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Higher education postcard: Writtle University College

This week’s card from Hugh Jones’ postbag takes us to the wonderful Essex countryside
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.

Greetings from Essex!

It’s 13 February 1894, and the Essex Herald is carrying an enticing offer:

The NEW Central CHEMICAL and BIOLOGICAL LABORATORIES at DUKE-STREET, CHELMSFORD, being now COMPLETED, will be OPEN FOR INSPECTION on TUESDAY, Feb. 20, 1894, at Seven o’clock p.m. A Series of interesting Experiments and Exhibits will be shown, and short Demonstrations given during the Evening. Mr. ANDREW JOHNSTON, Chairman of the Council, will take the Chair at 7.15.

Known as the County Laboratories, these provided a resource for agriculture and horticulture in the county. As the Essex Weekly News of 29 June 1894 opined:

There can… be no two opinions about the practical value of the experiments carried out at the County Laboratories… Why cannot these experiments be extended over a wider area, to include all the principal description of soil to be found on our Essex farms? If more money were devoted to this purpose, and if the results obtained were afterwards fully and freely published in a form which any ordinary farmer could understand, it would probably benefit a hundred agriculturalists where a college could only benefit ten.

This was in response, it seems, to an idea, possibly jointly with Kent County Council, that an agricultural college be established.

By 1902 the laboratories, now known as the County Technical Laboratories, were offering a winter school of agriculture, comprising courses in agricultural chemistry and physics, agricultural biology and zoology, and practical agriculture.

Instruction is given on the cultivation of the soil, the growth of crops, and the rearing of stock, based upon a knowledge of the science on which agriculture depends. The Lectures on the practical side of the subject will be supplemented by Field Demonstrations and visits to well-known farms, and those upon Botany and Chemistry will be accompanied by practical laboratory work. (Essex Weekly News, Friday 31 October 1902)

The desire for teaching had clearly overcome the desire for research.

By 1912 the laboratories had become the East Anglian Institute of Agriculture. The winter school was still offered, but also short courses in subjects such as dairying. Courses were free to residents of Essex.

In 1940 the institute moved from Chelmsford to Writtle. Now the Essex Institute of Agriculture (take that, Norfolk and Suffolk!), the institute occupied an estate which includes the site of one of King John’s hunting lodges, reflecting its time as a manor within the royal demesne. It hosted short courses for the Women’s Land Army in Essex during the second world war.

In 1969 it became Writtle Agricultural College, and was offering higher level programmes in agriculture. In 1989 it became simply Writtle College, and in 2016 Writtle University College, reflecting the granting of taught degree awarding powers in 2015.

The enticing venue shown on the card is Writz Restaurant, the one-time campus eatery, now rather less puntastically known as the Garden Room. Sic transit gloria mundi.

One response to “Higher education postcard: Writtle University College

  1. And just under 100 years after that first fateful exhibition in Dukes Street, my mate Dave got thrown feet first out of a nightclub on the same street called… Duke’s. Writzy indeed…

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