To an outside onlooker, it seems simple. The clever logo above clearly says that the University of Manchester was (Est)ablished in 1824, right? Wrong. Well, kind of. It is well known (or at least I think it is), that in 2004 the Victoria University of Manchester and UMIST merged together to become one conventional university, subsequently creating (as the university website proudly states), ‘a powerful new force in British higher education.’ But what about before then?
The beginning of the University of Manchester’s history can be marked by the formation of the Mechanics Institute by the English chemist John Dalton and some of Manchester’s leading businessmen and industrialists. This would one day be UMIST, and the future prestige of the institution would have been unimaginable to those who met in a pub in 1824, (the ‘Bridgewater Arms’) with the aim of helping artisans learn basic science; from Richard Hyde Greg, a cotton mill owner who was to become a Member of Parliament, to David Bellhouse – a builder. It is also interesting (and induces a strange feeling of smugness) to note that hundreds of institutions of this kind were founded across the country in towns and cities at the time, yet it was Manchester’s alone that survived and carried out the original educational aims intended through the course of the 19th and 20th centuries. By 1840, the institute was established with 1000 subscribers and 5,500 library books. The Mechanics Institute continued to prosper during this time, and in 1883 the secretary of the Institution, John Henry Reynolds, reorganised the Institution as a Technical School using the schemes and examinations of the City and Guilds of London Institute.
In 1895 a new building was designed, and opened by the Prime Minister Arthur Balfour in October 1902. The site had been previously crowded with inner-city housing occupied by Irish immigrants. This was the western end of the UMIST main building, (or as it is better known today, the Sackville Street Building). By 1918, the institution changed name again to the Manchester Municipal College of Technology. The appointment of B. V. Bowden in 1953 marked the beginning of a phase of expansion. During 1955 and 1956 the Manchester College of Science and Technology achieved independent university status under its own Royal Charter and by 1966 all non-degree courses were moved to the Manchester Polytechnic (Manchester Metropolitan University), and the name finally changed to the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology.
When UMIST was still in its infancy, (in 1846), John Owens, a textile merchant, left a bequest of £96,942 for Owens College (finally founded 5 years later in 1851), with the purpose of educating males along non-sectarian lines. This was of course the beginning of the Victoria University of Manchester. The institution shared links to other Universities and colleges. In 1859 it was approved as a provincial examination centre for matriculation candidates of the University of London. As the college progressed, Cobden House (on Quay Street, which had been their accommodation) became inadequate. Thus a move to Chorlton-on-Medlock was planned in 1871, and Alfred Waterhouse was the architect of the new college building west of Oxford Road which was opened in 1873. It was granted its Royal Charter in 1880, becoming the first constituent college of the federal Victoria University.
In 1884, University College Liverpool joined the University (though it left in 1903 to become the University of Liverpool), followed in 1887 by the Yorkshire College in Leeds (which again followed Liverpool’s example in 1904 to become the University of Leeds). The remaining Victoria University and Owens College were merged by Act of Parliament, 24 June 1904, (so the Victoria University of Manchester was established by royal charter 15 July 1903).
The two were powerful forces in education, working alongside each other one hundred years before they formally merged. The foundation in 1905 of MMST’s Faculty of Technology was answerable academically to what they referred to as their ‘younger sister’ (the Victoria University of Manchester), awarding BSc and MSc degrees. They retained close ties for the second half of the 20th century, and UMIST was the Faculty of Technology of the Victoria University of Manchester. In fact, the only thing separating the two institutions was that UMIST was financially and administratively independent. Students of UMIST were actually students of both UMIST and the Victoria University with graduation certificates stating the university issuing the degree as “The Victoria University of Manchester”.
And then in 2004, the two institutions put a cease to their academic flirting and decided to finally get together. Much more could be said about the particular buildings and the incredible academics that helped to shape this history, a history to be proud of. Though I think it’s safe to say, that the University was in fact, not established in 1824.