The colleges and halls: Selwyn

A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 3, the City and University of Cambridge. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1959.

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, 'The colleges and halls: Selwyn', in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 3, the City and University of Cambridge, (London, 1959) pp. 495-496. British History Online [accessed 19 May 2024].

. "The colleges and halls: Selwyn", in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 3, the City and University of Cambridge, (London, 1959) 495-496. British History Online, accessed May 19, 2024,

. "The colleges and halls: Selwyn", A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 3, the City and University of Cambridge, (London, 1959). 495-496. British History Online. Web. 19 May 2024,

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Selwyn College is a 19th-century contribution to the collegiate system of the University. (fn. 1) It was founded to preserve the memory of one of the great ecclesiastical figures of the century, George Augustus Selwyn, the pioneer Bishop of New Zealand, who was afterwards Bishop of Lichfield, and to maintain that type of Anglican culture which was felt by many to be endangered by the passing of the University Tests Act of 1871. The funds for the foundation were raised by public subscription. Bishop Selwyn died on 11 April 1878. Immediately after his funeral at Lichfield, a committee was formed to promote a memorial to him, and a public meeting at Westminster on 18 July adopted the proposal of the committee to establish in Cambridge a College which should bear his name. On 10 March 1879 the committee decided the form of the constitution of the future College, which was modelled on Keble College, Oxford, of which Bishop Selwyn had been a great promoter, and appointed a provisional council and the first Master, the Honourable Arthur Temple Lyttelton of Trinity College. The committee and the council raised a sum of about £30,000; and the task of establishing the College was committed to the Master and council.

Six acres of freehold land in Grange Road was bought by the council from Corpus Christi College on 3 November 1879 for £6,050, and building began on this site shortly afterwards. The front range of the present buildings, the present kitchens, and a temporary hall and chapel, behind and parallel to the front range were erected at a cost of some £18,000. A stone with a commemorative inscription was laid beside the gate by the Earl of Powis on 1 June 1881.

The council next proceeded to obtain a royal charter for the College, reproducing exactly the terms of the charter of Keble College. It was sealed on 13 September 1882. The Master and council were constituted a body corporate with privileges in regard to the Statutes of Mortmain and Charitable Uses. Regulations were provided for their procedure and for the government of the College. In this respect the charter gave large powers to the Master, subject to such statutes as he and the council might make with the consent of the Visitor, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury. The charter declared that the College was 'founded and constituted with the especial object and intent of providing persons desirous of academic education and willing to live economically with a College wherein sober living and high culture of the mind may be combined with Christian training based upon the principles of the Church of England'.

The provisions of the charter sufficed for the needs of the College during its first 30 years. At the end of that formative period the Master and council exercised their powers to make statutes. By these the status and duties of the College officers, and other details of the internal economy of the College were defined, and fellowships, hitherto lacking, were established. These statutes were sealed on 4 October 1913. They were superseded on 1 August 1926 by a new set which gave effect to the recommendations of the Statutory Commissioners of 1923, and in other respects expanded and altered them.

The charter did not incorporate the College in the University. Incorporation therefore remained to be settled by the Senate. The members of the already existing Cavendish College were under the recently formed Non-collegiate Students Board, and this determined the immediate status of Selwyn men. On the other hand, the provisions for private hostels made by the old statute de Hospitiis offered a pattern for the corporate recognition by the University of a more permanent kind of academic society. After much discussion, on 1 June 1882, the Senate passed a grace which established the new status of public hostels, to which new institutions for academical education in the University were admissible. An institution of this status was required to satisfy the University that provision had been made for its government and permanence and that its buildings were suitable for their purpose. If any of the conditions of its recognition were violated the recognition could be withdrawn. It was to be called a 'hostel' in all University documents in which the word 'college' would be used of the existing colleges. Its principal did not rank as the head of a house, and was not eligible for the office of Vice-Chancellor. It did not nominate proctors. All its undergraduates were to reside within its walls. Its students were to have the same privileges and obligations as though they were members of the existing colleges.

The Master was installed and the College opened for its first term on 10 October 1882. Next day the Master petitioned the Council of the Senate for the recognition of the College as a public hostel, and this was granted on 8 February 1883. Selwyn retained the status of a public hostel until the University statutes of 1 October 1926 came into force. These statutes provided for the existence in the University of a class of corporate institutions known as 'Approved Foundations', and expressly placed Selwyn College in this class. The statutes ordain that any provision in any statute or ordinance affecting all colleges shall be applicable as if the term 'college' included any 'approved foundation', with the exception of the chapters concerning the ViceChancellor, the proctors, and certain obligations of the colleges in respect of reserved fellowships and contributions for University purposes. Selwyn had already been named as a 'college' in the schedule to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge Act, 1923. The restriction of the liberty of the College to place its undergraduates in lodgings which, though in a mitigated form, applied to the College in its new status, was entirely removed on 30 May 1936.

The architect, Sir Arthur Blomfield, had planned a complete set of buildings of red brick and stone in a Tudor Gothic style forming a single court. It was to contain 120 sets of rooms, but when the College was opened only 64 of these, in the western range, had been built, and in the absence of a Master's Lodge a number of them had to be used to accommodate the Master. In the first year the College had 28 students, and in the second it was only possible to house 23 more. In 1883 the building of the Master's Lodge increased the number of sets available, but more were urgently needed and in 1884 staircases C and D were built on the north side of the court. In 1889 this side was completed by the addition of staircases E and F. The foundation stone of the chapel was laid on 15 June 1893 in the last term of A. T. Lyttelton's Mastership, and the building was dedicated on 17 October 1895 under the succeeding master, J. R. Selwyn, second son of Bishop Selwyn. No further additions were made until 1909, when the fourth Master, Richard Appleton, carried through the building of the hall during his short Mastership. This was designed by Messrs. Grayson and Ould in an Elizabethan style and panelled through the initiative of A. C. Benson with fine 18th-century panelling principally from the former English church at Rotterdam in memory of Archbishop Benson. The building incorporated Blomfield's kitchen building on the south side of the court. The old temporary hall was pulled down, but the old chapel, which had become a temporary library, remained until in 1930, under the sixth Master, G. E. Newsom, the permanent library was built as a war memorial, to the design of T. H. Lyon. The enclosure of the court on the eastern side by permanent railings and a wall, and the conversion of a wing of the very large Master's Lodge into a staircase, have since been carried out by the same architect.

The Master, who must always be a clerk in holy orders, is elected and appointed by the council. He presides at meetings of the council, and his consent, when present, is necessary, with certain exceptions, to all acts of the council. The council consists of 16 members, of whom 5, the Bishop of Ely, the Dean of Lichfield, the Provost of Eton, and the Regius Professors of Divinity of Cambridge and Oxford Universities, are ex officio members, and the remaining 11 are co-opted. The majority of these are now fellows of the College. There are not less than five fellows, and such number of scholars as the Master and Fellows shall from time to time determine. The fellows are elected by the Master and council on the nomination of the Master and Fellows. A fellow must, on election, be a member of the Church of England or of some church in communion with it, and must remain so.

Subject to the authority of the Master and council, and of the Master, as defined in the charter, the internal administration is in the hands of an administrative body consisting of the Master and certain of the fellows. Other fellows and College officers may be summoned to meetings of the administrative body. The scholars are elected by the administrative body. The bursar is appointed by the Master and council; the tutors, dean, lecturers, and other officers are appointed by the Master and council on the nomination of the Master.

The library contains over 15,000 volumes. It has few manuscripts but some interesting and valuable early printed books and first editions. These came principally from valuable collections bequeathed by William Cooke and Edward Balme-Wheatley-Balme.

During its short life the College has accumulated few endowments. The funds originally subscribed were used up in providing the site and buildings and in the expenses of the earliest years. Benefactors have since endowed some ten scholarships and exhibitions, sundry prizes, and dividends, considerably smaller than in the older colleges, for the fellowships. The College has three advowsons, Wonersh (Surr.), Old Cleeve (Som.), and Longstowe. Since 1945 the resources of the College have been directed to modernizing the buildings, completing the interior of the chapel in accordance with Blomfield's plan, and acquiring five houses near the College to serve as additional staircases.

Masters of Selwyn College (fn. 2)

The Hon. Arthur Temple Lyttelton: 10 Oct. 1882, resigned 1893, died 1903.

John Richardson Selwyn: 16 June 1893, died 1898.

Alexander Francis Kirkpatrick: 25 Apr. 1898, resigned 1907, died 1941.

Richard Appleton: 24 Apr. 1907, died 1909.

John Owen Farquhar Murray: 29 May 1909, retired 1928, died 1945.

George Ernest Newsom: 8 Oct. 1928, died 1934.

George Armitage Chase: 8 Oct. 1934, resigned 1946.

William Telfer: 16 Jan. 1947, retired 1956.

William Owen Chadwick: 1 Oct. 1956. (fn. 3)


  • 1. For the history of Selwyn see Selwyn Coll. Calendar, publ. annually from 1883; A. L. Brown, Selwyn College, Cambridge. The present article has been revised by the Rev. Dr. W. Telfer, M.C., sometime Master.
  • 2. Dates of installation.
  • 3. Date of assuming office.