Regent’s Park, established around 1811, covers 410 acres in the north central London. It is, by far, my very favorite park in London.
Before Henry VIII’s seizure and subsequent dissolution of the monasteries, the land belonged to Barking Abbey (a wonderful name). Alas, the monk’s fertile farmland became a hunting park, later transformed by architect John Nash into a idyll of gardens, open parkland, a canal, and the setting for my second journey to England. Today the park is home to the London Zoo, Primrose Hill, and the Open Air Theatre – not to mention throngs of pale and pasty Brits in all states of undress when the weather is warm and sunny in the summer.
|A profusion of delphiniums in Regent’s Park.|
My middle sister spent her junior year abroad, and having sampled England all-too-briefly on my trip to visit her, I knew I had to go back. Centre’s program was based at Regent’s College, an institution founded in the early 1980s primarily to provide American students with a study abroad experience. Luckily, (at least for those of us whose ideas of academia consist of ivy-covered, red brick buildings set within a park-like landscape), the college acquired the former campus of Bedford College in Regent’s Park.
|Our room had a fireplace too, but wasn’t nearly as cozy as this one appears.|
|The buildings of Regent’s College at the time of its dedication.|
They also probably did not have a pub inside the school, conveniently placed en route to class. (A half-pint was 80 pence, and a pint was 2 pounds…I think) They were, however, trailblazers at a time when education at any level was typically reserved for males of a certain social standing, both in England and in the States. Higher education for women was not guaranteed, and even when it was achieved, it was thought to be a path by which women could become better mothers, wives and housekeepers. Those goals informed my college and post-grad work not at all….
|The first home of Bedford College in Bloomsbury.|
The history of Bedford College is much more interesting than my college-student debauchery. Founded in 1849 by Elizabeth Jesser Reid, an anti-slavery activist and social refroms, the college’s first home was in Bloomsbury. Reid, together with a “circle of well-educated” friends, sought to improve education for women and provide a “liberal and non-sectarian” education. The novelist George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) attended classes at Bedford from 1850-51. (One of Charles Dickens’ sisters did as well, but since I know nothing about her other than her sibling, who I think created the most one-dimensional female characters and was sort of an ass, I don’t think her attendance does much for this story)
This news article, however, does add some depth to the tale of the ladies of Bedford College, which seems to have been “scornfully” viewed and “deemed by most to be wild adventure doomed to early failure.” And yet it is was the first university college for women in Britain – pre-dating Girton Collge, Cambridge (1869), which has a much sexier reputation. In 1985, Bedford College (by then co-ed) merged with another one of the University of London’s colleges – Royal Holloway College, and now commonly goes by that name.