Aberystwyth’s real-life ‘Welsh Hogwarts’ nets £16m for anniversary revamp
Old College at Aberystwyth University, a 19th-century building popularly referred to as a real-life ‘Welsh Hogwarts’, has been granted nearly £16 million in funding to help pay for its 150th anniversary revamp.
In an announcement Tuesday, the university received some £10 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and a further £6 million – £3 million from the Welsh Government and £3 million from the European Regional Development Fund – to facilitate renovations to Old College.
This is on top of an initial injection of £849,500 in development funding that it received from the heritage body in 2017, which allowed it to progress with plans and submit a detailed proposal for the full grant.
The £27 million revamp project timed for the university’s celebrations in 2022/23 will breathe new life into the former home of Wales’ first university, transforming it into a major cultural, creative and heritage centre for the country and driving new economic activity to the region.
“It will be a place which will welcome volunteers and visitors, the curious, the creative, and the entrepreneurs of all ages and the National Lottery Heritage Fund is proud to be part of that renaissance,” Baroness Kay Andrews of the National Lottery Heritage Fund in Wales said in a media release.
The Grade I listed building will be turned into a mixed-use facility, where science exhibitions will showcase cutting edge interactive displays alongside an AV space that highlights the university’s role in space exploration.
It will also house a new Discovery Centre that will see some 30,000 items taken out of storage to see the light of day, as well as new student study spaces and lifelong learning facilities to encourage public engagement and interaction and activities for the young.
Upon completion, the university expects Old College to draw an estimated 90,000 tourists to its seven floors and 143 rooms.
Supported by the Welsh government, Ceredigion County Council and project partners National Museum of Wales, Hay Festival and the National Library of Wales, the project is also expected to create 48 new jobs, 900 training opportunities, 400 annual volunteering opportunities, and contribute a significant £3.55 million to the region’s economy every year.
“The Old College project will restore and re-purpose for future generations one of the nation’s most important historic buildings and create a major centre for culture, learning and enterprise,” Aberystwyth University vice-chancellor Professor Elizabeth Treasure explained.
“But on a local level it will see one of our most loved landmarks regain its rightful place as a focus for community activity and a practical day to day working space.”
Designed in the 1790s, Old College is a dramatic piece of Gothic architecture. Parked precariously on a sea wall, its spires, turrets, yellow Cefn sandstone towers and gargoyle figures call up images of JK Rowlings’ famous school of witchcraft and wizardry, earning it the title of a real-life ‘Welsh Hogwarts’.
But that’s not all the similarities it shares with its fictional counterpart. Recent research by an Aberystwyth academic revealed that this real-life ‘Welsh Hogwarts’ also had a ‘real-life Professor Snape’ teach there once, and he was, quite fittingly, the ‘Chair of Chemistry’, or a potions master, in Harry Potter-speak.
Old College itself began life as “Castle House”, an ornate Italianate holiday home meant for the wife of a wealthy English landowner. A failed attempt to turn the elaborate structure into a grand railway hotel dubbed “Castle Hotel” decades later led to its purchase by a committee of London-based Welshmen who wanted to build the country’s first university.
University of College Wales, Aberystwyth, officially opened its doors in 1872 with three teaching staff and 26 students. Further additions to the site supported the growth of the institution, until a large new campus was built on the edge of the town in 1960s.
The structure has sat largely redundant since, a shadow of its former glory days. But it remains significant to the Welsh community, having played a pivotal role in the country’s educational history and the survival of the Welsh language, culture and national identity.
The Old College rejuvenation will see the building reclaim its place at the heart of Aberystwyth and the local community.