ST. HILDA'S COLLEGE
In 1886 Miss Dorothea Beale, LL.D., Principal of the
Ladies' College, Cheltenham, one of the foremost
educators of her day, wanting to make it possible for her
younger teachers and older students to avail themselves
of the new opportunities of higher education for women
at Oxford, bought 3 acres of land on the Banbury Road
and had plans drawn for building a college. In 1893
she wrote: (fn. 1) 'Then circumstances … made me feel the
time was not ripe. … This summer it seemed as if the
chief impediments were removed: a house was offered
to me suitable for a small College in a very beautiful
situation and I decided to buy it and open in the
autumn.' This was Cowley House (in Cowley Place),
the nucleus of which had been built by Dr. Humphrey
Sibthorp, Sherardian Professor of Botany in the
University, between 1775—when he had bought for
£500 the site (fn. 2) 'called Sharpes Close, a Ham of meadow
ground in Milham', 'the waters and fishings in the River
called Milham from the East Bridge to Christ Church
Walks', with 4 acres of arable land in Cowley Fields—and 1783, when his house is referred to as 'newly
erected'. It had been built in mottled brick round a
staircase in the Adam style, bought from (fn. 3) 'a country
house of the Bertie family in Oxfordshire', and a
special feature of Cowley House was its mantelpieces of
various origins. The site was an interesting and convenient one. A mill of the Templars of Cowley had
stood there by the east branch of the river Cherwell, (fn. 4)
down which ran the boundary of the franchise of the
town. Close by, and possibly in the grounds of what is
now St. Hilda's South, were St. Edmund's Well of
great healing fame in the 13th century, and one of the
bridges over the two branches of the Cherwell by which
Wolsey caused the stone from Headington quarries and
gravel from near St. Edmund's Well to be brought for
his 'Cardinal College'. (fn. 5) It was conveniently near the
Physic Garden laid out in 1622–32, especially when the
professor's house there was demolished shortly after
1772, to make room for the new East Bridge approach.
Probably the house was chiefly occupied by John
Sibthorp, Professor of Botany, 1784–96. Sir Benjamin
Brodie, the last Aldrichian and first Waynflete Professor of Chemistry, bought Cowley House and stables (fn. 6)
in 1862 and added a north wing, outer hall, and porch
designed by Mr. Woodward (architect of the University Science Museum) and decorated with sculptured
capitals by O'Shea of Dublin. Miss Beale bought the
house unaltered (but not the stables) from Dr. Gilbert
Child, the next owner, in Feb. 1893, for £5,000.
The Council of the Association for the Education of
Women in Oxford was then undergoing reorganization
and was placing its Home-Students, as a definite body,
under the principalship of Mrs. Arthur Johnson. To
Miss Beale's request for the admission of her students to
registration the Council agreed (1894), but required
St. Hilda's to be placed on probation under Mrs.
Johnson's supervision, in order that 'it should be given
the opportunity of putting itself on a level with the
existing Halls', and formal recognition of this was given
on 25 Nov. 1896. (fn. 7) It was then entitled to be called St.
Hilda's Hall and was represented on the Association
Council by its Principal and Dr. J. B. Moyle. Meanwhile the house had been formally opened on 6 Nov.
1893 by Dr. Stubbs, Bishop of Oxford. It was to be
'conducted according to the principles of the Church of
England, without restrictions upon the liberty of
members of other denominations'. In the founder's
own words: 'I want none to go for the sake of a pleasant
life … none, merely for self-culture … but that they
may do better service … for the glory of the Creator
and the relief of man's estate.' (fn. 8) She named her house
after St. Hilda of Whitby as the first great educator in
England, and because, in her houses, St. Hilda 'had laid
chief stress on peace and love'.
The house had accommodation for thirteen students:
it began with seven. Though then mainly intended for
pupils of the Cheltenham Ladies' College, one of the
first seven had been educated elsewhere and by 1904
there had been forty non-Cheltonians. Miss Beale
appointed in 1893 as the first Principal Mrs. Esther
Elizabeth Burrows, who had previously taken charge of
some pupils attending her college. Miss Beale took a
keen personal interest, and interested her numerous
friends, in the progress of the small community, which
she financed wholly herself for the first four years. 'We
do not want any contributions to the general fund of
St. Hilda's', she wrote, 'but we should not refuse
assistance in the form of scholarships, exhibitions or
loans for those who need help—and especially should
we be grateful for contributions to the Library. I have
laid its foundations with money earned by a contribution
to the Spectator and the first books bought are Jowett's
Plato and Hutton's Essays. I specially desire a good
library of poetry, philosophy and theology.' (fn. 9) Several
friends helped to start this, but for the academic needs
of the first students, modern history preponderated.
In order to qualify for recognition by the A.E.W. a
council of ten members was formed on 5 July 1897
preparatory to the incorporation of the Hall under the
Companies' Acts of 1862–90 (fn. 10) as an Association 'not for
purposes of profit' and the Rev. J. R. Magrath, D.D.,
Provost of The Queen's College, became its first chairman. Of this body four councillors represented the
Cheltenham Ladies' College, including its chairman
(then Dr. Magrath) and Principal (then Miss Beale, for
life) ex officio and the representative on its council of the
University of Oxford. Miss Beale still retained the chief
interest in its finances.
After minor alterations a south wing was added to
the Hall in 1897–8 (supervised by a London architect,
Mr. P. Day), which included a larger dining-room
and raised the students' accommodation to 28 rooms in
all, 20 being the required minimum.
In 1901 Miss Beale, desiring to place the future of
the Hall on a sounder financial footing, procured the
dissolution of the Incorporated Association and in its
place brought about an amalgamation of the Hall with
St. Hilda's College, Cheltenham, henceforth known
jointly as St. Hilda's Incorporated College, though the
Oxford member retained locally its old name. (St.
Hilda's College, Cheltenham, was financially independent of the Ladies' College which, however, provided the education of its students.) To this joint
college Miss Beale presented the freehold property at
Oxford, and the arrangement materially assisted the
growth of the Hall. Its council had virtual control of
local matters, but functioned under the Court of the
Incorporated College in finance. In this year Dr. Paget,
Bishop of Oxford, consented to become the Visitor of
After Miss Beale's death in 1906 the legacy of £1,000
left by her to the college was by consent used to add, in
1909, a second south wing (in brick) to the Hall. This
was designed by Mr. W. E. Mills. It consisted of a
semi-basement library panelled in oak, dated 1909 and
bearing the original badge of the Hall, and of rooms for a
tutor and thirteen more students.
When the Delegacy for Women Students was instituted by the University in 1911, St. Hilda's was one of
the five Societies which it recognized, and in 1920 the
Hall was admitted to the privileges of the Statute
(Tit. XXIII) giving to women the right of membership
of the University.
The large influx of students to Oxford after the war
of 1914–18, when the numbers rose from 49 to 70, led
to plans for further extension on the northern site of the
stables, bought from Magdalen College in 1915, to
replace temporary hostels. But before this could be
carried out it was found possible to purchase in 1921
(for £17,500) the leasehold of Cherwell Hall, a training
college belonging to the Church Education Corporation.
The lease for 99 years had been granted by Christ Church
in 1876 to Mr. (later Dr.) A. G. Vernon Harcourt, Lee's
Reader in Chemistry, who three years later had built
there Cowley Grange, designed as a private house, in
light brick with stone facings, by Mr. Wilkinson, an
architect who planned it to the four points of the compass. (fn. 11) A wing had been added including a library
when it became a training college. This house was now
called St. Hilda's South. Structural alterations enlarged
its library into a dining-hall, and additions, including
new kitchens, were completed by Mr. Harrison of
Oxford by 1925 at a cost of about £13,000. The
money was partly raised by the issue of mortgage stock
taken up by friends and old students, and helped by
college funds and by the share of St. Hilda's from
a joint Appeal for the Women's Colleges at Oxford,
to which H.M. Queen Mary generously contributed.
The earlier building became known as Old Hall, and
the two buildings together now accommodated about
Arising from an offer by Dame Elizabeth Wordsworth of £50 if £500 could be raised, a temporary
chapel was also built, to the design of Mr. F. E.
Howard, in the grounds of St. Hilda's South. On
31 Oct. 1925 the chapel was consecrated by the then
Visitor of the college and a former chairman of council, Dr. H. H. Williams, Bishop of Carlisle, and the
new building was formally opened by Viscount Cave,
Chancellor of the University.
About the same time, in accordance with the requirements of the University, St. Hilda's Incorporated
College was dissolved and on 13 Mar. 1926 the Hall
was incorporated, by Royal Charter, under the name
of the Principal and Council of St. Hilda's College.
Four representatives of the Cheltenham Ladies'
College still sat on its council, but on the revision of its
Statutes nine years later the two ex-officio members
ceased to function. The council of the college now consists of twenty-four members, including official fellows,
professorial and research fellows under certain conditions, one member elected directly by the Hebdomadal
Council, two by the Council of the Cheltenham Ladies'
College, and the remainder elected, half by the council
itself and half by the Senior Members' Association.
This body, established in 1926, includes—besides
members of council and graduates on the books of the
college—members of the Old Students' Association
which, formerly constituted in 1906, had been represented on the council since 1908.
The latest addition to the college premises has been
the Burrows Building, named after the two first
principals. This was added in brick in 1934, on the site
of the stables to the north of Old Hall by Sir Edwin
Cooper as architect.
The cost of the building, about £20,000, was raised
by loan. It consists of a fine library on the ground floor,
with a gallery which, with a stackroom in the basement,
will hold some 25,000 books. The library is panelled in
oak and was furnished mainly by gifts from old students
and friends. Above it are 20 rooms, so that the college
can house 114 students and an increased number of
tutors. Three houses in Iffley Road were acquired in
1945 and 1946 for use as hostels. The maximum
number permitted by the University was raised in 1948
to 180, but the College has not sufficient accommodation to house this number at present.
The growth of the college must also be measured by
that of its tutorial and administrative body. In common
with the other women's societies its students were at
first assigned to tutors of the Association for the Education of Women, several of whom were tutors of the
men's colleges. Among these must be mentioned Mr.
Edward Armstrong, history tutor and later Provost of The Queen's College, who not only helped
generations of its history students, but was a most valued
member of St. Hilda's Council for 30 years and its
chairman 1910–15. The first tutor appointed was in
Modern History in 1896, the first English tutor in
1908, in Classics in 1918, since when five more tutors
have been added. Of administrative officers the first
Vice-Principal was appointed in 1898, after the recognition of St. Hilda's as a hall, and the first bursar in
1902. Up to the present time (1950), there have been
four Principals of the hall and college:
Mrs. Esther Elizabeth Burrows, August 1893–July
Miss Christine Mary Elizabeth Burrows, August
Miss Winifred Horsbrugh Moberly, August
Miss Julia de Lacy Mann, April 1928–.
Financially the college has greatly benefited by the
Government grant of £1,000 per annum for ten
years, given in 1921 on the recommendation of the
Universities' Commission: this was renewed in 1931 as
an annually diminishing grant and has now ceased. It
has chiefly been used for the augmentation of salaries
and for the payment of a proportion of pensions, under
the University scheme.
The college has received endowments amounting to
about £50,000 in all from its Founder, who gave the freehold and buildings of Old Hall, with a bequest of £500;
from the estates of Sir Ernest Cassel and the Reverend J.
Gamble, and from some of its own members. In
addition the following open endowed scholarships have
been given or founded from legacies:—a Harrison
scholarship of £80 (now of £50) given by a former
student, a Beilby scholarship of £70 left by the late Lady
Beilby, a Richardson Evans scholarship of £35 and a
Marion Hewitt scholarship of £65, both given as
bequests of former students, and a scholarship of £30
from funds set aside by the council in memory of
Miss W. H. Moberly. The Old Students' Association
gives annually two scholarships of £40. Open scholarships
and exhibitions are also given from college funds.
Three close scholarships, each of £50, are given once in
every three years, one from college funds to candidates
from Cheltenham Ladies' College in memory of Miss
Dorothea Beale, and one from funds collected in
memory of Miss Lilian Blake, late Principal of Hove
Lea School, Hove, to candidates from private schools.
In the early days money for such purposes was
collected yearly by Miss A. M. Andrews of Cheltenham,
friend and councillor of the Hall since its beginning.
There is so far only the nucleus of a fund for endowment of research, amounting to about £300, in memory
of Miss A. E. Levett, Vice-Principal and History Tutor
(1910–23), collected from old pupils and friends.
The college possesses (1950) seven portraits in oils,
one in pastels, and three in crayons. They are of (1) Miss
Beale, the founder, a copy by Mrs. Everett (1931) of
that by Mr. J. J. Shannon, R.A., at the Cheltenham
Ladies' College (1903); (2) Mrs. Burrows (1928),
(3) Miss Burrows (1928), and (4) Miss Moberly
(1929), all by Miss Catherine Ouless; (5) Mr. E. Armstrong by Mr. C. G. Anderson in 1922, the gift of
his wife, and (6) Miss Levett by Mr. J. St. H. Lander,
R.O.I., in 1924; (7) Miss Mann (1948) by Mr. Peter
Grinham. The pastel portrait is of Mrs. Burrows
(1900) by Frl. Mund, the drawings of Mr. E. Armstrong by Mr. A. Norris (1917), Miss Burrows (1919),
and Miss A. M. Andrews (1932) by Mr. L. L. Brooke.