Higher education postcard: University Hall Buckland

This week’s card from Hugh Jones’ postbag shows that independent higher education is not a new thing

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

Buckland House is a country house in Berkshire, described by Pevsner as “the most splendid Georgian house in the country”.

Dating from 1757, it is grade II* listed. Originally the home of a Throckmorton family, in the late 19th or early 20th century it was owned by a family of Fitzgeralds, until in 1962 it was rented out by Major Richard Wellesley.

We’ll now let the Birmingham Post of 9 September 1963 take up the story:

New university hall offers unique chance

A university hall, the first of its kind in Britain is to open at Buckland, near Oxford, on October 14 for 60 undergraduates reading for London University external degrees in arts.

Students with the necessary GCE “A” level passes this summer who have not been able to enter a university will be able to apply for admission.

The hall is housed in a home built for Sir Robert Throckmorton in 1767. All the tutors are tutors at Oxford colleges.

Dr. C K. Francis Brown, modern history tutor at Mansfield College, Oxford, the warden, who is seeing his idea materialise, said: “The hall is unique in that it is fully residential for external students, and it will follow the older universities’ tutorial system.

“I feel very strongly about the cultural poverty of people who are living in lodgings and have to struggle to lectures, and who lack the common life of a residential hall.

“It is time we did something to redress the balance between built-up town living and life In a country setting. I hope in time the hall will be a cultural centre for the district.”

The Ministry of Education has confirmed that undergraduates will be eligible for the full university course awards at the discretion of the local authority. Fees will be £150 a term and there will be the customary means test.

London University undergraduate gowns will be worn, and ties and blazers have been designed.

University Hall Buckland was, initially at least, a success. Reporting in October 2023 on an alumni reunion, the Oxford Mail stated that perhaps 2000-3000 students attended University Hall Buckland over the years. The Stamford Mail, reporting breathlessly on 17 February 1967 on the possibility of a similar hall being established in Stamford, claimed that University Hall Buckland “has already established an outstanding reputation for the number of degrees obtained, particularly in English… and this season its rugby team has been virtually unbeatable among the Oxford colleges.”

But such success as there was did not last. At some point in the late 1970s, apparently under new ownership, the university hall vacated Buckland House, moving nearer to Oxford. It finally closed in 1998.

What different times we live in now. From the get-go at Buckland, students were entitled to local authority support, just as if they’d been attending a more established university. No particular tests were in place to check its business model, governance, or academic standards.

The sharp-eyed amongst you may note that the academic model – students enrol for University of London external degrees – was the same as initially used by the New College of the Humanities. But NCH did not thrive as an autonomous provider, and it is now part of the US Northwestern University.

The card itself was never posted. It identifies the view as Buckland House, University College, Buckland, and so dates from after 1963.

Leave a Reply