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Bede College, Durham

Teacher training college

Type: School

Bede College in Durham City was a training college for schoolmasters in the dioceses of Durham and Newcastle. It was established in October 1841 and admitted fifty students each year in September (Durham Directory and Almanack 1914, p 139).

The college offered a two-year instruction course, and used adjacent model and training schools to provide practical teaching experience for students. Francis Whellan’s History and Directory of Durham 1894, p 190, records that all students were members of the Volunteer Rifle Corps.

Six hundred Bede men saw active service in the First World War. Former vice-principal Donald Webster described how the college was affected in 1914-1918:

‘Bede as a coherent community ceased to exist, while students past, present and future became professional servicemen. All who were fit served in one branch or another …. the few who were not fit or who were waiting to be called up went off as ‘nominal’ Bede students to Cheltenham Training College …. which remained open.

By the time the thunder of the German naval bombardment was heard in Durham on the morning of 16 December 1914, Bede was almost empty. All of the present and past students in the Territorials had gone as a matter of course and the remainder were volunteering as fast as the Army would take them. Actually, just when war was declared the present students, all Territorials, were at camp and as a body therefore drafted into the 8th DLI Battalion, 50th Division. They were immediately followed into the Army by a host of past students. ‘Present’ students formed the unit known as the Bede Contingent of the 8th [‘D’ Company], but the vast majority of past students found themselves unable to get into this prime contingent. They managed to keep together, however, by opting for the 18th (Pals’) Battalion.

The first ever Bede casualty occurred during the Hartlepool bombardment mentioned above when one of the past students, Thomas Minks, of the 18th DLI Battalion who were defending that part of the coast, was killed. That began to bring home a little of the reality of war, but a sterner lesson was soon to come. This was in the following spring. On 25 April 1915 the Bede Contingent of the 8th, who had been hurried to France and then to the front line north-east of Ypres, found themselves near the hamlet of Gravenstafel along with the Canadians on their right and scattered French Zouaves away to their left. The latter, suffering what appears to have been the first gas attack of the War, had collapsed, allowing the Germans through to outflank the Bede men, rushed up to fill the gap. It was a terrible baptism of fire. Shouting the College war cries familiar to the Racecourse and Durham Regatta our men went into action; but in a matter of hours a third of the Contingent were casualties – the majority killed – and a third of them taken prisoner. The Company was to all effects wiped out. To those who knew these men it was little consolation to find it admitted by the High Command that they had materially contributed to that great feat of arms by which the Canadians saved Ypres, for years afterwards the bastion of the Western Front.

…. Presently, owing to the exigencies of military enlargement and reorganisation, the original Bede companies dissolved, those Bede men who remained scattering to see service in almost every field of the War. Some certainly joined the Navy and one or two the Royal Flying Corps and RAF.

It was Principal Donald Jones at home in an empty College who kept up the massive correspondence which enabled him to keep track of almost all his students, no matter where they were or what happened to them. Had they been kept, these letters would have together formed a remarkable document.’
(from Donald E Webster: Bede College – a commentary, 1973, pp 50-51)

Although Webster indicated that the original letters no longer survived, some of the content was reproduced in contemporary College magazines, which do survive.

When the war came to an end the College reopened. Only a handful of those who had been students in 1914 returned to complete their courses because many were dead and some preferred not to return to teaching.

The College of St Hild and St Bede, also known as Hild Bede, is now a college of Durham University. The college archives are deposited in Durham County Record Office, ref. E/HB


Donald E Webster: Bede College – a commentary, 1973 (Durham County Record Office Library Pamphlets Vol C 5/2)

I G Booth: The College of St Hild and St Bede, 1979

Civil Parish: Durham St. Giles

Contributed by Durham County Record Office | Hild Bede College