Homerton College, Cambridge

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The Cavendish Building at Homerton's present site

Homerton College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Cambridge. Until 2001 it only admitted Education students. Since that time it has broadened its intake, although it remains unusual among the Cambridge colleges in its emphasis on Education.


Within the university it is considered to have been established in 1976 (http://www.cam.ac.uk/cambuniv/finding/addresses/college.html#hom), although in fact the college has a long and complex history dating back to the 17th century. The actual origins of the college have been elsewhere listed as 1695, 1768, 1895, 1976 or even 2001.

In 1695 the Congregational Fund was set up in London to provide for the education of Calvinist ministers, and to provide an alternative to the wholly Protestant education offered by the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Around 35 dissenting academies arose during the 18th century, offering a more modern curriculum of science, philosophy and modern history than the ancient universities who took a more traditionalist approach to learning.

In 1730 the King's Head Society, a group of laymen named after the pub at which they met, formed for the promotion of Calvinism. They sponsored young scholars to attend academies where they could learn the necessary 'grammarian', or classical, education which was a pre-requisite for the four-year 'academical' course of the Congregational Board. It was about this time that the layman realised the importance of such education for those outside of the clergy.

In 1768 the King's Head Society bought a mansion in Homerton, London, in which they now based all their teaching. This became the first Homerton Academy. To give an example of how intellectually important this academy was, although it only ever had between 12 and 20 students at any time, one of its tutors was described by Boswell as Johnson's "literary anvil"; another was offered a Doctorate of Divinity by Yale College. In 1824 the building itself was rebuilt, although it has since been destroyed by the Second World War. In 1840, Homerton College became part of the new University of London. It was around this time that Homerton began concentrating on the study of education itself, and shortly afterwards that the college began admitting women students, although John Horobin (then Principal) ultimately called an end to mixed education in 1896, shortly after the move to Cambridge, and the college remained all-women for 80 years.

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Homerton College

It was in 1894 that the Congregational Board of Education purchased the estate of Cavendish College, Cambridge (1876-1891, and named after the then-Chancellor of the university), which had been a failed attempt at allowing poorer students to sit Cambridge tripos exams without the expense of joining a true Cambridge college (Cavendish College was briefly recognised as a 'Public Hostel' of the university in 1882). Lack of money brought the venture to an end. At the same time, the growth of industry had turned the village of Homerton in London into a manufacturing centre, lowering the quality of life of the students and leading seven deaths between 1878 and 1885 from TB, smallpox and typhoid. Also, increasing student numbers required more space.

So Cavendish College, its estates and all its furniture were sold for 10,000, and the students and staff of Homerton College moved into the new buildings at Cambridge. Homerton New College at Cavendish College shortly became just Homerton College, Cambridge. John Horobin became the first Principal, and his portrait still hangs in their Great Hall.

In 1976, Principal Alison Shrubsole managed to get Homerton made formally an 'Associated Institution' of Cambridge University. Since the days of Horobin this had been under consideration, and the possibility of introducing a Cambridge Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) degree was even given as one of the reasons for the original move into Cambridge. It was only after the shake-up and governmental criticisms of teacher training in the early 1970s that the University agreed to have the college as an Associate Institution, as now all of its students were doing four-year honours courses. This was the same year that the college became mixed again.

Finally, in 2001 Homerton became an official college of the university. It retired the old B.Ed. course in favour of a three-year B.A. in Education tripos, followed by a 1-year Post Graduate Certificate of Education; and for the first time it began accepting students for other tripos courses.

Future developments suggest the further separation of Homerton and education. As of 2004, the majority of Homerton students are still on education courses (and the majority of Cambridge education students are at Homerton), but recent moves include:

  • the introduction of standard university tripos courses
  • the appointment of many new fellows in subjects other than education
  • the construction of a nearby Faculty of Education building
  • the transfer of education tripos books and other materials from the college library into the Faculty of Education library

In conclusion, the history of Homerton is long and unusual among Cambridge Colleges, not just for the novelty of its story but because traditionally, and in the nature of the original dissenting academies, the college has always been seen as the students and fellowship themselves rather than the buildings. The Congregational Board and the King's Head Society are not simply forbears of the modern Homerton College, but are intricately a part of its history.

Homerton has a wide range of thriving student clubs and societies, including a rowing club, music society and a resident drama society, HATS (Homerton Amateur Theatrical Society)[[1] (http://www.hatsdrama.co.uk)].


  • Simms, T.H. (1979). Homerton College 1695-1978 Published by the Trustees of Homerton College
  • Warner, Dr Peter lecture on the history of Homerton College (Michaelmas term 2004)

Colleges of the University of Cambridge Arms of the University

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