The history behind the names of Aston’s accommodation

BNOCs behind the buildings

accommodation astona halls harriet martineau james watt mary sturge william murdoch

Halls: the home away from home we either love or hate. But have you ever wondered why they’ve got names? William Murdoch, James Watt, Harriet Martineau and Mary Sturge: yep, there’s a whole lot of history behind Aston’s accommodation.

Sure, there are those people who’ve actually researched their accommodation’s history. But for those of you who are being productive and haven’t had the time, don’t fret. We’re here to do it for you.

William Murdoch

Mr Murdoch was a Scottish engineer and long-term inventor. He was employed by the firm of Boulton and Watt and worked for them as a steam engine erector for 10 years before spending the rest of his life in Birmingham.

Murdoch was the inventor of the oscillating cylinder steam engine, and gas lighting is attributed to him in the early 1790s, also the term “gasometer”. He invented the steam gun and the pneumatic tube message system, and worked on one of the first British paddle steamers to cross the English Channel. Murdoch also built a prototype steam locomotive in 1784.


Fun Fact: At age 23, Murdoch walked a distance of over 300 miles to Birmingham to ask for a job with a certain James Watt, the steam engine manufacturer.

Now for those of you paying attention, you’ll have noticed the mention of one James Watt who Murdoch worked with. Not a coincidence.

James Watt

James Watt, also of Scottish descent, was an inventor and mechanical engineer whose greatest achievement was his improvements to the  Newcomen Steam Engine. These enhancements were fundamental to the changes brought by the Industrial Revolution both globally and in the UK.


Fun Fact: Watt also developed the concept of horsepower and the S.I. unit of power, the watt, was named after him.

Harriet Martineau

Our next historical lesson takes a feminine turn with Harriet Martineau. Mrs Martineau was an English social theorist and Whig writer, often cited as the first female sociologist. 

Martineau wrote many books and essays on a number of topics ranging from religious to domestic and the most controversial: the feminine perspective. Regardless of being a woman in the Victorian era, Martineau achieved the rare feat of earning enough to support herself solely through her writing talent.

Despite being described as having a masculine intellect and body, Martineau introduced feminist sociological perspectives into her writing on overlooked issues such as marriage, children, domestic and religious life, and race relations.


Fun Fact: Queen Victoria was an avid reader of Martineau’s work and invited her to her coronation in 1838.

Mary Sturge

And finally our history session concludes with Mary Sturge. The eldest of 10 children, Mary Sturge is credited with becoming  one of the first female doctors at a time when such a profession for women was frowned upon to put it lightly.

She entered the highest class of the Edgbaston High School for Girls on its opening day where she studied subjects including geology and political economy. When Mason College, the forerunner of Birmingham University, was founded in 1880 she was one of the first four women scholars and helped to start the Students Union.

Mary Sturge also pioneered the belief in the value of sleep, sunshine and fresh air in the treatment of illness, and in the importance of preventive medical care. Her years in London had convinced her that the horrors of drink, had not been exaggerated, and later she was to be co-author of a textbook on alcoholism.


Fun fact: Mary Sturge was so committed in her work that sometimes she literally gave the food off her table or the clothes off her back to help her patients.

Now when you’re heading back to your halls after that two hour lecture, hopefully you’ll spare a thought for the people who gave your accommodation their names.