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College Names – What Do They Actually Mean?

Butler, Trevs, Cuths – our colleges are a key part of our Durham identity. But what do the names of our colleges actually mean?

There are 13 undergraduate colleges in Durham city. Let’s do this!

Josephine Butler

Ah – everyone’s favourite self-catered college. The last of the hill colleges, it’s a simple PR2 ride away from the city centre. But what’s in the name you may wonder? Josephine Butler was an English feminist and campaigned for a range of social reforms during the Victorian period, most notably for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act (1886). She campaigned for the age of consent to be raised to 16 from 13, and helped to found Newnham College at Cambridge University, advocating female education. Her ardent disregard for social norms and awareness of sexual discrimination was totally out of place in an era in which women could not yet even vote.

Go girl. Beyond proud to be a Butlerite.


Butler’s next door neighbour, Collingwood, was named after Sir Edward Collingwood. Collingwood was an academic, and his area of expertise lay in the area of mathematics. Born in Northumberland and educated at Cambridge University, a young Edward Collingwood received his doctorate for a paper published in 1929, entitled ‘Contributions to the Theory of Integral Functions’. As an historian, this is slightly beyond my limited GCSE Mathematics knowledge, yet the gravitas of what he achieved is something I can understand. Sir Edwards’s skills were widely respected, and he went on to serve his country in WW2 as a naval scientist. A fantastic guy who contributed a lot to the field of mathematics.


George Macauley Trevelyan was chancellor of Durham university from 1950-57. An historian and academic, he wrote countless books throughout his life, on a range of historical areas – from British social history, to Italian political history. Interestingly, he also worked diligently alongside the National Trust to support their work, as well as becoming the first president of the Youth Hostels Association. The National HQ of YHA in Matlock is named Trevelyan House in his honour. So as an historian myself, and someone who has spent many a school trip staying in hostels, I have a lot to thank this guy for.

St Aidan’s

St Aidan’s is named after Irish monk and missionary, Aidan of Lindisfarne. He is known as the apostle of Northumbria for returning Christianity to the area, and is a recognised saint. Lindisfarne Abbey still remains today on a tiny island off the north coast of England. Northumberland’s patron saint, Saint Cuthbert, was a monk and later abbot of Lindisfarne Abbey, and his miracles and life were documented by the Venerable Bede. Recognising some other names here? Read on…


Grey college is named after Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, who was Prime Minister from 1830-1834. There is a particularly impressive statue of him in Newcastle city centre, commemorating his life and efforts towards the passage of the Reform Act of 1832, increasing the electorate to roughly 6% of the total population. He is also known for his affair with the Duchess of Devonshire, dramatized within the 2008 film starring Keira Knightly. Grey was chosen as the name for the college as he was Prime Minister during the time of the Universities foundation in 1832.

Van Mildert

William Van Mildert was the last palatine Bishop of Durham (1826–1836), and part of the group that established Durham University. In 1965, a new college came into existence and it was named Van Mildert in honour of the Bishop. During the formation of the university, he gave Durham University Durham Castle, as well as buildings on Palace Green, which today house the Music Department, Union Society and Palace Green Library  amongst other things.

St Hild & St Bede

Interestingly, the college that is neither a hill or bailey college once wasn’t even a united college itself. The College of the Venerable Bede for men and St Hild’s College for women were two separate institutions providing degree level qualifications. Some of the first female graduates produced by Durham University came from St Hild’s. St Hild & St Bede weren’t united until 1975, just over 40 years ago. St Hilda of Whitby is a Christian saint and was the founder of Whitby Abbey. St Bede is often referred to as the Venerable Bede, most well-known for his historical work: ‘Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum’ (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People). There is a shrine to him within Durham Cathedral.


St Mary’s

Mary’s college has a very interesting history, being the eldest of the hill colleges. It was originally established in 1899 as the ‘Women’s Hostel’ and didn’t change its name to St Mary’s until 1920. Originally located in Claypath, the college moved around the city until finally coming to reside where it does today in 1952. St Mary’s only became a mixed college in 2005, and still today contains one wing of accommodation that houses only girls. Named after St Mary, the mother of Jesus, there is a statue of the Virgin Mary placed within the college chapel.

St Cuthbert’s

Founded in 1888, St Cuthbert’s is one of the oldest colleges at Durham University. St Cuthbert is the patron saint of northern England, and his tomb and a shrine in his memory is encased within Durham Cathedral. There is a statue in millennium square (just before Lloyds/Loveshack), created and designed by Fenwick Lawson which shows the coffin of Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne being carried by 6 monks into Durham. The Cross of St Cuthbert also features on the coat of arms of the University of Durham.

St Chad’s

St Chads is named after St Chad of Mercia, who was a 7th century Anglo-Saxon churchman born in Northumbria. He features in the work of Bede the Venerable and is renowned for introducing Christianity into central England. Throughout his life, he became an abbot of several monasteries, Bishop of the Northumbrians and subsequently Bishop of the Mercians and Lindsey Peoples.


Somewhat unsurprisingly, Castle College (or University College as it is sometimes referred to) is named thus because part of its college is comprised of Durham Castle itself. It was set up in 1832, the same year as the university itself, and as previously explained, William Van Mildert organised for the castle to be given to the university.



Hatfield College was originally called Bishop Hatfield’s Hall, but it was later changed to simply Hatfield. It is named after Thomas Hatfield, Prince Bishop of Durham from 1345 – 1381. He achieved the political title of Lord Privy Seal in 1344, but only remained in that position for a year, transferring to the post of Prince Bishop of Durham. Hatfield is the second oldest of the Durham colleges, and Hatfield’s tomb can still be seen today within Durham cathedral.

St John’s

Founded in 1909, Johns was initially intended as a CofE theological college. In 1919 it became officially part of Durham University. The college still maintains these strong religious links, most clearly represented in the names of halls and the study centre. Cranmer Hall named after religious reformer Thomas Cranmer, and the Wesley Study Centre, named after John Wesley, the Anglican churchman who helped to found Methodism. The college itself is named after St John the apostle.


Wow! How interesting! I hope you’ve enjoyed this little journey through history.

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