Places of Graphological Interest - Oxford

Copyright  1999-2006 by Nigel Bradley

The year is 1167. A group of students sit beside the Isis. They are the first group of English scholars who had been barred from the University of Paris. Their teachers were beginning a new institution of learning based on the Parisian Model with faculties of Theology, Law, Medicine and the Arts.

Some 800 years later, thousands of students per annum flood into some 30 colleges along with four million tourists. Oxford has educated seven of Britain's last nine Prime Ministers, including Tony Blair. It claims the distinction of having educated, briefly, a President of the United States. Each of its colleges has its own life, history and identity; each has its own name. Corpus Christi, Balliol, Merton, Exeter, Linacre, Magdalen, Nuffield, Trinity, Somerville, Wadham, Worcester are examples of the designations one encounters when entering the city.

Take St. Edmund Hall, founded in 1278, a college affectionately known as Teddy Hall. This is a small, little known and old-fashioned college, now www to 350 undergraduates. This was the venue of the First British Symposium on Graphological Research in 1987. It was here that well known names gathered to debate the status of graphology. The following names will be familiar to many supporters of the subject: John Beck, Ellen Bowers, Charlie Cole, Christian Dettweiler, Renate Griffiths, Felix Klein, Betty Link, Oskar Lockowandt, Usha Mullan, Renna Nezos, Erik Rees, Roger Rubin, Marc Seifer, Maria Victoria Sen, Barbara Sinclair, Rex Smith, Alex Tulloch and Patricia Wellingham-Jones. They are just a few names that appeared on the list of delegates. We can picture them in St. Edmunds Hall, busily discussing the future of graphology. The turnout was such that the small hall could not fully accommodate the delegates, and the nearby Holywell Music Room (Europe's oldest purpose-built Music Hall) was used for most presentations.

This milestone in graphological history pointed the way to further symposia and as many new books; it provided a new forum of debate and facilitated international collaboration. It was envisaged that "no one organisation should call it their territory, and that the organising body should appreciate that attendance cannot be limited to its members". To some extent this ideal was achieved.

By the start of the 20th Century, printing and publishing industries were firmly established in Oxford, strongly linked to the academic status of the town. The Oxford University Press is perhaps the best known of these publishers. Towering above the numerous books printed here is the Oxford English Dictionary, the definitive historical dictionary of the English language. Its production dates back to 1878 when agreements were made with Clarendon Press of Oxford. It is a coincidence that Samuel Johnson, who prepared the first English Dictionary, was a student here.

Copyright Libraries, under the Copyright Act, 1911 claim a free copy of any book published in Britain. There are six such libraries, one of which is the Bodleian, here in Oxford. It was founded by Sir T Bodley and opened in 1602, since 1610 it has received numerous other collections. The Bodleian Library is one of the most important libraries in the world and it must be one of the largest holdings of graphology texts. It also has a rich collection of manuscripts, which are being continually extended. The papers of Isaac D'Israeli are held here (reference MSS Disraeli) and letters from him are found among the Douce papers (reference MSS Douce). It is worth adding that his other letters are at the Hertfordshire Record Office (Bulwer Lyton Papers) and the Jewish Museum, London.

Isaac D'Israeli was the father of Benjamin Disraeli (British Prime Minister 1868, 1874-80) and was well known for a best selling book called Curiosities of Literature. Around 1824 he added a chapter to that book called 'Autographs', apparently after seeing an 1812 pamphlet by Hocquart on a visit to Paris. D'Israeli's chapter was a significant public relations boost for the subject, which had not yet adopted the name of graphology (this came around 1871 with Michon).

Oxford is also the place where OXFAM (the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief) was founded in 1942 to raise funds to feed children in war-torn Greece. The organisation grew and expanded its role to provide emergency aid for areas stricken by drought, flood, earthquake and other disasters.

Oxford is known as the "City of Spires" or of "dreaming spires" because of its beautiful skyline of Gothic towers and steeples. It has captured the imagination of millions of tourists and writers. One such writer was Colin Dexter, the creator of the fictitious Inspector Morse. Morse, and his companion Lewis, have become well known characters worldwide. Less well known is the fact that Dexter, in the Inspector Morse novels, made some very interesting observations about his characters' handwriting. Morse's productions, for instance, are described as "neatly written" (1983:151) and being "small, neat and scholarly" (1992:65). He was probably right handed and uses a fountain pen (1992:109), at least once this was a Silver Parker (1992:108). Lewis, his sidekick, was a self confessed poor speller (1983:30, 1992:185, 1993:30).

Dexter's other characters' writings are remarked upon: "the signatory's name written in light-blue Biro - 'Marie', the 'i' completed in girlish fashion with a largish ring instead of the usual dot" (1993:20). This is significant since it helps the reader to make an elementary match with another letter "the name and address written in light-blue Biro, the 'i' of 'squitchey' completed in girlish fashion with a largish ring instead of the usual dot" (1993:21). The writing of Philip Daley, a delinquent teenager, is described as "cramped and ill-fitting into the narrow daily space" of a pocket diary (1992:174).

Two murderers' writings are mentioned - one, aged over 65 years, suffering from a brain tumour, had a "conspicuously clear; neatly penned signature" (1983:82). "No one else could have caught that dry, exact, pernickety style" (1983:180). Morse was showing a questioned document ability. Another murderer who stabbed by screwdriver, wrote a "message, neatly penned and very brief" (1983:212).

Morse also understood the problems encountered by newly married females; "how many married women were unable to write out the accepted formula for their wedded state without getting the wrong initial. Perhaps she was recently married?" (1992:21). There is also evidence that he can distinguish between writing produced by males and females(1993:8). In these references, Dexter is demonstrating an interest in handwriting, and communicating its importance to millions of readers worldwide. It is a reminder of Sir Walter Scott's fiction which did exactly the same thing in 1827.

James Bond (007) is no stranger to Oxford -  New College and Brasenose College, Oxford are exteriors for the Oxford college where Bond meets Professor Bergstrom, linguistics expert in the film "Tomorrow Never Dies"

It is interesting to find that just as there has always been unease between the public and graphology, the townsfolk have been constantly in conflict with the academics of Oxford. Records show a fierce bow-and-arrow fight in 1354 that lasted for two days leaving a number of students dead. On May Day in 1998, 120 Police Officers and rows of steel barricades were deployed to prevent up to 5000 students jumping into the Cherwell River from Magdalen Bridge. Party revellers have been making this jump for 226 years.

There is no better way to learn about this history than a visit to The Oxford Story exhibition on Broad Street which takes a ride through 800 years of history. For those with more time, visits are recommended to: the Ashmolean Museum (with a lantern carried by Guy Fawkes); Christ Church Picture Gallery; the Museum of History of Science (with the blackboard used by Einstein in a 1931 lecture at Oxford); Oxford University Press Museum; Pitt Rivers Museum Archaeology and Anthropology and the Museum of Oxford (with reconstructed Oxford interiors from the 16th Century to the present day). Outside Oxford is Tom Brown's School Museum (Uffington) and Blenheim Palace (with Churchill handwritings on display).

The Sunday Times (1998) pronounced Oxford and Cambridge as top UK Universities, and Wadham College was ranked third in a league table of Oxford Colleges (Clare 1998). Wadham - named after its founder, is noted for its well laid-out and secluded gardens, it was completed in 1613 and little has changed. This was the venue for the 1999 British Symposium of Graphology, organised by the British Institute of Graphologists.


Hibbert, C & Hibbert, E.(1988) The Encyclopedia of Oxford. Macmillan

Dexter, C (1983) The Riddle of the Third Mile

Dexter, C (1992)The Way Through The Woods

Dexter, C (1993) The Inside Story

Clarke, J (1998) Records Broken As Dons Admit Defeat. Daily Telegraph 31/7/98 pg.6


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