University of York - A Brief History

It is a strange thing that the great City of York, with its ancient tradition of learning and culture, should have been so long without a university.

Now that defect is to be remedied - in a setting of extraordinary beauty, and in a manner which is such as to excite the most phlegmatic.

Extract from foreward to the Development Plan, by the Chairman of the University Promotion Committee, The Archbishop of York.



The people of York petition James I for a university.
York Corporation petitions parliament for a university.
Another unsuccessful attempt made to found a university.
Local citizens apply to the University Grants Committee, but no need is seen for a new University. The Civic Trust is invited to set up a committee to investigate further, which forms an Academic Trust, raises money from local charities and businesses, and purchases the site at Heslington together with Heslington Hall. The Trust also founded the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, and the Insitiute of Advanced Architectural Studies.
Governmental policy changes, with rising numbers of students seeking further education and the need for more graduate, it was proposed to expand existing universities and create 7 new ones, the first being Sussex.
The Academic Trust reports back to the University Grants Committee, providing evidence of the progress made. The Committee gives approval for universities at York and East Anglia.
At York, a Promotion Committee and Academic Planning board are formed to start work on the university.
A Vice-Chancellor is appointed - Lord James of Rusholme.
Development plan published in May. Phase one of plan, the conversion of Heslington Hall, is started.
First 200 students admitted.
Phase one completed with the conversion of Kings Manor.
Phase two of development starts, building a science block and two colleges.
Phase 2 complete, buildings opened - Derwent and Langwith Colleges, and the first Science Block.
The library is completed in June.
Phase 3 expected to finish.
Development Review is published.
Dame Janet Baker installed as Chancellor.
30th Anniversary Celebrations on 1-3 July.

Development of the University

At the start of the 1960's, the government announced plans for a huge increase in the number of university places available. New universities were to be built, many on green-field sites, which were to provide the best possible environment for teaching and research. York was one of these new universities.

Officers of the University, architects and engineers, and the Promotion committee were all chosen, and were given the task of planning a university from scratch, to be built as quickly as possible. They were:

Chancellor Designate The Earl of Harewood
University Promotion Committee The Archbishop of York (Chairman)
Alderman R S Butterfield (Vice Chairman)
The Lord Mayor of York
The Dean of York
T C Benfield
Alderman W T Burke
Sir Geoffrey Crowther
Sir John Dunnington-Jefferson
Alderman W M Hyman
Dr J B Morrell
Lady Ogilvie
H Oldman
Alderman R S Oloman
Lloyd Owen
B P Rowntree
A S Rymer
Alderman R Scruton
W Wallace
Alderman Mrs I G Wightman
B Littlefair (Hon. Treasurer)
Academic Planning Board The Right Hon Lord Robbins (Chairman)
Professor W Mansfield Cooper
Sir Francis Hill
Professor Sir William Hodge
Lady Ogilvie
H Oldman
Professor J G Wilson
Vice-Chancellor Lord James of Rusholme
Registrar John West-Taylor
Architects Project Architect Architects Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall and Partners
Andrew Darbyshire
Ronald Brown
Roger Clarke
Consulting Engineers - Civil
- Mechanical
Landscape Architect
Quantity Surveyor
Scott & Wilson, Kirkpatrick and Partners
L J Fowler
H F Clark
Franklin and Andrews

The site chosen was towards the south-east of the city, between Walmgate stray and the farming village of Heslington (pop. 800). A total of 180 acres was purchased, including the derelict Heslington Hall with its grounds and lake, and some land from the Retreat hospital. The site was entirely outside the city boundary.

Much of the site was fairly boggy, with ground water over large areas. Basements to buildings were avoided for this reason. The proposed solution to the drainage problem was a substantial number of drainage pipes, feeding into a lake to be excavated in the centre of the site. Material from the excavation would be used to build up the surrounding areas slightly.

The existing road, from Heslington village past Bleachfield House (now demolished) and the Retreat hospital, was replaced by a new road, running to the north of the old one and joining Hull Road in a different place. The road was designed to be cut into the bankside to reduce it's obtrusiveness, and curved to reduce traffic speeds. As built, the cutting was restricted by cost cuts, and the road was straightened at the insistence of the local road safety officer.

It was realised that the university could not all be built at one time, and students would be admitted whilst the building was still going on. The plans allowed for this by starting at the Heslington Hall end of the site and progressively developing towards the town end, maintaining a division between the occupied parts of the site and those still under construction. As part of this plan, and to enable work to be readily broken down into units which could be accomplished when the finances permitted, the total 10-year development plan was broken down into four phases, each taking 2-3 years to complete.

Phase 1
The conversion of Heslington Hall and King's Manor into teaching accomodation. This would allow the admission of non-science undergraduates. Civil engineering: drainage to lake, and access roads. This work was carried out by conservation and conversion architect Bernard Feilden.
Phase 2
Building the first two colleges, and the first science block, to allow the admission of undergraduates in physics, biology and chemistry, and allow students to live on campus. The central boiler house also came under this phase, as did general site work such as building bridges. Central facilities of library and central assembly hall, and 6 non-science departmental buildings.
Phase 3
Another three colleges to be built, and the second science block. Another 9 non-science teaching blocks. Sports centre, concert hall and theatre to be constructed.
Phase 4
The final three colleges to be built, bringing the total to eight, and another 6 non-science departments. Also maybe the third science block, if not built at the end of Phase 3. New colleges to be somewhat larger than the old ones. Existing 5 colleges to have extra accomodation built to bring their size to that of VI-VII, to be based around a departmental building surplus to requirements.

An important part of the Plan was the creation of a park-like site for the campus. The main element of this is obviously the lake, but much effort also went in to landscaping and planting around it. The flora on campus was planned by Maurice Lee.

The comparatively large amount of building to be done in a short time lead the development committee to the use of prefabricated building materials. This aspect is covered elsewhere.

The development plan covers the academic brief in some detail. From the outset it was established that there would have to be a broad division in the provision of science and non-science courses, since the science courses needed to have labs built which would take some time. The original intention was to finish with a ratio of 40:60 science:non-science students.

The university was to make provision for undergraduate and postgraduate study. It was felt important that courses were not too narrow in their content, to avoid extreme specialisation. It was also proposed from the outset not to teach law, teaching, or any technological subjects.

The college structure was one of the central ideas behind the campus design. All members of the University, staff and students, were to be members of a college, which would facilitate the mixing of students and staff of different subjects. The colleges would provide residential accomodation, communal meals, leisure facilities, and teaching accomodation. The development plan envisaged single-sex colleges ``at least as far as undergraduates are concerned'', however this idea was soon reversed by the academic members of the committee. The size of the colleges was to be 300 members initially, rising to 450 members at the most, this being roughly the number of people who could get to know one another during three years at university.

The plan included a large number of staff living on campus, part of the desire to form a strong identity for the University. ``There should be no rigid demarcation between the places where the members of the University work and the places where they live and have their homes, and there must be provision for residence within the University complex for the maximum possible number of teachers, students and staff of all kinds.''

Student numbers were designed to grow to about 3000 by the end of the development period in 1972. 50% of undergraduates were to be housed on campus. As well as the colleges, many smaller units of accomodation were allowed for in the plan. There was to be accomodation for 950 undergraduates in flats, and 460 family houses for postgraduates and staff. All of these were to be built on campus or around Heslington. In the event, mixing large numbers of staff and students on campus was not felt to be a good idea by either side, and the idea was dropped.

Timetabling of lectures was to be carried out centrally to maximise use of facilities. It was also intended to deliberately move students around between lectures, to ``multiply the opportunities for random contact and mixing between the different work and social groups within the whole University''.

With everything on one campus, and movement between buildings encouraged by the design and timetabling, much thought was given to communications on the site. With road traffic confined to the edge of the site, a network of pathways was planned to join all buildings, for pedestrians, cycles in some cases, and trollies to move supplies from the road access to various buildings. Many of these walkways were to be built with canopies, to provide weather protection. The canopies were also supposed to carry all services around the site - power, water, communications etc. In the event, the engineers involved could not agree on how to do it, and only phone and computer lines are supported in this way.

It was decided for reasons of economy and reduction of pollution and noise, that hot water and heating would be supplied from a central boiler house, to be built away from residential blocks. The boilers supplied high pressure hot water to the buildings around the campus, where Calorifier stations would extract the energy for room heating and hot water. (In more recent years, one of the original boilers has been replaced by a combined heat and power unit, with a gas-powered generator producing electricity and hot water.)

The campus was designed to be capable of easy expansion, both during the initial development phases and in the long-term future. This applied both to the campus as a whole, and to individual buildings on it. For instance, the first science block to be built had to accomodate Physics, Chemistry and Biology, with Physics and Biology moving out in later years when their own buildings became available. The science buildings had a large area left around them for two reasons:

Science Department
Space for external growth and change is provided in the Development Plan adjacent to each of these units in the form of clear space of at least twice the unit area surrounded by a tree screen so that the scientists can carry on their unpredictable pursuits without nuisance to the rest of the University community, but equally without being shut away from it in undesirable isolation.

Plan of Campus

[Map of Campus]

The above illustration shows how the campus was expected to look by 1970. The eight colleges are shown as white circles, and occupy the positions expected. The large red circle marked `L' is the library, in its original position above the road. The original idea was for underground car parking, but the map shows large semi-circular car park next to it. Three white circles marked `S1' - `S3' are the science departments, in the order of construction - these are Chemistry, Physics and Biology today. There are also four small red circles, marked `H' (Central Hall), `S' (Sports Centre), `T' (Theatre) and `C' (Concert Hall). The theatre has a large car park, and was intended to be next to the lake. The Concert Hall seems well away from anything else, sitting on the hill under the Siwards Howe water tower. The boiler house is also marked, (`B' behind `S1'). The large number of small squares shown on the map were intended to be staff housing. The covered walkways are shown in yellow, whilst the outer red circle is the distance walkable in 10 minutes.

The above notes have been produced with the aid of the recorded lecture `The Architecture of the University of York' given by Andrew Darbyshire in 1977.

This item is reproduced from the 1985 Development Plan Review.

The University of York was established to contribute 3,000 student places to national growth between 1962 and 1972. The original Development Plan set out the guiding principles for physical development alongside a specific academic brief. The Plan was written by Sir Andrew Derbyshire and Sir Stirrat Johnson-Marshall (development architects) with Lord James and John West-Taylor for the University.

A collegiate structure was set up to fulfill both a social and an academic role. The campus was made relatively traffic-free and organised in such a way that no destination was more than 10 minutes' walk away. Crucially, the development plan allowed for future growth and for new departments.

Related pages:

* Campus buildings
* Heslington Hall
* History of the Colleges
* The Start of a New University by Lord James

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