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Our History

St John’s College was founded in 1909 as a theological college for the training of Anglican ordinands. In 1919 we became a full constituent college of the University and expanded and flourished over the following decades. In 1958 Cranmer Hall was established as a distinct but integral part of our college to train ministers for ordination, while members of John’s Hall would study for Durham University degrees in all disciplines, as they do today.

St John’s has always been progressive and inclusive in its outlook and, in 1966, we became the first Church of England theological college to train men and women together. This trend continued, and John’s became the first college in the entirety of Durham University to become co-educational, in 1973. Our first female Principal, Ruth Etchells, was appointed in 1978.

Our College has a strong history with the Fairtrade movement. Richard Adams, St John’s alumni and founder of Traidcraft, started selling Fairtrade products from a window out onto the Bailey with fellow St John’s students in the 1960s. Students continue to be resourceful and ethically minded, and this legacy is celebrated each year at Fairtrade formals and special events.

Our buildings, mainly townhouses dating to the Georgian period, also have a rich history.

Dame Elizabeth Bowes (1651-1736) lived at 4 South Bailey and is buried in the Bowes family vault at the Church of St Mary the Less. She had ten children and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother was descended from her third son, George Bowes.

Prince Charles unveiled a commemorative plaque honouring his ancestor Dame Elizabeth Bowes at St John’s College, during his visit to Durham City on Thursday, 15 February 2018. The Prince’s visit began at the Church of St Mary the Less, our College chapel where he visited the memorial stone of Dame Elizabeth Bowes. The commemorative plaque is placed in honour of Dame Elizabeth at Bowes House, her former family home. Bowes House now houses student accommodation and special function rooms.

List of Principals List of Cranmer Wardens

1909 – 1911 Sidney Nowell Rostron

1911 – 1919 Dawson Dawson-Walker

1919 – 1945 Charles Steel Wallis

1945 – 1953 Ronald Williams

1954 – 1955 G.J. Cumming (acting)

1954 – 1969 Jim P. Hickinbotham

1970 – 1978 John C. P. Cockerton

1978 – 1988 Ruth Etchells

1988 – 1992 Anthony Thiselton

1992 – 1999 David V. Day

1999 – 2006 Stephen Sykes

2006 – 2023 David Wilkinson

2023 – present Jolyon Mitchell

1968 – 1970: John C.P. Cockerton

1971 – 1979: Tim Yeats

1979 – 1983: Christopher Byworth

1983 – 1992: Ian Cundy

1993 – 1996: John Pritchard

1996 – 2004: Steven Croft

2005 – 2011: Anne Dyer

2011 – 2016: Mark Tanner

2017 – 2023: Philip Plyming

2023 – present: Nicholas Moore