A Tale of Two Holloways?

The Queen’s celebrated visit in 1886 saw the monarch puzzled over the real identity of Mr Holloway.

By Elena Rossi

Following the opening of the new library by Princess Anne, I thought it would be interesting to explore the royal visits that have previously taken place at Royal Holloway. However, because there are so many stories about the monarchy’s connection to Holloway, I have decided to split it up over two columns. It seems appropriate to begin with the grand opening of Royal Holloway in June 1886. I would like to acknowledge the importance of Richard Williams’ book ‘Thomas Holloway’s College: The First 125 Years’. It is one of my inspirations for this column and I have used it a lot for my research.

George Martin-Holloway may be an unfamiliar name to many. Yet, he played a key role in the university gaining its ‘royal’ title and was responsible for the presence of Queen Victoria at the opening ceremony. Born George Martin, he became an important person in Thomas Holloway’s life. Not only was he the brother-in-law of Holloway, marrying Jane’s sister, Sarah Ann Driver in 1857, but he also acted as Thomas’ agent. He supported Holloway in many matters, including the selection of paintings in the Picture Gallery. He was so influential in Holloway’s life that he was given the honour of laying the first brick at the College in 1879. Following Holloway’s death in 1883, Martin took over the responsibility of completing Holloway’s work at the university and even took the name ‘Holloway’ in 1884 as a sign of respect to his dear friend. However, this resulted in Queen Victoria being confused at the opening ceremony of the university.

Initially, Queen Victoria was not convinced about opening the university. This is extremely shocking considering how influential she is to the university’s history. George Martin-Holloway first tried to persuade Queen Victoria to officiate at the opening ceremony in 1885, and was unsuccessful. He then recruited Count Gleichen, son of Queen Victoria’s half-sister, to help change the Queen’s mind. Luckily, Martin’s ally had more success and the Queen agreed to the opening. Cheekily, Martin did not give up there, and in May 1886 he asked the Queen if she would permit the building being styled ‘Royal Holloway College’. This seems bold, considering the Queen’s initial reluctance to officiate. Again, Martin was extremely fortunate and the Queen granted permission for the title two weeks before the opening ceremony.

The most interesting aspect of the opening, as Richard Williams highlights, is that Queen Victoria did not seem to understand who was the founder of the university. In her journal for June 30th, 1886, Victoria commented:

“The building is a splendid and unique one… built and given by Mr Holloway. After he was presented to me, we drove round the whole College, which stands on a hill, above Egham, with a beautiful view…We then got out and were conducted to the Chapel by Mr Holloway (a very modest man).”

Although Victoria was very impressed by the beautiful building, she seems to have misunderstood the role of George Martin-Holloway. As she had only dealt with Martin, it is reasonable that Victoria had assumed him to be the university’s founder. It is rather sad that Victoria did not know the true history behind the university and its founding, but it is also rather comical that such a mistake was made simply because Martin had taken Holloway’s name.

Despite the misunderstanding, photography from the event shows that many people were excited by Victoria’s attendance. The North Quad is seen to be filled with people celebrating her presence. It seems fitting that this area would eventually have her statue in the centre, something that continues to illustrate her importance in the university’s history.

Royal Holloway Archives: RHC PH.100.1.1 30th of June 1886

Elena Rossi

Read more Holloway Histories.


Featured image: Royal Holloway Archives: RHC PH.100.1.1 30th of June 1886