One of the most interesting transactions in the time of the Commonwealth, so far as the North of England was concerned, was the proposed erection of a College at Durham. In 1650, “several persons of fortune” in the city and county of Durham, the county of Northumberland, and the town and county of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, addressed the Lord Protector, Cromwell, setting forth the disadvantages arising from the great distance of this part of the country from Oxford and Cambridge, and praying that the houses of the dean and prebendaries, which were going to decay, might be converted into a college for the instruction of youth. Cromwell’s answer came from Edinburgh, just before the “crowning mercy” of Dunbar. He highly approved of the suggestion, which he recommended to Parliament in a letter to Lenthall, the Speaker, in which he said it was “a matter of great concernment and importance which (by the blessing of God) might much conduce to the promoting of learning and piety in these poore, rude, and ignorant parts, there being also many concurring advantages to this place, as pleasantness and aptness of situation, healthfull aire, and plenty of provisions, which seeme to favour and plead for theire desires therein.” “And besides the good, so obvious to us, which those Northern Counties may reap ‘thereby, who knows,” continued the Protector, “but the setting on foot this work at this time may suit with God’s present dispensations, and may, if due care and circumspection be used in the right constituting and carrying on the same, tend to, and by the blessing of God produce, such happy and glorious fruits as are scarce thought on or forseen.” The subject was again pressed upon the Parliament in the following year, by petition from the grand jury at the Durham county assizes; and thereon a committee of the House reported “that the said houses (of the Dean and Chapter) were a fit place to erect a college or school for all the sciences and literature.” It was not, however, till 1657 that “Oliver, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and the dominions thereto belonging,” issued his letters patent for the erection of the new college. It is a remarkable document, showing no small skill on the part of its author. A synopsis of the proposed constitution, which is too long to give here, may be found in the Rev. J. L. Low’s “Diocesan History of Durham.” That gentleman says: “It was in many respects an admirable scheme, not the least of its merits consisting in giving an interest to the nobility and gentry in carrying it out. “But the new college soon excited the jealousy of the ancient Universities, both of which protested against its establishment, and particularly against the power of conferring degrees being granted to it. This protest would have had no weight with the Lord Protector, but his death unhappily prevented the completion of the scheme. The provost and fellows of the new institution made application to his son and successor, Richard, for power to carry it out, alleging that it had been “left au orphan scarce bound up in its swaddling clothes,” though it had been “planted by a hand which never miscarried in any of its high and magnanimous achievements.” But, as. is well known, Richard’s power lasted only a very short time; and at the Restoration, the new seminary, from which so much good was expected, shared the fate of the Commonwealth itself.
It is a singular fact that George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends, assumed to himself the consequence, and what he sincerely thought the merit, of having been the means of preventing Durham becoming the seat of a University during the interregnum. He tells us in his journal that, when he came to Durham in 1567, he found a man there who had come down from London “to set up a college there to make men ministers of Christ, as they said.” And he goes on to say: “I went with some others to reason with the man, and to let him see that to teach men Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, and the seven arts, which was all but the teachings of the natural man, was not the way to make them ministers of Christ; for the languages began at Babel; and to the Greeks, that spake Greek as their mother-tongue, the cross of Christ was but foolishness; and to the Jews, that spoke Hebrew as their mother-tongue, Christ was a stumbling-block; and as for the Romans, who had the Latin and Italian, they persecuted the Christians; and Pilate, one of the Romans, set Hebrew, Greek, and Latin a-top of Christ when he crucified him; and John the Divine, who preached the Word that was in the beginning, said that the beast and the whore had power over tongues and languages, and they are as waters.” Thereupon said he to the man: “Dost thou think to make ministers of Christ by the natural and confused languages which sprang from Babel, are admired in Babel, and set a-top of Christ by a persecutor? Oh, no! So the man confessed to many of these things, and, when we had thus discoursed with him, he became very loving and tender, and after he had considered further of it, he never set up his college.”
After a lapse of one hundred and seventy years, the idea of a Northern University was revived. Bishop Van Mildert, the last of the prince-bishops who filled the see of St. Cuthbert, in conjunction with the Dean and Chapter, made application to Parliament in 1832 for leave to appropriate lands for the foundation and maintenance of a University, for the training of divinity students and conferring degrees in other faculties. The application was successful, and the Dean and Chapter were empowered to give up for this purpose an estate at South Shields of the net annual value of £1,710. The Bishop also gave temporary assistance to the extent of £1,000 for the first year, and of £2,000 for subsequent years, until his death in 1836. Besides these benefactions, his lordship gave up the Castle of Durham, for the use of the one college of which the foundation at first consisted. But the intentions of Dr. Van Mildert respecting the endowment were not for some years fully carried out, in consequence of the appointment in 1833 of the Ecclesiastical Commission, whose duty it was to render the property of the Church more available than it had hitherto been in promoting the purposes for which it was intended. In 1841, however, on the recommendation of these Commissioners, an order in council was procured, by which other Chapter estates, situated in the immediate neighbourhood of the city of Durham, and of the average net annual value of £3,700, were made over for the same object. This order attached the office of Warden permanently to the Deanery, and annexed a canonry in the Cathedral to each of the professorships of Divinity and Greek, so that the institution had thenceforward at its disposal a net sum of £5,410 annually, exclusive of the fees of students and other benefactions subsequently made to it.
The University was first opened for the reception of students on the 28th of October, 1833, when forty-five young men were entered upon the books. It consisted at this time of a Warden (Archdeacon Thorpe), a Professor of Divinity (Rev. H. F. Rose), a Professor of Greek (Rev. H. Jenkins), a Professor of Mathematics (Rev. James Carr), and readers in natural philosophy, moral philosophy, chemistry, languages, law, and medicine.
The Act of 1832 had vested the government of the University in the Dean and Chapter, empowering them, with the consent of the Bishop, to frame all necessary regulations for its establishment and continuance. In pursuance of this power, a statute was made in July, 1835, by which the Bishop was declared visitor, and the Dean and Chapter governors, the affairs of the University being ordered to be arranged by a Warden, a Senate, and a Convocation.
In 1837, the work of the institution was completed by a Royal Charter, which made the University a body corporate, with perpetual succession and a common seal. The document was formally received in Convocation, sitting in the magnificent Castle Hall, which was characterised by Sir Walter Scott, on his visit to Durham, as a room which in proportion and beauty was equal, if not superior, to the finest halls in either Oxford or Cambridge. This was on the 8th of June in the above year; and a number of degrees were granted on the occasion.
Convocation consisted originally of the Warden, and of a certain number of doctors and masters in the faculties of divinity, law, medicine, and arts, from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. At present it consists of all such persons, besides such of the original members as have been regularly admitted to the like degrees in the University of Durham, and have conformed to the regulations thereof. The Senate, as at present composed, consists of the Warden, the Professors of Divinity, Greek, and Mathematics, the two Proctors, and live other members of Convocation, one of whom is elected by convocation, one by the fellows of the University, one by the Newcastle College of Medicine, and one by the Newcastle College of Physical Science, while one is appointed by the Dean and Chapter.
The University now contains four teaching faculties: those of Arts and Theology being carried on at Durham itself, and those of Science and Medicine at Newcastle-upon-Tyne; and, roughly speaking, the number of students at each place is about two hundred. There are many valuable foundation scholarships, private foundations, exhibitions, fellowships, and prizes attached to the University; and there has been a long succession of eminent professors and tutors, some of whom occupy or have occupied very prominent situations.
The University has the power of founding as many colleges or halls as may be necessary. It contains at present one college and one hall. University College occupies the Castle of Durham and the buildings adjoining. Bishop Hatfield’s Hall, with its chapel, is situated in the North Bailey, and is in near proximity to the Cathedral, Castle, University Libraries, and Lecture Rooms. The members of each society are subject to the same discipline, are under the same tutors, and are eligible generally to the same endowments. The average annual expenses of a student at University College, including those of the University as well as the College, are calculated at £80 to £85; at Bishop Hatfield’s Hall at £70 to £77.
No subscription or test is required of any member of the University, with the exception that no person can become a licentiate in theology, or take any degree in theology, unless he has previously declared in writing that he is bona fide a member of the Church of England as by law established. The public divine service of the University is that of the Cathedral Church of Durham, but no student who is not a member of the Church of England is obliged to attend the services.
There is an excellent library attached to the institution. It was founded by Bishop Van Mildert, and has since been largely increased by the addition of other collections, particularly that of the late Dr. Routh, the learned President of Magdalen College, Oxford, consisting of upwards of 20,000 volumes. It is accommodated partly in the same building as Bishop Cosen’s, which also serves as the Convocation House, and partly in the adjoining building, erected for the Exchequer of the Palatinate by Bishop Neville. With the library of the Dean and Chapter, Bishop Cosen’s, and the University library, few places are better supplied with the means of study and research out of London and the two ancient Universities. There is likewise a Museum attached to the institution, and an Observatory besides.
The undergraduates of the University, having this year resolved on holding a Commemoration Day, so as to rid themselves of what they have for some time regarded as a sort of reproach, seeing that Oxford has its world-famous Commemoration, Cambridge its May Week, and every public school in the kingdom its Speech Day and other annual galas, it was duly celebrated on the 24th and 25th of June. Nearly a thousand tickets were issued for the various events connected with it. The proceedings began with a cricket match against Old Harrovians, when the “Varsity ground, the finest in the North of England, presented a very animated and pleasing appearance, being thronged with students in their many-coloured blazers,” and their lady friends in their quite-as-many-coloured dresses. The match had a most exciting finish, and finally ended in a win for the home team by five runs. In the evening, the University concert attracted a large gathering; and next day Convocation was held in the magnificent Castle Hall, which has recently been enriched with a fine oak screen and a dado of oak. The proceedings lasted about an hour, after which there was a garden party in the Castle grounds, at which was present a large gathering of both University and Chapter dons. In the evening, between nine and ten o’clock, there was a procession of boats on the Wear, to see which the townspeople turned out in great numbers; and a pretty sight it was, as the boats, decked with Chinese lanterns and flambeaux, passed and repassed between Hatfield Hull and the Prebend’s Bridge. Several of the gondolas were exceptionally attractive, much ingenuity and skill having been brought to bear on their decoration. The grand massing of the boats took place immediately below the bridge, from which the view was both weird and bewitching. As the craft crowded together, with one containing a representation of Cleopatra’s Needle in the centre, the scene was one blaze of light, whilst the occasional burning of coloured lights, and the sending up of rockets, lit up the wooded banks of the Wear and the old grey towers of the Cathedral overhead, producing an effect such as can seldom be witnessed elsewhere.
The combined offices of Dean of Durham and Warden of the University are occupied by Dr. William Charles Lake, who succeeded Dean Waddington in 1869. He is the son of Captain Lake, was born in January, 1817, and was educated at Rugby under Dr. Arnold, whence he was elected, in 1834, to a scholarship at Balliol College, Oxford, where he graduated B.A., taking first-class honours in classics. He also obtained the Latin Essay, became fellow, and tutor of his college, proctor, and assistant preacher and public examiner in classics and in modern history. He was appointed by Lord Panmure member of a commission to report on the state of military education in France, Piussla, Austria, and Sardinia, and submitted, in 1856, conjointly with Colonel Yolland, R.E., a report on the subject to both Houses of Parliament. He was again appointed, in 1858, member of the Royal Commission, under the presidency of the Duke of Newcastle, to report on the state of popular education in England. In the same year, he was presented by his college to the living of Huntspill, Somersetshire; and was appointed by the Bishop of London preacher at the Chapel-Royal of Whitehall. On the death of Dr. Waddington, in July, 1869, he was chosen to succeed him. The dean has his residence in the College.