12th November 1571. All Souls.

The Codrington Library at All Souls was founded on a bequest in 1710 of 12,000 volumes by Christopher Coddrington, a Fellow of the College, but also a plantation slave owner in Barbados.

All Souls was a Collegiate Church founded by Archbishop Chichele in the reign of Henry VI in 1438 with Chantry Priests employed to pray for the souls of the English dead in the 100 Years’ War.

With a Warden and 40 fellows it was a foundation for poor scholars and non monastic clergy.


Coddrington Library Library at All Souls, Oxford. Above.

One of the key people in the 16thc was the Humanist, Robert Hovenden who Today in 1571 succeeded Richard Barber as Warden, a tenure to last until 1614.(1)

Hovenden was responsible for re-building work at All Souls a college unique in not having undergraduate students, except in 1631 when 31 poor scholars (servienties) were admitted, later discontinued, though four ‘Bible Clerks’ were appointed until 1924.

All Souls was one of many Collegiate Churches established before and after the Reformation; many were to succumb to monastic dissolution, though Henry VIII reprieved those regarded as essentially academic institutions.(2)

Until the 19thc All Souls, as with so many other Oxford foundations was moribund and undistinguished, until in 1878 two ‘Prize’ Fellowships a year were granted. The tenure with its emoluments and research facility was for 7 years.

One Fellowship was for ‘pure’ academics, with another for those opting for careers in law, journalism and politics. Known as ‘Londoners’ these were expected to produce work of academic merit in their field and maintain close association with the College.(3)

From 1932 until 2010 those top graduate candidates from the Oxford Colleges, invited to take the exam, apart from having to attempt ferociously difficult papers on the humanities were presented with the infamous ‘one word’ mind-bender.

A single word: ‘style’, ‘chaos’, ‘censorship’ or ‘charity’, for example had to be explored in a three hour paper on the subject.

Then there was the language translation from Ancient Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French, Spanish.. take your pick.

Then the Viva-Voce, and in the old days, for those surviving, a dinner, considered, whether true or not, another esoteric test as it included cherry pie: what to do with the cherry stones?

The historian, from the Cornish, Council House, A.L.Rouse must have done the right thing for in panic he swallowed the lot! He was one of the two to pass that year!

To remind us that this is England one of the more zany traditions held only once in a 100 years by these ‘braniacs’ is that of Hunting the Mallard, last held in January 2001, when All Souls Fellows parade behind lighted torches and a mallard on a pole, with much feasting and booze.(4)

Obviously in a system where only 30 are invited to take the exam and a maximum of two selected, ‘brains’ such as Hilaire Belloc, John Buchan and brilliant economist, later Prime Minister, Harold Wilson failed.

Whilst ‘super-brains’, Gladstone, T.E Lawrence (of Arabia), Curzon, later Viceroy of India, Quintin Hogg MP (Lord Hailsham), A.L. Rowse, Keith Joseph (MP) and John Redwood (MP), passed.

(1) He was also Vice-Chancellor 1582-3.

(2) Examples include S.Mary’s, Eton (1440) Winchester (1382), New College, Oxford (1379), Christ Church, Cambridge (1448).

(3) The name of fictional Inspector Morse was inspired by the real life Sir Jeremy Morse who was a ‘Londoner’.

(4) A custom since 1632 when Archbishop Abbot censured the college for a riot ‘in pretence of a foolish mallard’, now a College term for rubbish.

It appeared a mallard flew from a drain in the College’s building.


Daily Telegraph 15.1.2001. Article of Hunting the mallard.

wikipedia.org/all_souls/Pic of funerary monument to Rev Dr. Robert Hovenden of All Souls.

nytimes.com/oxford. Sarah Lyall. 27.5.2010.


English Customs and Usage. Batsford 1941. P.28. Christina Hole.

bbc.co.uk/history.codrington library/ Pic.

theguardian.com/ed All Souls. The Word Axed. Jessica Shepherd. 14.5.2010.






Tags: , , ,

About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: