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History Features

Notable Staff

The contribution of non-academic staff to College life is often reflected on anecdotally, not least by alumni who share recollections of certain ‘characters’ when returning for reunions, but any gratitude for their work tends to be expressed privately, rather than in a formal or public manner. It has been said that some staff ‘do not merely work for their College: they become a real part of its corporate life’. This was in relation to Mr F W M (Tom) Colborn (see below) but is equally true of many other members of non-academic staff at Keble.

Here we shall look at the contributions of just a few of Keble College’s long-serving staff, each of whom left their own mark on College life and on the students whom they were fondly remembered by.

The longest serving current member of staff started in 1965 and is one of the few members of non-academic staff to have a picture of them hung in College (although staff sometimes appear in temporary displays). Surprisingly, he will have to work a few more years to beat the record for the longest-standing member of non-academic staff at Keble College.

Mr D Talboys

Employed, 1875-1943  (68 years)

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– David Talboys, taken from a black and white photograph of Keble College staff, 1925

At the time of writing this, David Alphonso Talboys holds the record for being the longest-serving member of non-academic staff at Keble College. Born at St Aldgate Street on 13 April 1856, he was the son of David Talboys, who worked as a waterman and boat builder, and Caroline Talboys (née Leader).

After two years working as a waterman, under Mr Salter in St Aldgates, Talboys joined Keble on 29 November 1875, aged 20. He started as a Scout (£12 per annum with board, rising to £15 from 1 January 1876), before becoming Assistant Butteryman in October 1879 (20/- per week with board during term times). On 7 December 1878, he was fined 2/6 by the Bursar for having failed to report an “irregularity” in College, but the details of this are not clear and his long service after that date suggests this had little impact on his standing with the College. In 1891, he received a gratuity of £5 for completing 15 years of service. He returned to the position of Scout in March 1909 (21/ – per week, rising to 56/- per week in 1921). A copy letter written by the Acting Bursar on 16 July 1921 notes David Talboys’ continued work and that the ‘intention is that he should carry on just as at present, as this is understood to be his wish, and he can still do the work.’ This was written two decades before he left the College’s employment.

An article by Stanley Parker, entitled ‘David Talboys or 68 Glorious Years’, published in the Oxford Mail in February 1943, noted the journalist’s surprise at how ‘incredibly young’ David Talboys seemed. Parker had gone to the Porter’s Lodge to enquire about Talboys a little after 11am and finding that he was not there, assumed he only made brief appearances before going home to his couch. In fact, he notes that Talboys started work as early as 5am. Apparently, he had to complete his work in the Library, Hall and Common Rooms early, in order to get to his allotment. The article includes Talboys’ recollections of College figures like Edward Stuart Talbot (Warden) and William Edward Sackville West (Bursar). Parker also observed that Talboys ‘keeps up with the “after-life” of his Old Boys as assiduously as any Prep. School master’.

It seems David Talboys’ life outside of College may not have been easy. Emily Ellen Cater Talboys (née Carter), whom he had married on 29 March 1880, died on 2 September 1886 at Hinksey Pool, with the coroner’s verdict being that she had ‘drowned herself not of sound mind’. She was just 24 years old. He married Mary Jane Welburn on 16 November 1887, who died in 1931, aged 72. David Talboys died on 20 December 1943, aged 87.

David Talboys’ son (David) George came straight from school to become a Message Boy at Keble College on 21 April 1896, at the age of 15. He left on 26 January 1897, as he was ‘not required’. Another son, Bertie George Talboys was appointed as a Messenger on 18 April 1910, aged 21. His entry in our staff books notes that he ‘left with excellent character to take up post of Messenger at Magdalene [sic] College’. He went on to become Chapel Porter at Magdalen College, holding that position from 1914 until 1948.

Parker’s comments about Talboys’ career suggest that he was one of those staff who became ‘a real part of its corporate life’.

Mr P W Auger

Employed, 1890-1953  (63 years)

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– Percival William Auger, taken from a black and white photograph of Keble College staff, 1925

Percival William Auger was appointed as an Indoor Messenger on 24 November 1890, at the age of just 13. Following promotion to Boy Scout (8 April 1891), and Scout (1 October 1893), he was appointed as Superintendent of Scouts on 1 July 1903. For this he earned £52 per annum, with board, lodgings and ‘beer money’, rising to £4-10-0 per week from 1927. In 1905, he received a gratuity of £10 for completing 10 years service. He was presented with a gold watch from the Warden and Fellows on his Diamond Jubilee, as well as a cheque from members of the JCR. Ill health caused Mr P W Auger to retire in 1953, having spent 63 years working at Keble College. He died on 20 November 1965, aged 89.

KC/STA 1 A1, p. 174 – Percival William Auger’s entry in the Staff Book, 1890

Mr E J Thurgood

Employed, 1908-1960 (52 years)

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– Photograph of E J Thurgood, College carpenter, 1908-1960

Ellis James Thurgood was appointed as a Carpenter on 13 July 1908, following 8 years working for Messrs. Holmes and Sons, Highgate. Having started his work at Keble when he was aged 30, he retired in November 1960, at the age of 83. Citing photos of him, the notice of his death in The Record described him as ‘a ‘character’ whose endearing personality won him the affection of all who knew him.’

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– E J  Thurgood, taken from a black and white photograph of Keble College staff, 1925

Mr F W M (Tom) Colborn

Employed, 1919-1967 (48 years)

AD 139/2 – Photograph of F W M (Tom) Colborn, taken in Keble College Hall, 1967

After a period as a ‘temporary under-scout’, which started in October 1919 and saw him working under Mr David Talboys, Francis Willoughby March Colborn (known as ‘Tom’, a name bestowed to him by comrades in the First World War) was appointed as a Butteryman on 13 July 1921. He took charge of Hall in 1942. In a notice of his retirement published in The Record in 1967, he was described as having ‘presided over the service of meals with a judicious blend of authority and benevolence which is the mark of the greater college servants’.

The notice continues ‘It is characteristic of such men that they do not merely work for their College: they become a real part of its corporate life, and no one can have surpassed Tom in his loyalty, affection and enthusiasm for Keble. In consequence of the lively interest they take, such men often develop an extraordinary memory for the undergraduates for whom they have served; and Tom has astonished and impressed succeeding generations by the precision of his recollections of them – and of their fathers before them.’ This is perhaps the sentiment which led the Keble Association to place a plaque in Hall in honour of F W M (Tom) Colborn.

On his retirement, he received gifts from the SCR, MCR, JCR and Keble Association, with the latter having taken the unprecedented step of electing him to an honorary life membership.

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– F W M (Tom) Colborn, taken from a black and white photograph of Keble College staff, 1925

Mrs J Robinson

Employed, 1965-1994 (29 years)

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– Photograph of Bob Tulloch’s portrait of Jean Robinson

There can be no other member of non-academic staff to have received the accolades afforded to Jean Robinson. She is among those select few staff to have a portrait hanging in College, received an obituary by George Barclay Richardson at the end of his ‘A Letter from the Warden’ section of The Record 1994, received a Service of Remembrance in the College Chapel and even has a room named after her.

Jean Robinson spent her early years in nearby Minster Lovell. When her daughter went to Oxford High School, Jean lectured for the WVS (Women’s Voluntary Services for Air Raid Precautions, now the Royal Voluntary Service) on what to do in case of a nuclear war, but as an avid reader, she applied for the role of Library Assistant at Keble. Although she did not have a professional qualification in librarianship, she was appointed on the basis of her ‘obvious competence and all-round ability’. This competence could be seen in various positions, as she became Librarian, Appeal Administrator and Counsellor for Women Students. Jean Robinson’s time working at Keble was a period of significant change for the College. In her various roles, she had a significant part to play in the expansion of the library to serve increasing numbers of students, the welcoming back of alumni at Gaudies and other College events, and the introduction of women as students at Keble College.

Mrs E A Butler

Employed, 1926-1955 (29 years)

Mrs Butler was appointed on 11 October 1926 to run the College Shop during term-time and for a week either side of the term, for which she was paid 35/- per week. During vacations, she was employed as a seamstress, mending and making surpluses for undergraduates to wear in Chapel. For that she was paid 21/- per week. In the Shop, she dispensed tea, anchovy toast and cream buns at 4pm daily. Her work in the College Shop ended in 1939, with the onset of the War, but she continued her work as a seamstress, as well as helping in Hall and the Buttery. On her doctor’s advice, she retired in Hilary term 1955, after 29 years working for the College.


Written by Peter Monteith, Archivist & Information Compliance Manager, as part of an Archival Exhibition on the topic.

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