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About the College Archives

About the Archives

The Oriel College Archives exist to collect and maintain the documentary heritage of Oriel,  its constituent parts, and its members. The College’s archival heritage includes records of St Mary Hall, the Senior Common Room and the clubs and societies of the Junior Common Room. Its holdings range from 1150 to almost the present day.

The College’s collection of illuminated medieval manuscripts are no longer held on-site, and are instead deposited with the Bodleian Library.

Although there are various finding aids for the records held in the Archives, these do not conform to modern notions for cataloguing and describing archives. There is an ongoing project to catalogue the College Archives following recognised standards.

If you want to enquire about the contents of the Archives, please feel free to contact the College Archivist, and they will be happy to help.

Contact the College Archivist

Our Archival Holdings

Below is a summary of the main contents of our Archives.

Archives of Oriel College
Administrative Records

The early constitutional and administrative records of the College are detailed in Oriel College Records by C.L.Shadwell and H.E.Salter (OUP and Oxford Historical Society 1926), which also gives a great deal of information about Oriel’s properties in Oxford. The minutes of the Governing Body 1446-1661 have also been published as The Dean’s Register of Oriel by G.C.Richards and H.E.Salter (OUP 1926).

Items of particular interest include a fine run of College accounts (1409-1525 and 1583 onwards), a detailed account book of the S.C.R. (1744-1900) and the mediaeval records of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in Oxford, originally for lepers.

Records relating to the governing of the College – GOV

Records of benefactions and trusts – BT

Estate Records

From its earliest days the College held estates and livings all over the country, but principally in Berkshire and Oxfordshire. The Rectories of Aberford, Yorkshire and Coleby in Lincolnshire, as well as that of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford, were all acquired in the 1320s.

The College estates included the manors of Wadley, Berkshire (from 1440) and Dene and Chalford, Oxfordshire (from 1476). There were also substantial estates at Littleworth, Berkshire (from 1459), Shenington, Oxfordshire (from 1504) and Swainswick, near Bath (from 1525), as well as considerable property in Oxford itself.

Unfortunately nearly all the detailed records, like correspondence and information about repairs, do not survive. There are records of the leasing of the estates, so it is usually possible to find some details about the tenants of substantial houses. Cottages and other smaller properties are much more difficult to trace.

In addition to the written estate records, the College Archives contain a range of maps and plans of College estates from the 17th to 20th centuries.

Records of estates – EST

Students’ Records

The first place to look for information on students of Oriel is in the following publication:

Registrum Orielense, by C.L. Shadwell (volume I, 1500-1700 (London 1893); volume II, 1701 -1900 (London 1902)

There is surprisingly little biographical information about the students among the archives. The tutorial registers give information about examinations taken 1834-C.1956 and about College courses taken 1834-1943. Home addresses at admission are recorded for many admissions between 1768 and 1865, and there are some information forms filled in by old members themselves in 1952. Please remember that records of more recent students are covered by the Data Protection Act.

We do not have the following:

  • Dates of birth before the twentieth century, with very occasional exceptions
  • Names of mothers
  • Detailed examination results
  • Copies of theses and dissertations
Members’ Papers

The College Archives has two important collections of letters:

Phelps Papers

Lancelot Ridley Phelps (1853-1936), Provost of Oriel 1914-1930, had an extensive correspondence, and kept virtually all of his letters. Although much of the collection was destroyed in about 1940, a substantial quantity remains and there are comprehensive personal name indexes. College and University matters predominate, including letters from undergraduates (some in the overseas civil services), but personal and family matters are also represented. Of particular interest are letters relating to his involvement in Poor Law administration, both locally and nationally.

Fellowes Papers

Rev. E.H. Fellowes (1870-1951), an undergraduate at Oriel 1889-1892, became well known for his work in promoting the revival of sixteenth and seventeenth century English music. This small collection includes his eye witness account of Queen Victoria’s funeral, and letters from Adrian Boult, Edward Elgar, Gustav Holst, Herbert Howells, Hubert Parry, John Stainer, Charles Villiers Stanford, Leopold Stokowski, Ralph Vaughan Williams, H. Walford Davies and Henry Wood.

archives of st mary hall

A larger proportion of the records of St. Mary Hall has survived than is usual for Oxford academic halls, probably because Oriel had always owned the buildings, and most of the Principals of the Hall were also Fellows of the College.

The records include Principal’s log books 1764-1899, buttery books 1715-1874, battels accounts 1773-1898, and papers relating to the Dyke Trust for scholarships 1730-1891.

Records of St Mary Hall – SMH

Sources for Family History

Two Journals with outline records of the term by term life of the Hall 1833-1899 generally record the arrival and departure of students. Philip Bliss [Principal 1848-1857] made brief biographical notes about members of the Hall from the sixteenth century onwards and these occasionally have some useful information. However, it should be stressed that the material available is scanty at best; only occasionally is there anything beyond the details held in the University Archives and outlined in the following publications, all by Joseph Foster:

Alumni Oxonienses: the members of the University of Oxford, 1500-1714 (London, 1891)

Alumni Oxonienses: the members of the University of Oxford, 1715-1886 (London, 1888)

Oxford men and their colleges, 1880-1892 (Oxford, 1893)

Accessing the Archives

Although the first function of the Archives is to serve the needs of the College and its members, we do allow access by appointment for members of the public (although there is no absolute right of entry). Please note that access to the Reading Room can only be gained by stairs. Where this is not possible for a researcher, the college will try to arrange for documents to be viewed elsewhere. Replies to any postal, e-mail or telephone enquiries will only be answered as time permits, and please note that the Archivist is unable to carry out detailed research on behalf of third parties.

Using the Archives Reading Room

Before using the Archives Reading Room, please read the guidance below. Those using the Reading Room will be expected to abide by the rules outlined in order to ensure the safety of our artefacts.

Booking Procedure

The opening times of the Archives Reading Room are Monday and Tuesday, 10.00 – 1.00 and 2.00 – 4.30. Advance booking is absolutely necessary. You are advised to write or e-mail in advance of your visit in order to arrange a time and date and to confirm that the College has the document in which you are interested.

Arrival and Departure

Please remember that visits to view the archives held in Oriel College are by appointment only. The College reserves the right to refuse admission. Please report to the Lodge; the Archivist will be telephoned, and will escort you to the Archives Reading Room. Please note that in the event of a fire alert you should evacuate the building immediately as instructed by staff.

Access to Documents

Access to records will only be allowed after the searcher has signed the visitors’ book, thereby agreeing to abide by the rules of the Archive Reading Room. New readers are expected to provide document(s) confirming their name, address and signature, such as a driving licence, on a first visit.  Readers should always be ready to provide documents of identification when they visit.

Access to certain documents may be restricted for commercial or confidential reasons. This does not affect your rights to access to information under the Data Protection Act or the Freedom of Information Act.

Lists and Indexes

Please note that the archives of the College are not yet listed in detail. While the Archivist will offer assistance he cannot be held responsible for drawing visitors’ attention to every available item, printed or documentary, on a specific subject.

Rules for Use of Archives Reading Room

Please read these rules prior to signing in, since by signing the visitors’ book you are agreeing to abide by them.

Use of the Archives Reading Room

  • Please refrain from smoking in the Archives Reading Room.
  • Food (including sweets or chewing gum) and drink (including water) may not be brought into the Archives Reading Room.
  • Mobile telephones should be turned off at all times in the Archives Reading Room.
  • Any person may be required to leave who, in the opinion of the Archivist, is not making proper use of the facilities or is causing unnecessary disturbance to others.

Care of Documents

  • The use of ink, ballpoint and felt-tip is forbidden in the Archives Reading Room. To take notes, you must use either a pencil or bring a laptop. If you do bring your own electronic equipment, please note that there are no power points available.
  • Please handle documents with care (touching them as little as possible) and taking care neither to mark nor damage them.
  • Researchers who damage a record or mark it in any way may be required to pay the full cost of repairing it by any reasonable method required by the College.
  • The Archivist may restrict the number of documents produced at any one time and no visitor may have more than 3 volumes in the Archives Reading Room at any time.
  • The Archivist has the discretion not to produce any record that he feels is too fragile, too damaged or in any other way unfit for production. The Archivist has the discretion to impose restrictions on the use of any document.


Permission to photocopy, photograph or copy in any other way (e.g. tracing) a record in Oriel College must first be obtained from the Archivist who is empowered to refuse permission. Where appropriate a copyright declaration form must be completed and signed. Subject to this, photocopying facilities are available on request although the age, size, format, or condition of certain documents may make copying impossible. Copying orders will be dealt with as time permits.


If you wish to publish all or any part of a document seen here please write to the Archivist giving full details of what you want to use and for what purpose. A reproduction fee will normally be payable. The law of copyright must in any case be observed.

Contact the Archives

For any questions, please feel free to contact Rob Petre, the College Archivist:


Telephone: + 44 (0)1865 286545


Oriel College Archives,
Oriel College,

Please note that the College Archivist works part-time, and so you may find that a response to your query takes longer than expected.

further information

History of Oriel

About the Library

Oriel’s Chapel