College History

The History of University College

The University of Durham was founded in 1832 by Bishop Van Mildert and the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral. After Van Mildert's death in 1836 the Castle was handed over to the University and became University College in 1837, the oldest of the Durham Colleges. Early generations of students lived either in University House, now Cosin's Hall, or in the Castle Keep, which was reconstructed in 1840.

UCBC 1912The inter-war years were transformative for Castle. The college was the smallest in the University, with just 34 undergraduates in 1928, and was struggling to meet maintenance costs. The castle was in danger of collapsing into the River Wear and many of its internal structures were weak. A combination of high costs and low undergraduate numbers meant that the college was often threatened with closure or merger with Hatfield. Castle was saved largely through charitable donations. A visit in the 1920s from Edward, Prince of Wales, helped increase the profile of the cause. In the 1920s, the castle's foundations were secured through reinforcement with concrete. Following these and other extensive building refurbishments of the 1920s and 1930s the college was able to expand.


/images/lumley-1952.jpgDuring the Second World War, personnel of the Durham University Air Squadron were posted in Castle, undertaking short courses before joining the Royal Air Force. Those from Castle who died during World War II were commemorated by the redevelopment of the Norman Chapel in the 1950s. In order to continue its expansion, the college purchased Lumley Castle in 1946 to house students, and by 1948 seventy five students lived out at Lumley. The Vice-Master, Len Slater, was in charge of Lumley Castle from 1946 until he became Master in 1953. This Lumley Castle community developed a spirit of its own and the tied history of the two castles is still remembered today through activities such as the Lumley Run.

Moatside AppealDuring the 1950s and 1960s University College expanded through developments at Owengate and Bailey Court. In the 1970s, the college sold Lumley Castle. The proceeds were used to fund the development of Moatside Court, and meant that all Castle students were now housed within five minutes' walk of the castle.

During this period there was rapid change in the size and structure of the college, which expanded to over 300 undergraduates by 1979. Female students were admitted to the college for the first time in 1987, and the first female ‘Senior Man’, head of the JCR, was elected in 1993.

/images/castle-day-2014.jpgToday, University College is an academic community of around 750 undergraduates and 250 postgraduates, and members of University staff attached to the College through the Senior Common Room.

All members, both academic staff and students, share a common aim: the pursuit of knowledge. Since 2012, this has been reflected in the expansion of academic events in Castle, including the high-profile Durham Castle Lecture Series, the SCR’s Castle Cutting Edge Lecture Series, and the postgraduates' own Castle MCR Lecture Series.

The College continues to thrive in other areas, with the Castle Theatre Company, Castle Big Band and Castle sports teams expanding and growing. In addition to this, the social fabric of the College remains, with traditions such as Castle Day, formal dinners and termly balls including the annual June Ball as popular as ever. Since 2013, the JCR has also led a social outreach programme called ‘Castle Community Action’, fulfilling the College motto, non nobis solum: not for ourselves alone. 

Durham Castle Society

Durham University