The Provost is a guide and shepherd for the unruliest of flocks... infinite patience and worldly wisdom, they are the rock upon which a College stands. 

Vanbrugh's Leaders

Who were the Heads of Vanbrugh College?

  • Professor Bob Le Page - Provost from 1968-1972 
  • Rev'd Dr Gerald Higginson - Provost from 1972-1984
  • Dr Allen Warren - Provost from 1984-2008
  • Rev'd Dr David Efird - Provost from 2008-2013
  • Dr Barry Thomas - Principal and Head from 2013-2016

Prof Bob Le Page

Professor Robert Le Page

(Provost 1967-1972)

Bob Le Page’s entry to academia was anything but conventional. After being an observer in a Swordfish (open topped) aircraft during the Second World War, he followed a friend to Oxford and went from college to college asking for a place at university. He eventually found success at Keble. He became a lecturer at the University of the West Indies before completing his PhD and travelled to and from Jamaica on banana boats. He later taught at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, where he and his wife Gina attended the marriage of the king.  He returned to Britain in 1964 to become the first Professor of Language at the University of York, forming and shaping the new Department, of which he remained Head until 1984. 

In 1967 Vanbrugh College was born. Bob accepted an offer to become Vanbrugh’s first Provost, in part because he needed somewhere to live! However, his personality made him ideal for the job. He was a quiet, fairly serious man but had a sense of humour, dry wit and love of students that drew people towards his company.

The social life of the College was important to Bob. He created 'Vanbrugh Nights', a termly event that involved dinner, dancing, live music and speakers. Amongst those who attended these events were Katharine Whitehorn, a famous columnist for the Observer, and Ted Hughes, the former Poet Laureate. These well-attended events attracted undergraduate and postgraduate students and more senior members of the College. It was also thanks to Bob that the Dining Hall in Vanbrugh has round tables. He felt that this was friendlier than long tables. Bob’s humour and inclusive nature helped to shape the character of Vanbrugh from its inception. This ethos can be seen throughout its history.

Professor Le Page died on 12 January 2006, at the age of eighty-five. His wife, Gina Le Page, and his children, still have contact with the College and attended the naming ceremony of Le Page Court, when Vanbrugh Quad was renamed in 2008, as part of Vanbrugh College's 40th Anniversary celebrations.

Rev'd Dr Gerald Higginson

Reverend Dr Gerald Higginson

‌(Provost 1972-1984)


Gerald Higginson was the gentle provost of Vanbrugh. Before enrolling at university, Gerald joined the Scientific Civil Service. National Service in the RAF followed, where he was fortunate in having his skills recognised and well utilised in the field of radar and electronics. After National Service he studied at Keele University and eventually became an academic. In 1965 he moved to York from Queen’s, Belfast to become a senior lecturer in the newly founded Physics Department. Eight years later he became the provost of Vanbrugh College.

Gerald was a determined and warm man with a good sense of humour. He was quiet, but very welcoming and had a deep passion for education and for young people. He took his pastoral role at Vanbrugh very seriously. During the summer holidays, he was involved with the Open University. Under his stewardship, Vanbrugh hosted many O.U. summer school events.

As Provost, Gerald was entitled to live in the assigned house. He initially avoided this move as he had four young children. In 1976 Gerald relented, as he feared that otherwise the house could be lost permanently as a Provost’s Lodge. Gerald’s children grew up alongside the College and University, with some getting jobs on campus. One of his children, Jane, hosted her wedding reception in Vanbrugh’s Mondrian Dining Hall.

One of Gerald’s creations, the College Supper Party, remains a cornerstone of the social calendar of Vanbrugh College. Continuing the family theme, the parties were initially catered by Gerald’s wife, June, though eventually she enlisted the services of a local caterer. This social event is a legacy of Gerald’s time as Provost.

Dr Allen Warren

‌Dr Allen Warren


(Provost 1984-2008)

When Allen Warren retired as Provost of Vanbrugh he had been at the helm of the College for over half of its years. In his 24 years in charge he shaped the College into his vision of the ideal academic student community, welcoming students into his home and inspring them to grow outside of their academic achievements.  His endeavours have given Vanbrugh the personality that it retains to this day.

Allen has been involved in student and youth communities through his life. At the age of sixteen he became a voluntary youth worker through the Scout movement. Whilst studying for a doctorate in History at New College, Oxford, he was given a research fellowship that required him to improve the relationship between students and the academic staff. At twenty-six he accepted a lectureship at the Department of History at York, despite having completed just one draft chapter of his PhD, and moved into a staff flat in Vanbrugh College.

Throughout his years at Oxford and York teaching and student welfare were Allen’s main interest. Allen applied for all three  Provostships at Alcuin, Vanbrugh and Wentworth when they became available in 1984. His previous experience and passion for developing the student community made him an ideal candidate. Luckily Vanbrugh offered him the position first.

At the heart of Allen’s ethos as Provost was that the Provost must be visible. He expanded the now infamous supper parties at his house so that every new student was invited when they first arrived at York. However, he was particularly interested in student activities away from academic work. He organised the fondly remembered 'Vanbrugh Weekends', where a group of students and staff would stay in the North York Moors and explore the countryside.  He also invited prominent speakers for Vanbrugh Lectures and started two wider community engagement programs at the University: York Students in Schools (YSIS) and the York Award.

The advantage of longevity is that the College can absorb the
personality of the Provost.

Allen Warren, 2012

However, his most significant contribution to the Vanbrugh community was music. Allen made music a central activity within Vanbrugh and employed the College’s first Vanbrugh Music Tutor, Edd Caine. This legacy continues to this day and is reflected in the College’s logo.

'The Warren' reception area and services building, fought for by Dr Warren as he oversaw the building of Vanbrugh's new residence blocks at Donald Barron and Barbara Scott Courts in 2007, has been unofficially named after him by students and staff at the University, and a painting, commissioned by the Senior Common Room, of which he is a long-standing member, now hangs there.

Allen has given Vanbrugh his personality.

Allen Warren stepped down as Provost and Colleges' Coordinator in 2008, following the celebrations of the College's 40th Anniversary.  Allen is a Lecturer in Modern History at the University of York.  He remains fully engaged with the College as a member of the College Council and Alumni Relations Co-ordinator for the College.

Rev'd Dr David Efird

Reverend Dr David Efird

‌(Provost 2008-2013)

Provost Emeritas: David Efird

David Efird’s time as Provost saw perhaps the greatest change in the shape and definition of Colleges, whilst still remaining true to the ethos of earlier Provosts that is still reflected in the character of Vanbrugh College. David was the first Dean of Vanbrugh College, appointed in 2003. He worked alongside the Provost, Allen Warren, and lived with the students in Le Page Court.

When David first joined Vanbrugh, students lived only in Le Page Court and Fairfax House. Since then the College has expanded to include Donald Barron and Barbara Scott Courts and more recently, under David's Provostship, Eric Milner White Court and Wentworth E Block (renamed Eric Milner White Court, Block D in its final year 2013-14).

David played a significant part in Vanbrugh College's growth and redevelopment. Continuing the tradition of Provost's Supper Parties, started by Gerald Higginson, David maintained the vital provision of having a resident Provost and providing a wonderful social space in which to gather, with the Provost's house and garden.

Did you know?

David became known as the "Action Man" Provost: David represented the USA in Taekwondo at the Junior Olympics when he was a teenager. As a party trick, he can kick through a plank of wood suspended above his head!

In a short space of time David placed his mark upon Vanbrugh College, defining Vanbrugh as the 'music college', and building upon Allen Warren's appointment of a Music Tutor.  He spearheaded a programme of further music opportunities with the appointment of a Rock Tutor and the creation of the immensely popular and well-equipped, purpose-built band practice space and recording studio, for Vanbrugh's burgeoning band scene: 'The Garage'.

David also began a movement to enhance facilities for mature students, providing meeting spaces for the Mature Student's Association, promoting mature-student-only residence blocks, as well as providing social activities geared towards older students. David developed the place of music within the College.

Many opportunities, few compulsions

The Provost's moto - David Efird

Unlike the earlier Provosts, David’s role as Provost was more explicitly focused on the welfare of his students. He was noted for being an approachable and good-humoured man who interacted well with students, earning their trust and admiration. 


David Efird is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at the University of York, and Assistant Curate and Vicarius Canonicorum at the York Minster.  He is also the Head of James College for 2013-current.

Dr Barry Thomas

Dr Barry Thomas

‌(Principal and Head of Vanbrugh College 2013-2016)

nullIn his final year at Oxford, Barry was asked by his supervisor whether he was interested in doing a D Phil degree in Chemistry at York.  When he visited the site of the new University, it was still a muddy wasteland with vague signs of the foundations of buildings. This convinced Barry to join; after all he was very interested in waterfowl and the first thing to have been completed was a large lake.

Starting out as a temporary junior teaching lab technician in 1965, Barry became the first student to live on campus (Derwent A009). On completion of his studies he accepted an academic position at the University, again temporary, before going off the University of Adelaide where his rugby experience proved useless in mastering the complexities of Aussie rules football. However, he did add two new species to the South Australian bird-list. On returning to York, he slowly began to climb the academic ladder, leading the teaching programme in the Chemistry Department and developed its ‘Year Abroad’ programme.

Did you know?

Barry was responsible for the introduction of geese onto the University campus.

During his time at York, Barry had a very active life outside his work. He captained a Staff Squash team, acted as Provost of Langwith, and while a student came within a whisker of being selected to represent England in a croquet match against Australia. However, by far his biggest contribution, he persuaded the University to accept a gift of geese to populate the lake. The geese responded with gusto and expanded their attention to the rest of the city. His legacy is still there today with the University of York boasting the largest waterfowl population of any University campus in the UK.

‌Barry retired from the Chemistry department in 2009 only to be called back to manage an EU project on atmospheric measurements. Having completed that work he was persuaded to return to trial the new team management system for the colleges for which Vanbrugh was the guinea pig. He is known around Vanbrugh for his cheerful smile, great stories, encyclopaedic knowledge and of course the geese!   



During his 3 years as Head of Vanbrugh College, Barry became so popular that there was a campaign to rename Vanbrugh Paradise "Vanbrugh Barrydise" and the JCRC named their regular Thursday night live music takeover of V-Bar 'Barry's Bar', from 2013-2015.‌