Monday, July 4, 2016


"In the infamous Balliol vs. Trinity feud, the death toll stands at four: 
  • Trinity students dead: 1  
  • Balliol students dead: 3"
The above tally was posted in 2007 by a Trinity undergraduate named Sarah in her first month at Oxford, based on stories she heard from returning students. I fear that leaving a lurid report like this online and unchallenged for nearly a decade is liable to give it credibility among the credulous. To quote exactly from the young lady's blog:
For those of you who have never heard of the Balliol/Trinity feud, it supposedly started back in the sixteenth century, when Trinity was founded. Apparently Trinity's founder, Sir Thomas Pope, purloined some land from Balliol in order to build his new college. Balliol has never forgiven us, and the feud dates all the way back to, well, several decades probably. Anyway, they sing at us every time they have a party and get drunk, and occasionally attempt to scale the walls into our college. I guess they're just not satisfied with their own grounds! Supposedly, sometime in the seventeenth century, one of Trinity's more elderly fellows had a stroke and lost his mind. He proceeded to march over to the senior common room, which overlooks Balliol's grounds, and shoot several Balliol students with a shotgun. According to the story I heard, he managed to kill three of them. No one has yet provided me with any stories behind the one Trinity death.
Having attended Trinity College in 1962-64 never having heard this story of the elderly fellow in the 17th century with the shotgun, I was curious. The shotgun was not invented until the 19th century, and seems unlikely to have been easily carried past the porter's lodge by a deranged man. I have investigated further.


July 4, 2016–Regrettably, these tall tales about the Trinity-Balliol feud have only the smallest grain of truth in them! The feud dates from the late 19th Century. In a nutshell, it arose at a time when Balliol had gained a very high profile for academic brilliance, and when a new frontier between the two colleges had opened up, with the creation of Trinity's front quadrangle, and the building of the new Balliol Hall adjacent to the Trinity back yard. The traditional singing dates from the late 1890s, and the prank-playing from the Edwardian era. The story promulgated by Thomas Warton in his life of Ralph Bathurst that Bathurst would throw apples at Balliol College in his old age has a problem–Bathurst's garden was not contiguous with Trinity's neighbour. There are no documented deaths "on the frontier"–although there is a good (and well-verified) story about William Rees-Mogg [1928-2012] sitting in his bath at Balliol when somebody from Trinity fired a shotgun through the open window. Fortunately, he was unharmed! There were so many hair-raising stories about some of the climbing exploits that have gone on in raids against both colleges, it is remarkable that no lives have been lost!

The above is drawn in part from Clare Hopkins, Trinity: 450 Years of an Oxford College Community (OUP 2005), pp 308-310. The book is listed online by OUP as costing $225.00; can this be the right price? Hopkins is Trinity's Archivist and is a true all-time world expert on the Trinity-Balliol feud. The Trinity and Balliol College websites both cite also Clare Hopkins and Bryan Ward-Perkins, "The Trinity/Balliol Feud", Trinity College Oxford Report (1989-90), pp. 45-66.


The inter-college pranks have to be paid for. The year that I went up to Trinity, 1962, one or more of the young men of the college scaled Balliol's refectory roof and painted on it the single word "BELIAL" in huge white letters. The pitch of the roof is a challenge even with mountaineering equipment, which I understand was in use. Balliol billed Trinity for the cost of removing the letters and repairing dislodged slates on the roof. My share of the bill appeared on my Battels (i.e., my college Buttery account) at the end of 1962. I forget what it was, but it was not trivial.

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