Skip to contentExit mobile menu

History and heritage

Gaining university title

Established in 1850 as a Catholic teacher training college, St Mary's has a long-standing reputation for academic excellence and the granting of university title is an exciting milestone in its history.

With an original intake of just six students, St Mary's has now grown to around 6,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students across the four academic Schools.

On 23rd January 2014, St Mary's University College, Twickenham, was awarded full university title by the Privy Council and became St Mary's University, Twickenham.


The University's current estate is in four parts. The main campus is on Waldegrave Road in Twickenham within the grounds of Strawberry Hill House, a hall of residence is located at 16 Strawberry Hill Road, the main sports fields are located on the Teddington Lock campus in Broom Road, Teddington, and the new Naylor Library (also on Waldegrave Road) which opened in the autumn of 2015.


Strawberry Hill House, located in the University grounds, is Britain's finest example of Georgian Gothic Revival architecture. It was designed and created as a Gothic fantasy between 1747 and 1792 by Horace Walpole, historian, writer, collector and son of Britain's first Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole.


The house had been on English Heritage's At Risk Register and was listed on the World Monuments Fund Watch List in 2004, a move which proved a catalyst in starting a campaign for its repair. In 2007 the building and adjoining grounds were leased by the University to the Strawberry Hill Trust, an independent building preservation trust and in October 2010 a two-year long £9m restoration was completed and the property reopened to the public. The restoration programme has been made possible by a £4.9m grant from the UK's Heritage Lottery Fund and over £1.5m from World Monuments Fund, including a $1.1m donation from the Robert W. Wilson Challenge Fund to Conserve Our Heritage, as well as numerous charitable trusts, local societies and individual patrons.

An education centre is a key focus of the activity and the Trust works with the University on a number of Gothic related collaborations.

For visitor information and opening times please go to Strawberry Hill House's website.

   Sitting within the grounds of St Mary's, Strawberry Hill House is being restored by English Heritage.

The Waldegrave Wing, including the Waldegrave Drawing Room and Senior Common Room, continue to be used by the University. Virtual tours featuring the Waldegrave Drawing Room interior, Strawberry Hill House and grounds, and several campus buildings and facilities can be found on the Virtual Tours page of this website.

The founding of St Mary's

   Students at the St Mary's campus in Hammersmith during the 1850s.

St Mary's has a long and distinguished history as a Catholic institution for the education of teachers.

It was founded in 1850 by the Catholic Poor Schools Committee to meet the need for teachers to provide an education for the growing number of poor Catholic children.

It started in Brook Green in Hammersmith, where it was ran by the Brothers of Christian Instruction, with an intake of just six young men. In 1899, the Catholic Hierarchy asked the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentian) to undertake the administration of the College.

    The Quadrangle at the St Mary's campus in Hammersmith in the 1850s.

In the years to follow, there was an ever-increasing demand for Catholic teachers and by the end of the 1920s the College campus at Brook Green was inadequate.

Brook Green abutted onto Cadby Hall, the headquarters of J Lyons & Co who, at this time, also wanted to expand. As a result of successful negotiations, St Mary's was able to purchase Strawberry Hill House and build living accommodation and classroom space for about 250 students. The College at Strawberry Hill was officially opened in 1925.

   The Waldegrave Drawing Room during the 1920s, after the College moved to Strawberry Hill in 1925.

Post World War II


Since opening in 1925, the campus buildings have been enlarged to meet the needs of around 6,000 students, including the construction of a new Chapel in 1962-63, based on designs by Sir Albert Richardson.


   The design of our Chapel (above right) was influenced by the medieval Albi Cathedral in Southern France.

It has also seen a dramatic change in society, particularly in the provision of higher education to all. In response to these changes, St Mary's admitted women for the first time in 1966.

Whilst St Mary's was primarily concerned with teacher training up to 1975, courses leading to the University of London BA and BSc external degrees had been offered from 1920. In 1967 it became possible to stay for a fourth year to convert the Teacher's Certificate into a BEd degree.

The first students for the, then new, London University BA, BEd, BH and BSc unit degrees entered in 1975. These degrees marked a new phase in the life of the College as it diversified its portfolio to introduce Master's and expand its non-teaching degrees.

Taught degree awarding powers

In 1979, a policy decision was taken whereby St Mary's changed its degree validation from the University of London to the University of Surrey.

The first students to gain qualifications under the University of Surrey received their diplomas in 1983 but, with effect from 1983, all students registered with the University of Surrey.

In July 1986, our first graduates from the University of Surrey received their degrees in Guildford Cathedral. However, St Mary's degree conferment ceremonies are now held in either the campus Chapel, or Westminster Cathedral, London.

   St Mary’s Summer Graduation at Westminster Cathedral, London

The relationship with the University of Surrey developed progressively. The Senate and Council of the University of Surrey accorded St Mary's as ‘Affiliated College Status' in 1990 and from that year all undergraduate students were recruited through UCCA (now UCAS).

In 1992, the College was accorded ‘College of the University of Surrey' status, and in the same year a lay Principal was appointed for the first time. From September 1996, taught degree programmes were accredited by the University of Surrey.

In September 2006, St Mary's was granted the power to award its own taught degrees by the Privy Council, following an 18 month period of intense scrutiny by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA). Following Privy Council approval, St Mary's College became St Mary's University College.

The present day

Nowadays, around a third of the offering at St Mary's is dedicated to teacher education and there is a growing number of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in subjects such as Sport, Drama, Theology and Business.

The provision for international students, study abroad opportunities and overseas collaborative partnerships has also expanded.

In recent years, there have been some major events at St Mary's.

On 17th September 2010, Pope Benedict XVI visited the campus as part of the first Papal visit to the UK since 1982.

A new Sports Centre, an £8.5 million asset for recreation, academic, elite and community sport, was officially opened in October 2011 by Lord Sebastian Coe.

   Our £8.5m sports centre and Hall of Fame for Sport was opened in 2011 by Lord Sebastian Coe.

In July 2012, St Mary's hosted athletes from ten nations as part of a pre-Games training camp for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Athletes and team members from South Africa, China, Japan, Ireland, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Kenya, Mozambique and Denmark all spent time using the state-of-the-art training facilities on campus.

On 23rd January 2014, St Mary's University College, Twickenham, was awarded full university title by the Privy Council and became St Mary's University, Twickenham.

During Rugby World Cup 2015 the University was chosen as a Team Base for the South African, New Zealand and Australian rugby teams.

In 2015 St Mary's celebrated its 165th anniversary and marked it with a number of exciting events both on campus in Strawberry Hill and in central London, including the official installation of our Chancellor Cardinal Vincent Nichols at Westminster Cathedral in May. 

In the past couple of years Rugby World Cup winning coach Sir Clive Woodward, and leading human rights barrister Cherie Blair, were made Visiting Professors, and former Irish President Mary McAleese was appointed Distinguished Professor in Irish Studies.

Vice-Chancellors and Principals past and present

Francis CampbellFrancis Campbell
(Vice-Chancellor, 2014-Present)
dr-arthur-naylor Dr Arthur Naylor 
(Interim Principal, 2013-2014)
eslerProf Philip Esler 
(2010 - 2013) 
naylorDr Arthur Naylor 
beirneVery Rev Desmond Beirne CM 
cashinVery Rev Thomas Cashin CM 
croninVery Rev Kevin Cronin 
shannonVery Rev Gerald Shannon CM 
mccarthyVery Rev Vincent McCarthy CM 
doyleVery Rev James Doyle CM 
campbellVery Rev John Campbell CM 
sheenyVery Rev Edward Sheehy CM 
moynihanVery Rev Andrew Moynihan CM 
byrneVery Rev William Byrne CM 
grahamVery Rev Canon Thomas Graham DD 
roweVery Rev James Rowe Cong Orat