University of Bimingham 1.0 – What was it like to study at Mason College?

In 1880, Mason Science College opened in Birmingham, offering a university-level education. At the opening ceremony, the biologist T. H. Huxley gave an address on ‘Science and Culture’ which would become foundational for subsequent discussions of the relationship between the humanities and science in education. Huxley declared that ‘No child born in Birmingham, henceforward … need fail to obtain, not merely the instruction, but the culture most appropriate to the conditions of his life’. Mason College was to be a new kind of university, centred on science, modern languages and modern literature rather than theology or classics. Twenty years later it would be incorporated into the new University of Birmingham, becoming the core of the first independent civic university to be awarded full university status.

What was it like to be a part of this radical new experiment in education? Who were the first students at Mason College? How did they gain the ‘instruction’ and the ‘culture’ that would equip them for their lives ahead? What did they make of student life and the opportunities it gave them? And what contribution did they go on to make to the intellectual, cultural and political life of Birmingham and the United Kingdom?

As part of the University of Birmingham’s student-facing UoBe Festival, John Holmes, Professor of Victorian Literature and Culture at Birmingham, will be chairing an online discussion with an international panel of experts on Mason College. The speakers will be Dr Abigail Droge from Purdue University, Indiana; Dr Anne Rodrick from Wofford College, South Carolina; and Dr Clare Stainthorp from Queen Mary University of London. This session is jointly organised with and hosted by the 19th-Century Centre at Birmingham.

The session runs from 3.00 to 4.30 on Monday 24th January on Zoom. To register, please follow this link, log in, and book: If you have difficulty booking through the link, please email John Holmes ( for the details of the Zoom meeting.