When the Royals visited Royal Holloway

Three lesser known royal events in Royal Holloway’s history.

Elena Rossi

The university has had at least 15 visits from royalty, including one by Queen Victoria in 1886. Here I will look at three lesser known royal events that took place at Royal Holloway.

The Jubilee Tree Planting

RHC PH 200 7 Tree Planting with Queen Mary

In 1937, Queen Mary was invited to celebrate the college’s fiftieth anniversary. The visit had been delayed as a sign of respect following the death of King George V and the abdication of King Edward VIII. To mark the milestone for the university, the queen was asked to plant an oak tree in the north lawns.

Egham was so proud of the royal visit that the Savoy Cinema bought the film of Queen Mary’s visit, which they showed multiple times following the event. Although the tree planting ceremony was intended to produce a long-lasting symbol of Mary’s visit and the jubilee, the tree did not survive. What was meant to be a commemorative occasion has become buried beneath the university’s history.

However, Mary left a gift for the university that marks this occasion. The principle, Janet Ruth Bacon, sent a letter to the Queen’s private secretary thanking Mary for visiting and for ‘the beautiful History of Buckingham Palace which she… so generously sent…as a souvenir of her visit’. The book remains in Royal Holloway’s library today and is still, as Miss Bacon declared, ‘one of the library’s greatest treasures’.

The Powell Gates


Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, opened the Powell Gates, donated by History lecturer Miss Isabel Powell, in 1958. You may be asking yourself: where are these grand gates that required a member of the royal family to open them? They are the gates that stand under the North Tower of Founder’s Building. Today we take them for granted, but their production was an important donation to the university.

Princess Alice declared she was ‘proud and happy to have the task of opening the wrought iron gates’. Moreover, she emphasised that the ‘historic connection [of the gates] would surely have pleased Miss Powell’. As it was her only request in her benefaction, Miss Powell evidently felt extremely connected to the university and wanted to ensure the safety of its students. Whilst this may seem like a minor event, it was considered significant enough to have a member of the royal family open the gates. A commemorative plaque in the entrance of the gate marks the event.

The Queen Mother Meets Colossus

RHC PH.201.25 Colossus and Queen Mother November 1970

As part of her role as chancellor of the university, the Queen Mother visited the campus in November 1970. A very special guest was awaiting her on arrival: Colossus the Bear. Colossus was a seven-foot-tall stuffed grizzly bear that had been Holloway’s mascot since 1950. The Queen Mother was very lucky, as she met him as he gained his shiny new teeth. She looked extremely impressed with his dentures.

Alas, the original Colossus was kidnapped by Imperial college in 1991 and his remains were discovered two years later, burnt by an animal rights protester. If the Students’ Union had paid the ransom, then this bundle of fur who charmed the Queen Mother may still be with us today. Instead, the college has created a new Colossus from one of the trees that had to be cut down during the creation of the Davison Building. It stands in the forest behind Founders Building and hopefully he will bring joy to many, like his predecessor.

Read more Holloway Histories.

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