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History of Britain’s largest Catholic university to be chronicled in new book

By Sean Ryan - 02 April, 2017

The history of Britain’s largest Catholic university will be chronicled ahead of a major anniversary in two years time.

St Mary’s University, Twickenham, London will celebrate its 170th anniversary in 2020. The milestone for the university will be celebrated by the production of a book chronicling the full history of the establishment.

Catholic historian and writer Joanna Bogle has been appointed Visiting Research Fellow at the university and will be working on the project over the next three years, under the guidance of St Mary’s Pro Vice-Chancellor for Academic Strategy Prof John Charmley.
Speaking this week, Prof Charmley commented, “In launching our Vision 2025 strategy last year, we set out how we were building on the foundations and achievements of St Mary’s past to meet contemporary and future challenges, and in that spirit we are proud to announce that we have commissioned the well-known Catholic writer, Joanna Bogle, to write our official history.

“Joanna will be tracing that history from our foundation by the Church to provide teachers for the poor, to its current status as Britain’s premier Catholic university. We hope that all alumni, neighbours and past and present staff, will respond to her appeal to get in touch with their memories of St Mary’s, and we look forward to the launch of the book in 2020 – our 170th anniversary.”

Founded in Hammersmith with just a handful of students, St Mary’s was established to train teachers for what were then known as Catholic Poor Schools. The year 1850 saw the re-establishment of the Catholic hierarchy in Britain, with bishops and dioceses replacing the vicars apostolic. It was a time of rapid growth in the numbers of Catholics, and new schools and churches were being built, especially in the large cities.

With an original intake of just six students, the student body of St Mary’s has now grown to around 6,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students across the four academic schools. On 23 January 2014, it was awarded full university title by the Privy Council and became St Mary’s University, Twickenham. St Mary’s degree conferment ceremonies are held in either the campus chapel or Westminster Cathedral, London.

Speaking of the forthcoming project, Joanna Bogle said: “It will be a privilege to research and write up the full history of this remarkable institution. The early years make fascinating reading. Funds were scarce and the life was tough and strict. The first students had bread and dripping for breakfast, a hot dinner at midday, and bread and dripping again for tea. They had an afternoon off on Wednesdays and Sundays but had to be back in College at 7 pm. And they did get beer – but said it tasted like vinegar! Today’s modern university belongs to a different era – to discover the heritage of the past is something that is immensely enriching. St Mary’s is conscious of having a great tradition.”

St Mary’s moved to Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, in the 1920s, acquiring the remarkable gothic mansion built by Horace Walpole, and adding new buildings to create a beautiful campus set in attractive grounds. Over the years, it has trained thousands of teachers for Catholic schools in Britain and overseas. Today, as London’s only Catholic university, it offers degrees in a range of subjects from theology to sports management, and has Olympic-standard sports facilities. It hosted Pope Benedict XVI during his State Visit to Britain 2010.

Joanna Bogle is the author of some twenty books, including several historical biographies. She writes regularly for the Catholic press in Britain and the USA, and leads history walks around London. She holds an MA in Theology from St Mary’s.

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