Folklore College History

York was planned and built as a Collegiate University, but with all colleges close together on the main campus. The original six colleges were built at much the same time and look very similar in design, with only newer extensions differing between them.

There is also other University-owned accomodation (such as St Lawrence Ct and Fairfax House), which are covered in separate documents (see end for refs).

There is some official information (and photos!) available on the central web server:

* Official College Web Pages.
From the original 1962 development plan, (with some interpretation, but it's pretty clear), the correct order of the Colleges is
  1. Derwent
  2. Langwith
  3. Alcuin
  4. College 4 (Not built)
  5. Vanbrugh
  6. Goodricke
  7. Wentworth
  8. College 8 (James)
Derwent and Langwith were built at the same time, and were the first to open, in 1964. Alcuin and College 4 were next to be planned, although College 4 was not built, possibly due to the poor ground conditions of the land where it was to go (next to the library). Goodricke and Wentworth came last, then there was a long gap before rising student numbers prompted the building of James, starting in 1991.

Before James was built, some of the existing colleges were extended by the building of new accomodation blocks. These colleges were Derwent and Langwith (the `Derwith' blocks) and Alcuin (E Block).

Some comments on the general campus concrete building style are also available.

Individual College Histories


Derwent is named after the River Derwent, following the initial policy of naming all the colleges after local geographic features.

The following plaque outside the dining hall marks the opening:

ON 22 OCTOBER 1965

There is also a triangular plaque on the outide of the common room, with the inscription ``CIVIC TRUST AWARD 1968''

Derwent is well known for it's annual Barbecue.

This article from Nouse No. 17 (19th May 1966) must be referring to the original two colleges, Derwent and Langwith. Presumably when first opened each only had two or three blocks.

Clasp Improvements

Although cheaper building materials are being used and there is a general cutting down of space, an attempt has been made in the new `D' blocks to rectify blatant faults and improve facilities. Double rooms in their conventional form are replaced by `single/doubles'. These are divided into two by wardrobe and bookshelf units, with share sink unit facing the door.

Single rooms marginally smaller then before and wardrobes have sliding doors which appear to be a space saving device rather than an improvement. Colours introduced - an orange wall here and there in the bathrooms and toilets, different door and pinboard colours. Instead of kitchens, there are one-a-floor mini common rooms with cupboards, cooker, sink, etc. in one corner. An improvement or another space saving device? Flooring material changes and wall to wall carpets in some single rooms. Beds will be convertible into settees. But there still isn't anywhere for clothes when taking a shower; and waste chutes have been ridiculously replaced by large disposable bags on each floor, which must have cost as much and in the future will prove very inconvenient.

The rubbish chutes in blocks A-C were closed following the Biology fire in 1973 - chutes there were a contributing factor to the spread of the fire.

Some of the Derwent rooms were refurbished in 1998. The central bar/`reception' area was also substantially refurbished and opened out. One side-effect of the work was a campus-wide power cut when workmen hit a mains cable.


Langwith college is named after Langwith Common, an area of land near the university.

The following plaque outside the library marks the opening (it is identical to the one at Derwent):

ON 22 OCTOBER 1965

Langwith used to hold the Athletic Union offices, and has a boules terrain and an outdoor chess board.

Langwith D block was one of the first to be refurbished, in 1987(?) The block was gutted and the rooms rebuilt as en-suite.


Built across the road from Derwent, next to the Chemistry Department, Derwent and Langwith College Extension (Derwith) has a distinct atmosphere of it's own. The complex consists of four blocks, two each belonging to Derwent and Langwith. These buildings were the first break from concrete-based construction on the campus. The following item comes from the University News Sheet, Issue 205 (March 1989)

Derwent and Langwith College Extension, which was opened in 1987, has gained a commendation in the Civic Trust's Awards scheme for 1988.

Of the 993 entries throughout the United Kingdom, 24 awards and 126 commendations were made. The Extension was one of only two commendations in North Yorkshire

The Assessors' comments on the Derwent and Langwith Extension read as follows:

``These new residential blocks are grouped to create an informal courtyard, which, although as yet immature in terms of planting, already possesses a real sense of place, and in fine weather it is well used as an outdoor study place. The quality of the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and it is this quality that is commendable, for the buildings themselves, while well finished and detailed, are unexceptional. Nevertheless, they sit happily in the wider context of the fine University landscape.''
Geoffrey Williams, Bursar's Department


Alcuin is named after Alcuin of York. This from Nouse No. 13 (Thur 10th Feb 1966) (spelling mistake included):

The New Colleges:

The next two University colleges are to be named Vanbrugh and Alcuin. Whilst not strictly following the previous policy of naming the colleges after places, both are named after historical figures with close connections with York.

The two colleges when finished will stand on the far side of the new road, to the York side of the present science block behind the library. They are due for completion in October 1967.

Alwin was a noted Catholic Scholar and writer and was born in York about 732. He was noted principally for his writings and for his carrying of English learning to France where he worked as head of the Palace school at Aachen where the Emperor Charlemagne was taught.

The term `behind the library' may be misleading, presumably it does not mean directly behind but set back from the road.

A little more detail is added by this article from the University News Sheet, Issue 209, Nov 1989:

1208 years ago, Charlemagne and his court arrived in Aachen for the winter. Alcuin, who had a position in the court corresponding roughly to Minister of Education, was an important influence on Charlemagne's belief, as expounded in his Admonitio generalis of March 789, that the seven literal arts (which were divided into the trivium -- grammar, dialectic and rehetoric -- and quadrivium -- arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music) were essential for a priest to discharge his duties properly. It is possible that Propositiones ad acuandos juvenes (Propositions for sharpening the minds of youth), the first medieval mathematics text known, was written by Alcuin.

Alcuin is also said to have invented the famous puzzle about the chicken, corn and fox:

You are a farmer, you have a chicken, corn and a fox, you must cross a river in a boat which will carry only one. How do you get across without the fox eating the chicken or the chicken eating the corn?

Alcuin was extended in 1990/91 by the building of a new block of houses at the back of the existing buildings. The University News Sheet Issue 216 (December 1990) had the following article:

Work begins on Alcuin Extension

Work has just begun on a new extension to Alcuin College. The College currently has 295 residents and the new terrace of three `houses' will accomodate 48 more students - 16 in each house.

These places will be filled by undergraduates and are part of the University's planned expansion.

The cost of the project will be about £850,000 and will be met largely by mortgage loans. Vacation conferences and student residence fees will help pay the mortgage costs.

The University's policy is to provide accomodation for 70% of all full-time students and the extension will be ready for some of the 120 extra students expected next October.

The architects are Hunt Thompson Associates of London, the quantity surveyors Franklin and Andrews of York and the contractor W G Birch Construction of Harrogate.

From 2 December 1996, the north-west corner of Alcuin has been the home to the Department of Health Sciences and Clinical Evaluation.

More student accommodation is being built behind the existing buildings (summer 1999), when complete the older blocks will be converted to teaching or office space.

College 4 (Not built)

This was to be built on the hill next to the library, where the new Computer Science building is going now. (There is a wooden map in Heslington Hall showing the location.) Judging from the Nouse article (above) and other reports, it was going to be built at the same time as Vanbrugh, and called Alcuin.


Vanbrugh is named after Sir John Vanbrugh, who amongst other things designed Castle Howard, a few miles from York.

The above-mentioned Nouse article contains this information:

Sir John Vanbrugh was a dramatist and architect of not in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. His best known building as an architect is that of Blenheim Palace, home of the Marlboroughs. His connections with York and more particulally Heslington stem from his marriage to the daughter of the oft-remembered Colonel Yarborough of Heslington.

(Yarborough used to own Heslington Hall)

The dining room in Vanbrugh is decorated with a mural by local artist Richard Barnes, whose work can also be seen in Vanbrugh College library. The dining room mural is titled ``Jam Today''.
Source: University Magazine, June 1995.

The central blocks were the first to be built, with the separate X-block appearing a few years later. X-block is also the first of the concrete buildings to suffer demolition as part of the accommodation refurbishment scheme. In summer 1999, part of X-block is being refurbished, while the wing nearest the road is being demolished.


Goodricke is named after the astronomer Sir John Goodricke who identified the motion of the binary system Algol. A sculpture of the star sits outside the college.

The plaque outside the Dining room reads:


(Micheal Swann was vice-chancellor of the University at the time)

The first Provost of Goodricke College (1968-72) was Michael Woolfson, former head of the Physics Department.

Goodricke used to have some rowing boats on the lake, and a raft moored just off the patio area.


Wentworth is named after Thomas Wentworth, as related by the plaque at the main entrance:

Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Stafford, Born 13 April 1593 and beheaded on Tower Hill 12 May 1641.
Knight of the Shire and Sheriff of Yorkshire, he later became Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and Charles I's chief councillor. As the last Lord President of the Council of the North (1628-41), he and his deputies administered the supreme Law Court of northern England from the King's Manor: there his shield-of-arms still adorns the courtyard he did much to complete.
``His soule through the mercy of God lives in Eternal Blisse, and his memory will never dye in these Kingdomes.''

Wentworth was the last of the colleges to be built, and there was even less money available than for the earlier buildings. In general, Wentworth was built on the cheap.

The bar used to be much smaller, it was refurbished in summer 1993(?) with the conservatory-type bit added.

Wentworth is a favourite location for publicity photos of campus, since there used to be rowing boats there for use on the lake.

There used to be stepping stones round one side of B Block, but landscaping in summer 1996 has filled in the lake at this point.

Wentworth is home to three arts studios, used for pottery, printing, drawing and painting.

Much of Wentworth is due to be demolished and replaced with new accommodation blocks as part of the refurbishment scheme.

College 8 (James)

James is named after Lord James, who was the founding vice-chancellor of the university. A plaque on A Block says:


The plaque was unveiled by Lady James on 5 October 1992, as part of the formal opening of the college.

The University News Sheet Issue 209 (November 1989) carried news of the start of building works:

Work starts on College VIII

In response to increased student admissions, the University is building new student accomodation costing £1.9m on the Heslington Campus in the area behind Goodricke College.

Work has just started on Phase 1 of a new college. Nine three-storey houses are to be built in three terraces around a courtyard which on its fourth side will open onto the campus lake. The houses will accommodate 144 postgraduate students. Phase 1 will also include a student common room building.

The new college will be built in the same style as the recent extension to Derwent and Langwith Colleges which won a commendation in the national Civic Trust Awards for 1988

This October the University has admitted 1266 new undergraduates needing accomodation. Two years ago the comparable figure was 1090.

The new college is to be built in the area behing Goodricke Provost's lodge and facing Wentworth College across the lake.

Phase 2 of the college was opened in October 1993, consisting of three more blocks of accomodation. This enabled James to be opened up to undergraduates as well as graduates, with 126 of each being admitted in the 1993/4 year. (Undergraduates have the advantage of being away during vacations, when conference guests can use the rooms.) The phase 2 blocks have en-suite bathrooms, and have no computer connections, but otherwise they are much the same. The iron suspension bridge to Wentworth also dates from 1993.

The first Provost of James College is Ken Todd, Lecturer in the Dept of Electronics.

James residents purchased a huge Christmas tree in 1994, which stood in the square between D-F blocks.

There is a plaque to mark the running of the James Quad Dash, which reads (1996) as follows:
                    James College
                    ``Quad Dash''
           2nd Saturday of February - Midday

1994 Stephen Hargreves 18.68s  |  Zara Luxford     19.63s
1995 Lundi Kumalo      17.11s  |  Moire O'Sullivan 18.64s

Unlike the established colleges, there is no bar in James, no portering and no canteen. A third phase was planned, with dining hall, social and administration accommodation and further rooms, but was not built.

New blocks have been built as part of the refurbishment scheme. Work started in spring 1999, and the rooms will be ready for the autumn 1999 term.

Related pages:

* Alcuin Bar Refurbishment
* Non-college Accomodation
* Campus buildings
* The University Development Plan

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