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Our history

Over 150 years of historic discoveries, notable alumni, and academic innovation 

Royal Holloway was founded by the Victorian entrepreneur and philanthropist Thomas Holloway in 1886. The self-made multi-millionaire made his fortune in patent medicines and, after initiating a public debate inviting suggestions as to ‘how best to spend a quarter of a million pounds or more’, he took his wife’s advice that a college for women would prove ‘the greatest public good’.

Royal Holloway College, largely inspired by the Chateau Chambord in the Loire Valley, was opened by Queen Victoria in 1886. The Founder’s Building, which is built around two quadrangles and includes a beautiful gilded chapel and picture gallery, is one of the most spectacular university buildings in the world.

Thomas Holloway was not the first Victorian visionary to realise the benefits of an education for women. Elizabeth Jesser Reid, a pioneering social reformer, founded Bedford College in 1849 as the first college in Great Britain for the higher education of women. In 1900 Royal Holloway College and Bedford College became part of the University of London, the first institution in the UK to award degrees to women. 

Both Bedford and Royal Holloway admitted male undergraduates for the first time in 1965, but their commitment to women’s education remained. The 1982 partnership agreement between the two colleges paved the way for the merger in 1985.

Our founders

Royal Holloway’s founder Thomas Holloway was a self-made multi-millionaire. Born on 22 September 1800 in Devonport to a baker and his wife, he made his fortune in patent medicines, pills and potions.

Elizabeth Jesser Reid, née Sturch, a pioneering social reformer, founded Bedford College (which later merged with Royal Holloway) in 1849. It was the first college in Great Britain for the higher education of women.

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The 20th Century


In 1900, both Bedford College and Royal Holloway were admitted as Schools of the University of London. The 20th Century saw great changes for both colleges, and the institutions merged in 1985.

The Celebration Year 2000, marking the bicentenary of Thomas Holloway’s birth, was an opportunity to both look back at Royal Holloway’s beginnings and to make future plans. 2012 saw Olympic success.

Royal Holloway's iconic Founder's Building and stunning grounds have proved to be a popular location in the production of a range of TV shows and films.

Our royal connections


Since Queen Victoria presided over the grand opening ceremony of Royal Holloway in 1886, we have maintained a privileged association with royal families past and present.

The Royal Holloway College mascot, Colossus, was a full size stuffed grizzly bear, purchased by a student in February 1956 in an antique shop in West Croydon.

Royal Holloway and Bedford Colleges combine over 150 years of historic discoveries, notable alumni and academic innovation. Explore our interactive timeline.

The College Archives

The Royal Holloway Archives and Special Collections records relating to the histories of Royal Holloway College, Bedford College, Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, as well as personal papers of former staff and students.

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Art Collections and Picture Gallery




The College’s Art Collections contain world-class paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings and watercolours including works by William Powell Frith, John Everett Millais and Edward Burne-Jones.


The Picture Gallery, which is home to most of these paintings, is still a key part of our campus today.


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