The College of St Gregory and St Martin at Wye, more commonly known as Wye College, was an educational institution in the small village of Wye, Kent, England, 60 miles (100 km) east of London in the North Downs area.
Founded in 1447 by John Kempe, the Archbishop of York, as a college for the training of priests, in 1894, the school moved to new premises, and the South Eastern Agricultural College was established in the buildings with Alfred Daniel Hall as principal. In 1898, Wye became a School of Agriculture within the University of London. Until 2005, Wye College was a well-known study and research centre in the fields of rural business and management, biological sciences, and the environment and agriculture. The college was officially closed by its then owner, Imperial College London, in September 2009.
Several of the older college buildings, such as the Latin School or the Parlour, date from the fifteenth century and the main college buildings are set amidst cloistered quadrangles and gardens. They are protected by a Grade I listing.
Academic and learning centre
The Wye campus developed from 1894 until 2000. It occupies a 3 km² estate, which includes a farm, managed woodland, and ancient grassland that provide outstanding research resources for agroecological research. These resources were augmented by extensive glasshouses, climate-controlled growth rooms for plants and insects, and a containment facility for transgenic plants that supported laboratory-based research. There were dedicated laboratories for plant molecular biology, genomics and gene sequencing, electron microscopy, use of radiochemicals, microbiology, soil analysis, and plant/animal cell culture. Some of these lab facilities were removed by Imperial College. There were student halls and other buildings dotted around the village.
Students from all over the world followed undergraduates or postgraduates courses in fields related to agriculture, biology, and food marketing. Distance-learning was also offered. Numerous conferences and seminars were also run for professionals, and short-term students. Some of the better-known academics teaching on campus included sociologist Prof. Michael Redclift (Emeritus, King's College London); Prof. Ken Giller (Wageningen University), and Nick Russell, formerly Bridge Wardens' Professor of Microbiology.
In 2000, Wye College lost its status as a College within the federal University of London and merged with Imperial and was renamed Imperial College at Wye. While there was some opposition, the reasons cited were financial and pragmatic, and Imperial agreed to keep agricultural teaching and research on the campus. It did wish to move the social scientists and economists to London, and this forced several staff departures.
The first Provost of Imperial College at Wye was Professor Tim Clark. Commenting on his new appointment, Professor Clark said: "Wye College has a well-deserved reputation for excellence in teaching and research. I am looking forward to acting as Wye's champion and helping to preserve and build on all that is so special here."
The end of Wye College
These and other promises made by Imperial turned out to be unreliable. In 2004, with a new Imperial Rector (Richard Sykes) they announced that the Department of Agricultural Sciences was closing, and that most teaching and research at Wye would end. In 2005 it was announced that Wye College would be converted into a research centre for non-food crops and biomass fuels, with the support, under a "concordat", of Kent County Council and Ashford Borough Council. Some 12,500 jobs were promised if the research hub developed fully, but funding for the project remained uncertain, and villagers were kept in the dark about the scale of the proposals until a public meeting organised by Imperial. Opposition quickly began, and leaks of official documents (some of them held at a concealed website to avoid requests under the Freedom of Information Act) to a local campaigning website, have shown that the principal aim of the plan, particularly once an industry partner fell through, soon became to raise £100 million for Imperial projects in London by building thousands of houses and commercial developments on protected countryside around Wye that has Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) status. A new motorway link was also proposed. The plan provoked bitter opposition both locally and nationally, and was seen as a test case for other attempts to build in AONBs.
On 15 September 2006, Imperial announced that it was abandoning the plan altogether after support was withdrawn by Ashford Borough Council following widespread complaints from the public, and the publication by save-wye of a hitherto secret map showing the vast extent of the draft development proposal. The Imperial masterplan was in fact for 4,000 homes in the AONB.
This decision was hailed by environmentalists and lovers of rural Kent as a key victory to preserve the status of the AONB, and it stopped Wye from becoming a much larger town. The failed project cost Imperial at least £1 million in professional fees (and much more over the period), and prompted resignations. One observer commented that Imperial’s plan reflected “the state of democracy in Kent, the transformation of a renowned scientific college into a grasping, highly aggressive, neo-corporate institution, and the defence of the status of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – throughout England, not just Wye – against rampant greed backed by the connivance of two important local authorities. A controversial aspect of this was the manner in which all three parties colluded to keep the scale of their draft proposals out of the public eye. The information only became publicly known when a map of the proposal, on the project website held by management consultants, was eventually leaked.
After this debacle the nearby University of Kent agreed to run some undergraduate business management courses from the college buildings in 2007, but this proved short-lived, and Kent's School of Economics and Kent Business School now operate from its main site in Canterbury.
The college today
The Wye College campus was closed in September 2009 and Imperial College is seeking to develop the estate or to find suitable tenants for it. Most of the college farmland is currently leased to a former student of Wye College, a Mr Atwood, until 2019. Most of the buildings are still for rent as of May 2012 and an effort by Imperial to sell off Withersdane Hall was halted with council intervention. A proposal to restore the agricultural college, with accreditation from the University of Buckingham, was advanced in 2010, but would rely on Imperial releasing freehold buildings that it may still be trying to develop, and the University of Buckingham are no longer interested in the proposal. A proposal for a Wye Free School, initially with an entry of Year 7 students was received in 2012 by the Council and later approved. The first Principal of Wye Free School is Janet Naylor and the school opened to Year 7 pupils in September 2013 in the Kempe Building, with much local support, although the loss of Wye College is still lamented by many as other facilities on campus fall into disrepair.
Among Wye College's major contributions were the development of a number of new varieties of hops, such as Wye Challenger, Wye Northdown, Wye Target and Wye Yeoman, used in the brewing of beer, and the first world breeding of dwarf hop varieties which are far more economically to grow for the hop farmer. No other hop growing institute has had so much impact on the world wide hop industry as Wye College. This research has now been relocated to nearby Harbledown and operates as Wye Hops Ltd.
- David Hewson. 2007. Saved; How an English village fought for its survival and won. Leicester: Troubador Publishing
- Wye Community Land Trust: An organisation set up to bid for the tenancy of the Wye College farm, and run it on behalf of the community.
- David Hewson. 2007. Saved; How an English village fought for its survival and won. Leicester: Troublador Publishing
- see wsvi "dot" wordpress.com/
- Wheeler, G, "Home Brewing", CAMRA, 1993
- Imperial at Wye
- A. D. (Sir Alfred) Daniel Hall *FRS