The University Has Come At Last - University of Leeds Archive

Discover how the University of Leeds grew from humble beginnings and what led to the creation of the student newspaper

By Leeds University Library Galleries

University of Leeds Archive

Photograph of The Old Medical School, Park Street in The Gryphon, Inauguration issue (1904-10/1904-10)Original Source: University of Leeds Special Collections

The vast campus of the University of Leeds, as we know it now, began as a small medical school. It was set up in rooms at a dispensary on North Street, Leeds, in October 1831 by a group of doctors. Two of the doctors were the surgeons Charles Thackrah and William Hey II,  who was also mayor of Leeds, twice!  

The school was so popular, with lots of students enrolling, that they had to move to a house at 1 East Parade, Leeds near to the Leeds General Infirmary. By 1863 the Medical School had 60 students and the East Parade site was too small. Two years later a new purpose-built school was constructed in Park Street, which you can see in this photograph. Much nearer to the hospital, it was easier for the medical students to work in.    

Photograph of the Leeds School of Medicine in The Gryphon: Second Series, Volume 4, Ten Pictures (1923/1923)Original Source: University of Leeds Special Collections

Student numbers continued to grow and in 1891 construction began on another new Medical School at Thoresby Place, right next to the Leeds General Infirmary.  It was completed in 1894. Could these be medical students on their way to a lecture?  

Benches used in the Medical School at Thoresby Place from 1894-1977. The benches contain student graffiti - mainly carvings of names and initials. (1894/1977)Original Source: University of Leeds Special Collections

Here you can see the original benches from the school carved with the names and initials of former students.

Illustration of The Yorkshire College of Science in Cookridge Street (1954/1954) by Maurice de Sausmarez and A. N. ShimminOriginal Source: University of Leeds Special Collections

Elsewhere in the city, the Yorkshire College of Science opened in Cookridge Street, Leeds, in October 1874.

There had been lots of interest from local merchants and engineers, like Thomas Nussey and James Kitson, to set up a college to make sure that employees working in the industrial trades were trained and highly skilled. A total of 24 students enrolled for the first session, but funding was an issue. The Chemistry department only had a lean-to shed for "experiments ... of a particular noxious character." The college needed money and interest if they were going to attract more students.   

Photograph of the old Yorkshire College, Cookridge Street in The Gryphon, Inauguration issue (1904-10/1904-10)Original Source: University of Leeds Special Collections

A meeting was held in the Town Hall on 6th October 1875 to publicise the new Yorkshire College of Science. Local supporters and newspaper companies began to talk about a dream of a "Yorkshire University." But there was a long way to go before this could happen. Science and Technology subjects weren't enough. They needed to teach Arts and Medicine subjects too in order to officially become a University. 

Illustration of College Road Buildings in The Gryphon, Inauguration issue (1904-10/1904-10)Original Source: University of Leeds Special Collections

To begin the journey to becoming a University, The Yorkshire College of Science changed its name to The Yorkshire College in 1878 and moved to a new site on an area of land called the Beech Grove estate, which later became the Clothworkers' Buildings and the Baines Wing.

In 1884 the Leeds School of Medicine joined with the Yorkshire College. Over the next ten years more new buildings opened, such as the Great Hall. Medical teaching was based at the Leeds School of Medicine and teaching  in all the other subjects moved to College Road. 

In 1887 The Yorkshire College entered Victoria University, which was a University of the North of England based in Manchester. Other Northern colleges could join, but remain independent. Other member colleges were Owens College Manchester and University College Liverpool. 

Photograph of University of Leeds Clothworkers Court in The Gryphon: Second Series, Volume 3, Issue 3 (1922-02/1922-02)Original Source: University of Leeds Special Collections

This photograph from the February 1922 edition of The Gryphon shows Clothworkers' Court with the Great Hall on the right hand side. Someone has left a window open! It hasn't changed much except for the shrubs and flowers in the centre. There are more benches to sit on now to admire the view. 

The Journal of the Yorkshire College, Vol 1, Issue 1, 1897 (1897-12/1897-12)Original Source: University of Leeds Special Collections

The Yorkshire College attracted more students and funding to enable development of its teaching departments. The first student newspaper, 'The Gryphon', was published in December 1897. The reason for creating the student newspaper was to bring the different departments together, from Science and Medicine to Arts and Literature and Engineering and Manufacturing.

Although Professor Arthur J Grant from the School of History (1897-1927) launched, edited and wrote articles for the newspaper, it was mostly written by students, for students. The Gryphon was to play a big part in maintaining the University community during the wars.

Editorial for May 1904 edition, The Gryphon (1904-05/1904-05)Original Source: University of Leeds Special Collections

Finally, in 1904 The Yorkshire College was awarded a Royal Charter which meant that it was now The University of Leeds. It also gained a formal coat of arms. 'The Gryphon' recorded this "epoch-making event": "The University has come at last. Long may it exist!"

Credits: Story

The items in this exhibition are from the University of Leeds Archive which preserves the records of the University of Leeds and its predecessors, giving us an insight into past University life.  
Learn more about the history of the university on our website 

The University of Leeds and predecessor student newspapers have been fully digitised. Search the newspapers here  

See more highlights from our student newspapers here   

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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