Balliol has existed as a community of scholars on its present Broad Street site without interruption since about 1263. By this token it claims to be the oldest college in Oxford, and in the English-speaking world. In 1260 a dispute between John de Balliol and the Bishop of Durham erupted into violence and Henry III condemned Balliol’s behaviour. The Bishop had Balliol whipped, and imposed a penance on him of a substantial act of charity. This he did, by renting a property and creating a house of scholars, which was soon known by his name. After John de Balliol’s death in 1269, his widow, Dervorguilla of Galloway, guaranteed the future of the ‘House of the Scholars of Balliol’ by establishing a permanent endowment and giving it Statutes in 1282 – so bringing into being Balliol College as we know it today.
The Martyrs’ Memorial, designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and built of magnesium limestone, has stood as a focal point at the south end of St Giles since its completion in 1843, when it replaced “a picturesque but tottering old house”. It was modelled on the Waltham Cross. The Martyrs’ Memorial was erected almost 300 years after the event it commemorates, and says as much about the religious controversies of the 1840s as those of the 1550s. It commemorates three Protestant martyrs (Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer) who were burnt at the stake in Oxford in 1555.