The history of Royal Holloway

Royal Holloway and Bedford Colleges combine over 150 years of historic discoveries, notable alumni and academic innovation.

These are some of the milestones in that journey.

1789-01-01 00:00:00

Elizabeth Jesser Reid, founder of Bedford College, was born

1800-09-22 00:00:00

Thomas Holloway, founder of Royal Holloway College, was born

Thomas was born in Devonport near Plymouth.

1849-01-01 00:00:00

Bedford College founded

Bedford College is founded by Elisabeth Jesser Reid as the UK's first higher education college for women. Early students include the novelist George Eliot, famed for Middlemarch, and the first woman doctor Dr Elizabeth Blackwell, who trained nurses in the American Civil War.

1859-01-01 00:00:00

Sarah Parker Remond

Sarah Parker Remond, the slavery abolitionist and early African American female physician, is a student.

1860-06-01 00:00:00

Bedford College began its first practical science classes for women

1866-03-30 00:00:00

Elizabeth Jesser Reid, founder of Bedford College, died

1874-06-01 00:00:00

Bedford College moved to York Place, Baker Street

1878-06-01 00:00:00

The University of London admitted women to their degrees for the first time

1879-09-01 00:00:00

The first brick of Founder’s building was laid

The brick was laid by George Martin-Holloway, Thomas Holloway’s brother in law, but the location of brick was not recorded.

1883-10-11 17:13:58

Deed of Foundation signed

Thomas Holloway made his will and signed the Deed of Foundation for the College

1883-12-26 00:00:00

Thomas Holloway died at his home in Sunninghill

1886-01-01 00:00:00

Royal Holloway College opened by Queen Victoria

The Queen graciously permitted the use of Royal in the College’s name. In the north quadrangle, George Martin Holloway, the brother-in-law of Jane Holloway, presented the Queen with a gold casket decorated with a portrait of Thomas Holloway who had died in 1883.

1887-01-01 00:00:00

The first students

The first 28 students begin their studies.

1894-01-01 00:00:00

Pioneering women

Students include the suffragette martyr Emily Wilding Davison, who died at the Epsom Derby in 1913, the pioneering woman surgeon, Dr Louisa Martindale CBE, and her sister, Hilda Martindale CBE, who argued for equal pay and rights for women as a pioneering senior civil servant.

1900-01-01 00:00:00

The University of London

Both Bedford and Royal Holloway colleges are admitted as Schools of the University of London.

1904-01-01 00:00:00

The first Royal Patron of Bedford College

Her Majesty Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII, became the first Royal Patron of Bedford College.

1905-01-01 00:00:00

Dame Ivy Compton-Burnett DBE and Professor Helen Cam CBE

The novelist Dame Ivy Compton-Burnett DBE and Professor Helen Cam CBE, who will become the first female professor at Harvard, are students.

1910-01-01 00:00:00

Countess Frances Lloyd-George CBE

Countess Frances Lloyd- George CBE, the wife and Private Secretary to Prime Minister David Lloyd-George, graduates in Classics

1912-01-01 00:00:00

Margaret Benson

Margaret Benson becomes Professor of Botany at Royal Holloway College, the first female professor of science in the country.

1913-01-01 00:00:00

Bedford College moves to new premises in Regent’s Park

HM Queen Mary, consort of King George V, opened the Regent’s Park site of Bedford College. Queen Mary's hat was decorated with masses of ostrich feathers in pale pink, blue and mauve to match her dress. Students had been taught the court curtsy by a dancing mistress. Queen Mary and Queen Dowager Alexandra were joint patrons of Bedford and gave special sanctions for emblems representative of themselves to be embodied in the new Bedford College Arms. The College stayed in Regent's Park until the merger with Royal Holloway College.

1914-01-01 00:00:00

Richmal Crompton and Ethel Watts

Richmal Crompton, the author of the Just William books, is a student as is Ethel Watts, the first woman to qualify as a chartered accountant.

1914-01-01 00:00:00

The outbreak of the First World War

Students at both Colleges carried out war activities including growing vegetables, rolling bandages and knitting comforts for the troops.

1921-01-01 00:00:00

Royal summer garden parties at Bedford College

HRH Princess Mary, the Princess Royal, attended summer garden parties at Bedford College. The funds raised by these events went towards the Extension and Endowment Appeal. The Principal, Miss Tuke (right), steered this activity for years and the new building was named after her.

1922-01-01 00:00:00

Dame Kathleen Lonsdale and Sylvia Scaff

Students include Dame Kathleen Lonsdale DBE FRS, one of the first two women elected to the Royal Society and Sylvia Scaff ardi, co-founder of the Council for Civil Liberties, now known as Liberty.

1926-01-01 00:00:00

Horton Laboratory completed

The building held both the Physics and Botany departments.

1939-01-01 00:00:00


Bedford College is evacuated to Cambridge during the Second World War.

1941-01-01 00:00:00

Founder’s East was occupied by the Auxiliary Territorial Service Officer Cadets’ Training Unit

1941-05-01 00:00:00

Bedford College buildings were bombed

The bomb caused a huge amount of damage and reconstruction work carried on for several years after the War was over.

1942-01-01 00:00:00

Eunice Timberlake

Eunice Timberlake, Geography lecturer at Bedford College, develops new techniques in air navigation to aid air rescue after attacks on Atlantic convoys

1944-01-01 00:00:00

Sir William Hunter McCrea FRS

Sir William Hunter McCrea FRS becomes Head of Mathematics at Royal Holloway. His discovery that the sun is composed mainly of hydrogen leads to the development of the Big Bang Theory.

1945-05-01 00:00:00

First male postgraduate students were admitted to both Colleges

1948-01-01 00:00:00

Dame Lillian Penson

Dame Lillian Penson, Professor of Modern History at Bedford College (1930–62) becomes Vice-Chancellor of the University of London.

1954-01-01 00:00:00

“First Lady of Fleet Street”

Jean Rook, the legendary columnist, known as the “First Lady of Fleet Street” graduates in English.

1957-01-01 00:00:00

Baroness Janet Fookes

The future Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, Baroness Janet Fookes DBE, graduates in History.

1960-01-01 00:00:00

David Bellamy

Professor David Bellamy OBE, the renowned broadcaster and environmental activist, graduates with a PhD in Botany.

1965-01-01 00:00:00

Women and men

Both Royal Holloway and Bedford colleges become fully co-educational.

1965-05-01 00:00:00

The first Student Union building opened at Royal Holloway College

The building also housed the first licenced bar on campus.

1966-01-01 00:00:00

Baroness Diana Warwick and Jean McFarlane

Students include Baroness Diana Warwick, now Chair of the Human Tissue Authority and Baroness Jean McFarlane, one of nursing’s great pioneers and England’s first Professor of Nursing.

1969-01-01 00:00:00

Moon dust

Professor Samuel Tolansky receives samples of moon dust from NASA, brought back by Apollo XI, for his diamond research at Royal Holloway.

1970-01-01 00:00:00

Bourne laboratory completed

The building housed the Chemistry department and was named after Prof Edward Bourne, former Head of Chemistry at Royal Holloway College.

1977-01-01 00:00:00

Baroness Catherine Ashton

Baroness Catherine Ashton, who will become the EU’s first ever foreign minister, graduates in Social Science.

1980-01-01 00:00:00

Janice Hadlow

Postgraduates include Janice Hadlow, the future Controller of BBC2.

1981-01-01 00:00:00

Storm damage to the swimming pool

After storm damage the swimming pool at Royal Holloway College was converted into Jane Holloway Hall.

1982-01-01 00:00:00

Emma Freud and Simon Thurley

Students include Emma Freud OBE, now Director of Red Nose Day and Dr Simon Thurley CBE, CEO of English Heritage and Jayne-Anne Gadhia, CEO of Virgin Money.

1985-01-01 00:00:00

The merger

Royal Holloway and Bedford New College opens following the merger of the two colleges. HM Queen Elizabeth II inaugurates the new College the following year.

1987-01-01 00:00:00

The current Student Union building opened

This was the first purpose built Student Union building on campus.

1989-01-01 00:00:00

South East Asia Research Group

The South East Asia Research Group starts work on intrepid mapping of this remote rainforest-covered region.

1992-01-01 00:00:00

The Handa Noh Theatre opened

The Theatre has the only Japanese Noh stage in the UK.

1995-01-01 00:00:00

Atmospheric methane

Professor Euan Nisbet begins monitoring the rising levels of atmospheric methane, a highly potent but neglected greenhouse gas.

1996-01-01 00:00:00

KT Tunstall

The Brit Award winning singer KT Tunstall graduates in Music and Drama.

The history of Royal Holloway

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