Essex university

Page 366

A History of the County of Essex: Volume 9, the Borough of Colchester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1994.

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The formal application by a county promotion committee for a university in Essex was approved by the University Grants Committee in 1961, and an academic planning board was constituted. In 1962 R. A. Butler (later Lord Butler of Saffron Walden) was appointed chancellor and A. E. (later Sir Albert) Sloman vice-chancellor. The University Grants Committee guaranteed funding to provide for a student population rising to 3,000 in 10 years, but imposed no plan. Essex County Council gave a site of 200 a. at Wivenhoe Park, three miles east of Colchester town centre, and together with three Essex county boroughs promised £120,000 a year. Sponsors raised money through public appeal towards the initial capital cost. (fn. 1) A royal charter was granted in 1965. (fn. 2) The first students, c. 120, were accepted in 1964 and accommodated in Wivenhoe House and its outbuildings and temporary huts. Teaching and research buildings and six residential tower blocks were built in the 1960s designed by Kenneth Capon. Essex students gained a reputation for militancy following their activity in the widespread national student unrest of 1968, although only a minority were extremists. (fn. 3)

In the 1970s and 1980s a health centre, a two-storeyed student residence, a 40-bedroom extension to Wivenhoe House, a new building for the biology department, and a building for a printing centre, bookshop, and exhibition gallery were added; Wivenhoe House was converted into Wivenhoe Park Conference Centre. The university concentrated its teaching into large departments. In the late 1970s it faced financial problems which threatened closure, but in the 1980s gained respect nationally and internationally, co-operating with local companies, securing important research contracts, and attracting about a third of its students from overseas. (fn. 4)

Four residential blocks of two and three storeys were built in 1991-2 providing 176 study bedrooms. (fn. 5) The five-storeyed Rab Butler building was opened in 1991 as a headquarters for the British Household Panel Survey. (fn. 6) In 1993 there were 17 departments, more than 5,500 students, 5 industrial units, and the Economic and Social Research Council's data archive; the university employed 1,300 people. A building expansion scheme costing £5.5 million was under way to provide 234 homes for 1,200 students in a new student village, and a 96-place day nursery between Boundary Road and the north towers. (fn. 7)


  • 1. A. E. Sloman, A University in the Making, 13-17.
  • 2. Inf. from Mr. B. Russell, Publicity Officer.
  • 3. Colch. Charter 800 Assn. Colch. 800, 82-3; M. Beloff, The Plateglass Universities, 112-21; E.R.O., SA 0653.
  • 4. Colch. Charter 800 Assn. Colch. 800, 83-4; E.R.O., SA 0121, 0311.
  • 5. E.C.S. 17 Aug. 1990.
  • 6. Ibid. 15 Nov. 1991.
  • 7. Inf. from Mr. Russell; E.C.S. 23 Apr. 1993.