At some point all graduates will receive a phone call, email or letter from their university Alumni Association. As esteemed alumni they are called upon to part with some of the money they have earned with their university education to help current students buy library books, join sports clubs and plug holes in leaky lecture hall roofs.
From Bishop Hurd's correspondence it's clear that this practise is not a modern one. On February 8th 1771 Emmanuel College sent out requests for financial support from the college's alumni to rebuild the “west side of the building by the court”. As a former fellow of Emmanuel College, Bishop Hurd, then Archdeacon of Gloucester and Rector of Dursley, was kindly asked to empty his pockets.
This request was in the form of a large, formal document from the “Master and fellows of Emmanuel College” (the style of which Bishop Hurd reprimanded his former Master for, deeming it unnecessary). The document asks for the “assistance of our friends” to raise funds to rebuild the West building, which was “found upon a survey to be so decayed and ruinous both in the roof and walls that it is incapable of being repaired and must be pulled down and rebuilt” (Letter from Master and fellows of Emmanuel Coll. February 8th 1771. HM2, 2/1).
Unfortunately, the college’s finances were “by no means sufficient to bear the expense”, because £1000 had already been paid for building repairs elsewhere at the college. In a humble request the college asked for financial support to raise the £3000 needed for “work, not undertaken for shew [sic] but from necessity.”
Image of proposed changes to Emmanuel College
Bishop Hurd responded from Lincoln’s Inn, where he had been a preacher since 1765, and donated £50 to the college. We have a copy of Bishop Hurd’s letter (copied by his nephew Richard Hurd Junior) to Dr William Richardson, Master of Emmanuel College, in which Hurd states his pleasure in supporting his former college, and that a less formal request would have been sufficient.
“A less formal intimation of their pleasure, from yourself, or any of my other friends, would have been abundantly sufficient. My great obligations to your worthy society, and the singular respect I must ever bear to it, make me a willing contributor to so good and necessary a work.”
Copy of a Letter to Master of Emmanuel Coll. Dr W. Richardson, Feb 14th 1771. HM2, 2/2.
Dr Richardson’s reply acknowledging the receipt of Hurd’s donation is equally elegant in style. He elaborates on the reasons why “we are forced to be troublesom [sic] to our friends” and thanks him for his “handsom [sic] contribution” to the society.
The elegant wordplay with which Bishop Hurd was “entreated” to support his college seems perhaps over the top to our modern sensibilities, but perhaps modern Alumni Associations would have more fruitful responses if they used more “formal intimations”.
Copy of letter to Master of Emmanuel College by Richard Hurd
Written by Sarah Stretton, Skills for the Future Graduate Trainee at The Hurd Library and University of Worcester Research Collections.