Friday, 7 October 2011

The University of Leeds and its City - Part 2

The Birth of a University

It was in the local newspaper, the Leeds Mercury, of 1826 that plans for a university in Leeds first appeared. Its formation was also considered to be a reaction to the Paris Exhibition of 1867, when local businessmen became fearful of foreign competition. (Jones 1984: 91; Sanderson 1972: 66; Taylor 1975: 3) However, it would not be until 1904 that the University of Leeds got its Charter as an independent university. The origins of the university lie in the philanthropic orientation of a number of the founders, including John Marshall, a local MP and pioneer in the area of textiles (flax). In the 19th century, Marshall, inspired by the education system in London, recommended a range of cultural and educational subjects that would be offered to boys in Leeds, enabling them to remain at home and reduce the cost of travel and accommodation. This dream of Marshall's eventually manifest itself in the form of the Yorkshire College in 1874 (this was not a college in the usual sense, but a secondary school with similar aims to that of higher education). As A. J. Taylor explains, the Yorkshire College was part of a "second generation" of colleges that came about as a challenge to the privileges enjoyed by those who could afford Oxford and Cambridge. (1975: 1) It is also important to note that while the forming of the Yorkshire College was a reaction against an exclusive higher education for just the upper classes, the college was providing education for the middle-classes only, in the form of an education for the sons of local merchants in the area of science and the arts. These colleges were a response to the need for an improved technological education to support local industry: in the case of Leeds this was primarily textiles, clothworking and mining.

The early part of 19th century Victorian England saw a raised awareness of class consciousness, with the working classes seeing the apparent polarised positions of themselves and the middle-classes as not just being one of a disparity in wealth but also in literacy. In 1870 the Education Act was formed to provide elementary education for children in Britain, and schools were set up in areas where there had previously been none. But it was not till 1880 that another act was put in place to make education for children compulsory for those aged up to ten years. A number of acts followed, covering older and disabled children.

During this same period the medical school grew out of Leeds General Infirmary (formed in 1767). The Medical School was founded in 1831; its formation stemmed, in part, from the Apothecaries Act of 1815, which meant surgeons needed formal qualifications. Doctors taught in their spare time, often in the evenings at the end of their day working in the infirmary. The Yorkshire College and the Medical School did not amalgamate until 1883-84. Over the next few decades expansion was supported by funding, for example from the Clothworker's Company who maintained a textile department at the college. (Shimmin 1954: 3-13) In 1887 the college in Leeds became part of the Victoria University, which had already existed jointly as Manchester and Liverpool colleges. This meant that finally it received university status and could now endow degrees. But it was not until 1904, following a generous gift of £70,000 from the Clothworker's Company, that full university status was secured. (Shimmin 1954: 28)

While the university had to drop some courses in 1904 in order to be competitive and hone its resources, a post-war run on courses before the 1921-23 slump, followed by economic problems in Japan that benefited the British textile industry, meant that the university expanded rapidly leading up to World War II. (Shimmin 1954: 30-39) This expansion was not only in the case of students and staff, but also in regards to geographical growth. Nevertheless, many of the plans for the post-war development of the university were scuppered by World War II. For example, the Parkinson Building (an art deco, neo-classical building that was designed as the entrance hall to the Brotherton Library) was designed in the 1930s but was not completed till 1951 due to a suspension in building during the war.

Jones, David R. 1984. The Origins of Civic Universities: Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International).
Sanderson, Michael. 1972. The University and British Industry 1850-1970 (London: Routledge and Keegan Paul).
Shimmin, A.N. 1954. The University of Leeds: The First Half Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Taylor, A.J. 1975. 'County College and Civic University: An Introductory Essay', Studies in the History of a University, ed. by P.H.J.H. Gosden and A.J. Taylor (Leeds: E.J. Arnold). pp. 1-41.

The University of Leeds and its City - Part 1
The University of Leeds and its City - Part 3

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