Keeleā€™s Heritage: The Sneyd Family and the Keele Estate

Keele University is situated on an estate of over 630 acres with extensive woods, several small lakes and landscaped parkland. It was owned formerly by the Sneyd family. Keele village (cy-hill or cow hill in Anglo-Saxon) is five miles from the centre of the city of Stoke-on-Trent and just outside the boundary of the historic market town of Newcastle under Lyme.

The Sneyd family can be traced back in North Staffordshire to the late 13th century, but they came into possession of the Keele estate in 1544. Before the Sneyds the area had been owned for many years by the Knights Templar, a medieval Military Order. The first Keele Hall was built in 1580 and the present Hall replaced it on the same site in 1860.

The Sneyds were an influential and long-established local landowning family - they gained in wealth after the Industrial Revolution, partly through the discovery of extensive coalfields under their land. Keele Hall was rebuilt in 1860 by Ralph Sneyd (1793-1870) to the design of the celebrated Victorian architect Antony Salvin. The grounds and gardens were magnificently laid out around it and many interesting architectural, horticultural and landscape features survive today or are awaiting restoration.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the hall was let to the Grand Duke Michael of Russia, who entertained King Edward VII, the only reigning monarch known to have visited Keele before the founding of the University in 1949. For much of the twentieth century it remained unoccupied, until military forces from many nationalities were stationed on the estate during the Second World War.

The Keele University full grant of arms

The Keele University full grant of arms is based on the original Sneyd family arms, incorporating the Sneyd scythe and the family motto "Thanke God for All":

"Or on a Chevron Gules an open Book Argent in base a Scythe proper on a Chief wavy of the second a Stafford Knot between a Fleur de Lys and a Fret of the first. And for the Crest on a Wreath of the Colours In Front of a Wreath of Laurel Vert a representation of Rodin's statue "Le Penseur"

Keele University

The University College of North Staffordshire was founded in 1949 and received its Charter as the University of Keele in 1962.

The new university exemplified the innovation and idealism of the post-war generations. There was a deliberate aim to break away from the pattern of the specialised honours degree, avoiding as far as possible the divisions between different branches of study. Consequently, most students read four subjects in their degree course, two at honours level and at least two as a subsidiary. At least one of these subjects had to be from the arts or social sciences, and at least one from the natural sciences.

Until the 1990s most students followed a unique four-year course, beginning their studies with a Foundation Year, which was a broad course covering the development of Western civilisation through the perspective of almost every academic subject. Keele claims to have re-invented the dual honours degree in its modern form.

To inculcate a sense of community and collegiality, the founding ideal was for all students and staff to live on the campus; over time this stipulation has been relaxed but a very high proportion of students still live on campus, as do many of the faculty.

While time has inevitably forced some changes to the curriculum and the university experience, Keele upholds the principles of community and flexible interdisciplinary study.


People researching the Sneyd family and the Sneyd estate at Keele should contact Keele University Library which holds significant archives about the Sneyd family and local history. You can view a selection of photographs from the Sneyd Family Album courtesy of Mr John Kolbert of Keele.

The Keele Oral History Project

The Keele Oral History Project intends to collect, evaluate, catalogue and retain historical material related to the earliest history of Keele University. It will focus particularly on obtaining and preserving recorded oral evidence through interviews which preserve the surviving memory of staff and students from that time and place to capture and reflect both the zeitgeist and the personal histories of Keele people.

See the granted by HRH Queen Elizabeth II on 26th January 1962.


  • Keele: The First Fifty Years - A Portrait of the University 1950-2000 by J.M.Kolbert, published by Melandrium Books (ISBN 1 85856 238 4) out of print
  • A New University: A. D. Lindsay and the Keele Experiment by W. B. Gallie, published by Chatto and Windus 1960 Out of Print
  • The Sneyds: Squires of Keele Historical Pamphlet by J.M.Kolbert
  • The Sneyds & Keele Hall Historical Pamphlet by J.M.Kolbert
  • Keele Hall; a Victorian country house Historical Pamphlet by J.M.Kolbert
  • Off the Record; a people's history of Keele by Angela Drakakis-Smith, published by Churnet Valley Books (ISBN 1-897949-21-9)
  • Keele: An Introduction. Pamphlet by Michael Paffard (ISBN 0 9534157 0 8)
  • The Child that Books Built by Francis Spufford, Faber & Faber (ISBN 0-571-19132-0)
  • Never Oppressed, Never Oppressor: the Sneyds of Staffordshire; a gentry family from 1600 to 1900 by Michael Ralph Sneyd (Huddersfield, Hilltop, 2003. ISBN 090526231X)
  • Essays on the History of Keele, edited by CJ Harrison), published by University of Keele 1986 (ISBN 0900770694) Out of Print
  • Keele: An Historical Critique by Sir James Frederick Mountford, published by Routledge 1972. (ISBN 0710072376) Out of Print
  • First Decade: the Origins of Keele University (1949-1962) - DVD and CD obtainable from the Alumni HQ. "Keele by alumni, for alumni"
  • A Coming of Age: Continuity and Change (1962-1973) - DVD and CD obtainable from Alumni HQ. "Keele by alumni, for alumni"