Articles from the Thoroton Society Newsletter

The Lady Warden of University Hall, St. Andrews

By Nick Molyneux

On Monday 20th September 1909, the Aberdeen Press & Journal recorded details of a meeting of the University Court of St. Andrews University (1).The proceedings of the meeting included the appointment of a lady living in Gedling Nottinghamshire, to the role of Lady Warden of University Hall, St. Andrews Scotland. This lady was Mrs Edwin Neave. The notice further advised that Mrs Neave replaced Miss Melville, who had been appointed to Queen Margaret's College, Glasgow. She accepted the position on the 23rd October 1909 (2). At the time, University Hall was a 13-year old all-female hall of residence, built in the rather grand Scottish Baronial style.

University Hall 1909 -1911

The University of St. Andrews holds an undated typed document by Mrs Neave, in which she summarises the major developments at University Hall during her two years as Lady Warden before handing over to a Miss Dobson. This gives her assessment of the two years she spent at St. Andrews as the Warden of University Hall. The style suggests that this may have been her contribution to a larger document detailing the development of University Hall.

In her words: “When I became Warden of University Hall in 1909 it seemed at first as if the Hall's history for some time would best be written in the words 'Happy is the country that has no history'. Difficulties had been overcome by my predecessors;- the Hall was a recognised and respected part of the University; and desire for residence in it was already so keen that two overflow houses were fully occupied. Its life was flowing smoothly and happily; students of considerable ability were attracted to it - amongst them several foreigners of quite outstanding ability - German, Russian, Polish, Danish, Indian, American. One felt that great ideals were being realised, and that the Hall not only made the conditions of life and study far better for its students, but also had a very real contribution to make in the life of the University. And perhaps this might have been all worth recording about my two years there, had not two important events occurred. The first was that owing to the rapid increase in requests for admission, the University Court decided to build a large extension to the Hall in 1910; and Mr Donald Mills was invited to prepare estimates and plans. Since that date Mr Mills name and work has become famous for the very beautiful buildings and alterations he has given to the University; but it is a pleasure to be able to record the splendid thought and attention he gave to every detail. No suggestion of mine was ever beneath his consideration, and his tact and patience were unlimited with a warden who knew little of architecture, but must have her finger in every pie that went to the building of this large extension, which doubled the Hall's previous capacity. Then came the furnishing. Here again the Court was most generous, giving a very substantial cheque for the purpose, with a promise of more if it should be needed. This was a pleasant side issue of work, for the dignified lines of Mr Mills' designs for the Entrance Hall, and main Reception Rooms lent themselves very naturally to simple furnishings with a few good pieces of old Scottish and old English design. About the same time, through Mrs Pettigrew's generosity, a dignified panelled Dining-Hall was added; this also being designed by Mr Mills. The main part of this work was completed by the summer of 1911, by which time the second outstanding event of this period was upon us. This was the celebration of the Quincentenary of the University. In this great event the Hall naturally could only feel like a very newly-born babe; but it was good to realise itself as now an established part of a great University, which while glorying in its past, had also opened its arms to include new and modern conditions, of which University Hall was an obvious sign. The formal opening of the Hall extension took place in the autumn of 1912, by which time Miss Dobson had become Warden; so that here she takes up our tale. E. J. Neave (3)"

1911 Census

The 1911 census shows Mrs Neave as a boarder in the home of a Gedling farmer, Mr Arthur Lamb, aged 48, single and originally from the Derbyshire village of Brailsford. Two other residents were Lamb's housekeeper, Annie Arnold (aged 38) and another lodger, Sarah Doubleday (aged 72), both born in Upton, Nottinghamshire. Mrs Neave's census entry states that her profession was "Warden Hall of Residence for University Students" and records her marital status as that of a widow, noting that she had not had "children born alive" (4).

As the census records people on the premises on Census Day, Sunday 2nd April 1911, Mrs Neave must have been in Gedling and not in St. Andrews. That she was not in St. Andrews is confirmed in her letter of resignation below.

Letter of Resignation

In an uncatalogued hand-written letter dated 9th May 1911 from University Hall and addressed to Principal Donaldson, Mrs Neave tendered her resignation.

"Dear Principal Donaldson,

"I am sorry to trouble you while you are away on holiday but feel that as you are to be away all the month it is perhaps better to do so than wait. 1 wish to ask you to accept my resignation of the post of warden when convenient to you. I know that this is a busy time to fill in anyone's place, and of course am quite willing if it suits you to stay over the September Celebrations and complete the furnishing of the Extension, and manage the housing of the students during that period; but I think it wise for any one taking up the warden's work to do so at the beginning of a Session and shall be glad therefore to retire at the end of September. I found out when South, during the Easter vacation, my mother's health had very unexpectedly broken down, and I wish to have more time to spend with her. I should have told you this when I called upon you at the beginning of this term, but finding you so tired after a long meeting felt it was not right to trouble you with another detail at that moment. l know of course that mine is only a three month's engagement; but think that fit is necessary to advertise the post, it will probably be convenient to you to have this done in your absence, so that you may deal with the matter on your return before the close of the Summer term.

1 should like to express my appreciation of the consistent kindness and consideration shown to me by all the members of the Hall Committee and of the University generally.

Yours sincerely, E. J. Neave" (5)

Mrs Neave's mother, Emily Jane Suffield, died in June 1914 in King's Norton, Warwickshire aged 76 (6).

University Hall Committee

The minutes of the University Hall Committee, with the Principal Sir James Donaldson in the chair, record that:

5th February 1912 : - The Secretary submitted a letter he had received from Mrs. Neave, lately Warden of the Hall, sending a statement of the sums which the Factor had paid into the special bank account for the furnishing of the new building, and of her receipts from sale of worn furnishings of the new building; and also the total payments made by her and the total amount of orders for furniture placed but not yet delivered. Mrs. Neave stated that the vouchers for payments up to 25th November 1911 are in the hands of the University Auditor, and that the vouchers since that date, and accepted estimates for orders placed but not yet delivered, are in her hands. It was agreed that Mis Dobson should communicate with Mrs. Neave with a view to arranging as to the forwarding to the Hall of the furniture already purchased and as to the expenditure of any further sums required to complete the furnishing of the Hall, and that Miss Dobson should be authorised to arrange for having the furniture sent to the Hall and for having the balance standing at Mrs. Neave's credit on the bank account, transferred to Miss Dobson's name. The Secretary was directed to intimate to Mrs. Neave what had been arranged (7).

12th June 1912: - It was agreed to record in the Minutes a vote of thanks to Mrs Neave for her admirable discharge of her duties as Warden, and for the care and diligence exercised by her in carrying out the furnishing of the new building (8).

So, who was Mrs Neave?

Born Emily Jane Suffield, Mrs Neave was the younger sister of J.R.R. Tolkien's mother, Mabel.

Her two years at University Hall at St. Andrews coincided with a significant expansion of the residential facilities for female students and as the Lady Warden of University Hall, Emily Jane Neave played a key role in ensuring that the expansion ran smoothly.

She was a resident of Gedling for a number of years and I hope to be able to share a little more in subsequent articles.

My thanks to:

I am indebted to Britta Funck-Januschke, Senior Libraries and Museums Assistant and Sarah Rodriguez, Muniment Archivist, (University Collections), Libraries and Museums, St. Andrews University for guidance on published references to Mrs Neave and access to the uncatalogued letter of resignation and statement of major activities at University Hall 1909 -1911.


(i): The address of University Hall today is Kennedy Gardens, St. Andrews, Fife KY16 9DL; (ii): University Hall was built in 1896 ; (iii): John Donald Mills FRIBA (1872 - 1958), elected a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1906(9).


(1) Aberdeen Press & Journal, Monday 20th September 1909; British Newspaper Archives.

(2) University Court Minutes, 1909-1910; 23rd October 1909-1910; UYUY505/8, p.269.

(3) 1911 Census, England and Wales,; Emily Jane Neave.

(4) Report on her time as warden, E.J. Neave, undated; Uncatalogued; Libraries & Museums, University of St. Andrews.

(5) Uncatalogued letter of resignation, E.J. Neave 9th May 1911; Uncatalogued; Libraries & Museums, University of St. Andrews.

(6) Civil Registration Death Index 1837 - 1915;; Emily Jane Suffield.

(7) University Hall Committee Minutes; 1911-1912; 5th February 1912; UYUY505/10/1 p. 235.

(8) University Hall Committee Minutes; 1911-1912; 12th June 1912; UYUY505/10/1 p. 276.

(9) Biographical Dictionary of British and Irish Architects; Mills, John Donald