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The University of London, 1858-1900

The University of London, 1858-1900: The Politics of Senate and Convocation

F.M.G. Willson
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 488
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  • Book Info
    The University of London, 1858-1900
    Book Description:

    In 1858 the University - in reality an examining board - opened its non-medical examinations to candidates irrespective of how they prepared themselves. At the same time, graduates could join the newly established Convocation, for four decades empowered to veto changes in the University's Charter, choose a quarter of the governing body the Senate, and, from 1868, elect the University's MP. This book analyses the delicate and often stressful relations of Senate and Convocation, covering the long struggle over admission of women to degrees; the contribution of the University to secondary education; the establishment of the University's seat in the House of Commons, and the subsequent elections of Members. Later chapters describe the extended campaign to change the institution into an orthodox university, and the political struggles and academic manoeuvring that attended the process. F.M.G. WILLSON has retired from an academic and administrative career in Zimbabwe, North America, London and Australia.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-239-9
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Portraits
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Sources
    (pp. ix-ix)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    For two decades, since its establishment in 1836, the University of London made slow and often halting progress. Founded, primarily, to provide a route through higher education for those denied entry to Oxford and Cambridge, it was a peculiar institution. In effect, it was a Government department, in the form of a board of examiners with power to matriculate students and to award degrees. But this board was called the Senate; its chief officers were a Chancellor and a Vice-Chancellor; and its other members were Fellows. In fact it had the trappings of a university, but not its most obvious...


    • 1 The Senate
      (pp. 13-19)

      Neither the Charter of 1858, nor the subsequent Charter of 1863, nor the Supplemental Charters of 1867 and 1878, changed the overall size of the governing body, the Senate, which had been fixed in the original version, in 1836. Its formal composition continued to be a Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor plus thirty-six Fellows. The Chancellor and the Fellows were appointed by the Crown and held office during good behaviour: the Vice-Chancellor was elected by the Senate from amongst the Fellows, and was subject to annual re-election. However, from 1858 onwards, while all Fellows continued to be appointed by the Crown, the...

    • 2 Convocation: membership and participation
      (pp. 20-26)

      Convocation immediately became a major force in the University’s affairs, continuing to exert the pressure which had been exercised for the previous ten years, with campaigning zeal, by the Graduates’ Committee. But the early ambition of the graduates, which had been, in effect, to make Convocation the governing body of the University, had been severely disappointed. In addition to being authorised to regulate its own business, the significant powers given to the new body were to nominate candidates for up to a quarter of the seats on the Senate: to veto the acceptance of any new Charter or the surrender...

    • 3 Convocation: the Annual Committee
      (pp. 27-31)

      Convocation devised its internal political arrangements in the months after its inauguration. The Charter of 1858 had provided that the Chairman should be elected for three years, and would be eligible for re-election. Convocation decided to elect its Clerk every year. In addition there was to be an elected Annual Committee, initially with thirty-two members, but enlarged in 1862 by the addition,ex officio, of any member of Convocation who was a Fellow. In 1862 this meant only seven additional,ex officio, members, but from the end of the 1880s onwards there were never less than twenty. From its inception...

    • 4 Personages, officers, and examiners
      (pp. 32-42)

      The Senate and the Annual/Standing Committee of Convocation provided the University with its political activists, from whom, in turn, were drawn almost all its political elite. But before analysing their relationship, their attendance and their participation, it is as well to consider other important figures in the University’s affairs. Titular leaders – the Chancellors, Vice-Chancellors and Chairmen of Convocation – were particularly capable of being politically active; but nonetheless their special status did set them apart somewhat from the rest. The same could be said for those who won, or contested unsuccessfully, the University’s parliamentary seat from 1868 onwards. The very small...

    • 5 The political community
      (pp. 43-48)

      What is clear from the foregoing chapter is that the top personages, the parliamentary politicians, the few senior officials, and no small proportion of the examiners, were almost all so closely associated with either the Senate, or with the Annual Committee of Convocation, or with both, that the collective behaviour of the two bodies really embraced most of the contributions made by those special, small groups to the political life of the University community. And the Senate, whose formal membership remained unchanged throughout at thirty eight, and the Committee, whose formal size increased over the years from thirty-two to about...


    • 6 Convocation’s medical militants
      (pp. 51-68)

      Convocation met for the first time on 4 May 1858. A list of signatures of those present contains 153 names, but whether there were others at the gathering is uncertain.¹ Charles James Foster was elected Chairman, William Shaen Acting Clerk, and a committee of twelve members was set up to prepare Standing Orders and other organisational proposals to lay before a meeting to be held on 10 November. During the following months, that Committee, on its own and in co-operation with a parallel body appointed by the Senate, worked out the details within the overall provisions of the Charter, which...

    • 7 The ambitions of Charles James Foster
      (pp. 69-82)

      By the autumn of 1863, Convocation had been in existence for four and a half years, and, by then, its activists had accommodated themselves – if not without some resentment – to the legal and practical limits of their involvement in the University’s affairs, and had survived a period of difficult internal relations between some of their medical members and the majority. There was still one early constitutional adjustment to be made, within the Annual Committee, which would involve the medical graduates sharing their sixteen places with graduates in Science: but that seems to have been accepted without controversy. The framework thus...


    • 8 The campaign and defeat of Elizabeth Garrett
      (pp. 85-97)

      Two major political issues had arisen before 1865 and continued to be highly significant after that year. The first – the question of attaining a place in the House of Commons for a representative of the graduates of the University of London – had been on the agenda of the Graduates’ Committee since at least 1851, and had received the blessing of the leadership of both main political parties, in principle, in the early 1850s. The Senate took up the case after Convocation was established, and, as will be seen in Part IV, the seat was at last obtained in the Reform...

    • 9 The General Examination for Women
      (pp. 98-116)

      The National Association for the Promotion of Social Science held its first London meeting in June, 1862, and devoted one of its sessions to a discussion of the expediency of granting degrees at the universities to women. William Shaen moved that the Council of the Association . . .

      should represent to the Senate of the University of London the desirableness of their undertaking the duty of affording women an opportunity of testing their attainments in the more solid branches of learning.¹

      Shaen added to his analysis of the recent voting in Senate. He and Foster focussed on the importance...

    • 10 The consequences of Gurney’s Act
      (pp. 117-127)

      In January, 1876, Convocation reiterated its desire to see the degree examinations of the University extended to women. But this only happened after another debate which revolved around whether or not the University should offer, to women, degrees in Arts alone. And as before, it would seem that the apparent repetition of a proposal to seek entry to degrees in Arts only was due to a conviction that there was a real chance that pressure from the schools lobby would be enough to swing Senate behind it, and an equal conviction that progress could not be made if any desire...

    • 11 Constitutional complications: Parliament or Charter?
      (pp. 128-139)

      The Senate did not have the question of degrees for women on its agenda at its meetings on 25 April and 9 May, 1877. But on 8 May the Annual Meeting of Convocation saw the whole debate over the entry of women to medical degrees widened by the raising of sophisticated issues of timing and by the introduction of constitutional controversy. Not at first, however, because Nesbitt and Bennett began by moving the resolution previously adopted by the rather grudgingly small vote in the Annual Committee, recommending Convocation to thank the Senate for deciding to admit women to degrees in...

    • 12 The final hurdle
      (pp. 140-144)

      A reading of the formal documents of the meetings in the autumn of 1877, however sparse and clinical they are, nonetheless gives a strong impression that all concerned had come to realise that a resolution of the long argument over the admission of women to the University’s examinations was overdue. After the final settlement of the issue early in 1878, the Registrar, W.B. Carpenter, told the Home Secretary that

      There seems a very general feeling that the higher Education of Women should be encouraged by Academical Honours; and that the University of London should take the lead in such recognition,...


    • 13 A trial run
      (pp. 147-154)

      The University’s case for parliamentary representation had been looked on favourably in the early 1850s, and supported in principle by both major parties. Derby and Disraeli had approved the notion when in office in 1852, but had made it clear that the new University, whose graduates were not yet legally recognised as an integral part of the institution, was too immature.¹ Subsequently, the Crimean War, a decade of shifting parliamentary opinion, and a long spell of Palmerstonian indifference, delayed further change to the representative system until the Second Reform Act of 1867. But the second Derby/Disraeli Government, coming into power...

    • 14 Choosing Robert Lowe
      (pp. 155-168)

      After the hope that a seat in the House of Commons would be given to the University of London was disappointed, in 1859–61, it was to be five years before the mood in Parliament shifted decisively, again, towards further reform of the representation of the people. After Palmerston’s death in October, 1865, Russell’s short-lived Government tried to introduce legislation, but its members were divided, and took the opportunity of defeat by the Opposition on an amendment to resign. Lord Derby formed an Administration, with Disraeli leading in the Commons, in June, 1866, and fourteen months later the Royal Assent...

    • 15 Sir John Lubbock: Liberal into Liberal Unionist
      (pp. 169-180)

      Although the Liberals were defeated at the General Election in February, 1874, Robert Lowe was not opposed, and continued to represent the University until 1880. He must have retained the support of so many of the graduates as to make the prospect of unseating him seem remote, in 1874, even though he had lost popularity in the country and had been moved from the Treasury to the Home Office following ‘financial irregularities’ at the Post Office, for which he had a shared ministerial responsibility. There are no University records of the 1874 election, and there was very little press comment....


    • 16 The schools lobby
      (pp. 183-188)

      Three Royal Commissions and a Select Committee of the House of Commons produced significant reports on Education during the 1860s. Two of the Royal Commissions dealt, respectively, with the two ends of the school spectrum: the provision of elementary education was made the business of a Commission on Popular Education, while there was a separate Commission to deal with the condition of the handful of Public Schools which served the upper classes.

      The Select Committee broke new ground by probing the need for Technical Education. Secondary education, other than that offered in the Public Schools, was the remit of the...

    • 17 Matriculation: Greek or Chemistry?
      (pp. 189-201)

      Before the inspection and examination of schools became prominent as a potential task, Convocation and Senate were embroiled in a controversy which excited academic passions among Fellows and graduates alike. In contention was the compulsory inclusion of Greek as a subject, and the level of achievement required in the Matriculation Examination as a whole. On the one side were the supporters of a classical education; on the other, proponents of more modern studies, especially modern languages and subjects appropriate to preparation for further work in natural science. Behind the arguments over curriculum and stringency were the social divisons and different...

    • 18 Inspection of schools
      (pp. 202-210)

      In the discussions which went on in the mid-nineteenth century about the advisability of introducing what came to be referred to, simply, as the inspection of schools, the process was frequently described as ‘the examination and inspection of schools’. In some of the quotations which follow in this chapter, that phrase is reproduced. But elsewhere in the text, wherever possible, in order to avoid any confusion with the parallel arguments which were going on about the examination of school leavers, ‘examination and inspection of schools’ has been reduced to ‘inspection’.

      The earliest sign of the University’s interest in the idea...

    • 19 Training the teachers: qualifications and registration
      (pp. 211-218)

      With the achievement of a modified Matriculation syllabus, the introduction of inspection of secondary schools, and the admission of women as candidates for degrees, those pushing for an improved education system could concentrate on two last major demands – the acceptance of Education as a subject of University study, and the award, to those who undertook it, of formal qualifications for teaching: and the registration of teachers, which had been promised in Forster’s Bill of 1869, but not achieved a decade later.

      The first shot in the campaign (other than the futile attempt by John Robson to have the notion raised...


    • 20 The case for change
      (pp. 221-226)

      Despite the growing numbers of candidates for its examinations, and its extension of offerings, by the mid-1870s serious questions were being raised about the long-term future of the University of London. This questioning was preliminary to what developed into a major struggle, which began in earnest in 1884, after the Senate’s apparent disinclination to contemplate any significant degree of change, and was to continue until practically the end of the century. Before attempting any narrative and analysis of that struggle, it is as well to offer a brief overview of the major issues and the parties involved.

      In a strictly...

    • 21 Convocation’s pursuit of power and reconstruction
      (pp. 227-242)

      As long ago as 1840, a powerful group in the Senate had agreed on the desirability of creating a convocation, and had envisaged that by about 1850 the Senate would in effect be elected by that convocation.¹ That possibility had been accepted as dead, long before Convocation was established in 1858, but there was resentment and disappointment among many of the graduates about the very limited powers which the new body was given. In the following quarter-century, much of that resentment was doubtless modified by the developing partnership between Senate and Convocation and by the success of Convocation in initiating...

    • 22 One, two, or three universities?
      (pp. 243-258)

      A major attempt to bring about changes in London which would inevitably involve the existing University was three-pronged, and began in the mid-1880s. An attack on all fronts, as it were, was made by a body established in 1884, called the Association for the Promotion of a Teaching University for London – hereinafter the Association. Membership of it was wide, but its basic support was concentrated in UCL and KCL. Those two Colleges were to adopt the main propositions in the Association’s scheme and then to make a determined effort to have themselves recognised as the nucleus of a new Teaching...

    • 23 Things falling apart
      (pp. 259-272)

      Convocation was the first interested party to subject the Association’s original proposals to detailed scrutiny. During the eighteen months of that scrutiny, in 1885– 86, just reviewed, the Association had acquired an Executive Committee, had established faculty panels to consider its proposals in detail, and had held conferences with representatives of most of the institutions who had responded to invitations to become members. As a result, by early in 1886, the Association’s original scheme had been refined, and was deemed to be sufficiently developed for a fully documented version to be presented formally, for their consideration, to the University, UCL,...

    • 24 The Selborne Commission
      (pp. 273-284)

      By the time the petition of UCL and KCL arrived at the Privy Council Office in the summer of 1887, some observers of the higher educational scene were confident that a far more wide-ranging inquiry than hearings of petitions by Privy Council Committees was inevitable. ‘Of course,’ wrote theJournal of Education, on 1 July, ‘there will be a Royal Commission to consider them and the cognate petitions from the Doctors and Surgeons’, and did not doubt ‘that the upshot will be a Teaching University for London’. But despite a steady stream of letters to theTimes, and articles in...

    • 25 Confusion worse confounded
      (pp. 285-297)

      The long vacations of 1889 and 1890 must have been welcome breaks for the participants in the tortuous negotiations which went on relentlessly during the two academic sessions which followed each of them. No attempt is made here to describe and analyse every move: Allchin, who was, throughout this and later periods, Secretary of the Committee of the Royal College of Physicians which took part in the negotiations, gives a detailed account. What follows illustrates the experience of Senate and Convocation in a period of particularly significant shifts of attitude, notable decisions, and signs of hardening opposition to a general...

    • 26 A Charter rejected
      (pp. 298-307)

      Whatever was felt about the very existence of the power which Convocation held to accept or reject a new Charter, none of the parties would have been in any doubt about the crucial significance of the decision which would be taken on 12 May 1891. Defeat for the Senate would mean that UCL and KCL would see their chance of creating the Albert University revived; the Provincial Colleges would face the likelihood of losing their place in a Teaching University, but would retain their influence within the continuing, existing University of London; and the Medical Colleges and Schools would have...

    • 27 One or two universities?
      (pp. 308-322)

      The adverse vote in Convocation gave Cranbrook the opportunity to do what normal procedure, and probably his own private preference, dictated. He could have referred the whole matter back to the Selborne Commissioners, who had suggested such a move if the Senate could not produce an acceptable new Scheme. But given all that had ensued since 1888, and the fact that the Commission’s Report had been not a little equivocal, it was no surprise when the Lord President decided that the Privy Council should now consider the original petition of KCL and UCL for the grant of a new Charter...

    • 28 Neither Albert nor Gresham
      (pp. 323-331)

      Gresham College, and its seven lecturers in the liberal arts, which is sometimes thought of as the very first London University, was established by the will of Sir Thomas Gresham, who died in 1579. By the middle of the nineteenthth century it had a relatively small endowment, and a modest building in the City, which was the venue for popular lectures, rather in the fashion of University Extension exercises. They were delivered by what one of the ‘Gresham Professors’ described – rather too sweepingly – as ‘the best men that could be got for the money’, who would ‘make no pretence to...

    • 29 The Cowper Commission
      (pp. 332-347)

      The Government lost no time in setting up a new Commission. Cranbrook sent off letters of invitation on 29 March, and, though there were clearly one or two changes in his original list, the membership was completed, handed to the Home Office for drafting by 9 April, and announced three weeks later. There are only a few letters which throw light on the choice of Commissioners. Cranbrook had consulted the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Spencer, who had both pushed the claims of Sir Henry Roscoe, as a scientist and as a spokesman for higher education in the North of...

    • 30 Anxiety and division in Convocation
      (pp. 348-366)

      The early reactions to the report of the Cowper Commission were, from most quarters, generally favourable. But the reaction of those presently dominant in the councils of Convocation was hostile. Convocation’s effective executive, the Annual Committee, was, however, subject to election at the General Meeting held at the beginning of May. The sequence of events between early March and early May, 1894, has to be read, therefore, with the forthcoming choice of a new Annual Committee in mind.

      On 28 February – the day after the Report of the Cowper Commissioners was released – the Senate met and appointed a Special Committee...

    • 31 Lions, beaters, and the fall of the Rosebery Government
      (pp. 367-381)

      Both King’s College. and its School, on which it had been heavily reliant, financially, had been losing money and students for several years. In March, 1894, the College’s Council had exhausted its borrowing powers. Appeals to the Church of England and elsewhere had failed to produce sufficient support, and

      Nothing remained except the painful alternatives of either the closing of the college altogether or the acceptance of grants from the public authorities – Her Majesty’s Treasury and London County Council – on such terms as they should dictate.¹

      Such grants from the Treasury, for university colleges, had been introduced in 1889, for...

    • 32 The pre-emptive strike of Sir John Lubbock
      (pp. 382-395)

      At almost the same time that the Government was being defeated in the Commons, on 21 June 1895, news reached Cozens-Hardy and Ramsay, from Lord Playfair, of the approach by Bompas and Napier to the Opposition leaders.

      Bompas, Collins and Co have persuaded Lord Salisbury and the Duke of Devonshire that an amendment to the University Bill should be introduced making it incumbent that Convocation should have a veto andshould be consulted by voting papers.

      Cozens-Hardy was contemptuous but worried: he told Allchin that

      This is childish nonsense. It seems that Napier’s victory has been made great use of...

    • 33 The doubts of the Duke of Devonshire
      (pp. 396-404)

      Dr Wace was not slow to follow up his success, just before the fall of the Rosebery Government, in persuading Lord Salisbury to arrange for draft amendments to be put forward for inclusion in Playfair’s Bill which would protect KCL from the threat of losing its grant of public money, and to ensure that there should be an appeal to the Privy Council from decisions of the proposed Statutory Commission. Those were matters for the longer term, but Dr Wace arranged a meeting with the Prime Minister for 14 August 1895, to discuss the College’s immediate financial problem, and sent...

    • 34 The strength of bishops and provincials
      (pp. 405-417)

      Four times, between 21 February and 9 April 1896, Ministers were asked – thrice by Rollit – what steps were to be taken in the Session to implement the Scheme of reconstruction. Each time, either Gorst or Balfour simply replied that the matter was under the consideration of the Lord President: on 9 April, Gorst told Rollit that the Duke was abroad and there would be ‘no final decision until he returns’.¹ But as early as 10 February, Wynne had been ‘led to understand that the Duke would like to know how the country members voted’, on 21 January. Wynne asked Gregory...

    • 35 A compromise refused
      (pp. 418-429)

      Exactly fifty-one weeks after Sir Richard Webster announced the withdrawal of the Bill of 1896, the same fate befell its successor. But the London University Bill of 1897 was a substantially different piece of potential legislation, its content reflecting major shifts of attitude among the interested parties. In the tortuous negotiations which preceded its introduction into the House of Lords, the possibility of compromise was more pervasive than ever before.

      That possibility, unsurprisingly in retrospect, was due to a recognition by some of those most opposed to the Bill in its existing, though recently rejected form, that the Government had...

    • 36 The insistence of Arthur Balfour
      (pp. 430-445)

      It is very understandable that, after three Bills had been lost in successive years, there were those who felt reform of the University was not a priority of Government, and without being given that priority would always be thwarted in the House of Commons. Such feeling produced the last alternative Scheme to be publicised: it was proposed and supported, almost exclusively, by a sizeable group of teachers in the London Medical Schools.

      The ‘moving spirit’ of the Scheme, which envisaged the establishment, by Charter, of a federal University of Westminster, quite separate from the existing University of London, was Dr...

    • 37 New era — old divisions
      (pp. 446-461)

      It took twenty-six months, after the Royal Assent was given to the London University Act, to complete all the subordinate legislation and to make the final arrangements for the launch of the redesigned University. The country was at war in South Africa throughout most of that period, but that does not appear to have delayed the academic realignment. The Senate and Convocation each had their own interests to protect when the Statutory Commission was drawing up Statutes and Regulations, though the inclusion of so many basic constitutional provisions in the Schedule to the Act made the task of the Commission...

  14. Appendix
    (pp. 462-464)
  15. Index
    (pp. 465-478)