On Monday Alastair Ross, Andy Mellows, our Head of Charities and myself travelled up to North Wales for the the Master's Annual Visit to Bangor University. Our links with the university go back to 1890, only six years after its foundation.
Despite our excellent archives the reason why we began to support the newly created University College of North Wales, as it then was, are obscure. However it is almost certainly connected with the endowment of Thomas Howell (c1480-1537), an immensely rich early sixteenth century. He was born in North Wales and came down to London. In the 1520s he established a major position of domination in the Anglo-Hispanic trade living for many years in Spain during a period that saw the transformation of the country following the discovery of the Americas. He died childless and left his very considerable fortune in trust to the Company.
The story of the Howell's endowment is very complex and for some centuries its prime purpose was to provide dowries for girls of his line or from North Wales. By the mid-nineteenth century the original purpose of the charity 'to provide dowries for deserving Welsh maidens with an indicated preference for orphan girls for orphan girls of his own lineage' seemed to be almost frivolous in a more pragmatic age. The Hall received a regular stream of largely London-based claimants with far fetched stories of descent from Howell's family.
The charity was therefore reorganised by two acts of Parliament to create two Howell's girls' schools at Llandaff and Denbigh and a broader charity to support educational activity in North Wales, today called the Thomas Howell's Fund for Education. Part of the latter, with other Drapers' Company funding, goes to support activities at Bangor University.
|A view of the central part of the Bangor University campus looking north to Angelsey across the Menai Strait. The Library, that was built after a large grant had been made by the Company between 1909-11 is the stone building on the left of the tower|
Our host throughout the visit was Professor Colin Baker. Colin is a Pro Vice Chancellor of the University and its Professor of Education. He is also a Freeman of the Company.
We covered a lot of ground during the visit starting with a most pleasant dinner with the recently appointed Vice Chancellor Professor John Hughes and other members of the faculty.
The next morning stated with a visit to the School of Electronic Engineering formerly the focus of a noted Bangor Liveryman Professor Wynn Humphrey Davies. We consider progress arising both from Wynn's recent bequest, of which the Company are trustees, of creating closer links with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by exchanging students. Also we returned to that perennial problem as to how best could we help students with good STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) abilities get into university, especially if family finances are tight.
We then moved to the Council Chamber to consider potential PhD scholarship candidates proposals in Modern Languages and then heard the two currently Draper funded PhD students, Emma Roberts (Compensation for Personal Injury in Europe - Harmonisation on the Horizon? ) and Lauren Mawn (Transformational Leadership and the Student Experience) update us on their work. We were impressed.
We then toured the Library to consider planned work. It is always hard not to get involved as Master when there are Drapers' insignia wherever one looks.
Then it was on to a presentation about the most recent visit of ten undergraduate students from the School of Ocean Science to Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences field school on the Atlantic coast that was partially funded by a Drapers' Company grant. All we spoke to were excited with not only the chance to work in a completely different habitat than the rocky coast of north Wales but also to see a bit of the States.
Finally we reviewed the budget for next year including our contribution to the Hardship fund and an interesting idea of a possible PhD project to consider some part of the Company's archives where much still remains to be studied.
This is a much longer post than normal. But it was really great, and also a little humbling, to see the tremendous enthusiasm and opportunity that Drapers' funding stimulated across this lively university. Our particular thanks to the Vice Chancellor, department heads and especially Prof Colin Baker for a stimulating visit.