The lost colleges of Durham University

By Luke Payne

This academic year saw the opening of South College; bringing the total number of Durham University colleges to 17. However, South is far from Durham’s 17th college. In its near 200 year history Durham has had over 25 colleges. Some of these colleges are no longer with us today for a variety of reasons. Some have merged together, others have split in two, a few declared independence and some have simply closed.

You would probably recognise Durham’s fourth college. Its building still stands proudly on Palace Green. After serving as accommodation of University College under the name ‘University House’; Bishop Cosin’s Hall opened as a college in its own right in 1851. The college was named after John Cosin, Bishop of Durham 1660–72. In 1864 Bishop Cosin’s Hall was merged back into University College due to falling student numbers at the time.

Bishop Cosin’s Hall

The School of Medicine and Surgery at Newcastle became absorbed into Durham University in 1852. In 1871, the College of Physical Science also became part of the University and was renamed Armstrong College in 1904. 33 years later, the Newcastle campus came together under the name Kings College. A vote to rename Durham University “The University of Durham and Newcastle” to better reflect its two campus locations, was defeated in 1952 by 135 votes to 129. This eventually led to the independence of the Kings College in 1963 with the formation of The University of Newcastle Upon Tyne. The entrance to the Armstrong Building still contains an engraving commemorating the creation of Armstrong College.

Armstrong College

Until the mid-20th century, Durham had two affiliated colleges thousands of miles from the UK. Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone was affiliated to Durham University between 1876 and 1967. It is now a constituent college of the University of Sierra Leone. 

Fourah Bay College, Freetown

Codrington College in Barbados is now affiliated with the University of the West Indies but between 1875 and 1965 it was affiliated to the University of Durham.

Codrington College, Barbados

Perhaps the most well known former colleges were The College of the Venerable Bede and St Hild’s College. These two colleges were recognised (independent) colleges like St Chad’s and St John’s from their inception in 1838 and 1858 respectively. However, they merged in 1979, becoming the College of St Hild and St Bede that exists today.

Neville’s Cross College opened in 1921 and from 1924 it became a licensed hall of the University. It admitted students to read for both undergraduate courses and postgraduate degrees. After a merger with Durham Technical College in 1977 (forming New College Durham) it ceased association with the University. In a bizarre twist of fate, the original Neville’s Cross College building is now occupied by Ustinov College.

Ustinov College, formerly Neville’s Cross College

Sunderland Technical college was affiliated to Durham University via the Faculty of Applied Science at the Newcastle Campus from 1930 to 1963 (although some students also studied for degrees at the University of London). When the Newcastle campus became independent, the technical college merged with other schools to form Sunderland Polytechnic, now known as The University of Sunderland.

West of Durham, between the villages of Langley Park and Ushaw Moor, sits Ushaw College. The Catholic seminary opened in 1808 and became affiliated with Durham University in 1968 but retained its role as a seminary. The complex holds some beautiful rooms including a theatre, dining hall and a ridiculous number of chapels. Due to declining numbers, it closed as a seminary in 2011. It’s now a tourist attraction and hopes that
its impressive library will attract theological scholars from around the world.

Ushaw College

It’s well known that former Queen’s Campus buddies John Snow and Stephenson aren’t as close as they used to be. John Snow is in a new relationship with a much younger college, and Stephenson has hooked-up with the young college of yesteryear. Few know however, that these two colleges used to be the singular Joint University College on Teesside (hilariously abbreviated as JUCOT). This was a joint venture established in 1992 between Durham and Teesside Universities. In 1994 the college operated under the name University College Stockton, but in 2001, the college was split into two, forming George Stephenson (later shortened to Stephenson) and John Snow Colleges.

Between 2017 and 2019, the colleges were moved out of Stockton to Durham city. The history of Durham shows that colleges are not eternal institutions. Over the years Durham has lost at least a third of its colleges. The University has planned the creation of several new colleges by 2027 but the loss of existing colleges are less planned, and more sudden victims of the circumstances of the time.

Image credits: Luke Payne, jaybock via Flickr

2 thoughts on “The lost colleges of Durham University

  • Fascinated to read of the new colleges of the university. I attended Bede College 1964 – 67 where the student population was 250 in 1964. Spent three wonderful years in a most amazing setting. Remember the smells of bonfires at the beginning of the Michaelmas term. A great privilege to be a student in these memorable days.

  • Very impressed you managed to resurrect JUCOT. One of those wonderful acronyms made up in universities with little thought for how they sound. Like the Durham Intercollegiate Christian Union and the former School of Engineering and Computer Science


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