The history of Durham University

Durham University was founded in 1832, making it amongst the oldest universities in the UK. From the very beginning, Durham University has followed a collegiate structure, the first of which was University College (more colloquially known as ‘Castle’). Following this, in January 1833, the library was established in Palace Green, and students can still browse the 1.6 million printed items contained within this almost two-centuries-old building.

Michaelmas Term began in 1833, where the grand-total of 23 students embarked upon their education journey. Popular subjects differed to what it is today – currently Durham University’s most popular courses include: physics, economics, law, psychology and geography. In contrast to this, 18 of those 1833 students were enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts course, and 5 were enrolled on the theology licence course.

The following year, sports and societies began to emerge. In 1834, the Durham Regatta, the second oldest in the country, was formed by the university, along with Durham School and Durham Boat Club – an event that continues to this day and is regarded as one of the biggest summer sporting events in Durham.

University College was followed with the founding of Hatfield College in 1846 – making it the second-oldest college belonging to Durham University. Hatfield College is currently considered to be the poshest college in Durham, due to the remarkable fact that 56.23 per cent of Hatfield’s student body attended private education. This figure is alarming when considering the fact that only 7 per cent of British students attend independent education in the first place; however, this is not the only staggering fact surrounding Hatfield College. In 1846 Hatfield was named ‘Bishop Hatfield’s Hall’, and it was founded in order to provide more economical accommodation for students, as University College required their students to furnish their own rooms, employ their own servants, and buy their own food. This economical barrier deterred students from attending Durham University, and the founding of Hatfield College was the solution to bridging these economic limitations.

David Melville, the first Master of Hatfield, followed a different structure to University College. Instead, if you attended Hatfield College: all rooms were furnished and had shared servants, meals were communally provided and consumed in the Hall, and commons rates were known in advance and fixed at an affordable point.

Despite the fact that Hatfield College is no longer considered the college one from an economically disadvantaged background attends, it did revolutionise the collegiate system across the world, and is still largely followed by every college belonging to Durham University today.

Currently, Durham consistently ranks amongst the top 10 universities in the UK. It is now home to 17 colleges – the latest being South College which opened in 2020. It offers over 200 undergraduate courses, and won the Sports University of the Year in 2023. Needless to say, Durham University has evolved and expanded greatly since 1832, but every once in a while, if you stop and look around, you will find glimpses of its history.

There is something special about Durham University. Whether it’s the legacy behind it, the outstanding architecture, the atmosphere, or the beautiful landscape, Durham is a city that stays with you for life.

Featured image: taken by Kirsten Meek

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Our YouTube Channel