The Queen visiting the University in 1956
Her Majesty the Queen arrives to present the new University of Exeter with its Charter and unveil the foundation stone of the Queen’s Building in May 1956.

History of the University

Key dates

1855 School of Art
1863 School of Science
1893 Exeter Technical and University Extension College
1922 The University College of the South West of England established
1955 University of Exeter founded
1962 Postgraduate Medical School established
1978 Incorporation of St Luke's College of Education
1991 Affiliation of the College of St Mark and St John, Plymouth
1993 Incorporation of Camborne School of Mines
1995 Affiliation of St Loye's School of Health Studies
2000 Peninsula Medical School established, in partnership with the University of Plymouth and the NHS in the region
2004 Cornwall (now Penryn) Campus near Falmouth opened.
2007 School of Dentistry opened, to create Peninsular College of Medicine and Dentistry
2009 £300 million capital investment programme of campus development underway
2012 Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh officially open the Forum, the centrepiece of the Streatham Campus. The University of Exeter is invited to join the prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led universities. The newly-created University of Exeter Medical School welcomed its first undergraduates.
2013 The University of Exeter is named the Sunday Times University of the Year. The Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) and the Exchange open on the Penryn campus.
2014 Works begins on the Living Systems building, which will act as a key interdisciplinary science hub to deliver world-class science.


The University traces its origins to schools and colleges established in the middle of the nineteenth century as a result of the energies and visions of individual educational reformers and philanthropists throughout Devon and Cornwall.

A hundred years ago, a large part of the Streatham estate was owned by a millionaire family of former East India Company merchants. Pennsylvania was an exclusive suburb, where children were discouraged from walking in the streets, and even chased away if they failed to raise their hats to residents.

St Germans, now the site of many halls of residence, was a private estate of Victorian family villas guarded by a lodge entrance in St Germans Road. Streatham Farm, now at the heart of the main campus, really was a farm and in the 1820s served teas, junket and Devonshire cream to summer Sunday strollers. St Luke's and Camborne were completely separate establishments.

In North Exeter, the Great Exhibition of 1851 spawned local Schools of Art and Science, which in 1868 were housed in the Albert Memorial Museum. Enthusiasm for extra-mural studies grew and, with support from the University of Cambridge, the college became in 1893 the Exeter Technical and University Extension College.

In 1900 its official title was changed to the Royal Albert Memorial College. This in turn became the University College of the South West of England in 1922 and, finally, in 1955, to great rejoicing amongst its students, the College received its Charter as the University of Exeter. Her Majesty the Queen was welcomed to the campus in the following year.
The University gradually transferred from its city centre sites to the sparsely developed Streatham estate over a period of fifty years, as land and buildings became available – and the funds to buy them!

St Luke’s

Meanwhile, across the city, arguably the largest and oldest of the Church of England Colleges began life as the Exeter Diocesan Training College. It had just 19 students in its first intake in 1840. Expansion followed the move from the former house of the Archdeacon of Totnes in Cathedral Close to its present site in 1854. The name was changed in 1930 to St Luke’s College Exeter. Co-education arrived in 1966 and in 1978 St Luke’s merged with the University to become the School of Education.

Camborne School of Mines

In Cornwall, numerous attempts were made from 1839 onwards to sustain classes in mining following initiatives by a number of benefactors and with the support of the Royal Institution in Cornwall. In 1876, Mr G L Basset, a mining entrepreneur of Tehidy, opened a purpose-built laboratory at Camborne for the use of the pupils of the Miners’ Association.

By 1888, Camborne Mining School was formally established. Over the next century, it met demands of both local people and mining engineers from all over the world, providing tuition at every level from evening and Saturday classes to, eventually, degrees. In 1993, Camborne merged with the University.

Reed Hall

Many of the University’s buildings have been named or re-named in honour of its supporters. The first gift to the University College – that of Streatham Hall in 1922 – was re-named Reed Hall to commemorate its benefactor, Alderman W H Reed, a former mayor of Exeter. Reed Hall’s estate of around 11 acres included a valuable arboretum of rare and beautiful trees collected from around the world by the Veitch family.

Thomas Hall

During the inter-war years, the University acquired many of the villas surrounding the campuses for student residences. One of the most attractive of these was the seventeenth-century Great Duryard Hall on the fringe of the Streatham Campus. It was re-named Thomas Hall after Charles Vivian Thomas, a Cornish solicitor and member of a prominent mining family.

First of three generations of the Thomas family to chair the Board of Governors of Camborne School of Mines, ‘CV’ also served for many years as Vice-President of the University College of the South West of England. He is remembered in the south west for many other generous benefactions, including his gift, in 1938, to the National Trust, of five miles of magnificent coastline along the north cliffs of St Ives Bay, from Godrevy Point to Portreath.

1963-74: expansion

The largest transformation of the University came after the Robbins report on higher education and a massive expansion in access to universities. Between 1963 and 1968, a period when the number of students at Exeter almost doubled, no fewer than ten major buildings were completed on the Streatham estate as well as halls of residence for around 1,000 students.

These included homes for the Chemistry and Physics departments, the Newman, Laver and Engineering Buildings and Streatham Court. Queen’s Building had been opened for the Arts Faculty in 1959 and the Amory Building, housing Law and Social Sciences, followed in 1974.

1975 onwards: investment

In the 20 years that followed, the University invested heavily in maintaining the high quality living and learning environment that has become its hallmark. £30 million was spent, mainly on new self-catering accommodation for students.

Gifts from the Gulf States made it possible to build a new University Library in 1983 and a social and study centre for postgraduate students in 1991, and more recently have allowed for the creation of a new Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies.

A second major benefaction enabled the completion of the Xfi Centre for Finance and Investment. In 2002, the University secured government backing for the creation of the Peninsula Medical School (a joint project with Plymouth) and in 2007 the School of Dentistry welcomed its first students. In 2004 the Cornwall Campus near Falmouth was opened. The campus is shared with University College Falmouth and a third phase of development is currently underway. Total student numbers across all campuses now stand at nearly 18,000.

A £130 million investment in new student accommodation on campus provided 2,600 new places. In 2009 work began on the University’s £300 million capital project; the new INTO centre, the outstanding Building:1 at the Business School and improvements to Geoffrey Pope have all been completed. The final and largest part of the project, the Forum, was opened by the Queen in May 2012.

A university of the highest standing

In 1995 Her Majesty the Queen, with His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, returned to the University for its 40th anniversary celebrations. She was able to see at first hand the way in which the University, its staff, students and supporters, had responded to the words of aspiration in her royal charter for ‘a university of the highest standing’.

This aspiration was much in evidence in 1996 and 1998 when the University received Queen’s Anniversary Prizes for research into, respectively diabetes and children’s health and exercise.

These achievements in the fields of health and medicine were developed further with the creation of the Peninsula Medical School, a new medical school run jointly by the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth and the NHS in the region.

In recent years, The University has invested strategically to deliver more than £350 million worth of new facilities across its campuses. These include landmark new student services centres - the Forum in Exeter and The Exchange at Penryn – together with world-class new facilities for Biosciences, the Business School and the Environment and Sustainability Institute. There are plans for another £330 million of investment between now and 2016.