria.  Adelaide, who had been dangerously ill in April 1837, recovered and lived as Queen Dowager until the age of 57, dying in December 1849.

Penny Baker

College Archivist

Week 93: an unusual wedding gift

This week’s item from the special collections is a wedding present made for John Arthur Ruskin Munro (1864-1944), who was an undergraduate at Exeter College (1882-1886).

J.A.R. Munro (image supplied by Lincoln College Oxford)

J.A.R. Munro (image supplied by Lincoln College Oxford)

A picture of the hall at Exeter College is on the front cover and the book contains an assortment of music and lyrics. It was created with ‘best wishes for a happy future’ on the occasion of Munro’s marriage to Margaret ‘Birdie’ Neaves.

Munro manuscript

The first leaf contains decorative monograms and watercolours of flowers,

Munro 2 ded

and the names of the happy couple and the bridegroom’s brother are in pictograms at the top of the page: ‘birdie’ Munro (the bride), ‘jar’ John Arthur Ruskin Munro and ‘ham’ Henry Acland Munro.

Munro 2 ded

We might guess that the book was made by a Violet W. as a sprig of violets and the initial ‘w’ can be seen at the bottom of the page.

The book contains 21 Scottish songs, and melodies for the piano and violin, and each page is decorated with charming, hand painted flowers and figures and laboriously copied lyrics.

Munro thistle contents Munro music Munro lyrics Munro intro

Finally, the manuscript concludes with a poem, and music for the wedding march

Munro goodbye Munro wedding march

John Ruskin Munro was the son of the pre-Raphaelite sculptor Alexander Munro, the artist who created the relief of King Arthur and his knights above the entrance to the Oxford Union. John was educated at Charterhouse and then studied Classics at Exeter College. He later became an archaeologist and historian. From 1919 to 1944 he was Rector of Lincoln College Oxford.

This little manuscript provides a tantalising glimpse of a time when people made their own entertainment (and wedding gifts), and weddings were occasions for some original poetry and a lot of jolly Scottish dancing.

Joanna Bowring

College Librarian

Week 94: ‘was there ever such a king of Brittayne as Arthur?’ and other 17c tutorial questions

What was teaching, and learning, like in a 17th century Oxford college? How did it differ from today?

Well, at Exeter College we now have a much better idea as we have acquired the manuscript teaching notes of Exeter’s Rector Prideaux (1578-1650).

Prideaux's teaching notes 1637-41

Prideaux’s teaching notes 1637-41

John Prideaux was the son of a poor Devon farmer. He walked from the West Country to Oxford and was engaged as a college servant at Exeter College, rising to become Rector of Exeter College, royal chaplain, Regius professor of Divinity, Vice-Chancellor of the University, and Bishop of Worcester.

John Prideaux 1578-1650

John Prideaux 1578-1650

Even before he became Rector, Prideaux was acclaimed as a tutor and theologian. His teaching methods were popular, resulting in a series of published textbooks on such subjects as history and moral philosophy.

Chapter on geography

Chapter on geography

The manuscript we now have comprises Prideaux’s notes on geography, history both ‘profane’ and ecclesiastical, law and philosophy. Topics covered include ancient and modern political history from Nimrod to Ferdinand II, English history from the time of myths to that of Charles I, and a ‘view of eccelisticall history to this present 1638’ (from ‘good bishops’ to ‘luxurious Sodomites’ to incureable Babylonians’.

Britain's mythical past discussed

Britain’s mythical past discussed

Chapter on prophane history

Chapter on prophane history

Marvellously, each chapter ends with a number of ‘Inquiries’  – points for discussion between tutor and pupils.

Geographical questions include: ‘whether America was first discovered by Christopher Columbus … whether the Pope had the right to give America to the King of Spayne … whether the Northwest passage to the East Indyes may be hoped for’ … ‘whether the moon be habbitable’

Questions on geography

Questions on geography

The historical ‘inquiryes’ include whether ‘The Conquerors [William I] title to the crowne were feasible … whether the tales of Robin Hood and Little John have any warrantable ground … whether [Henry VIII’s] proceedings  were just against his Queene Anne Bulloyne’ …whether the Powder plot were the most inhumane and devilish designe that was ever undertaken’

The manuscript is thought to have originated from the library of the Earls of Shaftesbury at Wimborne St Giles in Dorset. Anthony Ashley Cooper (1621-1683), the first Earl of Shaftesbury, was a pupil of Prideaux’s at Exeter College from 1637-38 and it is likely that the first part of the book, ‘An Insight into Geography’ was acquired by Ashley Cooper at that time and then the later parts of the manuscript were bound with it at his request.

Fortuitously, the manuscript came up for sale in the 700th anniversary year of the College, and College fellows purchased it for the library to mark both the anniversary and the rectorship of Frances Cairncross (Rector 2004-14).

It provides a remarkable insight into teaching methods and what was being studied at Exeter College in the mid 17th century.

Joanna Bowring

College Librarian

Week 95: Exeter’s ‘dry garden’ – stinking iris and the queen of poisons

One of the most interesting items found deep in our rare books stack is a remarkable one – a 17th century album of pressed plants.

I came across this book last year and it was curious to pick up a large leather-bound volume expecting it to be heavy and to find it instead very light. When opened the book revealed page after page of carefully arranged dried plant samples – a ‘hortus siccus’ (literally ‘dry garden’) as these albums were commonly called at the time ours was made.

album 9

The name of each plant is written in both Latin and English in a seventeenth century hand, but apart from this and the faint lettering ‘hortus siccus’ on its spine, there is no indication of who might have put this fascinating book together.

A trip to Oxford’s Herbarium, where similar plant albums are kept, revealed some clues: the handwriting in Exeter’s volume was not familiar to the experts at the Herbarium so our album had not been made by the famous Oxford botanists Jacob Bobart the Elder (c.1599-1680) or Jacob Bobart the Younger (1641-1719). However, the binding is the same as that of the Bobart the Younger’s  albums (perhaps a local Oxford binder) and the paper used is also the same. The glue used to attach the specimens is however of a different type, darker and more brittle.

The Herbarium were able to date Exeter’s album as having been made sometime between 1670 and 1700.

Great wolfs bane

Great wolfs bane

It was most probably the work of a medical man, but the plants chosen are not obviously medicinal plants and neither do they conform to the ‘doctrine of signatures’ (the medieval belief that ‘like cures like’, that the plant remedy resembles the part of the body it cures, so walnuts (resembling a brain) would cure mental illnesses for example).

There are no cultivated plants. The samples in Exeter’s album are all wild plant varieties which would have grown locally in Oxfordshire.

Roman nettle

Roman nettle

Stinking gladwin

Stinking gladwin

Great golden maidenhair

Great golden maidenhair

Their English names are charming: the stinking gladwyn or iris (said to smell of roast beef), white flowered maudlin (named for Mary Magdalen), small and great periwinckle, great golden maidenhair. There is also a sample of Wolf’s bane, a very poisonous plant sometimes called the Queen of all Poisons, or the devil’s helmet.

Despite having survived for over 340 years, most of the plant samples are in surprisingly good condition. There is evidence of some old insect damage, and the album was frozen at minus 30 degrees for a week by the Herbarium to make sure no insects survive between its pages.

It is tantalising to think of who might have compiled this plant album. Was it a member of  Exeter College? A friend of Bobart the Younger? Perhaps a visitor to the University of Oxford’s Physic Garden (then about 30 years old)?

The Register of the Rectors, Fellows, and other members on the foundation of Exeter College Oxford by the Rev Charles Boase (Oxford, 1894) mentions a possibly likely candidate, Lewis Stephens, Exeter’s Chaplain 1678-81. He was not a medical man but he was described as ‘famous as a botanist’. Could the Rev. Stephens be our anonymous plant collector?

 

Joanna Bowring

College Librarian

Week 97: William Morris and Exeter College

This week we reveal some things in Exeter’s Special Collections from the Victorian socialist, designer, and writer, William Morris.

William Morris (1834-1896) is probably best known for his wallpaper nowadays, but throughout his life he proved to be a keen bibliophile. As a student at Exeter College (1852-54) Morris began to bind books, including Carlyle’s ‘Past and Present’ and Ruskin’s ‘Lectures on Architecture and Painting’, which were donated to the College by his daughter in 1939.

John Ruskin's Lectures on architecture and painting bound by William Morris

John Ruskin’s Lectures on architecture and painting bound by William Morris

 

Later,  Morris set up a printing house, the Kelmscott Press. In 1895 he wrote, ‘I began printing books with the hope of producing some which would have a definite claim to beauty, while at the same time they should be easy to read and should not dazzle the eye, or trouble the intellect of the reader by eccentricity of form in the letters.’

The Kelmscott Press produced books to standards of medieval craftsmanship, of the highest quality, and of exceptional beauty. The paper was handmade, ‘wholly of linen’ ‘laid’ not ‘wove’, the fonts Gothic and Roman, the dyes made from historic recipes.

Kelmscott label

 

The Library has several Kelmscott Press books including  Sidonia the Sorceress by William Meinhold and translated by Speranza, Lady Wilde, and The History of Godefrey of Boloyne and of the conquest of Jerusalem (reprinted from Caxton’s translation), and two copies of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, one (the first off the press) which belonged to Morris himself and the second which belonged to Edward Burne-Jones.

The jewel in the crown of the Kelmscott Press, the great  ‘Kelmscott Chaucer’ took four years to produce, and is illustrated by Burne-Jones, Morris’ contemporary at Exeter. He said ‘If we live to finish it, it will be like a pocket cathedral – so full of design and I think Morris the greatest master of ornament in the world.’  Burne-Jones words were prescient – Morris died shortly after the first copies were printed, in 1896.

 

Kelmscott Chaucer (1896)

Kelmscott Chaucer (1896)

 

The Special Collections also hold other Morris artefacts, the contents of Morris’ desk at the time of his death, including his spectacles, paint brushes (some nibbled), cigarette holder, and a lock of his hair.

Lid of box containing lock of William Morris' hair

Lid of box containing lock of William Morris’ hair

 

In the College chapel you can see the tapestry, The Adoration of the Magi, designed by Burne-Jones, and commissioned from William Morris and Co, to adorn the new Chapel in the 19th century.

 

Adoration of the Magi (1886)

Adoration of the Magi (1886)

 

Morris items from Exeter’s Special Collections can be seen at Modern Art Oxford, in the exhibition Love is Enough: William Morris & Andy Warhol’, curated by Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller, until 8th March 2015.

Bibliography:

http://www.morrissociety.org/morris/popups/noteonKelmscott.html

http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/landprint/kelmscott/

 Thomas Wilson

(History m.2013)

Week 98: Hunting, shooting and fishing

From the College who gave the world the Jack Russell terrier, thanks to its famous alumnus the “sporting parson” Reverend John (“Jack”) Russell, hunting is the theme this week.

Exeter College beagle pack 1912 (Archives, Exeter College Oxford)

Exeter College beagle pack 1912
(Archives, Exeter College Oxford)

Exeter has a rare copy of a little book called ‘The booke of haukyng huntynge and fysshyng, with all the properties and medecynes that are necessary to be kept.  [1556?]

Booke of haukyng hunting and fysshyng [1556?]

Booke of haukyng hunting and fysshyng [1556?]

It is actually  an expanded edition of an earlier work known as ‘The Book of St Albans’, printed in 1486  and, interestingly, thought to be the work of a woman, Juliana Berners or Barnes, the prioress of St. Mary of Sopwell, near St Albans (fl. 1460). It is not certain that Juliana was the author, but the assumption has arisen because hers is the only name mentioned in the work: at the end of the second part, a treatise in verse on ‘the manere of huntynge for all manere of bestys’  from a ‘Dame’ to her sons, there are the lines: Explicit dame Julyans Bernes doctrine in her boke of huntynge Hunting attrib.  

Hunting tp Fishing tpIt is full of all kinds of detailed advice:  everything you would ever need to know about falconry ‘to speke of haukes from an egg tyll they ben able to be taken’, how to find and catch your bird, how to make a medicines from the juice of fern roots to cure a hawk of ‘unlustynes’.

The author describes the best kind of horse and the perfect hunting dog. There is also a glossary of hunting terminology- how you should properly refer to a ‘a busyness of ferettes’ and  a ‘couple of spanyelles’.

The third section of the book ‘a treatyse of fysshynge with an angle’ was added ten years after the original edition was printed. It is actually the first known work on fly fishing and over 150 years later it was an influence on Izaak Walton, author of the famous ‘Compleat Angler’. The author describes each fish, for example the ‘gentyll’ salmon, the ‘right beauteous’ trout, and the unpalatable barbell which may be caught in March and April with a bit of fresh cheese: ‘the barbell is a swete fish but it is quaysy and perilous for a mannes bodye. And yf the flesshe be eaten rawe, he may be cause of manns death which hath often tymes benne sene’

The book was reprinted in many later editions. Exeter’s copy, thought to have been printed in 1556, is possibly one of only three in existence.