Newnham College has announced that a fund of £1.125 million has been donated to aid the teaching of English at the college.

Valerie Eliot, an Honorary Fellow of Newnham since 1991 and widow of the esteemed poet T. S. Eliot, has set up the fund in the hope of maintaining the college’s long history of literary excellence in teaching.

The money is being donated from her charity, Old Possum’s Practical Trust, which was founded partly through the monetary success of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats – a musical inspired by T.S. Eliot’s work, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

Dame Patricia Hodgson, Principal of the college, said: “ enormously grateful to Valerie Eliot for this generous gift. It will guarantee in perpetuity the tradition of first class English teaching at Newnham, a tradition that has produced the most wonderful raft of writers and academics since the college was founded.”

The list of successful women Newnham College has produced is expansive, featuring names such as Sylvia Plath, AS Byatt, Margaret Drabble, Emma Thompson, Mary Hoffman, Patricia Duncker, and many more.

The fund comes as Universities face cuts across all subjects; cuts that are hitting the arts particularly hard, meaning that any money donated to the preservation of quality within the teaching of literature is both welcome and vital.

Genevieve Gaunt, a first year at Newnham, was one of the students helping to attain the grant for the college, telling Varsity: “I feel particularly honoured that our wonderful English department will benefit from her [Valerie Eliot] trust’s generous donation.

"Chatting to one of the trustees last term next to the desk on which Virginia Woolf wrote A Room of One’s Own was a special reminder of what women can achieve with both an intellectually nurturing environment and practical monetary support...I look forward to witnessing its benefits.”

Valerie Eliot hopes that through her generous donation to maintain such a rich tradition for Newnham, saying: “I am very pleased to help to ensure the continuing excellence of the teaching at Newnham College with the creation of a lectureship in English literature.

"Newnham has a long and illustrious history in the teaching of English and has produced many outstanding and talented individuals... it seems entirely appropriate that it has been made possible as a result of my husband T. S. Eliot’s work.

"I am particularly proud of my own connection with Newnham and this fund will cement that further.”

Valerie Eliot is also an editor and a publisher with a celebrated academic history in her own right, having been awarded the Rose Mary Crawshay Prize by the British Academy in 1972 for her edition of the facsimile and transcript of the original drafts of The Waste Land – written by her late husband.