The Archives of St Edmund’s College, Cambridge

St Edmund’s 1906

St Edmund’s College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge. Founded as St Edmund’s House in 1896 as a lodging house for students, it became a graduate college in 1965, received its Royal Charter in 1998 and is the only Cambridge college with a Roman Catholic Chapel. The Von Hügel Institute, a research institute for critical Catholic enquiry, although separate, has strong links and is based on the same site.

St Edmund’s House was co-founded by Henry Fitzalan Howard, the 15th Duke of Norfolk and Baron Anatole von Hügel, an ethnographer and explorer who became the first Catholic to take a degree in Cambridge since 1688. Von Hugel was also instrumental in the revocation of the papal ban on Catholics attending Oxford and Cambridge. St Edmund’s College, Ware provided three of the first four students, all of whom were studying for the priesthood. Within a few years most of St Edmund’s House students had already been ordained to the priesthood before coming into residence as members of the University. They read a range of degrees to equip them for work in grammar schools and universities.

The decade of the 1960’s, especially during the Mastership of Canon Garrett Sweeney (1964-76), was a period of steady progress, and laid the foundation for the present College. The increased number of postgraduates in the University resulted in four graduate Colleges being established in 1965 (the other three were Darwin College, Wolfson College and Clare Hall). 1965 also saw the election of the first four Fellows and an increase in the number of lay people working at St Edmund’s.

1896 Matriculation (Ref: EDPH 2/1/2)

The college gradually increased in student numbers throughout the 20th century and this is reflected in the plethora of new college buildings (many of which we hold plans, accounts and committee minutes for). There were less than 50 students in 1970 and this had more than doubled by 1990, doubling again to 200 in 2000, 400 in 2010 and over 450 by 2014. Although originally only postgraduates were admitted, this was extended to mature undergraduates in the later 20th century.

The College achieved the status of an Approved Foundation on 8 March 1975. The old Association was dissolved on 30 June 1984 and replaced by a new governing body of Fellows and St Edmund’s became a fully autonomous and self-regulating society. It attained full collegiate status in 1996, exactly 100 years after its foundation. All of these changes were well documented, and the records are in the archive.

The college archive has been in its current room since 2006. Underneath the library, it has a separate strong room and office, although efficient records management means that the office is slowly becoming a second strong room! Like many Cambridge archives, there has been a Fellow in overall charge of the archives since at least 1994. In the early 2000’s, the Archivist Dr Philip Gardener employed a professional consultant archivist (Joan Bullock-Anderson) and adopted the title Fellow Archivist in 2007.

Above and Below: The archive room

The archive has had a professionally qualified archivist since 2012, originally for only half day a week, but latterly for one day a week. The post now includes both archives and records management, as a Records Management Schedule was created in 2018. This has had a massive impact on accrual rates, and also raised the profile of the archive hugely within college; most enquiries are now internal. It also means that we have very recent records which are a bit of a challenge to catalogue!

A letter from Mother Teresa (Ref:EDAR 1/10/1)

As you would expect, the archive stores, preserves, and provides access to the records that document the history of the College. It includes records from the first 13 Masters of the college, taking us up to 2014. The Archive also contains minutes of the governing bodies, records of clubs and societies, College publications, photographs, and some personal papers. There are also plans and minutes from the numerous building projects, records from May Balls and the Norfolk Feast, the college’s pre-eminent social event, which is still held annually. Some records acquired from external sources predate the date of the foundation of St Edmund’s, although the majority of the collection is from the 20th century.

In common with other college archives in Cambridge, there are relatively few papers of prominent fellows, many of which are kept in the main University Library. The majority of the collection has been catalogued and is on the Cambridge University Archives Search at https://archivesearch.lib.cam.ac.uk/

As the archivist is only one day a week, it can take a little while for us to answer enquiries, and our search-room capabilities are limited. We do, however, offer an excellent remote service (with no research charges) and would be delighted to show any archivists or interested parties around if you are ever in Cambridge. Our email address is archives@st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk

Genny Silvanus, Cover Archivist.

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