Elizabeth Jesser Reid papers

Scope and Content

Mrs Reid (EJR)'s papers include material inherited from her husband, Dr John Reid (d.1822), several files of correspondence and legal documents relating to the land inherited by Dr Reid from his brother, which throw light on the development of Glasgow's port in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and letters to and from members of Dr Reid's family, in some of which medical remedies are discussed. Dr Reid's brother, Matthew Reid, appears to have suffered from a condition which caused incontinence or urethral discharge.

EJR's own papers largely comprise correspondence. Business correspondence with her solicitor, James Sowton, concerns the lease and purchase of properties in London, including in South Lambeth, Park Square, Cumberland Terrace and Grenville Street; and legal matters relating to Bedford College, such as the lease of the houses in Bedford Square and questions over the need for a licence from the Duke of Bedford for a school on the premises. A valuer's report for fixtures and fittings, 1855, mentioned in a former list of these papers, is now missing.

There is one file relating to EJR's sponsorship of pupils at Ockham Industrial School in Surrey and elsewhere, 1859-1862.Personal correspondence, 1832-1865, includes a large number of letters from Eliza Bostock, Henry Crabb Robinson and Mary Clarke (Madame Julius Mohl), a dozen from Anna Brownell Jameson and single letters or small numbers from many other figures in the literary, liberal and feminist circles in which EJR moved, and from Bedford College alumnae. There are typescript extracts from letters from Harriet Martineau; the whereabouts of the originals are unknown. A separate file was found of letters from famous people [not all to EJR] including Florence Nightingale, William Makepeace Thackeray, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Charles Dickens, and there is an autograph book containing parts of letters, 1834-1862.

Material collected by Bedford College relating to the foundation of the College includes papers of Sophia Elizabeth de Morgan, Secretary of the Ladies Committee, 1848-9, typescript copies of extracts from the diary, 1840-1866, and correspondence, 1838-1866, of Henry Crabb Robinson, a copy of a letter, [1860], from Mrs Reid to Jane Martineau and Elizabeth Bostock giving instructions regarding the future of the College and the establishment of the Reid Trustees, and correspondence, 1965, about Dr John Reid. A volume relating to the fund for a memorial to EJR, 1884-1885, has also been added to the archive.

Administrative / Biographical History

Elizabeth Jesser Sturch was born on 25 December 1789 in London, daughter of William Sturch, a wealthy Unitarian ironmonger. In 1821 she married John Reid, M.D., author of 'Essay on hypochondriasis and other nervous affections' (1816). His father and brother had been hosiers in Leicester, but the family's roots appear to have been in Scotland, and Dr Reid had inherited land on the River Clyde at Glasgow which had become extremely valuable as the port grew in size. His death in July 1822 gave Mrs Reid an independent income with which she patronised various philanthropic causes. Active in liberal Unitarian circles, she was an anti-slavery activist, attending the World's Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840 and taking a close interest in the American Civil War (1860-1865), and was in contact with leading figures in the revolutions in France and Germany in 1848, and the struggles for Italian independence. In 1849 she founded the 'Ladies College' in Bedford Square, London, which became Bedford College for Women. She died on 1st April 1866.


The papers had been listed, file by file, as part of the 'reference' section of the Bedford College Archives (Ref. RF100-106). The full catalogue (available via the Royal Holloway website) expands upon that, but has divided the material collected by the college (probably mainly for the history published in 1939) from Mrs Reid's own papers. The 'miscellaneous' correspondence has been divided into letters to EJR and letters to others, each file now listed in alphabetical order of correspondent. Items are still to be ordered by the old reference.

Access Information

All records are open subject to the terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. All records containing personal information about individuals are subject to the terms of the Data Protection Act 1998.

The archives service is open Wednesday to Friday with seasonal closures. Visits to view records are by prior appointment only. More information can be found on our website www.royalholloway.ac.uk/archives

Other Finding Aids

The full catalogue is available via our website: www.royalholloway.ac.uk/archives

Conditions Governing Use

Copies, subject to the condition of the original, may be supplied for research use only. Requests to publish original material should be submitted to the College Archivist.

Custodial History

The papers were transferred from the Bedford College Archives when the College merged with Royal Holloway in 1985.


None expected.

Related Material

The College Archive contains the will of Elizabeth Jesser Reid (BC GB100/1/2); minutes of the Ladies Committee, 1849-1893 (BC GB121/1) and notes by the Lady Visitors, 1850-1851 (BC GB121/2); legal documents relating to the Reid Trustees, 1860-1931 (BC GB130); and a model of Mrs Reid, made as part of the Development Appeal, 1980 (BC RF174/2)

Diaries of Henry Crabb Robinson are held at Dr Williams's Library, 14 Gordon Square, London (Ref: 101).


The papers were used in research for A History of Bedford College for Women, 1849-1937 (Oxford University Press, London, 1939) by Dame Margaret Janson Tuke. Some of Mary Clarke's letters to EJR are published in 'Clarkey' by Margaret Lesser (Oxford University Press, 1984).