The University of Leeds is an interesting building, with an interesting past. As many may know, it has its history steeped in the area of medicine, but there may be some points about the university not everybody is aware of.
With its beautiful Great Hall next to Clothworkers Court, and the austere Parkinson Building, the University of Leeds has grounds that can provide an interesting afternoon’s stroll. It also has a history that is intricately linked with the tide of progress in the North, and the advance of the sciences for the whole of the UK.
The University has its foundations in medicine. In 1831, to provide resources for the five medical institutions that existed around Leeds, the Leeds School of Medicine was established. Over forty years later, in 1874, the Yorkshire College of Science joined the School, providing science-based education for the children of the many successful industrialists in the area. This concentration on the sciences and the embracing of the industrial age set the tone for the future University, which has always set itself apart from traditional institutions like Cambridge and Oxford. This concentration was also part of what helped five Nobel Laureates on their way in their careers.
A push for the sciences in the North
In 1887, the Leeds School of Medicine and its joint school, the Yorkshire College of Science, became a part of Victoria University. This university, founded in 1880, had been established as the federal university for England’s North. Its concentration was on the sciences. Northern colleges at the time knew that they had to have something a little different to stnad out in a world dominated by the old-established Oxbridge colleges, and their industrial strength was that edge.
By the time the two colleges became a part of Victoria University, they were making their mark. The Yorkshire College of Science had already an established reputation in the fields of engineering and textiles. The Leeds colleges were given their own charter by King Edward in 1904, becoming part of a push for city-centred universities in the North.
The influence of industry
No one can doubt that Leeds’ development has been highly influenced by the industrial age. The signs of the city’s industrial heritage are visible in the buildings of the University as well. Walk around the buildings of Oxford or Cambridge, and you’ll see a lot of stone. Walk around the Leeds campus, however, and you’ll be struck by the sight of elegant buildings formed from red brick. It’s not hard to guess where the universities of Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester get their collective name the ‘red brick universities’.
If you ever have the chance to walk through the campus of the University of Leeds, you’ll see it is a bit of a journey through modern architecture. The campus contains in over almost 500 hectares everything from the quietly beautiful to the despairingly ugly, something that can be inspirational when you take a moment to think about it. On one end of the spectrum, you’ve got the Great Hall and the Baines Wing, gently wrought out of red brick, as well as the looming tower of the Parkinson Building. Then you have the gleaming glass and sweeping curve of the Ziff Building, or the hybrid glass and gothic architecture of the buildings housing the Business School.
Like most universities in the UK, the University of Leeds has its history written clearly in its landscape. The thing that makes it unique, apart from its connection to Leeds as a city, of course, is the distinct periods visible in the university’s buildings. It’s well worth a look.