Last Friday I was honoured to speak at the service for the inauguration of NMITE, our new university project, in Hereford Cathedral. This was my address.
In around 1200, before Oxford and Cambridge colleges were even thought of, Hereford was recognised as a community of philosophers.
It was a community that went beyond the staple ecclesiastical subjects of divinity and grammar. A letter of that time from Master Simon de Fresne to his friend the noted scholar Gerald of Wales, also a Canon of the Cathedral, invites Gerald to come to Hereford. Why? Because Hereford was a city of thinkers.
Hereford’s expertise in applied mathematics was of long standing. It specifically reflected the discovery of mathematical ideas and methods, which had been lost to the West after the fall of Rome but had been kept alive, and much improved, by Arab scholars.
The mathematician Roger of Hereford had studied geometry and astronomy among the Arab masters in Toledo, and in 1178 composed a set of astronomical tables around a meridian placed in Hereford. Who knows? If these had been widely taken up, then Hereford really would have been the centre of the world.
But it was not to be. When Oxford was convulsed by a dispute between students and townsmen in 1209, a group of scholars left to settle in Cambridge, laying the foundations for the University of Cambridge. Yet despite Hereford’s recognised status as a centre of academic excellence, no scholars went west from Oxford to Hereford.
It is that gap, that missed possibility of eight centuries ago, that NMITE is designed to fill.
It was the belief of the people of Herefordshire that caused its great Cathedral to be built. It will be the belief of the people of Herefordshire and its friends that enables this new university to be created—potentially the most transformative institution for our county since the establishment of the Cathedral itself.
Let us all join together, link our arms each to each other, and make it happen.