Royal Holloway College was founded by Thomas Holloway. He was an extremely successful manufacturer and retailer of Holloway pills and ointment – patent medicines which were said to treat a wide variety of ailments. He had founded the Holloway Sanatorium, Virginia Water, in 1885, and during the work to complete that institution, plans were already underway for Royal Holloway College close by in Englefield Green.
94 acres of land were purchased from Lady Holland in May 1875, at a cost of £25,374, and the college was built between 1879 and 1886. The architect was William Henry Crossland, and the building work was carried out by the firm of John Thompson of Peterborough. The distinctive design of Royal Holloway was inspired by the beautiful Chateau de Chambord in the Loire Valley, France, which was built between 1519 and 1547.
Initially Thomas Holloway wanted the site to be a hospital for incurable diseases, but by 1874 this had altered to a college for the further education of women, probably at the instigation of Holloway’s wife Jane. The idea of creating a women’s college was an unusual one at the time, as women’s education was not seen as a high priority, and this was reflected in the initially small numbers of students dwarfed by the immense proportions of the building.
Royal Holloway College was officially opened by Queen Victoria on the 30th June 1886. By the summer of 1887 there was a full-time staff of 10, and 28 students, all from middle class backgrounds. It is interesting to compare these numbers to the current student population of over 4,500. Among the subjects that were studied in the early days of the college were Classics, Mathematics, Botany, French, English and Music. From 1891 there was also the option to study Physics.
The students’ days were strictly timetabled. They were woken at 7.30am, and attended chapel at 8am. They then had breakfast and attended lectures from 9am to 1pm. They had 30 minutes for lunch, and in the afternoon they took part in sporting activities, or went on cycle rides. Tea was at 4pm and then work continued from 4.45 until 6.45. Dinner was served at 7pm and then students had another working session until 10pm. Bedtime was at 10.30pm after which there was complete silence until the next morning.
Royal Holloway College became part of the University of London in 1900, and during the Second World War the East side of the college was requisitioned for the war effort. In 1941 the ATS Officer Cadets’ Training Unit moved in, with the Picture Gallery being used as a lecture hall. In Spring 1942 they were replaced by the ATS Junior Officers’ School who stayed there until 1945.
The first male undergraduates were accepted in 1965, and in August 1985, the college was merged with Bedford College, becoming Royal Holloway and Bedford New College. Since 1992, it has simply been called Royal Holloway, University of London, and continues to attract students from all over the world to study a wide variety of disciplines.
Williams, Richard, Royal Holloway College, a Pictorial History