Aberystwyth University celebrates Founders’ Day

The Old College

The Old College

15 October 2015

Today Thursday, 15 October, Aberystwyth University is celebrating its past, present and future by re-establishing Founders’ Day.

Bringing together representatives from the University and local community, the celebrations reflect the ethos behind the original celebrations held in the Old College on 15 October 1872.

Founders’ Day marks how the University has been making history since the 1850’s, when a small group of patriots, led by Hugh Owen, a London Welshman, raised enough money by public and private subscription to establish a college of university status in Wales. 

Originally built as a hotel by railway contractor Thomas Savin, the Old College was purchased by the Welsh University committee for £10,000 in 1867, a fraction of the amount it had cost to build. The first students arrived in October 1872.

Professor April McMahon, Vice-Chancellor, says: “The establishment of Aberystwyth University is one of the great romantic, indeed heroic, stories of modern Welsh history.  As the birthplace of university scholarship in Wales, we are immensely proud of our heritage and look forward to commemorating one of the most special events in our University calendar.

“Today, we have grown from strong local foundations to become an institution with global reach. Aberystwyth University is a place not only rich in academic opportunity, but deeply rooted in the community. We are an integral part of the town and our commitment to providing services for the local community is clear.

“The New Life for Old College project has a vision to transform the Old College into a dynamic hub of learning, heritage and culture that will provide excellent facilities for the University and for the people of Aberystwyth and beyond.”

Louise Jagger, Director of Development and Alumni Relations at Aberystwyth University said: “We are delighted to be honouring and celebrating the contribution of our Founders and supporters in the company of students, former students, staff and members of the local community. Their vision and determination is a story that belongs to all of us and laid the foundations for the academic and economic benefits that the University has brought to Aberystwyth and mid and west Wales over nearly a century and half. We now look forward to drawing on this inspiration and ambition as a community in building a brighter future for the Old College, which means so much to so many.”

Lewis Donnelly, President of Aberystwyth University Students’ Union said: “From the very first day, Aberystwyth’s community of students has grown into an international community with representatives from more than 90 countries. Those studying here today will be joining a community of 60,000 Aber alumni around the world, and as President of the Students Union, it is a privilege to be able to mark this day, and in doing so voice the support of today’s students to the project to bring new life to the Old College. As the home of university education in Wales, it is our heritage, and symbolises our commitment to learning and contributing to the world around us.”

As part of the celebrations, students, staff and members of the public are invited to join a free guided tour to explore the Old College. Tours depart from the Quad inside the Old College and will provide the opportunity to explore parts of the building not normally accessible to the public. Further information can be found here.

Also on display will be items from the University’s archive, including:

The first minute book of the University of Wales, which documents the efforts of Hugh Owen and others to establish a University in Wales; from the committee’s first meeting in 1863, through the purchase of the Castle Hotel, the arrival of the first students in 1872, and beyond to 1874.

The first student register (1872-1879), documenting students numbered 1-376, including those who enrolled for the inaugural term in October 1872.

A nineteenth-century refractor telescope bequeathed by Sir John Williams, University and National Library benefactor.  Williams was physician to Queen Victoria.

The Old College Project

The Old College is the birthplace of University scholarship in Wales and one of the UK’s most significant 19th century buildings. The Old College project aims to transform it into an integrated centre of heritage, culture, learning and knowledge exchange at the heart of a new cultural quarter in the historic centre of the town. It will provide unique opportunities and benefits for the University, the local community, the region of Mid Wales and Wales.