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Origins of the Colleges' Contrasting Histories

Early cartoon depicting the rivalryEarly cartoon depicting the rivalryThe competitive spirit between King's College London on the Strand and University College in Bloomsbury has been an important part of London life for nearly two centuries. It has been expressed in the academic sphere, on the sports field and in the rivalry of the student populations.

It can be traced to their foundation in the 1820s when King's was established as an Anglican alternative to the secular University College.

King's principal objective was 'to imbue the minds of youth with a knowledge of the doctrines and duties of Christianity, as inculcated by the United Church of England and Ireland'.

Attendance at College Chapel and the study of Christianity formed an important part of College life.

A flavour of the rivalry can be glimpsed in the second verse of a 1820s satirical song set to the music of the national anthem:

King's College lads arise!
New Universities
Shall quickly fall;
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their teaching tricks,
O, Church! on thee we fix,
Maintain us all

One of the earliest potentially violent consequences of the contrasting styles and purposes of the two colleges arose when the Earl of Winchilsea, one of the principal financial donors to the fledgling King's College, accused its leading patron, the Duke of Wellington, of seeking to water down the orthodox, protestant, character of the new College.

The 1829 duelThe 1829 duelWellington had recently played a central role in securing Catholic Emancipation and Winchilsea, an opponent of emancipation, feared that he planned to turn King's into a 'Catholic Seminary'.

Wellington denied the charge and challenged the hapless Winchilsea to a duel, which took place on Battersea Fields in March 1829.

Perhaps appreciating his predicament in facing the war hero, statesman and undoubted crack shot, Winchilsea declined to fire and offered his apology.

The scene is imaginatively recreated in the colourful and irreverent contemporary print shown here.

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