In this Southlands College Reef Reads review for Local and Community History Month, Barat House resident Anne writes about the book The Story of Roehampton University by Nigel Watson (Third Millenium, 2010).
I read this book for a placement I did with the Roehampton Alumni team.
We were researching astonishing females who completed their degree at Roehampton throughout various periods during the twentieth and twenty-first century. The Story of Roehampton University contained facts and interesting titbits about ninety-five percent of the ladies I was researching, so it was a tremendous help for me. However, I did not just find facts about women like Eglantine Jebb, Esther Lawrence or Sister Bernadette Porter. This book also revealed a treasure trove of interesting and fascinating historical facts, developments and names that people outside the University would recognise. And it gives little insights into cultural history throughout the decades and how the colleges of Roehampton University managed to influence it.
The book takes a chronological approach to the history of each individual college, as well as rather detailed facts about the process of coming together, having all four colleges on one site and eventually of getting recognition as a university. Illustrated with relevant photographs of each time in its history, these pictures really make the book come to life and relatable to the reader.
If I had to describe the book in three words, I would choose fascinating, intriguing and informative. I would add a fourth one, relatable. Yes, the book is talking about events and developments throughout the history of the four colleges, but it also talks about its students, who was able to attend college, non-academic activities and even the development of today’s chaplaincy team. All these things a student at Roehampton in 2021 can relate to.
What this book has taught me is how many powerful women brought each college and now the university forwards. A great portion of Roehampton’s history was written and influenced by women, some of them quite forward-thinking for their time. From Molly Brearley “advertising” and talking about Froebel college on the radio, to Sister Bernadette Porter becoming Vice Chancellor of the University and overseeing its recognition as an independent university, which is something I was not aware of before.
The book is a hardcover book, easy to read, but with enough detail to give you an insight into Roehampton’s and England’s cultural and social history, largely throughout the twentieth century. It has stories from each decade, what students had to do during big, life changing events, like World War Two and how some colleges, due to these circumstances, had to be relocated over and over again. It contains references to archival notes and documents that, with permission, can be accessed in each college archive on campus. I believe the book itself can be found in the library, certainly the staff should be able to tell you.
I highly recommend this book as it is a great background read as well as giving a different perspective on things and makes you see things in a different light.
Anne is a second year History student and member of the Barat House Community, an intentional community of students on campus. Applications are open to be part of the community next year. For more information, please contact Bill Topping.