Homerton College, Cambridge

Homerton College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge. Its first premises were acquired in London in 1768, by an informal gathering of Protestant dissenters with origins in the seventeenth century. In 1894 the College moved from Homerton High Street, Hackney, London, to Cambridge. Homerton was admitted as an "Approved Society" of the university in 1976, and received its Royal charter in 2010 affirming its status as a full college of the university. The College celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2018.[3]

Homerton College
University of Cambridge
The Cavendish Building, Homerton College
Arms of Homerton College
LocationHills Road (map)
MottoRespice Finem (Latin)
Motto in EnglishLook to the end
Named forHomerton, London, UK
Previous names
Sister colleges
PrincipalGeoff Ward
Endowment£101.3m (as of 30 June 2017)[2]
Boat clubhcbc.org.uk
Location in Cambridge

With around 600 undergraduates, 800 graduates, and 90 fellows, it has more students than any other Cambridge college, but because only half of these are resident undergraduates its undergraduate presence is similar to large colleges such as Trinity and St John's. The College has particularly strong ties to public service as well as academia, having educated many prominent dissenting thinkers, educationalists, politicians, and missionary explorers.[4]

The College has extensive grounds which encompass sports fields, water features, beehives and the focal point of the college, its Victorian Gothic hall. It also has a wide range of student clubs and societies, including Homerton College Boat Club, Homerton College Music Society and the Homerton College Rugby Football Club.


Early history

The College's origins date back to the seventeenth century. In 1695, a Congregation Fund was created in London to educate Calvinist ministers. As non-conformists, they were barred by law from attending Oxbridge colleges, and so received a modern curriculum of study, with particular emphasis on philosophy, science, and modern history.[5] In 1730, a formal society – known as the King's Head Society after the pub at the Royal Exchange where they held their meetings – was founded to sponsor young men to attend dissenting academies (today a secret society and discussion club at the College of the same name maintains some of its traditions). By 1768, the Society was large enough to need its own premises, so it purchased a large property in Homerton High Street in London's East End.[6]

By 1817 the institution had become known as 'Homerton Academy Society', later 'Homerton College Society'. At this time it produced some of the nation's foremost dissenting figures, many closely involved in the opposition movements against the slave trade and Corn Laws.[7] For several years the College was affiliated to the University of London, but when its theological function was moved to New College London in 1850, it was refounded by the Congregational Board of Education to concentrate on the study of education itself. It did so by transferring its theological courses to New College London, whose Congregationalist Principal was the Rev. John Harris DD, and by extending and rebuilding the old mansion house and 1820s buildings of the academy at a cost of £10,000. The college reopened as the Training Institution of the Congregational Board of Education in April 1852, with Samuel Morley as its Treasurer. Shortly afterwards, it began admitting women students, although then Principal Horobin ultimately called an end to mixed education in 1896, shortly after the move to Cambridge, and thereafter the college remained all-women for 80 years.[8]

Towards the end of the century, the growth of industry had turned the village of Homerton into a manufacturing centre, lowering the quality of life of the students and leading to seven deaths between 1878 and 1885 from tuberculosis, smallpox and typhoid. Also, increasing numbers of students required more space.

In 1881 former students of Homerton College who were members of Glyn Cricket Club formed a football section to help keep their players fit during the winter months. The football section continued to grow over the ensuing years and is now Leyton Orient Football Club – a fact acknowledged by an annual match between the college's football team and that of the Leyton Orient Supporters Club.[9]

Move to Cambridge

In 1894 the Congregational Board of Education were able to purchase the estate of Cavendish College, Cambridge (named after the then-Chancellor of the university and not to be confused with Lucy Cavendish College) which had become available. It had been founded to allow poorer students to sit Cambridge tripos exams without the expense of joining a true Cambridge college, and was briefly recognised as a "Public Hostel" of the university in 1882, but a lack of money had brought the venture to an end.

All its estates and furniture were bought by the Congregational Board for £10,000; and their students and staff moved from the old Hackney premises into the vacant college buildings at Cambridge. Initially taking the name of Homerton New College at Cavendish College, it shortly afterwards became just Homerton College, Cambridge. John Charles Horobin became the first Principal: his portrait hangs in the college's Great Hall.[10]

The first woman to head the college was Mary Miller Allan, who was responsible for Homerton's national reputation as a trainer of women teachers.[11] Her successor in 1935 was Miss Alice Skillicorn, a former HMI, who took the college through World War Two, during which time it was bombed.[12] Dame Beryl Paston Brown was Principal in the 1960s – at a time when Homerton's numbers doubled after the introduction of three-year training courses in 1960.[13]

In December 1976, under the headship of Principal Alison Cheveley Shrubsole,[14] Homerton was accepted as an Approved Society of the University of Cambridge following a 3–1 vote of the Regent House in favour of its admittance. The possibility of introducing a Cambridge Bachelor of Education (BEd) degree was even given as one of the reasons for the original move into Cambridge. It was after the shake-up and governmental criticisms of teacher training in the early 1970s that the university admitted Homerton, as now all of its students were doing four-year honours courses.

In late 2000 the Regent House approved a proposal to "converge" Homerton with the rest of the university.[15] Convergence involved the transfer of most of the college's teaching and research activity to the new University of Cambridge Faculty of Education and the diversification of the college into a wide range of Tripos subjects. In September 2001 Homerton admitted its first non-education Tripos students. At the same time the old BEd degree was retired in favour of a three-year B.A. in Education, followed by a one-year Post Graduate Certificate of Education.

At the time of convergence it was envisaged that Homerton would move from the status of Approved Society to that of Approved Foundation or full college. In December 2008 Homerton's application to move to full college status was approved by the University Council.[16] The change in status was completed with the grant of a Royal Charter on 11 March 2010.

Buildings and grounds

The original Victorian Cavendish College buildings were constructed in 1876 in the Gothic Revival style, using a combination of red Suffolk brick and Bath stone dressings. One of the most notable features is an oak doorway with an ogee arch flanked above by ornamental grotesques.[5] Several years later, the Cambridge architect William Wren designed additions to the eastern end of the college buildings in the Neo-Gothic style – now occupied by the Principal's office.[5] The castellated tower is the tallest part of the original college buildings, and it is possible to see the spires of Ely Cathedral on a clear day from its uppermost floor.[17]

The Great Hall is one of the largest and grandest dining halls in Cambridge. When it was built in 1889 it was the largest college hall in Cambridge.[18] It now houses one of the college's most notable works of art – the celebrated Pre-Raphaelite piece by Jane Benham Hay known as 'The Florentine Procession', painted in the 1860s and winning 'Picture of the Year' in the 1867 Saturday Review.[19] Also encircling the Hall are portraits of former Principals of the college.[20] The Hall itself features a hammer-beam roof, American walnut panelling, a gallery, rose windows, a fleche,[5] and a bell originating from the old college in London which sounds before the College Grace is read at Formal dinner.

Other notable buildings of the college include the Ibberson Building built in 1914 (named after its architect, Herbert George Ibberson) which is considered by many – including Nikolaus Pevsner in his Buildings of England – to be the college's most significant building; a fact mirrored by its Grade Two listed status, the only listed building on the site. An example of arts and crafts style architecture, its present-day Combination Room was probably the only grade two listed gymnasium in the world.[6] Also of interest is Trumpington House (completed in 1847, and which once held the college's wine collection in its basement) built in the style of classical revival and currently leased to the Faculty of Education.[17]

Unlike the majority of Cambridge colleges, Homerton offers on-site accommodation for its students for all three years. This is provided by four purpose-built accommodation buildings: East House, West House, South Court (the latest addition to the college, opened in 2007), and Harrison House. Harrison House exclusively houses graduate students and fellows, and was opened in November 2006. Other accommodation is provided in the ABC and D&E blocks, both part of the main college buildings, as well as in Queen's Wing (opened by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in 1957[21]) which also contains the Homerton Union of Students and both the Undergraduate and Graduate Common Rooms. Outside of university terms, the accommodation attracts extensive use for conference purposes.[22]

Like the other colleges of the University, Homerton's library includes thousands of books covering numerous academic disciplines. Unique to Homerton, however, is a children's book collection, which contains early editions of many famous books from 1780 onwards.[23]

Homerton has more green space around its buildings than many other Cambridge colleges. In its grounds are several rare examples of wild orchids and over 150 species of plants, which act as a rich habitat for various forms of wildlife – including grey squirrels, carrion crows, woodpeckers, stock doves, rabbits, the 'College fox', and in the summer a small colony of swifts, which nest under the eaves of the roof of the Cavendish building after their return from Africa.[24] There is also a large orchard, where students relax in warm weather.

Student life


Homerton has several unique traditions. At its Matriculation Dinner new undergraduates are made to form two lines and drink wine from the 'Homerton Horn' – an African cow horn with silver mounts, whilst speaking several Anglo-Saxon phrases to one another (including the greeting "Wassail!", and the response "Frith and Freondship sae th'y'" – 'peace and friendship be with you').[25] In recent years, the tradition has been adapted so that undergraduates say these Anglo-Saxon phrases to the person sat across from them on the table, and take subsequent drinks from their own glasses, rather than every undergraduate drinking from the ceremonial horn, which has historically resulted in epidemics of 'Freshers Flu'.

Because the college was all-female for much of its history, the design of the college gown is that of those traditionally worn by female undergraduates in early twentieth century Cambridge (this is shared by all the historically-female colleges: Girton, Newnham, and Murray Edwards). The gown is based on the original Cambridge black gown, still worn by undergraduates at Peterhouse, but has the slits in the sleeves closed up. As a homage to its all-female origins, or simply because the college has never had one re-designed, this gown is now worn by all undergraduates at the college regardless of sex.[26]

Homerton Union of Students

The Homerton Union of Students is one of the most active student unions in the university. The President - the only paid, sabbatical Presidency of all the Cambridge colleges - manages, along with a Vice-President Internal and a Vice President External, a team of students on the executive committee and a team of 'Liberation officers'. Together, they organise 'Freshers Week'. Homerton's Fresher's week is longer than in most colleges, where students only have two to three days of 'Freshers week' before the start of term. They also organise events throughout the year for students, as well as offer pastoral support.

Every year, the union organises Harry Potter formals, which take place in the college's Great Hall, and include real owls.

May Ball

The college holds an annual May Ball in Cambridge. In 2018, the ball was attended by over 1500 guests, the largest ever hosted on Homerton's grounds, to celebrate the college's 250th anniversary.

Boat Club

Homerton College Boat Club (HCBC) is the rowing club of the college. HCBC colours are navy blue with white trim, although the club's Zephyr (garment) is white with blue trim. It is traditional to wear a sock of each of the boat club's colours when racing with a blue sock on the foot opposite the rigger.

The Men's 1st VIII hold the Oxbridge record for the most places advanced during one series of bumps (either Mays, Lents, or Torpids/Eights for Oxford), advancing 13 places in the May Bumps 2001, where the crew moved up a division to division 3 and also won blades.[27]

People associated with Homerton

Principals, treasurers, fellows (including honorary fellows) or students who studied at Homerton Academy or Homerton College before and after it officially became part of Cambridge University. Graduates of the college are collectively known as Homertonians.

Name Birth Death Career
John Conder 1714 1781 Independent minister and tutor.
Daniel Fisher 1731 1807 Dissenting minister and tutor.
Henry Mayo 1733 1793 Independent minister and editor of The London Magazine. Samuel Johnson's adversary and "literary anvil" according to his biographer James Boswell.[28]
John Fell 1735 1797 Congregationalist minister and classical tutor.
Samuel Blatchford 1767 1828 First President of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the oldest technological university in the English-speaking world.
John Pye-Smith 1774 1851 Congregational theologian, author, and tutor, associated with reconciling geological sciences with the Bible, repealing the Corn Laws and abolishing slavery.
Ezekiel Blomfield 1778 1818 Congregational minister, influential author and compiler of religious works and works on natural history.
William Johnson Fox 1786 1864 English religious and political orator.
William Ellis 1794 1872 English missionary, traveller, geographer, and ethnographer.
Edward Stallybrass 1794 1884 British missionary to the Buryat people of Siberia; translator of the Bible into Mongolian.
Robert Halley 1796 1876 English Congregationalist minister and abolitionist. He was noted for his association with the politics of Repeal of the Corn Laws, and became Classical Tutor at Highbury College and Principal of New College London.
William Jacobson 1803 1884 Regius Professor of Divinity at University of Oxford (1848–1865), Vice-Principal of Magdalen Hall (later Hertford College, Oxford) (1832) and Bishop of Chester (1865–1884).
Samuel Dyer 1804 1843 British Protestant missionary to China, pioneering typographer and translator of the Bible into Chinese.
Robert Cotton Mather 1808 1877 English missionary, author, and translator in India.
Samuel Morley 1809 1886 English manufacturer, philanthropist, dissenter, abolitionist, political radical, and statesman.
Leah Manning 1886 1977 British educationalist, social reformer, and Labour Member of Parliament (MP). Organised the evacuation of Basque children during the Spanish Civil War.
Betty Rea 1905 1965 English sculptor and educationalist.
Dora Jessie Saint 1913 2012 Best known by her pen name "Miss Read"; English novelist and schoolmistress.
Efua Sutherland 1924 1996 Ghanaian playwright, children's author, and dramatist. Founder of the Ghana Drama Studio, the Ghana Society of Writers, and the Ghana Experimental Theatre.
Julie Covington 1946 English singer and actress, best known for recording the original version of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina".
John Hopkins 1949 British composer.
Cherie Lunghi 1952 English film, television, and theatre actress.
Tony Little 1954 British schoolmaster, former head of Chigwell School and Oakham School before becoming headmaster of Eton College in 2002.
Jan Ravens 1958 English actress and impressionist, first female President of the Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club (Footlights).
Nick Hancock 1962 English actor and television presenter; former presenter of Room 101.
Olivia Colman 1974 Academy Award and BAFTA Award-winning English actress.
Sam Yates 1983 Award-winning English director.
Tamzin Merchant 1987 English actress; best known for her roles in the 2005 film Pride & Prejudice and television series The Tudors.


A list of Homerton principals since the college relocated to Cambridge in 1894:

Principal Tenure
John Charles Horobin 1894–1902
Mary Miller Allan 1903–1935
Alice Havergal Skillicorn 1935–1960
Dame Beryl Paston Brown 1961–1971
Alison Cheveley Shrubsole CBE 1971–1985
Alan George Bamford 1985–1991
Kate Pretty CBE 1991–2013
Geoff Ward 2013–present


  1. University of Cambridge (6 March 2019). "Notice by the Editor". Cambridge University Reporter. 149 (Special No 5): 1. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
  2. "Annual report and Financial Statements" (PDF). Homerton College, Cambridge. Retrieved 3 August 2018.
  3. (Raby & Warner 2010, p. 9)
  4. (Raby & Warner 2010, p. 10)
  5. Raby, P.; Warner, P. (2010). Homerton: The Evolution of a Cambridge College. Fellows of Homerton College. p. 67.
  6. (Raby & Warner 2010, p. 111)
  7. (Raby & Warner 2010, p. 101)
  8. Edwards, Elizabeth (14 January 2004). Women in Teacher Training Colleges, 1900–1960: A Culture of Femininity. Routledge. p. 76. ISBN 0-415-21475-0.
  9. (Raby & Warner 2010, p. 186)
  10. "John Charles Horobin (1856–1902), Principal of Homerton College (1894–1902)". Art UK. Retrieved 14 September 2014.
  11. (Edwards 2004, p. 77)
  12. (Edwards 2004, pp. 84–87)
  13. (Edwards 2004, p. 164)
  14. "Alison Cheveley Shrubsole". The Tinmes. Retrieved 14 September 2014.
  15. "Reporter 22/11/00: Joint Report of the Council and the General Board on Teaching and Research in Education, and on Homerton College". University of Cambridge. Retrieved 14 September 2014.
  16. "Reporter 17/12/08". University of Cambridge. Retrieved 14 September 2014.
  17. (Raby & Warner 2010, p. 110)
  18. "The Great Hall". Homerton Conference. Archived from the original on 16 December 2009. Retrieved 14 September 2014.
  19. (Raby & Warner 2010, p. 121)
  20. (Raby & Warner 2010, p. 123)
  21. (Raby & Warner 2010, p. 112)
  22. "Homerton Conference Centre". Homerton Conference. Retrieved 14 September 2014.
  23. (Raby & Warner 2010, p. 145)
  24. (Raby & Warner 2010, pp. 97–106)
  25. (Raby & Warner 2010, pp. 242–3)
  26. "Cambridge University Heraldic and Genealogical Society". The Cambridge University Heraldic & Genealogical Society. Archived from the original on 3 June 2012. Retrieved 14 September 2014.
  27. Raby, P. & Warner, P. (2010). Homerton: The Evolution of a Cambridge College (Published and Distributed by the Principal and Fellows of Homerton College), p.198
  28. "Henry Mayo". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Further reading

  • Edwards, Elizabeth (14 January 2004). Women in Teacher Training Colleges, 1900–1960: A Culture of Femininity. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-21475-0.
  • Simms, T.H. (1979). Homerton College 1695–1978 Published by the Trustees of Homerton College
  • Warner, Dr Peter. Lecture on the history of Homerton College (Michaelmas term 2004)
  • Raby, P. & Warner, P. (2010). Homerton: The Evolution of a Cambridge College (Published and Distributed by the Principal and Fellows of Homerton College)

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