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Outdoor education: the Romantic origins at the University of St Mark and St John

Mark Leather (University of St Mark and St John, Plymouth, UK)
Gil Fewings (University of St Mark and St John, Plymouth, UK)
Su Porter (University of St Mark and St John, Plymouth, UK)

History of Education Review

ISSN: 0819-8691

Publication date: 6 May 2020



This paper discusses the history of outdoor education at a university in the South West England, starting in 1840.


This research uses secondary sources of data; original unpublished work from the university archive is used alongside published works on the university founders and first principals, as well as sources on the developments of outdoor education in the UK.


Both founding principals were driven by their strong values of social justice and their own experiences of poverty and inequality, to establish a means for everyone to access high-quality education regardless of background or means. They saw education as key to providing a pathway out of poverty and towards opportunity and achievement for all. Kay-Shuttleworth, founder of St John's, wrote that “the best book is Nature, with an intelligent interpreter”, whilst Derwent Coleridge, St Mark's first principal, had a profound love of nature and reverence for his father's poetic circle. His father, the famous English Romantic poet Samuel Taylor–Coleridge, made the first recorded use of the verb “mountaineering”. Coleridge was using a new word for a new activity; the ascending of mountains for pleasure, rather than for economic or military purposes.


The Romantic influence on outdoor education, the early appreciation of nature and the outdoors for physical and psychological well-being and the drive for social justice have not been told in any case study before.



Leather, M., Fewings, G. and Porter, S. (2020), "Outdoor education: the Romantic origins at the University of St Mark and St John", History of Education Review, Vol. 49 No. 1, pp. 85-100.



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