The 1828 charter, with a portrait of George III, but a reference to George IV.

The university that came to be (after a few name changes) the University of Wales Trinity St David, was founded in 1822. At that point it was St David’s College. The college admitted its first students on St David’s Day 1827, but received its Royal Charter the following year. This is the oldest charter in England and Wales after Oxford and Cambridge.

A charter is a document which recognises the establishment of a higher education institute, and in the case of universities, the right to award degrees. You can see a copy of the original Royal Charter in the lobby of the library on the Lampeter campus; the Lampeter society kindly paid for the reproduction and repairs to the original document and seal, which are held in the Roderic Bowen Library and Archives.

The reproduction of the charter in the Lampeter library.

Getting the first charter was not an easy process. The document was prepared by a man called Edward Plumptree. He began composing the charter in 1824, but it was not finished until 1828. By the time it was completed, the document was already out of date: the college buildings and academic staff had changed. Also, the portrait the portrait on the charter is that of George III, but the charter was conferred during the reign of George IV.

There were also accusations that Plumptree benefited financially more than he should have from the production of the charter. The total cost of producing the charter was £955, which in modern terms would equal some £40,000! This does not seem to have been taken lightly by those involved in setting up the college. In a letter, John Scandrett Harford, who donated the land on which the university is built, wrote ‘When you pay [Plumptree] … remind him of his promise repeated again both by letter and verbally to make some abatement of his own professional charges…’.

The original charter with its seal

Despite these difficulties, the charter allowed the college to begin teaching a range of subjects including Divinity, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Welsh, Philosophy, Mathematics, and Chemistry. Since then, the original 1828 charter has been amended several times as the university has changed and grown. In 1852, it gained the right to award the degree of Bachelor of Divinity, and in 1865, the Bachelor of Arts. More recently the charter has been amended to recognise the expansion of the university and its merger with Trinity University College (Carmarthen), Swansea Metropolitan, Coleg Sir Gâr and Coleg Ceredigion.

A recent amendment to the charter, authorised by Elizabeth II.

It is through these connections that the university’s current name came about. After joining the University of Wales in 1970, St David’s College became University of Wales Lampeter. UWTSD’s Carmarthen campus was originally Trinity University College. So, after the two merged in 2010, it was decided to recognise the history of both institutions by naming the new institution the University of Wales Trinity St David. Despite all of these changes, UWTSD is still recognised as an institute of higher education under the 1828 Royal Charter awarded to St David’s College.

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