1990-2007: Some recollections

The idea of a new college in Oxford linked to the University’s outreach activities, and especially to its lifelong learning work, became a live one in the mid-1980s. At that time, Dick Smethurst (then Director of the Department for External Studies) and I (then Deputy Director) were conscious that in Rewley House there existed the main features of the basis for a new College. The building had just been refurbished and extended so as to provide extensive teaching facilities, residential accommodation, dining rooms, library, etc. At the same time there was also in Rewley House a group of academics, long committed to extending the reach of Oxford scholarship and who could form the Governing Body of a new College. A further strand in the thinking related to the fact that an increasing number of university awards were now being developed with part-time students in mind, and it was clear that the time would not be far off when possibilities of degrees open to part-time students would be explored seriously.

This thinking eventually resulted in the University agreeing to the idea of a society being formed which would offer fellowships to senior members of the University who had a particular interest and involvement in the University’s lifelong learning and outreach activities, and would be a base for part-time matriculated students should the idea of part-time degrees become a reality.

During 1989, agreement in principle was reached with the University for the establishment of the new society. A formal proposal was agreed in Congregation, and the Conference of Colleges also agreed. However, the blessing of the University and the existing colleges was contingent on the new society not making significant financial claims on any of those parties. The then Registrar, Bill Dorey, explained to us that we would have to ‘consume our own smoke.’ At the time I didn’t know what that meant, but its meaning soon became clear – we would have to finance the college ourselves. A degree of support was, however, forthcoming, when the University voted a grant of £17k a year for five years to the new society.

The new society formally came into being on 1st March 1990. The timing was such that this would need to happen some time in Hilary Term 1990, but the precise date was arrived at subliminally. An Inauguration Ceremony was held, attended by the Chancellor, the Vice-Chancellor, representatives of the other colleges, and, of course, the founding Fellows. We were then on our own, although with the strong support of the Vice-Chancellor, the late Sir Richard Southwood, latterly an Honorary Fellow of Kellogg. As a result of his persuasion and that of the Registrar, Rewley House was allocated additional space in No 8 Wellington Square so as to enable it to provide the facilities which would be needed by the new society.

We also had the prospect of £85k in our bank account, albeit in instalments over five years. As we could not be sure that any further funds would be forthcoming from anywhere, the Governing Body agreed that, rather than treat the £17k per annum as income to be spent annually, we should regard the £85k as the College endowment and that we should therefore limit our spending to £3k per annum until we managed to improve our fortunes from other sources.

It was then that the W.K. Kellogg Foundation transformed the fortunes of the new society. The Foundation, under the extraordinary leadership of Dr Russell Mawby, had already shown itself to be an outstanding supporter of lifelong learning in various parts of the world, and it had supported adult education in Oxford since the 1960s. In the early 1980s a major grant had made possible the refurbishment of Rewley House, and thereby made it possible even to think about the building being a base for a new society. As a result of their involvement with the refurbishment of Rewley House, Dr Mawby and the other trustees of the Foundation were aware of the scope for further development, and quickly saw the significance of the new society in the Oxford context. Discussions with the Foundation resulted in the society being offered a major grant to form the basis of a proper endowment of the College. Without that generous support (one of the largest grants the Foundation had made) the College would not easily have been able to establish itself.

The Foundation expressed the hope that the society would be able to raise money from other sources and recognized that to do so naming opportunities might have to be offered to other potential donors. A number of us then explored other possible benefactors. Some potential contributors were identified, but it appeared that the main interest for some was in seeing their names alongside those of Balliol, Merton, etc., rather than an interest in the work of the College. It was while we were making these explorations that it became clear to us that we were not likely to find better supporters than those we already had in the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Governing Body agreed that the new society should become known as Kellogg College. Although that decision was made to say thank you to the Foundation for the support it had already given, the College was subsequently gratified by several further grants from the Foundation. These include the major grant which made possible the establishment of the College Building Fund which enabled us to acquire and develop the Norham Manor campus. The society’s name was changed in October 1994 from Rewley House to Kellogg College.

In the meantime, there had been major developments in the College – in the size and composition of the Fellowship and in its academic scope. The Fellowship was extended by the inclusion of academic colleagues from other parts of the University, initially Educational Studies, and subsequently from across the University. The ambition of providing a home for matriculated part-time students was realised in 1992 when the College took in its first Master’s students reading for the degree of MSc in Educational Studies. This part-time Master’s degree was rapidly followed by others, particularly those offered by Continuing Education, beginning with English Local History, Software Engineering, and Archaeology.

With these developments in train, we obviously needed someone to help us organise ourselves, and we were fortunate in the appointment of Gina Huskisson (now Gina Wilson) whom we enticed from St Anne’s College to be the first College Secretary. All sorts of procedures needed to be established, traditions invented, and working practices adopted. Our approach was to “copy the best, invent the rest”. What degree of formality should we adopt? On what occasions should we wear gowns? Should there be a college grace? More importantly, what should be our policy on expanding the fellowship, and in developing the student body? Most of these issues were resolved quite quickly. On the question of college colours, I consulted the W K Kellogg Foundation to see if Mr Kellogg himself had had colours associated with him in any way. This appeared not to be the case, but in the course of enquiring I discovered that the colours sported by Dr Russell Mawby’s horses in harness-racing competitions in Michigan were royal blue and white. We were pleased to find this combination had not been spoken for by any other college. Hence the College colours.

Other recollections? There was the time when we first presented students from the College for matriculation, with Trevor Rowley as the Dean of Degrees, leading our matriculands to the Sheldonian, but probably going the long way round, just out of the sheer novelty of it. The culmination of the introduction of those first students was, of course, their corresponding graduation and I remember Chris Davies as Dean of Degrees, resplendent in scarlet, on a wet and blustery day taking the students to their triumph. This was a cause of great pride and excitement in the College, as have been all subsequent graduation ceremonies, not least that of Alison Price, the first-ever part-time DPhil in the University. Along the way there was also the first representation of Kellogg in a Blues sport, when Ray Lehner became a rugby blue in 1999 (and again in 2000 and 2001) thus establishing a significant tradition of English Local History students representing the University at Twickenham.

After that the College grew rapidly in the size of the fellowship and in the number of students, eloquent testimony to the importance of its role within Oxford. It is also a reflection of the commitment of all members of the College, not least that of Joanne Elvins, College Registrar and Secretary from 1994 onwards, and her team, who oversaw and managed this growth. Although the College had admitted a small number of full-time PGCE students for several years, it began to take substantial numbers of full-time masters and doctoral students from 2003 onwards. This was partly to start building up a continuous student presence in readiness for our new site which would also be of benefit to part-time students when they were in Oxford.

As the College grew, and as Continuing Education expanded in Rewley House, it was clear that additional accommodation would have to be sought. Because also of a widespread confusion between Rewley House/Continuing Education/Kellogg College, the College resolved that it should at the earliest opportunity acquire separate premises from Rewley House. As Professor Airs describes in a subsequent section, the quest took several years and involved us visiting potential sites in other parts of Oxford (some attractive, some less so). However, to our great good fortune, the opportunity to acquire the Norham Manor site arose – in part from a chance conversation I had with Vic Allison, the University Architect, who had just returned from a meeting in which the future of the Banbury Road houses had been discussed. Vic alerted me, and thence the College, to the fact that they might be coming available. Although these buildings had been suggested to us in the past, it was only then we realised that the site might be a serious prospect. There followed much politicking and negotiations with the University, and I remember the many meetings Angus Hawkins and I had with the then Registrar, David Holmes, who proved himself to be a good friend of the College throughout that process. The culmination of those negotiations was our moving in to our first Norham Manor buildings, 62 Banbury Road and 7 Bradmore Road in 2005/6.

Geoffrey Thomas
President Emeritus & Honorary Fellow

Director of the Department for Continuing Education, 1987-2007; President of Kellogg College 1990-2007.