We use cookies on this site. By browsing our site you agree to our use of cookies. Close this message Find out more

Home > About us home > Our history
More in this section Our history

Our history

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

Royal Holloway was founded by two social pioneers; Elizabeth Jesser Reid founded Bedford College in 1849 and Thomas Holloway, inspired by his wife Jane, founded Royal Holloway College. He built the stunning Founder's building, which was opened in 1886 by Queen Victoria, and is still at the heart of our campus today. Their vision lives on today with our teachers and researchers expand minds and make discoveries that change the world.

Both colleges were among the very first institutions in the UK to give women access to higher education. In 1900, the colleges were admitted to the University of London and merged in 1985 to form what is today known as Royal Holloway, University of London. 

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.

Find out more

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 holds 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.

Find out more

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.


Comment on this page

Did you find the information you were looking for? Is there a broken link or content that needs updating? Let us know so we can improve the page.

Note: If you need further information or have a question that cannot be satisfied by this page, please call our switchboard on +44 (0)1784 434455.

This window will close when you submit your comment.

Add Your Feedback