Celebrating the signing of our Royal Charter


On 4 January 1965 the University of Kent was established through the signing and sealing of a Royal Charter of Incorporation.

University Archivist Ann MacDonald explains the significance of the signing of the charter and this date in the University’s history.

‘This charter defines the scope and rights of the University of Kent at Canterbury, as it was then called before it expanded with the Medway campus, Tonbridge centre and its European centres.

‘The foundation of the University of Kent happened at a time of great change for higher education in Britain, initiated by the 1963 Robbins Report.

‘Among what became known as the “plate glass” universities, Kent was developed with modern ideals within the traditional British university landscape. The journey from concept to realisation for a university on top of the hill at Canterbury was already well underway by 1965, though the Charter of Incorporation formalised the institution as a legal entity with the power to grant degrees.

‘On the same day that the University formally came to be, 4 January 1965, so too the poet and author T. S. Eliot died. And so, the first and oldest college was named “Eliot” to honour him.

‘The design of the charter is beautiful, with printed ink on vellum and sealed in scarlet wax. If a person was to read a dozen charters of incorporation then they would spot familiar patterns in format, language and style. Charters reflect multiple British and European legal traditions and heritages, placing authority upon parchment in a way that cannot be misunderstood.

‘The Great Seal of the Realm was applied, by warrant under the Queen’s sign manual, by Lord Coldstream, then the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery. The Great Seal is heavy, made of red seal wax with one face depicting an image of Queen Elizabeth II riding side-saddle on horseback, with the sitting monarch on the other side. At this time, when the wax was melted and poured, the integrity of the charter was so affixed.

‘The Royal Charter was updated in 2010 to reflect the development of the University of Kent. As we consider the past 50 years, let us look at the ideal in that original charter, which set down a vision: “Whereas an humble Petition has been presented unto Us by the Interim Committee of the Sponsors of the University of Kent at Canterbury, praying that We should constitute and found a University within Our City of Canterbury and Our County of Kent for the advancement of knowledge, the diffusion and extension of arts, sciences and learning, and the provision of liberal, professional and technological education and to grant a Charter with such provisions in that behalf as shall seem to Us right and suitable…”

‘And so the University of Kent was granted its charter, on 4 January 1965, the official document which makes a university a university.  However, after the wax set, it was the people who worked and studied here that set in motion the principle of advancing knowledge who ensured that the University of Kent has achieved the potential enabled by this legal document, in such a short time.’

For more information email Ann MacDonald.