St Mary’s University in London
St Mary’s University in London, St Mary’s University, Twickenham, is a research university located in Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, in South West London. Founded in 1850, it is generally acknowledged to be the oldest Roman Catholic university in the United Kingdom. Formerly called St Mary’s University College, it was granted full university title by the Privy Council on 23 January 2014.
Strawberry Hill House and the Chapel in the Wood
The university is built on land previously attached to Strawberry Hill House, which was originally a small cottage in two or 3 acres (12,000 m2) of land by the River Thames. Horace Walpole, a son of the politician Robert Walpole, rented the cottage in 1747 and subsequently bought it. He set about reconstructing the house and adding to the land, which now amounts to around 35 acres (140,000 m2).
Walpole did not follow the conventional eighteenth-century fashion of classical building, but sought his inspiration in medieval styles, creating a notable early example of neo-Gothic architecture. Some of his contemporaries imitated his design and so this house and the idea it embodied take their place in the history of architecture as “Strawberry Hill Gothic”.
By the end of the 20th century, Strawberry Hill House had fallen into a state of disrepair, with the cost of reversing its condition too substantial for the College to meet. The Grade One listed building had been registered as a building at risk by English Heritage (now Historic England) in 1996, and in August 2002 the Strawberry Hill Trust was formed with a mission to restore the building and open it to a wider public. After the building was included in the 2004 World Monuments Fund Watch list of the world’s 100 Most Endangered Sites and featured on the BBC Two programme Restoration, the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded the Strawberry Hill Trust a £4.6 million grant in 2005. £370,000 development funding and £1.4 million of investment from St Mary’s was also received, but finance still fell short of the projected £8.2 million cost of restoration. The shortfall was finally met in 2007 and in July of that year the lease was transferred from the Catholic Education Service to the Trust. Restoration began in 2008 and the house was opened to the public in September 2010 following the completion of the first phase of the £9 million project.
Near the porter’s lodge is what Bridget Cherry and Sir Nikolaus Pevsner describe as an “incongruous Walpole survival without its protective vegetation”. The Grade I listed Chapel in the Wood is a garden building designed in 1772 by John Chute and was completed in 1774 by Thomas Gayfere the Elder. It was restored in 1954 as a chapel to include a shrine of the Virgin Mary, with new murals and stained glass by Harry Clarke. The stained glass that Walpole housed within it is now at its original home at Bexhill Church, Sussex.
St Mary’s was founded in 1850 on the initiative of Cardinal Wiseman. The Catholic Poor School Committee, which was concerned with providing primary education to children of poor Catholic people throughout the United Kingdom, purchased a former girls school at Brook Green House, Hammersmith, and adapted it for use as a college with accommodation for 40 adult male students. A legal trust created on 16 July 1851 in connection with this property and its use as a training college for Catholic schoolmasters was confirmed in perpetuity.
The college was established on similar lines to that of the Brothers of Christian Instruction (les Frères d’Instruction Chrétienne) at Ploermel, Brittany, where English students were sent between 1848 and 1851. A French brother, Brother Melanie, was initially placed in charge of St Mary’s College, until the appointment of an English principal, Rev. John Melville Glennie, in 1851.
The college opened with six adult male students who had begun their training at the novitiate of the Brothers of Christian Instruction. It was expected that students would join the teaching religious order, however in 1854, in response to a shortage of suitably qualified candidates, the decision was taken to admit lay students to the College. In 1855, additional accommodation was provided for 50 lay students, and by 1860 only lay students were attending the college.
With the appointment of the fourth principal, Father William Byrne CM in 1899, the association of the College with the Congregation of the Mission (usually known as the Vincentians) commenced. This inaugurated a period of change and augmentation, seen in the increase in staff and student numbers, the introduction of the office of Dean, and the extension of the college premises made possible by funding from the Catholic Education Council. At the same time the college was concerned with adjusting to the requirements of the Education Acts of 1902–3 and their effect on the development of elementary education.
In 1898 Inter-College Sports were introduced between Borough Road, St Mark’s, St John’s, Westminster and St Mary’s Colleges. The college magazine, The Simmarian, began a new series in 1903-4. Originally in manuscript form, it became a printed paper in 1905 and is still published today.