Papers of W.M. Childs

Scope and Content

Correspondence and papers relating to W.M. Childs's life and career; articles and published writings of W.M. Childs; diary of W.M. Childs 1886-1891, 1903-1925; diary of Rev W.L. Childs 1869-1892

Administrative / Biographical History

William Macbride Childs was born in 1869 at Carrington near Boston in Lincolnshire, the only son of the second marriage of Rev W.L. Childs to Henrietta Fowles Bell, although he had 2 half-sisters and a half-brother from his father's first marriage. William was educated at home until he was 10 when, his father having moved to a living in Portsea, he went first to Portsmouth Grammar School and then won a scholarship in modern history to Keble College Oxford. While at Oxford he worked hard, became president of his college debating society and was expected by his family, friends and tutors to gain a first class degree and go on to a Fellowship. However in 1891, after a long viva, Childs was awarded only a second class.

This disappointment meant that he could not continue at Oxford, although he had enrolled as a University Extension lecturer and spoke at centres throughout the country. He spent some time as a private tutor and, thinking that he might pursue a political career, worked as an assistant private secretary to Dyke Acland, but decided that he was better suited to academia. For a term he acted as temporary Professor of History at the University College of Wales in Aberystwyth, and then, in 1893, he was appointed as a history lecturer at the newly formed Reading University Extension College, founded as an experiment by Christ Church Oxford.

After a few years Childs became wholly committed to the development of the college in Reading. In 1897 he married Catherine Pollard, a fellow lecturer at Reading who had been among the first women to gain a first class in zoology from Oxford, and they had four sons. In 1903 Childs, who had become vice-principal of University College, Reading in 1900, took over as principal on the retirement of Halford Mackinder. From 1906 he worked tirelessly towards his aim of developing Reading into an independent university. He set out what was then a novel plan for a residential college with halls for students that would recreate the atmosphere of an Oxford college, the first of which, Wantage Hall, was opened in 1908. He recruited powerful and wealthy supporters such as Lady Wantage and Alfred Palmer and secured an endowment in 1911 on which the foundations of the new university could be built.

Progress was slow and was delayed by the First World War and by internal conflicts caused, in part at least, by Childs's inflexibility and belief that his was the only right way forward, but the end was reached in 1926 when a charter was awarded to the new university of Reading. Childs served for three years as Vice-Chancellor but then decided to retire and leave the next stage of Reading's development in other hands, although he was not averse to giving advice on university matters. He and Catherine moved to a house in Hermitage, near Newbury, which Childs had built himself with the help of his sons and enjoyed a country life for the next 10 years until his death in 1939.

Access Information

Open to all researchers. No reader's ticket is required but an appointment is necessary. Check for contact details and opening hours.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Hubert Childs, 1980


This description was written by Gil Skidmore

Other Finding Aids

A summary list of the contents of each file is available