Exeter College acquires a new manuscript


The College Library has just acquired a black cloth-bound notebook containing  notes on the lectures of the composer John Stainer (1840-1901). Stainer was a popular composer in his day, and an Oxford figure having been organist at Magdalen College and later in life Heather Professor of Music at the university. He was also churchwarden at St Cross Church, and is buried there. Coincidentally, Exeter College Choir are singing an anthem by Stainer on 22nd May 2016.

The notes are the work of the organist of Exeter College in the 1870s, Joseph Cox Bridge (1853-1929) although the notebook obviously once belonged to his elder brother, Frederick Bridge , long-serving organist at Westminster Abbey as it says at the front in large blue crayon ‘Stolen from JF Bridge Cloisters Westminster’.

title pages

The manuscript falls into three parts: first Bridge’s account of instruments, instrumentation, and the structure of a symphony, with particular emphasis on Beethoven’s works including the Pastoral, derived from Stainer’s lectures and dated 1872; next, are notes on John Pyke Hullah’s ‘History of Modern Music’; lastly there are notes from John Hawkins’ ‘History of Music’, concluding with a section called ‘Answers to Ques’ which appears to be preparation for an examination.


Altogether the notebook sheds an interesting light on music education during this period.

Music.jpgNotes on percussion.jpg

The manuscript has been added to Exeter’s small collection of music manuscripts, chiefly a collection of Thomas Wood’s scores and notebooks. Thomas Wood (1892-1950) was a composer and author who lectured at Exeter College to great acclaim in the 1920s.

Joanna Bowring

College Librarian April 2016



Countdown to moving the special collections to Cohen Quad: Francis Turner Palgrave (1824-1897)

Palgrave by Elliott and Fry

Palgrave by Elliott and Fry

To celebrate National Poetry Day I am featuring the Victorian critic, anthologist, and poet Francis Turner Palgrave who was a Fellow of Exeter College from 1847 to 1862. He is probably best known for his anthology of verse ‘The Golden Treasury of English Songs and Lyrics’ (1861) widely considered to be an important contribution to the development of English literary taste, as it gathered together what in Palgrave’s opinion were the finest examples of English poetry.

The Golden Treasury published in 1861

The Golden Treasury published in 1861

Golden Treasury verse

As well as copies of the Golden Treasury, Exeter College library has over a dozen other works by Palgrave including art criticism and volumes of hymns and poetry, the majority donated by the author.


Among them there is The Handbook to the Fine Art Collections in the International Exhibition of 1862 which Palgrave had been commissioned to write . This caused a minor scandal when it was published as he was judged to have overly praised his close friend the sculptor Thomas Woolner and denigrated Woolner’s artistic rivals. William Holman Hunt waded into the controversy, writing in support of Palgrave and Woolner but Palgrave was forced to withdraw the catalogue.

International Exhibition handbook

Palgrave was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1885 and held the post for ten years. He had been in the race for the poetry post earlier in his career, we have a copy of his letter to the Times standing down from the contest in 1877.

Letter to the Times

Letter to the Times

In 1862, Palgrave had married Cecil Grenville Milnes, the daughter of the Wakefield M.P. James Milnes-Gaskell. Indeed, he had resigned his fellowship at Exeter College for her because dons at the time had to be unmarried.

I close with one of Palgrave’s poems, the Prothalamion, a marriage song not to his own wife but to Princess Mary of Teck on the occasion of her wedding on  6th July 1893 to George Duke of York, later George V.

Prothalamion first page

Joanna Bowring, College Librarian

Week 89 : Some setbacks

Apologies for the slight hiatus in updates from Exeter’s Library’s special collections, we have had a few unwelcome storage issues to contend with here.

Planning for the move of our rare books and manuscripts to their new home in Cohen Quad (Walton Street) was proceeding well, just up until we discovered we had a serious mould problem in one of our rare books storage rooms.

Harwell in basement

Harwell Support Services test the walls for damp

We called In Harwell Support Services to assess the problem and advise us on how to treat it. Curiously the environmental conditions in the room are fine now, but it is thought that floods in the room in past years probably caused the mould to grow, and correcting the temperature and humidity did not kill it off. It’s a relief to know that Harwell can remedy things. They will come for several months in the summer and painstakingly work through the collection volume by volume, removing dirt and any mould. The entire space will be treated with air scrubbers to remove any stray spores.

Just as we had dealt with this, the wall in one of our other stores developed a large crack.

staircase 9 stack

2,500 books dating from the 17th to the 18th centuries on the history of the early church had to be moved out while the room was repaired, and then stored elsewhere until the relative humidity came down to acceptable levels. These books will also be cleaned by specialist conservators.

On a positive note, we can now at least be sure that all the books will be clean before being moved to their pristine new accommodation in Cohen Quad.

Normal blogging will now resume – unless other parts of this beautiful, but sadly crumbling, library decide to spring more surprises on us!

Joanna Bowring

College Librarian

Week 91: Exeter College and the West Country – tin mining in Devon

This week I am writing about a small book in Exeter’s special collection known as the Statutes of the Stannary or the Tinners’ Charter. It is a small book but an important one because, as far as is known, the copy in Exeter College Library is the only one still in existence.


It is a collection of legal documents regulating the Devonshire tin mining industry in the sixteenth century, comprising statutes for the years 1510, 1532 and 1533 together with a copy of the charter issued by King Edward I in 1305.

By the early 16th century the extraction of tin was big business and many tinworks were in operation on Dartmoor:

“every valley and many hillslopes would have witnessed activity, with the movement of men, timber, ironwork, ore and ingots being a commonplace sight… The noise of stamping machinery and bellows, and the sight of smoke from furnaces, at scores of tin mills and blowing mills would have been familiar …” [Greeves & Newman, p. 15]

The Devon miners held regular legislative assemblies called Great Courts or Parliaments, huge open-air meetings held at a desolate spot on Dartmoor, Crocken Tor.  Thirteen Great Courts were held between 1474 and 1786.

 "Crockern Tor, Dartmoor" by Smalljim - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Crockern_Tor,_Dartmoor.jpg#/media/File:Crockern_Tor,_Dartmoor.jpg

“Crockern Tor, Dartmoor” by Smalljim

It must have been quite a sight to see the miners gathering at the Tor in such large numbers (there were always at least 96 men elected to attend, as well as representatives of the Crown and many spectators).

The book begins with the words ‘Here foloyth the confirmation of the Charter perteynynge to all the tynners wythyn the countey of devonshyre with there statutes also made at crockeryntorre by the hole assent and consent of al the sayd tynners yn the yere of the reygne of our soverayne Lord Kynge Henry ye viii the second yere [1510].

Title page

It was printed at the new printing press at Tavistock Abbey in 1533.

The members of the Great Courts are all listed, a fine roll of Devon names representing the four stannary courts at Chagford, Ashburton, Tavistock and Plympton.

Names of jurates

Names of jurates

The statutes reveal a highly organised industry, with the rights and responsibilities of tinners well documented. Those who transgressed the statues were punished at the stannary courts with fines and even imprisonment.

Exeter’s book was left to the College in 1774 in the will of  Joseph Sanford a fellow commoner of Exeter.  In 1739, someone (possibly Sanford) wrote on the flyleaf in Latin ‘This is the only example of this book yet discovered in England’.


See also The Great Courts of Devon Tinners 1510 and 1710 by Tom Greeves and Phil Newman. Dartmoor Tinworking Research Group, 2011.

Joanna Bowring

College Librarian



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 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.




 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.

Week 99: Wolf Hall at Exeter – Katherine of Aragon’s prayer book

The current television dramatisation of Hilary Mantel’s novel ‘Wolf Hall’ has prompted the choice of this week’s book, a 14th century psalter, or book of psalms, which belonged to Katherine of Aragon before her divorce from Henry VIII in 1531.

Katherine wrote her name on the flyleaf.

'This boke ys myn Katherina the qwene'

‘This boke ys myn Katherina the qwene’

Before Katherine of Aragon, the book had belonged to her mother in law, Elizabeth the wife of Henry VII and her name can be seen faintly inscribed above that of Katherine. Thrillingly, on the first page of the psalter, half way down the right hand side, someone (perhaps Elizabeth) has written Nativitas Arthuri primogeneti Regis Henrici septimi, this being the only extant record of the date of birth of Prince Arthur, the elder brother of Henry VIII and the first husband of Katherine of Aragon.

The psalter, known as the Bohun Psalter, is one of the greatest treasures owned by Exeter College. It was initially made for Humphrey de Bohun (1342-73), the grandson of Edward I, by monks on the Bohun lands at Pleshey in Essex and it is one of the finest examples of English illuminated manuscripts of the 14th century.

Library 021Bohun Psalter Illuminated Manuscript

Still in its original binding of gold damask, the psalter has 125 parchment leaves decorated with calendar scenes and rich illuminations telling the Bible story.

Noah and the Ark

Noah and the Ark

The manuscript was given to Exeter College by Sir William Petre (1505/6-1572) its great Tudor benefactor. The date of the gift is unrecorded but Petre probably presented it in 1567 when he gave a quantity of printed books to the college.

Portrait of Sir William Petre (1505/6-72); unknown artist 1567

Portrait of Sir William Petre (1505/6-72); unknown artist 1567

At the treacherous and dangerous Tudor court Petre was a survivor. Administrator to Thomas Cromwell and, after Cromwell’s fall, public servant and administrator to Henry VIII, Petre became Secretary of State under the boy king Edward VI. He was later appointed to the same office by Mary Tudor, Edward’s successor, despite his having sworn allegiance to Lady Jane Grey three days after Edward’s death. Petre even helped to negotiate Mary’s marriage to Philip of Spain.

After Mary’s death, Elizabeth I retained Petre as a councillor, and it was perhaps from Elizabeth that Petre acquired the Bohun Psalter.