It wasn’t your typical alumni gift: a turreted and moated 15th-century English castle, donated to Queen’s University in 1993. But the university made good on the gift, opening an international education centre at its prized new possession, Herstmonceux Castle in East Sussex, just one year later after extensive renovations.
Now, nearing its 20th anniversary, the Bader International Study Centre – named for the castle’s benefactors, Queen’s alumnus Alfred Bader and his wife Isabel – is thriving, with more than 350 students attending each year, and with more than 7,000 alumni. The majority come from Queen’s and other Canadian universities, but also from a variety of countries. The centre offers a mixture of primarily undergraduate programs combined with extensive field studies.
The earliest written record of the castle, in 1440, is a petition to the Crown by a Sussex knight, Roger Fiennes, to crenellate – or fortify – his manor of Herstmonceux. Fiennes had risen to prominence after serving Kings Henry V and Henry VI, and he had decided to construct a castle befitting of his family’s new found importance. At the time, it was the largest private residence in England.
The castle changed hands many times over the following centuries, with much attendant intrigue. After the Second World War, the estate became the home of the Royal Greenwich Observatory, but the observatory was relocated in 1989 and the castle sat vacant. It was sold to developers, who planned to turn it into a hotel and golf resort, but was saved from that fate after a lengthy legal battle by locals and the subsequent purchase of the castle by the Baders.
The centre hosted a reunion for former students, staff and faculty in late July to celebrate the anniversary.