Oxford colleges and their estates over seven centuries: part 3 – The Property Chronicle
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Oxford colleges and their estates over seven centuries: part 3 How the colleges of Oxford adapted to changes in the 19th, 20th and now 21st centuries

The Historian

The first page of the first set of printed accounts for University College, Oxford, from 1883

Above: The first page of the first set of printed accounts for University College, Oxford, from 1883
© The Master and Fellows of University College, Oxford


Read part 1 of this series
Read part 2 of this series


In 1850 the quiet of Oxford was shattered. After many years of criticism inside and outside the university, a Royal Commission was created, which led to an Act of Parliament which began the process of modernising the university. Several obsolete customs such as limiting fellowships and scholarships to applicants from particular counties or schools were abolished.

In 1872 a new Parliamentary Commission was created to investigate the income of Oxford and Cambridge. This was more easily said than done: the commissioners encountered arcane accounting systems, some barely altered since medieval times. As at Magdalen College, some accounts were still written in Latin.

Therefore a great change was introduced: from 1 January 1883 all Oxford colleges had to prepare printed accounts set up identically. Since then, colleges have submitted such annual accounts for public scrutiny. Furthermore the wealthier colleges now had to give some of their income to the university to help with its rising administrative costs.

These changes presupposed that the colleges’ incomes would remain in a healthy state, but the 1880s and 1890s saw a period of great financial upheaval, thanks to two causes.






The Historian

About Robin Darwall-Smith

Robin Darwall-Smith

Robin Darwall-Smith is the Archivist of University and Jesus Colleges, Oxford. He has also been Archivist of Magdalen College. He read Classics as an undergraduate and postgraduate at Oxford, and then trained as an archivist at Liverpool. Robin has published extensively on many aspects of the history of Oxford: in particular, in 2008 he published a major history of University College. He is currently part of a team of three writing a new history of All Souls College.

Articles by Robin Darwall-Smith

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