Students discover campus packed full of history during innovative research module

The historic 54 acre campus at the University of Roehampton is being used by students as the basis for a pioneering project including researching the lives of high society Georgian and Victorian figures.

Posted: 23 March 2015

image for news story Students discover campus packed full of history during innovative research module
Student Ellicia Petersen, with Roehampton residents Jean Harrison, John Butcher and John Horrocks, vice-chair of the Roehampton Forum organisation at the launch of the local history project

The research project uses existing buildings, combined with archive material, art works, landscape features and the services of the University’s expert heritage advisor Gilly King to reveal a unique picture of the area’s past. The project, funded by the Higher Education Academy, is believed to be the first of its kind at a university. It will now be set up as a model for other institutions with historic grounds.

At the launch on Tuesday, students presented the findings of their work, including details of the beautiful Burne Jones stained glass windows at Whitelands College, and unveiled an art installation about highwaymen who targeted the roads out of London. Four alumni of the University’s founding colleges were interviewed about their memories of college life. During the launch a discussion compared their experiences with those of current students.

As part of the project, new web pages have been designed which will act as a significant resource for local history enthusiasts and schools. Details about people and buildings on the website include:

  • Henrietta, Countess Bessborough, a Georgian socialite whose gambling debts forced the second Earl of Bessborough to sell his classical collection, and who lived at Parkstead House.
  • Lady Jane Law, the four-times married aristocrat, and one time resident of Elm Grove, whose first relationship broke down amid scandal and social exile, and who lived out her life as the wife of a Bedouin sheikh.
  • A tunnel from the University grounds under Roehampton Lane, with an entrance built of volcanic stone. It was constructed for landowner Benjamin Goldsmid in the 18th century to cross between his two properties on either side of the road avoiding highwaymen who plagued the area. Goldsmid hosted luxurious parties for Prime Ministers like William Pitt, and heroes like Lord Nelson.
  • Jerry Abershawe, the highwayman who drank in the nearby Green Man pub and robbed people coming in and out of London. He was the last man gibbetted in England.

Dr Sonya Nevin who co-ordinated the project, said: “Our students are fortunate to have a large campus with such a depth of history, so making use of this wealth of material within our degree schemes is a great way to bring their studies to life and to develop skills for use in the heritage sector. We intend that the principles of this project will guide other universities to make the most of their own history to educate students.”

The website also records local life from the 18th century onwards, including the influence of the arts and crafts movement, and religious communities, such as the Jesuits who owned Parkstead House during the 19th and 20th centuries when it was named Manresa House. Famous architects like William Chambers and Robert Taylor are included, as is information about the pioneering work which the four colleges that now constitute the University carried out to educate young women in the 19th century.


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