The Washington Singer building on Streatham Campus of the University of Exeter. Sir Walter Raleigh's tercentenary may have had something to do with its origins
Image credit: Benjamin Evans
Reading through an account of Raleigh commemorations in The Times of 28 October 1918 woke me up to the fact that the University of Exeter is a relatively recent foundation, having received its Royal Charter only in 1955. Its predecessor, the University College of the South-West of England, was established in 1922. On the basis of the last paragraph in the newspaper report below, with its mention of deliberations over the setting up of a University of the South-West, I was tempted to think that American philanthropy played a part.
No surprise therefore to find that one of the principal benefactors was an American with strong Devon links. This was Washington Merritt Grant Singer (1866–1934), son of the sewing machine magnate Isaac Singer. Born at Yonkers, New York, in 1866, he moved as a child to England and grew up in Oldway Mansion, Paignton. Later he became a prominent racehorse owner. The Washington Singer is now the University's School of Psychology.
In fact two of the names proposed for the new institution were the University of Wessex and Raleigh University! The latter suggestion was made by Sir Walter Peacock, Secretary to the Prince of Wales.
Perhaps I see now why Budleigh resident Professor Harry Kay CBE, a Budleigh resident and former Vice-Chancellor of the University from 1973 to 1984, was such a Raleigh enthusiast.
The 300th anniversary of Raleigh's death in October 1918 was treated as an event of national importance, judging by the number of eminent people involved. But that was another time. Almost another country.
What has happened? Could it be 'due to a failure of national confidence', as the University's Dr Robert Lawson-Peebles suggested in a 1998 History Today article?
IN 2018 CLICK ON