Royal Holloway College papers

Scope and Content

Records of the Board of Governors, 1886-1979, and Council, 1949-1985; Records of Thomas Holloway, 1874-1884; Records of the Trustees, 1881-1969; Records of the Committees of the Governors and Council, 1887-1982; Records of the Staff Meeting, 1889-1912, and the Academic Board, 1912-1985; Records of the Faculties, 1897-1967; Records of the Academic Departments, [1901-1972]; Records of the Library 1889-1984; Records of the Principal's Office, 1887-1966; Records of the Registrar's Department, 1887-1973; Records of the Secretary's Department, 1886-1963; Records of the Accountant's Department, 1887-1970; Records of the Curator of the Picture Gallery, 1881-1977; Records of the Residence Officers, 1886-1972; Records of Staff/Student Bodies, 1889-1975; Records of the Student's Meeting/Union, 1895-1973; College Magazines, 1938-1978; Records of Clubs and Societies, 1889-1983; Records of the Royal Holloway College Association, 1890-1973; Reminiscences and Memoirs [nd.]; Press Cuttings, 1876-[1971]; Drawings, prints and watercolours, 1879-1908; Miscellaneous material relating to Thomas Holloway, [nd.]; Memorabilia relating to and collected by Royal Holloway College, 1880-1965; and photographs 1886-[1969].

Administrative / Biographical History

Royal Holloway College was founded by Thomas Holloway, who was born in Devonshire in 1800 and died in Sunninghill in Berkshire in 1883, having made enormous sums of money as a manufacturer of pills and ointment. The details of his early life are obscure and there are considerable discrepancies between the various accounts in print, which are based in the main on newspaper articles and obituaries. He left home in 1828 and went in the first place either to France or London. By 1836 he was established in London as a merchant and foreign agent and in this was came into contact with Felix Albinolo, the proprietor of an ointment known as 'Albinolo's Ointment' or 'The Saint Cosmas and St. Damian Ointment'. Thomas Holloway obtained testimonials for Albinolo from a London hospital and was later accused by him of using the same testimonials to promote his own ointment. Albinolo was subsequently committed to a debtor's prison and died in 1839. Holloway also spent a short spell in prison after a newspaper had pressed him for prompt payment for advertisements placed with them, and he emerged determined "never to lay his head on his pillow owing any man a penny". He was not, however, deterred from advertising and was in this respect a pioneer of modern business methods. Both he and his wife worked incredibly long hours to build up their business and for many years lived above their business premises at 244, The Strand. In 1867 this building was demolished to make way for the present Law Courts and the Holloways moved to 533, New Oxford Street (later renumbered as 78). Some years later they left London and settled eventually at Tittenhurst Park, Sunninghill.

Thomas Holloway's marriage to Jane Driver in 1839 had important consequences for him. They had no children, but he virtually adopted her relations in place of his own, with whom he lost touch with almost completely after the death of his mother in 1843. Jane Holloway had two sisters, Sarah Ann, who married George Martin (later Sir George Martin-Holloway) and Mary Ann, and one brother, Henry (later Henry Driver-Holloway), who stayed to manage the business at 533, New Oxford Street, while the rest of the family went to live at Tittenhurst, where George Martin became Thomas Holloway's right-hand man in his charitable enterprises.

Having no descendants and a large fortune Thomas Holloway decided to spend his money for the public benefit and he was encouraged by Lord Shaftesbury to found a mental hospital for middle-class patients, and by his wife to found a college for the higher education of women. He hoped that the College would eventually develop into a women's university and he emphasised this wish by stating that "It is the express and earnest desire of the Founder that the College shall neither be considered nor conducted as a mere training College for teachers and governesses". His plans for it were developed with characteristic thoroughness. He consulted a number of knowledgeable and influential people in England, sent George Martin to visit colleges in Europe and America and himself visited France, where he toured the Loire chateaux with his architect, W.H.Crossland, before deciding on Chambord as the model for the building. The Mount Lee Estate at Egham, on which the College was built, was bought in 1874 for £25,000 and conveyed to Henry Driver, George Martin and David Chadwick MP as trustees in 1876. In the meantime Jane Driver had died and so the College became a memorial for her.

The foundation stone of the main building was laid by George Martin in 1879 and its shell was substantially completed before Thomas Holloway died in December 1883. During the next two and a half years the interior and the sculpture were finished and the College was formally opened by Queen Victoria on June 30th 1886. Thomas Holloway himself had only visited the site four times, although he drove past almost every day, but his brother-in-law was there constantly and was mainly responsible for seeing the work completed. The initial cost of the building, furniture and grounds was nearly £600,000 to which were added an endowment of £200,000 and a collection of pictures bought especially for the College.A College for the higher education of women planned on such a lavish scale naturally attracted a good deal of attention. The building was described as early as January 1885 in The 'Art Journal' by Walter Armstrong, who was favourably impressed by the design although he detected "a plentiful lack of originality in the minor details". As an institution the College enjoyed influential support and its first board of governors was unusually distinguished. On the other hand there were people who felt strongly that the whole enterprise was a terrible waste. "Taking land, buildings, endowment and fees together, it costs over £500 a year to educate a girl in this stupendous monument of mistaken benevolence", was the comment of a contributor to Christian Life in 1889.

It had originally been Thomas Holloway's intention to appoint the first governors himself, but he died before doing so and they were appointed instead by the Charity Commissioners. In accordance with the terms of the foundation deed the Board consisted of the three trustees of the college estate, five representative members and four co-opted members. Women were excluded until the deed was altered in 1912, but it was not until 1920 that the Principal became an 'ex officio' member of the Board and arrangements were made for the appointment of two staff governors elected by the Academic Board of the College. The amended deed was superseded in 1949 by the Royal Holloway College Act, which replaced the Board of Governors and the Trustees by a Council, the composition of which is laid down in the statutes annexed to the Act. The academic staff were given more representatives and since 1969 student representatives have been included among the co-opted members.

When Royal Holloway was founded London University was not yet a teaching university, but women as well as men were eligible for its degrees and the foundation deed of the College allowed the students to take degrees either at London or at any other university in the United Kingdom which would admit them to degrees or to degree examinations. This led to students taking degree examinations at both London and Oxford, with which the College had strong connections through its first principal Miss Bishop who had been the headmistress of Oxford High School. Miss Bishop was succeeded in 1897 by Miss Penrose who had been principal of Bedford College, and in the same year the Governors of Royal Holloway College called a conference to discuss whether the College should become an independent university, part of a larger university for women or part of the proposed teaching university for London. In the event it became a School of London University and had direct representation on the Senate, but owing to the fact that it lay outside the geographical boundaries established for the University, its inclusion had to be effected by a special act of Parliament. Various bodies were appointed between 1909 and 1924 to review the constitution of the University and in 1926 proposals for reform were embodied in the report of a departmental committee. Royal Holloway College was excluded from the Committee's first list of schools which were given direct representation on the Senate and the proposed Collegiate Council and the Governors felt obliged to protest in order to have the proposals changed. The position of the College in London University was then finally established although it has frequently been criticised as being too remote from the centre of things.

The College opened in 1887 with twenty-eight students. By 1890 numbers had doubled and between 1920 and 1946 there was an average of just under two hundred students a session. Courses were initially provided in Classics, English and History combined, French, German, Mental and Moral Science, Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Music. Separate departments were established for Physics in 1891 and for Chemistry and Botany in 1893. A visiting lecturer in Zoology was appointed in 1892 and History was separated from English in 1899. In addition regular classes were provided in Painting and Drawing, Divinity, Swimming and Gymnastics. The Mental and Moral Science course catered principally for students taking Honour Moderations in Classics at Oxford and was dropped in 1912. Zoology was abandoned in 1908 and only reinstated at intermediate level in 1936. The course was given by a visiting lecturer until 1945 when a B.Sc course was introduced and a full-time lecturer was appointed.

Until after the First World War the College admitted quite a large number of students who were not reading for degree courses. They were required to follow a course of study approved by the Principal and from 1902 certificates were awarded to students who completed an approved two-year course. After 1900 almost all the students who came to take degree courses had already matriculated , but to begin with this was not the case and courses for a variety of preliminary examinations had to be provided in addition to those for intermediate and final degree examination at London and at Oxford until about 1907. The teaching was co-ordinated through a staff meeting, which in 1912 became the Academic Board. Originally this meeting discussed and settled the work of each student individually, but by 1897 the growth in numbers had made this impossible and faculty meetings were introduced. There was, however, no official channel of communication between the teaching staff and the Board of Governors who settled the curriculum. This gap was filled in 1899 by the formation of the Education Council, on which both the Governors and the staff were represented. It lasted until 1920 when the first staff members were elected to the Board of Governors. The other joint committees of the Board were the Library Committee which consisted entirely of members of the staff under the chairmanship of a Governor, and the Garden Committee consisting of two Governors and a Principal.

The Principal as head of the College had final responsibility for its entire internal management. Her department's administrative responsibilities included student welfare and discipline, examinations, Chapel services and a fairly close oversight of the domestic staff. In 1899 a vice-principal was appointed to help with the administrative work and since Miss Guiness, who was the first vice-principal, was already librarian, the Principal's Department became responsible for the Library. When Miss Guiness left in 1908 it was considered more appropriate to appoint an administrative assistant to carry out the duties which had fallen to her and it was not until 1935 that a deputy to the Principal was appointed again from among the academic staff. The division of academic responsibilities within the College was defined in a memorandum approved by the Governors in 1908. Under the arrangements then made the Principal saw the College Secretary, the Housekeeper, the Nurse and the Caretaker every morning, the Butler and the Gardener twice a week, the Cook and the Engineer from time to time and the Nightwatchman when necessary. This system of direct contact between the Principal and the domestic and maintenance staff continued for many years and was only finally eroded by the enormous growth of the College in the nineteen-sixties.

Other parts of the Principal's administrative work were redistributed in 1937 when the post of Principal's Assistant was abolished. The Assistant's multifarious duties had already been reduced by the appointment of a full-time librarian in 1935 and after 1937 her main duties were divided between a Tutor and the Principal's Secretary. The Tutor, who was a member of the Academic staff, became responsible for student welfare and discipline and the Principal's Secretary, who was given the additional title of Registrar, became responsible for examinations and student records. The post of Tutor, created originally for an experimental period of three years, proved a success and by 1946 there were two Tutors and a Dean. In 1944 a separate Registrar's Department was established to meet the proposed increase in student numbers after the War and the Principal's Secretary became in future a private Secretary.

The administrative responsibilities of the Governors were discharged by the College Secretary, who dealt with the accounts, the ordering of supplies and the maintenance of buildings and College property, as well as with minutes of meetings and correspondence. From 1887 to 1943 there was a Curator for the Picture Gallery who advised the Secretary on the conservation of the pictures, compiled the catalogue, showed the collections to visitors and corresponded with artists, art historians and students. Since then, the administrative staff has increased considerably in numbers and in scope. A catering officer was appointed in 1965, the nightwatchman has been replaced by a security officer with a number of men under him and in 1970 the Accountant's Department was separated from the Secretary's.

The recreations and to some extent the social life of both staff and students was organised until 1925 through the staff/student meeting known as College Meeting. The first meeting was called in July 1890 to consider proposals for enabling former members of the College to keep in touch with its resident members and out of these proposals the Royal Holloway College Association was born. Several meetings were necessary to give effect to the proposals and, since they were convenient occasions for discussing other things which affected the resident community, the meeting became permanent and became responsible for the Theoric Fund from which allocations were made for Chard, the various sports clubs and for a limited number of other purposes. Amongst other things the Fund supported the College Albums Committee, which was formed in 1905 to compile albums of photographs and of verses and songs composed for College entertainments. There was also a Students' Meeting with a hierarchy of First, Second and Third Year Meetings below it, which was the recognised channel of communication between the Principal, the administrative and domestic staff and the students on matters concerning student welfare, discipline and domestic problems. In 1923 the Students' Meeting became the Students' Union and two years later the staff decided that the business conducted by the College Meeting could be conducted as satisfactorily by the Union. College Meeting was therefore disbanded and its committees became committees of the Union.

Royal Holloway College had always had a very large number of clubs and societies, whose activities are recorded in the 'College Letter'. They have been variously devoted to sport, literature, history, science, religion, politics, social work, the fine arts and music, and the College has been remarkable in the scope and vigour of its musical life. Although in early years a course was provided for the first B.Mus. at Oxford, no student attempted the examination and it was unusual for students to take music as an academic subject until degree courses in Mathematics and Music and in Music were introduced in 1967 and 1970 respectively. On the other hand students were actively encouraged to take music lessons and the College organist directed the orchestra and choirs as well as giving recitals and helping with arrangements for professional concerts held in the College. In order to encourage a good standard, a music examination was held every year for which an external examiner was appointed. The examiner heard the choirs and the orchestra and examined individual candidates, including those for the Driver Prize, in singing, instrumental playing and the history and theory of music. The examination was later replaced by a festival, last held in 1969, at which the only students formally examined were the candidates for the Driver Prize.

The life of the College was very much disrupted by the Second World War. On the outbreak of the War London University's administrative staff were displaced from Bloomsbury by the Ministry of Information and were installed at Royal Holloway College where they occupied the Picture Gallery and about one and a half corridors on the west side of Founder's Building. They stayed until 1941 when the War Office requisitioned the entire east side of the building for an ATS unit and the University was removed to Richmond. The College staff and students were then confined to the West side and to the North and South Towers for teaching and living accommodation and all the students, as well as many of the staff, were allocated a single study/bedroom in place of the two rooms provided for in the foundation deed.

In 1943 the Governors appointed a Post-War Policy Committee to discuss the question of how the College should develop after the War. The Committee interviewed a large number of external witnesses, as well as representatives of the staff and students of the College and of Royal Holloway College Association. Its fundamental recommendations were that access to London should be made easier for the students and that the College should expand and become co-educational. Stemming from these it made further recommendations on staffing and finance. Lack of funds and building restrictions made it impossible for these recommendations to be implemented at once. Men were admitted in 1946 as non-resident post-graduate students and the number of undergraduates was increased by retaining the war-time arrangement of allocating each student one room instead of two. Numbers rose from 191 at the end of the Summer term of 1946 to 270 in the Autumn and then increased more steadily to 390 in 1962. In 1964 it became possible to embark on plans for expansion so as to admit men as undergraduates in 1965 and to increase the number of students to one thousand. This involved providing extra teaching and residential accommodation, first of all in converted houses in the neighbourhood of the College and then in new buildings on the main College estate. It has also involved an increase in staff, a re-organisation of administrative work and radical changes in the size and functions of the Student's Union. New departments have been set up for Biochemistry and Statistics and Computer Science and Italian has been added to the Curriculum.

All of this has already had some effect on the records. Some permanent series of documents have become bulkier and new series have grown up, but at the same time other records have disappeared, partly because certain aspects of College life are no longer recorded in the minute detail which is a feature of the earlier years.


The official records of the College are divided in to sections according to the department, office or body which created or held them. The Archive has also acquired unofficial records relating to the history of the College. The provenance of these is not always known, so they are arranged in the following sections according to record type and subject: reminiscences, press cuttings, drawings, material about Thomas Holloway, memorabilia and photos.

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

Other Finding Aids

A printed catalogue, "Royal Holloway College Archives - A Guide", compiled by Derryan Paul, 1973, is available in the Reading Room of the College Archives. A full electronic catalogue is available via our webiste:

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.


None expected.

Related Material

In 1985 Royal Holloway College merged with Bedford College to form Royal Holloway and Bedford New College. The RHBNC papers are also held at Royal Holloway, University of London.


  • Bingham, Caroline, The History of Royal Holloway College 1886-1986, 1987.
  • Williams, Richard, Thomas Holloway's College The First 125 Years A Pictorial History, 2012.

Geographical Names