Papers of Obadiah Walker (Master 1676-89)

Obadiah Walker is one of the better-known Masters of University College (as far as is known, he was not related to the earlier Master Thomas Walker).

Born c.1614, he matriculated from University College in 1633, although there is evidence from the Bursar’s Book of 1631/2 that he was resident in the College at least from July 1631 (UC:BU3/F1/3), and was elected a Fellow in 1635. In 1648, however, Walker was one of the Fellows deprived of his post by the Parliamentary Visitors to the University (see UC:MA30/3 below). In 1660, he was re-appointed to his old position, and in 1676 was elected Master after the death of Richard Clayton.
    At an unknown date, he secretly converted to Roman Catholicism. After the accession of James II in 1685, he made his conversion public, and became one of the King's strongest allies in the University. He created a printing press for works of Catholic theology, and set aside some rooms in the College (now the ground floor of Staircase VIII) for Catholic worship. After James II's fall, Walker fled the College in November 1688, and was deprived of his office the next year. In October 1689, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London on a charge of treason, but was pardoned in May 1690. He died in in London in 1699, supported by Dr. John Radcliffe, his old pupil, who became an important Benefactor to the College. There are old legends that his ghost haunts Staircase VIII to this day.
    Far more of Obadiah Walker's papers survive in the College Archives than of any other Master before the present century. This is almost certainly connected with the circumstances of the end of his Mastership, when he had to flee the College, and left all his papers behind. Fortunately they came into the hands of William Smith, who added them to the College Archives.
    This catalogue of Walker's papers has been divided into three sections: as follows:

UC:MA30/1 concerns his labours in raising money for the completion of the Main Quad of University College.

UC:MA30/2 are papers connected with his life in College, including letter from Old Members, fellow scholars, and families of undergraduates, many draft letters from Obadiah Walker himself (frequently written on blank sheets of paper torn from letters written to him), and copper plates linked to his translation of Spelman's Life of King Alfred.

UC:MA30/3 consists of papers connected with the Civil War and the Parliamentary Visitation of 1647/8. These last papers are not explicitly linked with Walker, but was found with the rest of the collection, and it is possible that he had assembled these papers (which mostly share his Royalist sentiments) during this period, and never thrown them away. It was therefore decided to list them here.

    Some papers connected with Obadiah Walker's predecessors as Master, Thomas Walker and Richard Clayton, were found in this collection, and listed as such by Smith. It is unclear how they came to be here, or why Walker preserved them, but because they are all clearly linked with Thomas Walker and Clayton and not Obadiah Walker (being mostly letters addressed to either man), it was decided to list them separately under UC:MA26 and UC:MA29 respectively.

    One of Walker's successors as Master, Sir Michael Sadler, began work on a biography of him, but never completed it. The extensive notes and letters which he left may be found at UC:MA44/6.

See Robin Darwall-Smith, A History of University College (Oxford, 2008), Chapters 8–10, for more information on Walker.

Recatalogued in October 1996.


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