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Visiting the Old College, Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth, Wales: a mature seat of learning dating from 1872

Updated on January 6, 2015
Flag of Wales
Flag of Wales | Source
Old College, Aberystwyth, on a stormy day
Old College, Aberystwyth, on a stormy day | Source
The former Cambria Hotel, Aberystwyth, now University building
The former Cambria Hotel, Aberystwyth, now University building | Source

Distinguished in every sense

Founded in 1872, the precursor of what is now Aberystwyth University (Welsh: Prifysgol Aberystwyth) was housed in a former hotel, on the town's seafront on Cardigan Bay (Welsh: Bae Ceredigion). From small beginnings, and through battles against the odds — not least, wind, and the perceived, relative isolation of the town of Aberystwyth — the University has grown to its current size of nearly 15,000 students.

The Old College (Welsh: Yr Hen Goleg) building, as a former hotel, is a curious mixture of Romanesque and Gothic features. Conical towers and rounded window arches combine with other arches which are pointed to form a rambling, stone structure which resembles something between a Medieval palace and a cathedral.

Interestingly, Thomas Charles Edwards, Principal of the College 1872-1891, said of the former hotel building, when a fire seriously damaged it in 1885, that never should 'the College Chapel revert to 'bar parlour' status nor the library to the billiard room"(1)!

The Federal University of Wales, to which the College was affiliated for many decades, was chartered in 1894; the College thus predated the Federal University by over two decades and its subsequent independence when the University of Wales was dissolved as a Federal institution in 2007 reflects the College's original standing.

Almost from its inception, the contribution of women to the life of the College was substantial. Women were admitted to degree courses from 1884, having already participated in extra-mural courses. In 1896, Princess Alexandra, later Queen Alexandra, opened a Hall of Residence for women students, that bore her name (2). By the end of World War Two, the proportion of women to men students was almost at parity. Lily Newton (1893-1981) was Acting Principal of the College in 1952-53 and subsequently Emeritus Professor of Botany.

Today, most of the University's facilities are based at Penglais, on the outskirts of the town, and elsewhere. Entities which remain housed at the Old College include the Welsh and Education Departments and much of the University's Administration.

Distinguished former students of the University have included: HRH Charles, Prince of Wales (1948-); Gwynfor Evans (1912-2005), first Plaid Cymru Member of Parliament; Sir Glanmor Williams (1920-2005), Welsh historian; Belinda Earl (1961-), former Chief Executive of Debenhams and Jaeger; Cledwyn Hughes, Baron Cledwyn of Penrhos (1916-2001); former Minister and Leader of the Opposition in the British House of Lords; Frederick Elwyn Jones, Baron Elwyn-Jones (1909-1989), Lord Chancellor of Great Britain; and many others.

Distinguished faculty of the University have included: historian E. H. Carr (1892-1982); Leopold Kohr (1909-1994), economist and political scientist; F. Gwendolen Rees (1906-1994), FRS, zoologist; Joseph Parry (1841-1903), composer; D. Gwenallt Jones (1899-1968), Welsh language poet; and many others.

January 6, 2015


(1) Ben Bowen Thomas, "Aber", Gwasg Prifysgol |Cymru / University of Wales Press, 1972, p. 19.

(2) D. Emrys Evans, The University of Wales: A Historical Sketch, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1953, p. 53.

Some sourcing: Wikipedia

Joseph Parry (1841-1903), composer, circa 1875
Joseph Parry (1841-1903), composer, circa 1875 | Source
F. Gwendolen Rees (1906-1994), FRS, zoologist
F. Gwendolen Rees (1906-1994), FRS, zoologist | Source

Also worth seeing

In Aberystwyth itself, like the Old College, the Medieval Castle (Welsh: Castell Aberystwyth) is also situated a short distance from the seafront, at Cardigan Bay (Welsh: Bae Ceredigion); the National Library of Wales (Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru), housed in a fine, heritage building, is located at Penglais, overlooking the town. An observation which can be made is that the town of Aberystwyth is easy to get to know by foot.


How to get there: United Airlines flies to London Heathrow Airport, from where car rental is available. London Heathrow is 360 kilometres from Aberystwyth. A rail service exists between London Euston and Aberystwyth, with a change at Birmingham. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. It is advisable to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada

Map of Ceredigion, Wales
Map of Ceredigion, Wales | Source


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