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Digby Stuart History

Etching of the Covent of the Sacred Heart, Roehampton 1856

Digby Stuart College owes its existence to the Society of the Sacred Heart, a congregation of Roman Catholic nuns founded by Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat (1779-1865) in France. A Sacred Heart community and school for girls were established at Roehampton in 1850, on the site where Digby Stuart College now stands. In February 1874, a training college for young women who wished to become teachers in Catholic schools was given a temporary home until more suitable premises could be found. As Government aid was dependent on the teacher training college opening before 1st March 1874, the Roehampton nuns willingly accommodated the college and its first 21 students until a permanent home was found at “The Orchards” in West Hill, Wandsworth. Staff and students were in residence by early September – and the College was known by the name Wandsworth College. 

The acquisition of the property and the organisation of the College were the work of Mother Mabel Digby, the Superior of the Roehampton community.St, Charles College, North Kensington, circa 1910

Mother Mabel Digby was succeeded by Mother Janet Stuart in 1894. Mother Stuart took a close interest in the practical details of student training which included the teaching of English, history, mathematics, natural science and philosophy as well as practical subjects such as needlework and physical fitness. Students were encouraged to attend concerts, visit museums and art galleries and play an active part in local community organisations.

By 1901 student numbers had risen to 104. It was deemed necessary for the college to be moved to more spacious accommodation. The Society acquired St. Charles College, North Kensington. Students and staff from Wandsworth took up residence in 1905 and the College was renamed “St. Charles”.

The following decades saw steady advances in the cultural and educational life at the College, and distinguished personalities frequently visited, including, Sir Percy Buck, who lectured in music, and Madame Marie Montessori, founder of Montessori Schools.

Tea for the fireman after the Convent was bombed during the blitzSeptember 1939 brought great upheaval to St Charles' College when the Government made arrangements for wartime evacuation. Students were evacuated to Cold Ash in Berkshire whilst both the houses at Roehampton and St Charles suffered severe war damage.

In 1946, the College returned to its birthplace at the Roehampton Convent and was renamed Digby Stuart College, in memory and honour of Mother Mabel and Mother Janet, both of whom had been instrumental in the formation of the College; both are buried in the College Sacred Heart Chapel.

Science class circa 1960In 1949 Digby Stuart became a constituent College of the University of London’s, Institute of Education. New buildings were erected to replace those bombed in the war and to accommodate the growing student population. Three-year B.Ed courses were introduced in 1963, followed by the B.Ed four year course and post-graduate study programmes.

In the early 1970s Digby Stuart, like many other teacher training colleges, was under threat of closure. Consequently, in 1975, the College entered into an academic federation with three other south-west London teacher training colleges – Froebel, Southlands and Whitelands – to form the Roehampton Institute of Higher Education.

Pope John Paul II at Digby StuartIn 1982 the College had the honour of hosting one of the biggest events in its history, the visit of Pope John Paul II on 29 May 1982. The Pope addressed a gathering of communities in England and Wales on the lawn at Digby Stuart.

Over the years the College has seen changes to the landscape and make up of buildings. In June 1996, the Society of the Sacred Heart sold land beyond the lake to Southlands College to re-build on the central site of Roehampton Institute London. 1996 also saw the opening of Shaw House, a new residential building that would house 143 students in single study bedrooms. In 1997 the Library in the Harvey building opened, whilst Southlands College moved from Wimbledon Parkside to the Roehampton Lane Campus.

DramaThe vision of an independent university at Roehampton came gradually closer. RIHE achieved University status in 2000, federating with the University of Surrey and in 2004, with independent status, it became Roehampton University.

In September 2004 Lee House, in memory of Sr Velda Lee, was opened providing a further 140 single study, en-suite bedrooms. Currently, approximately 2,000 of Roehampton’s 8,000 students, are assigned to Digby Stuart College, with 452 living on the Campus. The College is home to the departments of drama, theatre and Performance, English and Creative Writing, Humanities and Social Sciences, but the students allocated to Digby Stuart College can be studying any academic subject offered by the university.

For further information please contact Barbara Vesey