Balliol College

A medieval oasis of peace and quiet in the middle of busy town.

Balliol College is one of the many beautiful buildings belonging to the University of Oxford. You would never believe you were in the middle of Oxford while walking around its grounds and admiring its beautiful gardens full of aromas of various plants.

Balliol College has been a great place of learning for hundreds of years and the it became the Alma Mater to some remarkable alumni such as Aldous Huxley, Graham Greene, H.D. Rawnsley (founder of the National Trust), Ludwig Guttmann (founder of the Paralympic Games), Robert Peston; creator of the welfare state, and many others.

The origins of this one of the oldest of the University of Oxford colleges dates back to 1263 when John I de Balliol founded the college, he was spurred into the charitable act of its foundation after being whipped for upsetting Bishop of Durham. Even so the college took its name after Balliol, it was his widow Dervorguilla of Galloway who made it thrive and who was determined for the college to make its mark. She provided capital and established its permanent endowment in 1282, as well as formal statutes and documents that survive to this day.

Things to do - Oxford University Colleges
Things to do - Oxford University Colleges
Things to do - Oxford University Colleges

In medieval times they were at first only sixteen students studying philosophy and mathematics, the college remained small for the first two hundred and fifty years of its history but in that time had several notable alumni including John Wyclif, the translator of the Bible, and William Gray, the bibliophile Bishop of Ely who accumulated a substantial collection of manuscript books (the largest single mediaeval manuscript collection to survive in England) which he gave to Balliol College. The college was also the first to have large numbers of foreign students, large numbers of Jews and a Roman Catholic fellow.

Even so Balliol College was founded by Dervorguilla of Galloway, also called Lady of Balliol, women were not admitted until 1979. The college was also the first of the traditional all-male colleges to elect a woman as a Fellow and Tutor in 1973.

Want to see more? Visit the full gallery and get to know Balliol College better. 

Things to do - Oxford University Colleges
Things to do - Oxford University Colleges
Things to do - Oxford University Colleges

Students have many facilities provided by the college: accommodation, the great hall (refectory), a library, two bars, to separate common rooms for the fellows, the graduates and undergraduates. The Hall, the traditional college setting, with its vaulted ceiling and portraits on the walls makes a magnificent venue for meals and can seat up to 226 people.

Balliol medieval building looks especially beautiful when the sun is shining on its honey-coloured stone and when its 15th century Old Library is covered in cascades of pendulous wisteria. The main frontage of the college (1867-68), also known as the Brackenbury Buildings, was designed by Alfred Waterhouse.

Image credits: Balliol College Dining by Meraj Chhaya.

The Victorian chapel, dedicated to St Catherine of Alexandria, the patron saint of the College. On her feast day, 25 November, a formal dinner is held for all final year students within Balliol which carried since at least 1549, when peacock was on the menu.

Things to do - Oxford University Colleges
Things to do - Oxford University Colleges
Things to do - Oxford University Colleges

Balliol College Dining Hall, Oxford University by David Iliff, source Wikimedia.

Over centuries Balliol has evolved its own traditions and customs. One of them is the Snell Dinner which takes place on the third March Friday in memory of John Snell, whose benefaction established exhibitions for students from the University of Glasgow to study at Balliol.

The most eccentric feast is The Nepotists carol-singing event which takes place on the last Friday of Michaelmas term each year. Balliol students congregate in the college hall to enjoy mulled wine and the carol-singing. The evening ends with a rendition of “The Gordouli” on Broad Street, outside the gates of the neighbouring Trinity College, with whom Balliol students have been in rivalries.

Things to do - Oxford University Colleges
Things to do - Oxford University Colleges
Things to do - Oxford University Colleges

Opening hours:
Mondays to Sundays – 10.00am until 5.00pm (or dusk, whichever is sooner).

Tickets and Prices:
Entry fee: £2 per adult, £1 concessions and students.
Admission includes free map and guide.

The Buttery in the Garden Quad serves light refreshments and is open to the public when the College is open to visitors. Term time: Monday to Friday, 12.30 to 9.00pm; Saturday 11.00am–5.00pm.

Balliol–Trinity rivalry:
For many years, there has been a fierce rivalry shown between the students of Balliol and those of its neighbour to the east, Trinity College.

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