Papers of John Herbert Severn Wild (Master 1945-51)

John Herbert Severn Wild (1904–92) was educated at Clifton College and then at Brasenose College, where he got a Third in Classics in 1927 and a Second in Theology in 1928. After being ordained priest, he was a curate at St. Aidan, Newcastle-upon-Tyne from 1929–33.

In 1933, Wild was elected Chaplain Fellow of University College. He was soon given other duties: in 1934–40 he was Junior Dean; from 1935–45 he was Praelector in Theology; and from 1937–45 he was Domestic Bursar. It was during the war years, however, that Wild took a central role in College life. Exempted from war service on medical grounds, he was the only comparatively youthful Fellow left in College during this time, and as the Master, Sir William Beveridge, became increasingly involved in outside activities, not least the writing of the Beveridge Report, so a great many of his duties fell to Wild. He was therefore Dean from 1940–2, Vice-Master in 1942–3, and then Pro-Master (a newly created post) from 1943–5.

In December 1944, when Sir William Beveridge, faced with a choice between standing for Parliament and retaining the Mastership, chose the former, Wild was offered the Mastership, and he was elected on 18 January 1945 with effect from 5 April 1945. He continued to act as Chaplain. He remains the only clerical Master of University College elected since 1881. There can be little doubt that Wild was elected Master in large part thanks to his efforts in keeping the College going during the Second World War.

Wild had a difficult time as Master, as he had to face the challenges of rebuilding the College during the post-war years. He also endured personal tragedy, in that he and his wife lost several children in infancy. On the other hand, his tenure was marked by the celebrations held in 1949 to mark the 700th anniversary of the benefaction of William of Durham. He was also much loved for his good nature.

Nevertheless, perhaps it was a fortunate change for Wild when in April 1951, he was appointed Dean of Durham Cathedral. The fact that his predecessor there was the father of Giles Alington (F. 1944–56), and that the Prime Minister who appointed him was Clement Attlee (matr. Univ. 1901), suggests that several parties had planned this move carefully. Wild resigned his Mastership with effect from 31 August 1951, and was elected an Honorary Fellow of the College in October 1951. Wild remained at Durham until his retirement in 1973.

Of the papers in this collection, UC:MA47/A3/4, UC:MA47/MS2/9–10, UC:MA47/MS3/2, UC:MA47/P1/2–3, UC:MA47/P2/1–12, and UC:MA47/X1/1 and 3–4 were all found in the archives during the stocktaking of July 1993. UC:MA47/F1/1 and UC:MA47/MS1/10–13 had been found in Durham Cathedral Library and were transferred to the College through Wild’s widow Margaret in December 2002 as Accession No. 408. Everything else was presented to the Archives by Gwynne Ovenstone (College Secretary 1947–87) in about 1995.

Further Reading:

Robin Darwall-Smith, A History of University College, Oxford (Oxford, 2008), pp. 469–85.

Catalogued in December 2016.


The Wild papers have been divided into the following sections:

UC:MA47/A1  Papers relating to Governing Body Meetings
UC:MA47/A2  College Lists and other papers on Members of University College
UC:MA47/A3  Papers on other aspects of College Administration
UC:MA47/C1  Miscellaneous Letters
UC:MA47/F1  Wild’s Battels Bills
UC:MA47/MS1  Documents on Wild’s activities as Chaplain and Priest
UC:MA47/MS2  Documents on the 700th Anniversary of the Benefaction of William of Durham
UC:MA47/MS3  Documents on the History of University College
UC:MA47/N1  Miscellaneous Newspaper Cuttings
UC:MA47/P1  Miscellaneous Photographs
UC:MA47/P2  Photographs relating to the 700th Anniversary of the Benefaction of William of Durham
UC:MA47/X1  Miscellaneous Ephemera

Because of the length of the complete catalogue, it has not been placed online. Instead, a pdf version of it may be consulted here.