The History of Higher Education in Bloomsbury and Westminster

Institute of Commonwealth Studies

Institute of Education, University of London

King's College London

London School of Economics

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Royal Holloway, University of London

School of Oriental and African Studies

Senate House Library, University of London

University College London

University of Westminster



Bedford College was founded in 1849 by Elisabeth 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. Elisabeth 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. It is thought that she was influenced to found Bedford College by a circle of influential friends (including Jane Martineau, Anna Swanwick, Augustus de Morgan and Henry Crabbe Robinson) and by memories of the limitations of her own education.

At the outset, the government 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 of the students, their discipline and also acted as their chaperones. Initially the Professors were shocked by the educational standards of the women students who, for the most part, had had a home-based, governess education. In response to this, Mrs Reid founded a school close to the College in 1853.

First College building in Bedford Square

First College building in Bedford Square

Bedford Square


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.

Mrs Reid died in 1866, leaving the College in the hands of three Trustees - Elizabeth Bostock, Jane Martineau and Eleanor Smith. 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 Council was replaced by a Committee of Management and the College was reconstituted as an Association under the Companies Act of 1867.


In 1874, the Bedford Square lease expired and the College moved to York Place, off Baker Street. 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 1878, 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.

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. 1891 saw the opening of the Shaen Wing, which contained laboratories and science equipment. An administrative reorganisation in 1893 led to the creation of a new post, that of Principal.

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. Miss Penrose oversaw the amalgamation of the day and boarding sides of the College, which meant an increase in extra-curricular activities. 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. 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. She was succeeded by Miss Ethel Hurlblatt, from 1898 to 1906, and then by Miss, later Dame, Margaret Tuke.

Bedford College Laboratory

Bedford College Laboratory

Miss Tuke was to be Principal of Bedford College from 1907 to 1929 and under her the College was to develop and flourish. With the Chair of Council, Sir Arthur Acland, she oversaw the granting of a Royal Charter to the College. This period also heralded another physical move - this time to new buildings in Regent's Park. The architect was Basil Champneys and the new college was opened by Queen Mary in 1913.

The succeeding years saw great changes in the life of Bedford College. A Social Sciences Department was established which oversaw long-running and popular courses in public health and economics. A Students' Union was formed in 1913. The College continued to expand physically, with the creation of new science blocks, a library extension and a new sports pavilion. Miss Tuke was replaced in 1929 by Miss Geraldine Jebb, who held the post of Principal until her retirement in 1951. She was followed by Dr Norah Penston (1951-1964). Post-war expansion eventually led to the admission of male students in 1965.

Portrait of Sarah Parker Remond, the first black student at Bedford College (1859-61) by Ann Dingsdale

Portrait of Sarah Parker Remond, the first black student at Bedford College (1859-61), by Ann Dingsdale (created at her studio at Cockpit Arts, Holborn).

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, now more commonly known by its everyday title of Royal Holloway, University of London. The merger provided more academic diversity and strength as well as greater financial security, and also preserved the pursuit of innovation and excellence which characterised the Founders of the two parent colleges. The College is now among the top research institutions in the country.


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