Queen's 175th Anniversary

Queen's University Queen's University

[Queen's University Douglas Library]
[Queen's University Douglas Library]
Celebrating Queen's 175th Anniversary

Herstmonceux Castle

July 1993
Decade: 1990s

[aerial view of Herstmonceux]As early as 1929, Chancellor James Richardson urged Queen’s not “to be confined by narrow geographic lines” — to expand its reputation by reaching out across international boundaries. That ambition had been largely unrealized at Queen’s until one the university’s most generous benefactors, Alfred Bader, Sc’45, LLD’86, spotted a real estate advertisement in The Times.

A castle in East Sussex, south of London, was for sale. When his wife Isabel balked at the idea of moving into a castle, Dr. Bader’s thoughts turned to his alma mater in Kingston.

Alfred Bader's own life had begun in Europe, but in the Second World War he escaped Nazi persecution by fleeing to Canada, where he attended Queen’s and studied chemistry and history. A soaring career in the United States as a producer of chemicals and as a connoisseur of fine art put him in a position to demonstrate his gratitude to Queen’s. Paintings, scholarships and chemistry labs came Queen’s way. Dr. Bader’s own progress instilled in him the realization that a university education must be more than a parochial preparation: it must open minds to broader horizons. To that end, he decided on Herstmonceux Castle in England.

History, written in stone

Herstmonceux was a product of Norman England, begun in 1441 by Sir Roger Fiennes on a license granted him by King Henry for his service in the French wars. Fitfully constructed over the next century, the castle was built of brick (and is now the oldest such building in Britain) and sat in a sprawling forest estate. A moat, central courtyard and 140 rooms completed its medieval splendour. Rumours of a giant, headless apparition haunting one of its rooms added a gothic touch.

Debts and dynastic problems resulted in the castle falling into ruin by the 19th century. Better-heeled new owners in the early 20th century saw the castle restored under the skilled eye of architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. In 1935, Country Life magazine described the castle as “a spectacle that for sheer breathtaking glamour is not to be surpassed in Europe.” In 1946, the British government purchased it as the home of the Royal Observatory. The Sussex night sky was perfect for stargazing. But when urban sprawl in nearby towns spoiled that sky, the castle was put up for sale in 1989. Dr. Bader purchased it soon after.

[The Baders at the opening of Herstmonceux]
The Baders at the opening of Herstmonceux.

A regal gift

Would Queen’s, he asked Principal David Smith, be interested in Herstmonceux as a new European campus? The proposition challenged the Canadian university to make a leap of faith. But Principal Smith, and his successor Bill Leggett a year later, immediately saw Herstmonceux as a unique and generous opportunity at a time when the world was globalizing and demanding that students look and think beyond national borders.

The Board of Trustees quickly recognized the power of this vision, approving a loan to finance the start-up. In July 1993, a castle in England became Queen’s new, far-distant east campus. By 1994, it was offering courses ranging from art history to international commerce as Queen’s International Study Centre.

Herstmonceux finds its footing

[Principal David Smith at Herstmonceux]
Principal David Smith at Herstmonceux.

The centre’s first decade was rocky. The initial business plan for the castle proved faulty and renovations went over budget. When Principal Leggett reluctantly concluded that the castle must be sold, the tide turned and the castle’s potential for internationalizing Queen’s was recognized. Students returning from the centre reported their awe at seeing the Louvre, visiting the Cloth Hall in Bruges and walking the beaches of Normandy with their professors. The Baders again displayed their generosity, providing additional funds for restoration and the construction of a residence. To broaden its intake base, the Canadian University Study Abroad Program was launched, allowing students from other universities direct access to the centre. In 2009, the centre was renamed the Bader International Study Centre in honour of the Baders.

By 2010, Herstmonceux had established itself. The castle serves as an academic campus, a site for conferences and also enjoys its own tourist trade with village “fayres” and medieval battle re-enactments gracing its lawns.

All this from a real estate ad in The Times and Alfred Bader’s loyalty to Queen’s.


The historical content of this site was curated by a committee of faculty and staff with submissions from the broader Queen’s community.
These moments are not intended to represent an exhaustive history of the university, but rather significant sign posts in its development.
Special thanks go to University Historian Duncan McDowall for his contributions.
Many thanks also to the people of Queen's University Archives for their support of this anniversary project.
Have feedback about the moments? Please contact qu175@queensu.ca