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Higher Education News from the Collegiate Way

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Hatfield College (Re)Dedicates its Melville Building

[Ribbon cutting at Hatfield College’s rededicated Melville Building] — Hatfield College is the second-oldest residential college at Durham University, and Hatfield’s current master, Prof. Tim Burt, was my generous host last year when I visited the Durham college system. Like many older institutions, Hatfield College contains a mix of old and new construction, and earlier this month it took wise advantage of a renovation project to formally name and rededicate one of its first student residences. And as befits a vibrant collegiate society, this renaming was not a bureaucratic act carried out on paper, but rather a public ceremony with a ribbon cutting, a signature page, distinguished guests, and a special college dinner. Hatfield’s fine example is one that can easily be followed by other residential colleges around the world whenever any renovation project is completed.

A full account of the naming and dedication of Melville Hall may be found in Tim Burt’s news report below. Congratulations to all of Hatfield’s members on their wonderful new (old) building!

Hatfield College building gets £1million refurbishment and new name

The historic building at Hatfield College, Durham, containing A and B Stairs has been renamed in honour of the College’s founder, 156 years after it was opened as the first ever purpose-built student residence in the country.

Once “Bishop Hatfield’s Hall” had been founded in 1846, a new building was soon needed to accommodate the growing number of students attracted to it. The building, which has been traditionally and affectionately known simply as “A & B Stairs” has recently had a £1million refurbishment to bring its accommodation up to prestige standards. It has been renamed the Melville Building after the College’s first Principal, the Reverend David Melville, who held the post from 1846–1851.

The renaming ceremony was carried out by the well-known cookery writer and author Josceline Dimbleby, a great-great-granddaughter of David Melville. Mrs Dimbleby discovered her family connections with Hatfield while researching family history for her book “A Profound Secret” which is about David Melville’s daughter May and her daughter Amy. The book is part biography and part detective story, as the author seeks to uncover the truth of the mysteriously tragic life of her great-grandmother, May Gaskell, and her relationship with the Pre-Raphaelite painter Sir Edward Burne-Jones. Mrs Dimbleby was unaware of her great-great-grandfather’s links with the College and was amazed to discover from Hatfield’s historian, Arthur Moyes, the extent of the records about Melville’s association with the College. She was even more impressed by Melville’s magnificent portrait which still hangs in the main dining hall.

Josceline Dimbleby formally named the Melville Building on Friday 6th May. This was followed by a reception in the College Chapel where Mrs Dimbleby gave a short talk about her great-great-grandfather and his place in her book. Later, the College entertained her and her partner to a guest night dinner in Hall, which was also attended by the Vice-Chancellor and Lady Calman.

Generations of Hatfield students have reason to be grateful to David Melville’s visionary concept of a unique collegiate system which was subsequently copied elsewhere. Melville’s concept for the building was to provide purpose-built, furnished study bedrooms together with common dining facilities at a time when it was not fashionable and which was very much at odds with the University’s senior officers and ruling body of the day. Melville was determined to create a brand new concept of student living and learning which would both meet the increasing demand for places and at the same time provide access to a university education for people of limited means. His dream became a reality and the model has been replicated across the world – there is a strong argument to say that university halls of residence as we know them today started in Hatfield College, Durham!

By comparison with the £1 million spent last summer on A and B stairs, the original Hatfield building cost under £4,000! The refurbishment of the 28 bedrooms in the Melville Building makes them the highest grade (Four Diamonds) rooms available throughout Durham University for out-of-term letting. Visitors to the City are very welcome to make use of this facility – at a price, of course!

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© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2021