Bedford College Papers

Scope and Content

Papers created by Bedford College and its students including:

  • Charters, deeds and statues
  • Papers of the Council
  • Papers of the Ladies Committee
  • Papers of the Governors
  • Papers of the Reid Trustees
  • Papers of the Managers of the Residences
  • Papers of the Committees of the Council
  • Papers of the Academic Board
  • Papers of the Academic Committees
  • Papers of the Faculties
  • Papers of the Academic departments
  • Papers of the Library
  • Papers of the Principal’s Office
  • Personnel records
  • Papers of the Registry
  • Papers of the Secretary
  • Accounts
  • Papers relating to buildings and residences
  • Papers of the Student Associations
  • Magazines and Newspapers
  • Papers of clubs and societies
  • Papers of the Staff Association
  • Reminiscences and diaries of former students
  • Press cuttings and publications about the College
  • Drawings and paintings of the College
  • Memorabilia
  • Photographs

Administrative / Biographical History

Bedford College was founded in 1849 by Elizabeth Jesser Reid. It took its name from its first home, No. 47 Bedford Square in London's Bloomsbury, and despite successive moves the name did not change. It was always felt that the institution was more than the name. Elizabeth Reid, daughter of William Sturch, a Unitarian businessman, was widowed at the early age of 32 and left with enough money to patronise various philanthropic causes.

As few of her papers have survived it is not possible to say with accuracy what prompted Mrs Reid to found Bedford College but it is clear that two factors were important. One was the influence of her circle of well-educated friends, the other was the limitation of her own education. After the death of her parents she and her sister Mary, moved into their house in York Terrace, Regents' Park and gathered together a group which included Jane Martineau, Anna Swanwick, Augustus de Morgan and Henry Crabbe Robinson. The promptings of these people, and the foundation in 1848 of Queen's College, Harley Street, (a few hundred yards from York Terrace) for the education of governesses, must have been important factors in the founding of Bedford College. It is also clear from what Mrs Reid herself wrote later to Elizabeth Bostock that she felt frustrated by the lack of opportunities in her own education despite being brought up in a liberal, educated household.

At the outset, the government of the College was in the hands of committees - the Ladies Committee and the General Committee. The Ladies Committee was composed of several notable women including Sophia de Morgan, Lady Romilly and Anna Swanwick, while the General Committee was composed of the Ladies, the Professors and some lay people including the three Trustees of the College who had to be men. Despite Mrs Reid's wish that the women should rule it was not long before the General Committee (later the Council) took over as the governing body of the College. The main reasons for this were two - the professors, who were all men, were not willing to be directed by unqualified women; and the women showed themselves unwilling to conform to the rules of committee procedure, and therefore unable to be effective. The Ladies Committee, meanwhile, continued to direct the work of the Lady Visitors. These were responsible for the welfare of the students, their discipline and also acted as their chaperones.

The professors also had another serious complaint - the low standard of the students on entry. For the most part these men held university posts and were used to teaching male students who had had a public school education. It was, therefore, a shock to them to find how poor in comparison were the young women who had had a home-based, governess education. In addition they felt that the older married students who occasionally attended some of the lectures were not taking their course seriously. In response to this Mrs Reid founded a school close to the College in 1853. At that time there were few schools for girls and a great need for a better standard of training at junior level. In 1860 the College moved into 48 Bedford Square and this enabled it to become a residential establishment. The Residence, as it was known, was under the charge of a matron, Miss Thomas, who introduced the practice of students helping towards the running of the house and keeping their own accounts.

While the Residence and the school were solvent from fees they received, the College was carrying a growing debt. Before her death in 1866 Mrs Reid had set up the Reid Trust to administer her estate and had ensured that the management of the Residence and the ownership of the leases of 47 and 48 Bedford Square were in the hands of her most trusted associates, Elizabeth Bostock, Jane Martineau and Eleanor Smith. By 1868 the debts of the College together with growing discontent at low standards enabled the three trustees to lead a revolt and establish themselves temporarily in government. Their hand was strengthened by a report on the school and College commissioned from James Bryce, a member of the Royal Commission on Middle Class Education, which criticised both institutions, and in particular the school which was closed at the end of 1868.

The Trustees had at their disposal a capital sum of £16,400 which yielded an annual income of about £800. While the Council wanted to use this to develop the School the Trustees wanted to use it to improve conditions and teaching at the College and establish it as a fully-fledged institute of higher education. The women Trustees had their way: the Council ceased to exist and was replaced by a Committee of Management. The College was then reconstituted as an Association under the Companies Act of 1867, Articles of Association were drawn up, and a new Council was established on which no members of the teaching staff were eligible to serve. General Meetings of all staff and administrators were to be held once a year and the office of Visitor was established to allow for the airing of grievances. As a result of these upheavals some professors resigned, others were dismissed and student numbers dropped from 72 to 52. But the College came through all this as a healthier organisation with clearer aims. It was also a period of general improvement in female education with the founding of the Girls Public Day School Trust in 1872.

In 1874 the first of Bedford's many moves took place. With the expiry of the Bedford Square leases the college was forced to look elsewhere and decided on York Place, off Baker Street. This involved building works and the inevitable delays; it also coincided with a slump in student numbers and a consequent decline in the finances of the College. But the expansion paid off and by the late 1870's numbers were increasing, an entrance examination had been introduced and a preparatory department for those below the standard required for College entrance. All this coincided with an event of wider significance - the opening up to women, in 1877, of University of London degrees. By 1881 three Bedford students had BAs with first class honours, in 1882 there was the first Bedford BSc and in 1886 the First M.A. In 1880 the College introduced an internal diploma - the Associateship of the College - for students who did not wish to follow a degree course. This was abolished in 1906 when it was felt there was no further call for it.

The introduction of degree courses and the increase in student numbers led to the demand for better science facilities. In the late 1880s, when this became an urgent need the Reid Trustees bought adjacent property to develop a laboratory wing. The money for this new wing came partly from Elizabeth Bostock and partly from an appeal to friends and supporters - one of many such efforts that the college made throughout its 136 year existence. The building was called the Shaen Wing after Sir William Shaen, a Unitarian, and Chairman of Council. He was Secretary to the Senate of the University and had been instrumental in opening up degrees to women. The Shaen Wing was opened in 1891. There was no biology laboratory as Shaen and Miss Bostock were opposed to vivisection for experimentation, but a chemistry and a physics laboratory. In 1894 the College received its first Treasury Grant of £700 and its first LCC grant of £500 for the laboratories.

The 1890s were a period of expansion and consolidation for the College. Government money came in regularly, student numbers increased and new courses were put on, including one in Public Health and Hygiene and one in Teacher Training. These advances were matched by a change in the organisation of college life. Up to the 1890s resident students were under the care of a Lady Resident and day students of a Lady Superintendent. The Managers of the Residence (Miss Bostock, Miss Martineau and Miss Smith) emphasised the division between the two types of students to the detriment of the day students. The Residence was a rather forbidding place and by the 1890s, despite the increase in student numbers, its places were never filled. This changed with the creation of a new post, that of Principal in 1893.

Emily Penrose was the first Principal of Bedford College. A distinguished former student of Somerville College, she was both a scholar, and a good administrator. Upon her persuasion the Managers of the Residence agreed to allow the College Council to take over responsibility for the Residence and this put an end to the artificial distinctions between day and residential students. This uniting of the two parts of college life made possible the establishment of societies - such as a debating society, a musical society, a photography society and a boating club - with which Emily Penrose had been familiar at Oxford. Her enhanced position also made it possible for her to carry out reforms in the structure of the College and in its academic life. She established the post of Senior Student - a spokeswoman for the students - encouraged the foundation in 1894 of a Students' Association and in 1896 called the first general meeting of the students. Emily Penrose was resolute in resisting the pressure from those who said that a broader education was bad for women - particularly when this pressure came from former students or members of the Council. She was also one of the main influences in preparing the college for its incorporation into the University of London in 1900 - though she had departed in 1898 to become Principal of Royal Holloway College.

Miss Penrose's time as Principal was one of change in other areas of college life - most notably in the administrative sphere. The office of Vice-Principal was introduced, and the office of Principal itself gained in authority. Miss Penrose was succeeded in 1898 by Miss Ethel Hurlblatt and in her period of office another major administrative change took place - the appointment of a College Secretary or 'Lady Secretary'. Previously the main administrative duties of the college had fallen on dedicated volunteers - Jane Martineau, Henrietta Le Breton, Frances Kensington, Blanche Shadwell, and latterly, Lucy Russell. When Miss Russell retired her place was taken by Miss Mabel Robinson at a salary of £100 per annum. The clerical duties of college and residence were combined, an assistant secretary appointed and the office of Honorary Treasurer was instituted to lighten the financial burden on the Secretary. As the College developed, the Secretary became the key administrative figure and this was reinforced by the appointment in 1919 of Miss Olive Monkhouse as Secretary - a post she held for almost 30 years.

Miss Hurlblatt's period as Principal ended in 1906 when she resigned to take up the post of Warden of Royal Victoria College at McGill University in Montreal. She was succeeded by Miss, later Dame, Margaret Tuke, then Lecturer in French at University College Bristol. Miss Tuke was to be Principal of Bedford College from 1907 to 1929 and under her the College was to develop and flourish in the way that Mrs Reid had always hoped it would: she was to have a profound influence on every aspect of College life and to be much revered by staff and students. But in her early years the problems were great -problems of finance and of space being the two most pressing. The first decade of the twentieth century was a crucial one in the life of Miss Tuke herself and the Right Honourable Sir Arthur Dyke Acland, a leading Liberal spokesman on education. He was both a good administrator and an idealist. Miss Tuke and Sir Arthur Acland found that there were many opposing groups within the college - those for and those against the University of London; a long-established Council and a growing Staff wanting more say in College affairs; former students who wanted no change and no expansion; and new members of college who wanted to do things differently.

Acland himself wanted to bring the academic staff of the College into closer relations with its governing body and in order to do this he persuaded the Council to apply for a Royal Charter which would replace the Deed of Incorporation of 1869. This charter led to some significant modifications in the way the college was governed. 'Members of the College' became Governors; Council henceforward included representatives of the teaching staff, and the University of London and the LCC, as well as Governors. The office of Principal was given added authority by its holder becoming ex officio a member of Council and all its Committees.

To some extent these rumblings of discontent were symptomatic of the cramped physical and financial conditions under which the College was operating. In 1903 when Acland took office there were 200 students and 18 staff; the income was £10,000 per annum. On his resignation in 1913 the number of students and staff had gone up to 400 and 46 respectively and the annual income had risen to nearly £24,000: the College had moved from cramped conditions on the fringes of Regent's Park to new buildings with pleasant grounds within the Park. This had been achieved by a massive fund-raising effort which had been undertaken through three Committees - a General Committee, an Executive Committee and a Ladies Committee. The Committees had to raise £100,000 for the new building and £50,000 for endowment.

The first stage of the move to Regent's Park began with the purchase in 1908 of the lease of South Villa - a Victorian House on the south side of the park together with 12 acres of surroundings. The purchase was made possible by the bequest of £12,500 from Robert Turle who had made his money on the Stock Exchange and was committed to the cause of women's education. The villa was used to ease overcrowding in teaching space at York Place (the Art School and Teacher training departments moved there) and for residence, and the surrounding land provided the site for a new college to be built. Basil Champneys who had come to prominence for his buildings at Oxford and Cambridge was chosen as the architect, and work on the new building began in 1910. A building grant of £20,000 was given by the LCC and a further £10,000 promised if an equal amount could be raised from private donors. The fund raising was a massive operation and attracted the attention of many well known people including Prime Minister Asquith and the Duchess of Marlborough; by early 1912 £40,000 had been raised. The following year a gift of £105,000 for endowment came from Sir Hildred Carlile, in memory of his mother, Maria Louisa Carlile, whose work for young women had been outstanding.

Queen Mary opened the new buildings in Regent's Park in 1913 and another phase in the life of Bedford College began. An attempt to change the name to Regent's College was dropped due to lack of consensus. The College however was not able to settle down immediately due to South Villa being declared unsafe and the consequent loss of the Art School; and the onset of the First World War.

During the war the number of women staff increased to take the place of men on active service, and the science departments benefited from an increased need for their services. The Chemistry department was engaged to do government research into the effects of gas warfare and grain pests. One long-term result of this was that a licence for vivisection was granted and women were no longer excluded from certain areas of scientific research. A Botany garden and course in Horticulture were started; and a series of lectures on the international crisis was put on - these attracted large audiences and helped establish the College as a place of serious academic achievement. Of less public note, but of more long term importance to the academic reputation of Bedford College was the establishment of the Social Sciences department. The diploma course in Public Health and Hygiene gave way to a much wider degree course and a new department of Social Studies and Economics. This had its origins in a course of wartime (1916) lectures organised jointly by the Charity Organisation Society and Bedford College on the theme of Social Ethics and Social Economics. These were part of the course for the C.O.S. certificate in social work. A similar venture took place a few years later (1921-22) when a series of special lectures in Public Health, organised jointly by the League of Red Cross Societies and the Social Studies department led to the founding of a new course in nursing linked to an academic department. This continued in various forms and under various names until the merger and was an outstanding feature of Bedford College - most notably in the establishment of Dutch Studies and in wide participation in University intercollegiate teaching arrangements.

The move to Regent's Park was also instrumental in bringing about a change in student life. The work of the Senior Student and her assistants was transformed by the formation in 1913 of a Student's Union. This organisation then elected a chief officer, as President, who took the place of the Senior Student. This, together with an increase in residential places in the new building, the founding of new societies and a new lease of life for the college magazine, made the student body more confident and cohesive, more mature. Students also were generally older when they came up to College, better educated than in the past and increasingly able to benefit from grants and scholarships.

Changes in student life were mirrored by those in the administration. In 1913 the office of Secretary was joined by that of Bursar and Registrar and these three offices, combined with that of Principal, provided a strong administrative organisation. This was particularly true since from the early 1920s these offices were held by women of great ability and strength of character - Miss Monkhouse as Secretary, Miss Haydon as Registrar and Miss Proctor as Bursar. The establishment of office procedures and the whole way in which the College operated until the late 1960s was the work of their combined talents. And it was particularly important for the College at that time that it should run smoothly, as the Principal became more involved with University affairs and with planning new buildings. These building were to house expanding science departments and a growing library; in this she was aided by the new College architect Maxwell Ayrton.

The fund raising and planning for new buildings was at a crucial stage when Miss Tuke retired (1929) and her place was taken by Miss Geraldine Jebb - better known as Gem Jebb from her three initials G.E.M. She had been a lecturer in economics and came from a family which already has associations with the College through her uncle Sir Richard Jebb who had been Visitor from 1899 to 1904. Miss Jebb's first task was to preside over the opening of the new science block in 1931 which was called the Tuke Building.

The Tuke building, designed by Maxwell Ayrton housed not only science departments, but also some arts departments and a senior common room: a year later an extension to the library was completed and in 1933 a new sports pavilion was opened at Heastone Lane in Middlesex. Expansion in the teaching quarter was matched by similar expansion in residential accommodation, to the west of the College in Dorset Square and to the north in Adamson Road. This was necessary as the number of students grew rapidly in the 1930s to reach 600 by 1939.

This was a time too of consolidation in the academic life of the College and of greater corporate identity. It was an era when Bedford College was home to some of the leading academics of the day - Professor J.S. Edkins in Physiology, Professor P. Geyl in Dutch Studies, Professor W. Neilson Jones in Botany, Professor Lillian Penson in History, Professor R.B Onians in Latin to name but a few. It was also Miss Jebb's era in particular. As she left no trace of herself in writing one has to rely on the reminiscences of her former students and on a short memoir written by a family friend, Francesca Wilson. Though seeming at first to be distant she was always accessible to her students, and while she expected the best from them was always ready to be tolerant of those who fell short of this. Her character played an important role in the life of the college: so too did some of her personal crusades. She was active in the movement to provide homes and teaching posts for refugees from Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, and she was alive to the threat to academic freedom posed by fascism in Spain: her students too were made aware of these causes. This tradition of help to academics under threat continued long after her death. Miss Jebb was supported in her early years by a Chairman of Council, Sir Wilmot Herringham (1920-36), who was devoted to the College. His wife had been a distinguished painter and he bequeathed her collection to the College.

When upheavals in Europe finally exploded into war in 1939 Miss Jebb was fortunate to have the help and organisational ability of Miss Monkhouse and Miss Proctor to enable her to cope with the upheavals this caused in college life. Like most other colleges of the University of London, Bedford was evacuated - in this case Cambridge was the destination. But not everyone went - some remained on the Regent's Park site together with, at various times, the BBC, the Netherlands Government in Exile and various other tenants. The strains of war manifested themselves in tensions amongst the staff over accommodation and facilities at Cambridge, and amongst the students - those who preferred Cambridge to London and vice versa. Miss Jebb called two special assemblies to 'rally her troops', this was particularly necessary after the bomb damage to the College in May 1941 which resulted in the loss of the whole central block. After several attempts on the part of some members of College to return in 1943, the College as a whole reoccupied what was left of the Regent's Park site in October 1944 while attacks were still in progress. In 1945 male postgraduates were admitted.

The immediate post war years were dominated by the twin problems of a rapid increase in student numbers and the reduction in accommodation: residential accommodation, in particular, was an urgent need. This was solved, to some extent, by the purchase (on Crown Lease) of the Holme and Hanover Lodge in Regent's Park - to be followed some years later by St John's Lodge. Between 1945 and 1952 a massive rebuilding programme was undertaken, under the direction of Maxwell Ayrton as architect, to replace damaged and destroyed buildings. This was financed partly by the UGC and the War Damage Commission, but the College also had to contribute from its own funds. In 1949 Bedford College celebrated its centenary with a dinner in the newly rebuilt Oliver Hall attended by Princess Alice and a garden party in the grounds attended by Queen Mary.

The 1950s were on the whole a quieter period for the College - a period of consolidation in teaching and research with some slowing down in the previous rapid increase in student numbers. It was a time, too, when (as at the height of the war) the admission of male undergraduates was talked about but the idea was rejected. Miss Jebb retired in 1951 and Dr Norah Penston became Principal, a post she held until 1964. Towards the end of the decade, however, another increase in student numbers and the consequent need for more teaching and residential space forced the college to embark on further expansion. New halls of residence were started, as was an extension to the library and a new wing to the Tuke Building.

The question of expansion became one of crucial importance nationally following the Robbins Report of 1963 and for Bedford there was one consequence that was of particular importance. The College planned to meet the request for national expansion in university places by increasing its intake from 864 undergraduates in 1962 to over 1,200 in 1968 and to allow men to be admitted. This was a step of major importance in the life of the College and it necessitated a change to the Charter. On 2nd August 1965 the College received a Supplemental Charter allowing the phrase 'for Women' to be dropped from the title and allowing for the admission of men in October 1965.

This change in the College brought with it many possibilities and opportunities but also many problems. The need for more space was crucial yet the possibility of expansion within Regent's Park was severely limited by planning regulations. This meant that piecemeal expansion took place on the fringes of the park when and where it was possible; and much energy and expense was put into making the expansion possible. The College was increasingly in need of money yet unable to realise any of its assets. This problem was compounded by inflation in the early 1970s. A merger was seen increasingly as the answer to problems of finance and size. In 1985 Bedford College joined with Royal Holloway College to form a new institution within the University of London - Royal Holloway and Bedford New College.


The official records of the College are divided into 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: reminiscences, press cuttings, drawings, memorabilia and photographs.

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.

Researchers must make an appointment in advance of their visit by contacting the Archivist on 01784 443814 or

Other Finding Aids

A more detailed online catalogue for the collection is available via the Archives website

A printed catalogue, 'A catalogue of the Archives of Bedford College (University of London), 1849-1985' by Claire Gobbi Daunton and Elizabeth Bennett, 1987, is available in the Reading Room of the College Archives

Custodial History

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


None expected.

Related Material

Bedford College merged with Royal Holloway College in 1985 to form Royal Holloway and Bedford New College. The papers of the new college are also held at Royal Holloway, University of London.


  • Tuke, Margaret J., A history of Bedford College for Women, 1849-1937, 1939.
  • Bentley, Linna, Educating Women: A pictorial history of Bedford College University of London 1849-1985, 1991.