22 January 2019

Building to be named after Bedford College alumna

By Development and Alumni Relations Team

Submitted by Liz Valentine (former Bedford College staff)

A building in Tunbridge Wells, which houses Canterbury Christ Church University’s Salomon Institute of Applied Psychology, is to be named after Lucy Fildes (1884‒1968), who studied psychology at Bedford College under Beatrice Edgell from 1913‒15, graduating with a first class degree.

Like many women of her generation, Lucy originally trained as a teacher and lectured in a teacher training college for 9 years before embarking on her psychology degree. This led to a distinguished research career in Cambridge on what would now be called learning disability. Frederic Bartlett, the most eminent psychologist in the country at that time, who trained at least half the next generation, and director of the Cambridge lab, considered her “without exception the most capable research worker in her subject” that he had ever met. She published a classic paper on what is now termed dyslexia, demonstrating that it was not associated with intellectual ability and was the first to draw attention to auditory components in it. In 1929 she was appointed chief psychologist at the newly opened London Child Guidance Clinic. The second half of her career was devoted to child guidance (teaching, administration and consultancy). She was awarded an OBE in 1951. Lucy lived in Tunbridge Wells for almost 40 years and set up a child guidance clinic there in 1944.

The naming came about after one of the speakers at a British Psychological Society (BPS) history of psychology event over a year ago, Professor Jan Burns, who works in the building to be named, thought it would be nice to have the building named after a pioneer woman, preferably one connected with Tunbridge Wells. She mentioned this to the BPS archivist and the psychology librarian at Senate House. They asked me if I knew of a pioneer woman psychologist connected with Tunbridge Wells, as I’ve done a lot of research on pioneer women psychologists. At the time I didn’t but it so happened that I was working on two pioneer women psychologists with the librarian, in preparation for two conference papers we were giving. During the course of this research I discovered that one of the women (Lucy Fildes) was asked to set up a child guidance clinic in Tonbridge, which subsequently moved to Tunbridge Wells. I also discovered that she actually lived there for 38 years, so she was an ideal candidate especially given her CV above. We were able to make a good case for Lucy Fildes and happily it was accepted by the authorities. The opening/naming ceremony will take place in March this year and an article on Lucy written by me will appear in the February issue of The Psychologist, the house magazine of the BPS.

Stop press: I have just heard that there is now a road (Beatrice Edgell Weg) in the University campus at Würzburg, named after Beatrice Edgell. She was the first woman to graduate from that university, achieving her doctorate there in 1901. (Bedford College gave her leave of absence from her post as Head of the Department of Philosophy and Psychology, to undertake this.) There is already a prize there in her name, awarded for the best doctorate in psychology.