Main Arts building in the sunshine

140th Anniversary

Celebrating 140 years of Bangor’s academic excellence and global impact.

140th Anniversary logo

Celebrating 140 years of Bangor’s academic excellence and global impact.

2024 marks the 140th Anniversary of Bangor University, celebrating 140 years of academic excellence, world leading research, and transformative student experiences.

Join us as we revisit the legacy that began in 1884, and stay tuned as we share news on captivating events, and heart-warming stories to celebrate this big milestone.

The Beginnings

In the early 1880's a 3,000-strong procession of Gwynedd farmers, quarrymen and their families marched for education down Bangor High Street.  They raised £1,200 to transform an old coaching inn, Penrhyn Arms into what was then known as University College of North Wales.

The University opened its doors on the 18th October 1884 to 58 students and had ten members of staff. Students were initially conferred degrees by the University of London, until 1893 when Bangor became one of the three original constituent colleges of the University of Wales.  

The very first student to enrol at Bangor University was female.  Mary Ellen Williams was a lady of ordinary background, not one of wealth and stature as you might expect.  She was a local girl, the daughter of a grocer.  Female students actually made up a third of the student population in those formative years – which was unusual for its time.  

One of the first females to graduate from the University was Margaret Verney from Plas Rhianfa on Anglesey. 

Women were to contribute greatly to the growth of university education in Wales. 

In 1903, Bangor's city council donated a 10-acre plot of land overlooking the city for construction of a new, bigger university building.   Lewis D Jones (Llew Tegid), a local headteacher, led fundraising efforts across Gwynedd and Anglesey to help fund the new building.  Thousands of farmers, quarrymen, local people contributed towards the goal of raising a huge £120,000. 

The foundation stone was laid in 1907, and four years later in 1911 the main building was opened by Royal visit.

History of Bangor University in Film

Throughout this Anniversary year, the University is launching a series of six films telling the captivating story of the history of Bangor.  Join local historian and businessman, Gari Wyn as he takes us on a journey through campus and the city of Bangor, with some special collections also showcased by Bangor University’s Archives Department.

Join us as we explore the captivating story of how Bangor University came to be.
The story of how Bangor University started is a captivating one.
I'm Mari, studying Childhood and Youth studies here at Bangor University and this is the first in a series of six films where we
explore the history of Bangor University and how the small University on the Hill became the global influence that is today.
Here to take us on this fascinating journey is Gari Wyn, local historian, businessman, and graduate from Bangor University School of History.
So what can you tell us about how this story began? {Gari} Well, it all started in in the 1880s, and the first college was opened in 1884.
But we're standing here now in the new college, which was opened in 1911.
And right above us, we have the central tower of the college, which has four statues on it.
The ones we see from here are David, the patron Saint of Wales.
Next door to him is Llywellyn Ap Griffith. On the other side, we have Owen Gwynedd, who's buried in Bangor Cathedral down the road here,
down at the bottom of the hill, and also Owain Glyndwr
And the important person amongst those four is Owain Glyndwr because he had the vision in 1404 to have an independent Parliament
for Wales and an independent church for Wales and possibly more significance for us here,
an independent self autonomous university for Wales.
And how long did that take? {Gari} Well, when you work it out, it's 480 years isn't.
And with the drive and the vision of the people of Gwynedd and Anglesey, we finally had what Owain Glyndwr hoped he would have in 1404.
It's all started with the local people getting behind the local business leaders,
securing this building called the Penrhyn Arms and adapting it to be the university.
The doors opened and the processions came from all over for the opening ceremony.
I suppose you could say it was one of the earliest records of crowdfunding.
That's a good way of putting it. The whole community came together.
A non-conformist, traditional, old fashioned Welsh community farmers, poor farmers,
wealthy farmers, prominent businesspeople and especially the Quarrymen.
The Quarrymen actually gathered together 1200 pounds of their own money to start off the
conversion of the Penrhyn Arms Hotel to turn it into some kind of modern university.
And this was a massive challenge at the time.
The next step, obviously, was to gather the rest of them, and actually came to 35,000 to add that to the building.
Then we had a great procession to open the building in front of the Penrhyn Port here and down at the sea,
and opened the building in October 1884. That actually was a fantastic day in the history of Bangor.
We had a great procession and we should remember that Bangor High Street is the longest high street in Wales.
So the culmination of the day was 3000 people, a cross-section of all people in the local society, and we were on the way.
This obviously is the foundation of the education that you are receiving here today.
And how many students were registered here back then?
Well, there were 58 in the first year. But the staggering statistic is that there were 19 women out of those 58.
And that was totally unheard of throughout education in the whole of the UK at the time.
And for this to happen, the little city of Bangor shows that we've always been on the forefront of education,
always thinking of new ideas and developing and evolving as we go along.
Do we know anything about those first female students?
We have a lot of information about them. Probably the most prominent one was Margaret Verney, a member of the Plas Rhianfa family on Anglesey.
She became the first woman graduate. But more important is that she gave 30 years of her life towards promoting women's education.
And she became a member of the university council, which she remains for for the next 30 years.
And she contributed greatly to the history of the University of Wales and to women's Eduication in the UK generally.
Hello, Sian. What can you tell us about the first principal and professors here? Who were the first to teach?
Well, how did a Hill, an Irishman of German descent.
Was the first principle here. And he played an important role in establishing the university for nearly 50 years.
He learned Welsh fluently. He had the vision for the for the college, and he established and bought new people around him.
And how did the university establish itself and develop financially?
Again, by making connections. We had people like William Rathbone, the Liverpool MP who became an MP for Caernarfonshire also.
But later on, as Lloyd George became more prominent and liberalism,
he pulled in very wealthy business people from Merseyside and also from all parts of North Wales and everybody contributed.
He started new subjects, a forestry, for example.
Also the classics came to Bangor with possibly more pioneering than anything was his contribution to agriculture,
because agriculture was obviously a prominent part of the life of everybody here in Gwynedd and Anglesey.
What a great way to end this, first in a series of films.
Thanks. Follow the next part of this fascinating story by joining us in part two.
The vision of 1884, the growth of the university and its buildings.

Part Two - The Vision of 1884

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This is Bangor University, one of the first universities built in Wales and now within the top five in the UK.

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I'm Mari studying childhood and youth studies here at Bangor University.

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And this is our second in our series of six films where we explore the history of Bangor University and how the vision of 1884 evolved.

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Here to take us on this fascinating journey is Gari Wyn a local historian, businessman and graduate from the Bangor University School of History.

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So what can you tell us about how this part of the story starts?

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Well, from 1884 onwards, the college gradually expanded from its base down there by the port in the old Penrhyn Hotel.

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We needed a bigger university going gradually from an University of 60 students gradually by about 1890 to about 600 students.

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All of a sudden, the rural communities called for a new college.

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Between 1884 and 1893, the college evolved and more prominent local people, local businesspeople,

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local farmers and the coming of Lloyd George as an MP in 1890 made it inevitable that before long a new grand university would have to be developed.

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We're now obviously standing beneath the climax of the progress which was going to be built by 1911.

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So we needed money. The college and the MP's, such as William Rathbone and Asquith in London, also was behind this a prime Minister to be before long.

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Was there large amounts of crowd funding?

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This all started with a man called Llew Tegid

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who was appointed as the chief fundraiser towards the building of the new college, and that started in about 1905.

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This culminated in 1907 with the actual unveiling of this stone by Edward VII, as you see, in July 1907.

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Underneath the stone as a matter of interest are the publications in the local press at the time celebrating the actual event underneath the stone.

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Further down here is the name of Henry Hare, the architect who was responsible for this magnificent piece of architecture,

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which can't really be compared to anything in the whole of the UK.

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Yes. Gosh, that's incredible. And here we are in the stunning Shankland Library.

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What can you tell us about this building Gari? Well, the structure of the building was paid for by the Royal Drapers' Society.

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Very apt considering that the woollen industry was so important for the people of this area.

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So they paid for the structure. A man called Owen Owens, who was a foremost department store business man from Liverpool and London.

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He paid for all the wood work which is made by with Austrian Oak.

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We also have a unique feature in the roof of all the coats of arms for the different counties and purchases of Wales between 1907 and 1911

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Thomas Shankland was given the task of creating a massive collection of the most valuable books and rarest books in the history of Wales.

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So we have just one totally unique, unbelievable building,

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which I don't think can be matched by any university anywhere across the world.

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So here we are inside the building. What exactly can you tell us about the history of this hall?

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Well, we need an hour to do it all Mari but as you can see, it's a really majestic building.

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Sir John Pritchard Jones who was given the Baronetcy award for his contribution financially of £15,000 to build this magnificent hall.

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And it was based really on an idea that it would then include a great hall

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and this was basically the Lloyd George's idea, because he did feel that if we were going to have such a fantastic building in Bangor

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as a new university that we would also need a great hall like they did

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in Balliol and Jesus College in Cambridge and as you can see, the building itself held 1500 people.

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We're standing on the balcony now around us, these oak panels from Austria, these great windows, the cultural arms of all of the countries of Wales,

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and possibly more interesting than anything, the first Great Hall in any university in the UK to have what they called electroliers.

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These lights were actually chandeliers infused with electricity and that is a really,

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really pioneering thing for any hall to have in Britain in in the 1911 period.

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Thanks again, Gari. It really does put a different perspective on these corridors that our students walk through daily.

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Join us next time when we discover more about this amazing university.

Part Three - The Key Players

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Join me, Mari, as we explore the history of Bangor University and the key people involved.

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Hi Gari. Why are we here in Glanadda Cemetery?

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Well, we are right at the centre of the cemetery here, where a number of prominent people

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who played such an important part in the establishing of the early years of the university

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as we come down to the corner here, we come to William Cadwaladr Davies, the first secretary, the first registrar of the college, a Bangor boy from Hirael district

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at the bottom here who played

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a very prominent part in the establishment of the body of the University of Wales ten years after the university was sold.

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We have a number of other people here around as well, Llew Tegid

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the man who was responsible for collecting all the money. And on the other side, the mayor of Bangor, Sir Henry Lewis.

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But just nearby, we have another very, very important player in the in the whole story.

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So here we are at the grave of Sir Isambard Owen, why are we here?

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Isambard Owen was very influential in all aspects of development of the college.

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He also played an important part in the development of universities in London, in Paris and in Durham.

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So he's one of the possibly one of the the most important people in the history of university education in the whole of the United Kingdom.

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Right. So we're here in Neuadd Reichel and was this building named after Harry Reichel who was the first principal of the university

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Harry Reichel, from his Irish and German descent,

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was the first headmaster or first principal of the college from 1884 till 1927.

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And yes, this building which is a hall of residence was built in his memory.

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He's a very, very important part of the development of not only the University of Bangor,

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but of education in Wales and also in parts of the UK as well, because he was a pioneer in developing new departments.

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For example, in Bangor he united all the religious denominations to create one theology departments.

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He created the classics departments. He created the forestry departments under very important and significant agricultural departments.

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So the realms of the influence he has had on education in, within the University of Wales is just unbelievable.

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From this same period, Sir J. E. Lloyd became registrar of the College.

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He published research and the volumes of notes on the history of Wales to this day,

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his work on the history of the Middle Ages and Owain Glyndŵr remain the main source of the history of Wales in that period.

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A prominent woman also in the history of the College was Mary Rathbone,

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a member of the famous Rathbone family from Liverpool, who had grown up in Llandegfan, Anglesey.

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Was she related to William Rathbone, who helped set up the university?

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Didn't we speak about him in our previous film? Yes, they were a very influential family.

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During that time, Mary became a member of the University Council,

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and she was also a generous patron of the cause of women's education throughout the United Kingdom.

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She was also a member of the board, which was responsible for the great fight for the rights of women to have independent halls of residence.

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So there was a female only halls of residence then?

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The first official one was probably the one that was opened in 1893, which was the University Hall.

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The first girls in the college would range in age between 16 and 26 years of age.

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and finally in 1893, Reichel made sure that they had the money and they built the new University Hall, which is presently Rathbone Hall.

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And that was the start of a totally independent way of life for the young women within education in Wales.

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And that was at the time, something really pioneering that hadn't happened in most universities throughout the United Kingdom.

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I think everyone would agree we've come such a long way since then.

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Join us next time as we move to more recent history to find out how the university embraced bilingualism.

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