Oxford University - Balliol College. Image courtesy of Billy Wilson.

Visiting Oxford > Oxford University > Oxford Colleges

Balliol College

Balliol College is one of the oldest colleges in Oxford. It’s centrally located, opposite the Ashmolean Museum

Many well-known Prime Ministers have studied at Balliol, which is also the house of Adam Smith, Aldous Huxley, and Richard Dawkins. Bill Clinton briefly visited Balliol College to study Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at the University (although he didn’t finish his degree). 

The History of Balliol College

Balliol College was founded in 1263 y John I of Balliol, a landowner from Barnard Castle in County Durham. It’s said that the founder abducted a bishop after a dispute over land and forced him to support a group of Oxford scholars – thus, Balliol College was born. When John I died, his widow Dervoguilla continued his work, providing more endowments and writing the statutes (reason why she’s considered a co-founder today).

Balliol College Buildings and Gardens

The College has two Quadrangles: one at the front of the building (“Front Quadrangle”), and the other in the garden (“Garden Quadrangle”). The oldest parts of the college are the north and west ranges, which date to 1431. Balliol College’s second library pre-dates the publication of printed books in Europe. The dining hall was built in 1877 and replaced an older hall that had become too small for the college’s population. The hall is built in geometric style, using Bath stone and Tisbury stone. The roof and roof work are made of oak. The hall was designed by Alfred Waterhouse. The Tower forming the corner between the “Old Hall” and “Old Library” was made by Salvin in 1853. The college also contains a bar and a shop.

Balliol College Image Gallery

Dining Hall, Balliol College, Oxford. Image courtesy of Randy Connolly via Flickr Commons.
Dining Hall, Balliol College, Oxford. Image courtesy of Randy Connolly via Flickr Commons.
Oxford University - Balliol College in the Winter. Image courtesy of Piers Nye via Flickr Commons.
Oxford University - Balliol College. Image courtesy of Billy Wilson.
Oxford University - Balliol College. Image courtesy of Billy Wilson via Flickr Commons.
Oxford University - Balliol College Windows. Image courtesy of Don Brubacher via Flickr Commons.
Oxford University - Balliol College Windows. Image courtesy of Don Brubacher via Flickr Commons.
Oxford University - Balliol College Gardens. Image courtesy of Randy Connolly via Flickr Commons.
Oxford University - Balliol College Gardens. Image courtesy of Randy Connolly via Flickr Commons.
Oxford University - Balliol College Chapel. Image courtesy of Pjposullivan1 via Flickr Commons.
Oxford University - Balliol College Chapel. Image courtesy of Pjposullivan1 via Flickr Commons.

What it's Like to Study at Balliol College and Balliol Customs

The college provides its students with accommodation, a hall, library, two bars, and common rooms for fellows, graduates and undergraduates. Balliol has evolved its traditions and custos over the centuries. The patron saint of the college is Saint Catherine of Alexandria, a Christian saint martyred in the early 4th century. Her feast is 25 November, when a formal dinner is held for all final year students (this festival was established by 1550). Other feasts are the Snell Dinner (named after John Snell, a benefactor of the College), the Christmas Dinner in Michaelmas, Burns Night in Hilary, and the May Dinner in Trinity term (learn more about Oxford University’s terms here).

The most eccentric event, however, is The Nepotists carol-singing, organised by the college’s Arnold and Brackenbury Society. Balliol students congregate in the college hall on the last Friday of Michaelmas term to enjoy mulled wine and the singing of carols.

Balliol hosts the famous Oxford University Tortoise fair and race, in which the college pets compete to be the fist to reach a circle of lettuce. Because of Balliol’s historical left-learning affiliations, the tortoises are usually named after famous Marxists.

Where is Balliol College?

Balliol College is located in Oxford city centre: Broad Street (OX1 3BJ). The east side of the quad is a neighbouring wall with Trinity College.

Balliol College Coat Of Arms
Arms: Azure, a lion rampant argent, crowned or, impaling Gules, an orle argent.

Can you Visit Balliol College?

Yes, Balliol College is open to the public. 

  • Open: Usually open 10.00-17.00 or dusk (whichever is earlier).
  • Charge: Adults from £3, concessions and students from £1.
  • Groups: Maximum 15 people in a group.

Related to Balliol College

There is a traditional and fierce rivalry between the students of Balliol and those of its immediate neighbour to the east, Trinity College. This takes the form of songs, “raids” on the other college, and sports, in particular regattas and races.

Oxford University Trinity College. Image courtesy of Dave_S.

Trinity College

Trinity College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. Founded in 1555 by Sir Thomas Pope, the college once

Balliol College is located opposite the Ashmolean Museum

Oxford Worcester College. Image courtesy of Dave_S.

Worcester College

A constituent college of the University of Oxford in England, Worcester College was founded in 1714 by Sir Thomas Cookes, whose coat of arms the college adopted. Gloucester College existed

Read More »
Oxford University: Wolfson College. Image courtesy of Iqbal Aalam.

Wolfson College

Wolfson College is an all-graduate college affiliated with the University of Oxford in England, located near the River Cherwell in north Oxford. Wolfson has over

Read More »
Oxford University: Wadham College. Image courtesy of Andrew Gray.

Wadham College

Wadham College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford. It is located in the center of Oxford, at the intersection of

Read More »
Oxford University College

University College

University College (colloquially known as “Univ”) is a constituent college of the University of Oxford in England. It claims to be the university’s oldest college,

Read More »
Oxford University Trinity College. Image courtesy of Dave_S.

Trinity College

Trinity College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. Founded in 1555 by Sir Thomas Pope, the college once

Read More »

Oxford Museums & Art Galleries

Antiques on High - Oxford Museums, Art Galleries and Antiques Shops

Antiques on High

Antiques on High is an antiques and art shop from Oxford founded in 1997 and open seven days a week. It has won several awards.

Aidan Meller Gallery - Oxford Museums and Art Galleries

Aidan Meller Gallery

Aidan Meller Gallery is one of Oxford’s longest-established specialist art galleries. They showcase modern, contemporary and old masters.

Oxford Christ Church College, Canterbury Quadrangle. Image courtesy of Billy Wilson

Christ Church Picture Gallery

Christ Church Picture Gallery is an art museum holding an important collection of about 300 Old Master paintings and almost 2,000 drawings and is one

Oxford Parks & Meadows

Oxford University Parks. Image courtesy of Piers Nye via Flickr Commons.

Oxford University Parks

Oxford University Parks (or University Parks) is a large park area northeast of the city. The park is open to the public during the day.

Oxford Botanic Gardens - Image courtesy of Tejvan Pettinger

Oxford Botanic Gardens & Arboretum

The University of Oxford Botanic Garden is Great Britain’s oldest botanic garden and one of the oldest scientific gardens in the world. The Oxford Botanic

Oxford's Port Meadow - Image courtesy of Danny Chapman

Port Meadow

Port Meadow is a large open space in the north and west of Oxford. The River Thames flows through the heart of this ancient area