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Law School

Exeter Law School: From Gandy Street to Streatham

How it all started

Students have studied law at the University since 1923. This was originally as part of the University College of the South West until Incorporation by Royal Charter in 1955 established Exeter as a university in its own right.

You can find out more about our history by clicking on the accordions below and see archive pictures on our Flickr gallery.

The prospectus for the University College in 1923 notes that a department of Law had been established, made possible by an annual grant of £450 from the Council of the Law Society. It also tells us that the Law Society approved the department as a ‘recognised School of Law’ for the purposes of part II(2) of the Solicitors’ Act 1922; the Act which required all articled clerks in the Solicitors’ profession to attend for at least one year a recognised School of Law. Courses were to be provided by a lecturer in Plymouth and Exeter, preparing students for the examinations of the Law Society for the LL.B. degree of the University of London.

Students could expect teachings in History of Roman Law, English Constitutional Law and History, and Jurisprudence. (Read more about the early study programmes in our Flickr gallery).

The 1924 Annual Report describes the first session of the Law Department, with the inaugural address delivered by Professor W.S.Holdsworth, K.C., D.C.L., All Souls, Vinerian Professor of English Law in the University of Oxford. His address was titled ‘Legal education and its debt to Bracton’. An apt choice as Henry de Bracton lived, judged and wrote in Devon and is buried in Exeter Cathedral.

Twenty six students attended the first year of lectures, of which 10 were reading for the Final Examination of the Law Society. The annual report for Law concludes ‘It would appear that there is a very clear and definite need for this Department of Law, in view of the number of professional students who have voluntarily attended during the first session’, and also notes that ‘an increase in the staff is urgently required.’ By 1926 the number of students had grown to nearly 40.

Nearly 100 years later, our annual undergraduate student intake now exceeds 400 and the Exeter Law School community includes a vibrant mix of staff and students from across the UK and around the world. Over the years we have established meaningful and enduring partnerships that connect us with universities in France, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Canada, Germany and other nations. We’re proud to say that 100% of our research has internationally excellent impact (based on research impact rated 4*and 3* in REF 2021) across a range of areas including: Family Law, Legal History, International and Human Rights Law, European Law, Environmental Law and Commercial Law. 

Many thousands of students have passed through the Law School, be it through the doors on Gandy Street  or Streatham campus, and gone on to make influential contributions to various fields not just in law. Within the legal sector our alumni include Appeal Court Justice The Rt Hon Lord Patrick Elias, Senior Presiding Judge for England and Wales The Rt Hon Lord Justice John Goldring, as well as a number of High Court Judges, Circuit Judges, KCs and partners at Magic Circle law firms.

What's next? Read more on our Future: Beyond 2023 page.

Flickr gallery