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Higher education postcard: Bangor University

This week's card from Hugh Jones’ postbag takes us to a university built on slate and run from a pub
This article is more than 1 year old

Hugh Jones is a freelance HE consultant. You’ll find a daily #HigherEducationPostcard if you follow him on Twitter.

Cyfarchion o’r Coleg ar y Bryn – or, greetings from the College on the Hill

On 18 October 1884 the University College of North Wales formally opened its doors, with a grand ceremony, a procession, mayors in their robes, peers and commoners. More than 3,000 quarrymen from North Wales’ slate quarries took part – collectively they had subscribed more than £1,200 (over £100,000 today, according to the Bank of England’s inflation calculator) towards the costs of establishing the college.

The college was established after much campaigning for more higher education in Wales. St David’s College, Lampeter had been established in 1822, but focused mostly on the education of clergy. University College Aberystwyth had been founded in 1872. But this left large parts of Wales without easy access to higher education, and a decision was taken (in Westminster, naturally) to create additional university colleges in North and South Wales. The college in South Wales – the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire – became Cardiff University. And Bangor was chosen as the site for the University College of North Wales.

Was the Bangor Town Council supportive? Definitely. But only up to a point. Here’s an extract from the North Wales Chronicle of 4 October 1884, reporting on a meeting called to plan the opening festivities for the University College. Reporting on a speech given in Welsh by Mr Henry Lewis:

Under similar circumstances, the Town Council of Cardiff contributed £10,000 towards a similar institution. Well, he didn’t intend proposing that they in Bangor should do anything of the sort …

Iechyd da

His much cheaper plan was that the Town Council fit out the College dining room. Clearly Henry Lewis was a very practical man. And, to be fair, Bangor was not as rich a town as Cardiff.

Initially the University College was located in the Penrhyn Arms, an old coaching inn.

Students were enrolled for University of London degrees, as the University College had no powers of its own. The establishment of the University of Wales in 1893 partially addressed this – it was a federal university, with three founding members; the University Colleges of Aberystwyth, South Wales and Monmouthshire, and North Wales.

In 1903 the Town Council donated a 10-acre site to the University College, and with much local fundraising, work began in 1907 on a new building. The Main Building – which is the one shown in the card – opened in 1911. The Penrhyn Arms were still in use, though – the College’s science departments stayed there until 1926, when fundraising by the North Wales Heroes Memorial enabled new buildings on the main site.


As was the case for nearly all higher education institutions, the 1960s saw considerable growth in number of students, with new buildings to match. In 1965 calamity was thirty-minutes away: a crane used in the construction of an extension to the electrical engineering building collapsed, sending a three-ton counterweight through a lecture theatre which would soon have been full of students.

Bangor also expanded by merger. Two teaching training colleges became part of the University – St Mary’s College (which taught women) in 1977; Normal College, Bangor followed in 1996.

In 2007 the University of Wales became a confederal, rather than a federal university. (The difference is that in the new arrangements the Welsh HEIs were no longer members – each gained the power to award degrees). At this point, Prifysgol Bangor/Bangor University was created.

Pedants will take delight in noting that the card – which dates from well before 2007 – is therefore technically incorrectly captioned.

The university’s motto is Gorau dawn deall; which translates as “the best gift is knowledge”.

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