Bedford College (London)

Bedford College (London)

Bedford College was founded in London, England, in 1849 as a higher education college for the education of women. It was the first institution of its type for women in the United Kingdom. In 1900, the college became a constituent school of the University of London. It played a leading role in the advancement of women in higher education, and also in public life in general. The college became fully coeducational in the 1960s. In 1985, Bedford College merged with another of the University of London's colleges – Royal Holloway College. The merged institution was named Royal Holloway and Bedford New College (RHBNC). This remains the college's official name today, though for day-to-day use the college now often calls itself Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL).

History of Bedford College

The college was founded by Elizabeth Jesser Reid ("née" Sturch), a social reformer and anti-slavery activist who had been left a private income by her late husband, Dr. John Reid, which she used to patronise various philanthropic causes. Mrs. Reid and her circle of well-educated friends were strong believers in the need for better education for women. In 1849, she leased a house at 47 Bedford Square in the Bloomsbury area of London, and opened the Ladies College in Bedford Square. The intention was to provide a liberal and non-sectarian education for women, something no other institution in the United Kingdom provided at the time. Reid placed £1,500 (GBP) with three male trustees, and persuaded a number of her friends to serve on the management committees and act as teaching professors.

At the outset, the governance of the College was in the hands of the Ladies Committee (comprising some influential women), and the General Committee made up of the Ladies, the professors of the college and three trustees. The General Committee (later the Council) soon took over the running of the College, while the Ladies Committee directed the work of the Lady Visitors, who were responsible for the welfare and discipline of the students, and also acted as their chaperones. Initially the professors were shocked by the generally low educational standards of the women entering the college, who for the most part came in having had home-based, governess education. In response to this, Reid founded a school close to the college in 1853, in an attempt to provide a better standard of entry. In 1860, the college expanded into 48 Bedford Square, which enabled it to become a residential establishment. "The Residence" was under the charge of a matron, who introduced the practice of students helping towards the running of the house, and keeping their own accounts.

Elizabeth Reid died in 1866, and left the college in the hands of three female trustees. These three women defied the views of the Council that the existing funds should be invested in the running of the school (which was closed in 1868), and instead ensured that the trust fund was used to improve conditions and teaching at the college, and establish it as a fully fledged institute of higher education. The trustees insisted upon a new constitution (as the college had no legal charter at the time). The Council was replaced by a Committee of Management, and the college was reconstituted as an Association under the Board of Trade, and officially became known as Bedford College.

In 1874, the Bedford Square lease expired and the college moved to 8 and 9 York Place, off Baker Street. The two houses acted as one, with the college using the downstairs rooms, and the upstairs being the Residence. As numbers began to rise, the college expanded with the addition of extensions housing science laboratories. In the late-1870s, an entrance examination was introduced, and a preparatory department set-up for those who did not meet the standards required for college-level entry.

In 1878, degree examinations of the University of London were opened to women. Bedford College students began gaining University of London Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science and Masters degrees from the early-1880s.

In 1900, when the University of London became a teaching university (where it had previously been only a degree-awarding body), Bedford College became one of the university's constituent colleges. The college applied to the Privy Council for a Royal Charter to take the place of its Deed of Incorporation. Royal Assent for the new chartered body was received in 1909, and the College became officially recognised as Bedford College for Women.

Continued growth of the college led to a search for new premises, which culminated in the purchase of the lease of a site at Regent's Park in 1908. A major fund-raising effort was undertaken to provide the new site with modern amenities. The new purpose-built buildings were designed by the architect Basil Champneys, and were officially opened by Queen Mary in 1913. The buildings continued to be extended and rebuilt throughout the 70 years that the college spent at Regent's Park, especially following extensive damage caused by wartime bombing.

After a brief period of admitting a small number of male postgraduate students, the college became fully coeducational in time for 47 lucky men to be admitted through clearing in 1965, and the name was changed back to Bedford College.

In the early 1980s, Bedford College had approximately 1,700 students and 200 academic staff based in 20 departments.

Merger with Royal Holloway

In 1985, Bedford College merged with Royal Holloway College, another college of the University of London which, like Bedford College, had been a college for women only when it was first founded. The merged institution took Royal Holloway College's premises in Egham, Surrey, just outside London, as its main campus and took on the name of Royal Holloway and Bedford New College (RHBNC). This remains the merged college's official name, although in the early-1990s the College Council decided to simplify the name for day-to-day use to Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL). This decision caused a fair degree of discontent among graduates of Bedford College, who felt that their old college had now essentially been taken over by Royal Holloway, and that Bedford College's name and history as a pioneering institution in the field of women's education were being forgotten. In an attempt to give more prominence to the Bedford name, the merged college named a large, newly-built library in the centre of its campus the "Bedford Library". However relations between RHUL and some of the Bedford College alumni today remain somewhat strained. Nevertheless, many Bedford College alumni maintain links with RHUL, supporting alumni events and other college work.

Bedford College's old premises at Regent's Park now accommodate a variety of further and higher education institutions, under the name of Regent's College.

See also

* Elizabeth Jesser Reid
* Royal Holloway, University of London

External links

* [ History of Royal Holloway and Bedford New College]
* [ Beginnings website page on history of Bedford College]
* [$-search-results.cfm?CCODE=42 Genesis website page on Bedford College's archived papers]
* [$-search-results.cfm?CCODE=72 Genesis website page on Elizabeth Jesser Reid's archived papers]

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