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University Timeline

The first student of the Yorkshire College was Shadrach Stephenson, a miner. One of his textbooks, signed by him, is in the University archive.


The famous ‘penny bazaar’ started as a stall in Leeds market, and went on to become one of the UK’s largest chains.


The Admiralty asked professors of Engineering (Barr) and Physics (Stroud) to design a short-base rangefinder for infantry use. The successful design led to the beginning of the first University ‘spin-out’ company.


Leeds had been a wealthy town based on trading wool, but it became a city when Queen Victoria granted it the new status in 1893.

Image courtesy of Artemis, Leeds City Council.


The Black Prince statue by Thomas Brock is many travellers’ first sight of Leeds as it stands proudly in City square outside the railway station. The imposing statue took seven years to complete and had to be cast in Belgium because it was too large for any British foundry.


The Yorkshire College became the University of Leeds when it was granted a Royal Charter as an independent body by King Edward VII. 1911 – City: 19


Leeds brewery Tetley’s challenged escape artist Harry Houdini to escape from a padlocked metal cask of Tetley’s ale. Houdini rose to the challenge but failed the task, and had to be rescued from the cask before he drowned.


As Cavendish professor of physics at the University, Bragg invented the x-ray spectrometer. He founded the new science of x-ray analysis of crystal structure with his son, and they were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.


Tolkein become a reader in English Language at the University and was appointed to a chair in 1924. During this time he lectured and contributed to a variety of University publications, as well as telling his children bedtime stories – the start of the Lord of the Rings.


A new department in cancer research is created, led Professor R.D.Passey, Chair in experimental pathology.


The University received a gift of £25,000 from Riley Smith for a new Students’ Union.


William Astbury studied DNA at the University of Leeds, conducting vital research towards finding its structure. This laid the groundwork for research by Wilkins and Franklin, and led directly to Francis Crick and James D Watson famously discovering the double helix in 1953.


During the second world war, notice was given to the warden that a live sheep was being kept in the basement of the Agriculture building.


As professor of Botany, Irene Manton was the first female professor at the University of Leeds. She held the Chair in Botany until 1969 and was the first female head of department here too. Professor Manton later became the first female president of the Linnean Society of London.


Work started in 1938, but the building was taken over by the Ministry of Food and used as a store room during WW2. The Parkinson building was eventually opened in 1951 by HRH the Princess Royal.


The University library received the Novello-Cowden Clarke collection, with 900 artefacts from the worlds of music and literature. It’s an eclectic collection with remarkable exhibits including locks of Mozart’s and Beethoven’s hair.


On the night of 30 September 1956, Professor Frank Parsons performed the first ever kidney dialysis. This marked the opening of the first artificial kidney unit in the UK, the forerunner of all British renal services.


During his time as a student at Leeds, Nigerian writer, poet and playwright Wole Soyinka was well known to other students for his skills as a jazz musician. He went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.


Our first computer was an enormous contraption called Lucifer, one of only a handful in the world. The £50,000 machine was installed in a disused chapel with a solid concrete floor to take its weight. Lucifer led to the UK’s first research project in computer assisted learning in 1969.


Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, one of the most avant-garde British architecture practices, and leading proponents of the British Brutalist style, started transforming our buildings for the modern age.


The EC stoner building was built, containing one of the longest stretches of corridor in Europe. At over a fifth of a mile long, it’s still a long way now.


Richard Smithells’ lifelong work was preventing disease in children, including research into links between vitamin deficiency and problems in childhood.
He found that folates cut the risk of mothers having malformed babies, and in 1991 the MRC concluded all women who bear children should have an adequate amount of folic acid.


The Who recorded a concert on 14 February in the Refectory, later to be released as the seminal album ‘Live at Leeds’.


Leeds United had been at the top of their game for almost 10 years and came runners up in this year’s European cup. The success came in spite of Brian Clough’s chaotic management which lasted just 44 days at the start of the season.


Our work led to London Transport adopting the world’s first full bus driver scheduling system in a major city. The revolutionary scheduling software from Leeds brings the benefits of faster scheduling, cost reduction and the ability to evaluate different operating scenarios. The traffic modelling software is used by over 300 cities.


The Royal Armouries moved north into a new museum, housing an overflow collection of armour and weaponry. With jousting, sword fighting and elephant armour from 400 years ago, Leeds had never seen anything like it.


Harvey Nichol’s first store outside London opened in the historic Victoria Quarter. The store, with five floors, has become a must-visit destination in the city centre.


Professor Alistair Hay’s campaigning research encouraged governments around the world to outlaw the use of chemical and biological weapons. The disarmament measures are enshrined in the Chemical Weapons Convention which came into force in 1997, and the treaty has now been adopted by 182 countries.


Millennium Square was Leeds’ flagship project to mark the year 2000. Built at a cost of £12m, it’s now a venue for concerts, seasonal markets and an ice rink.


Professor Clive Upton joined the BBC to drive forward its ‘Voices’ project, the UK’s biggest ever examination of speech variation. The public recorded their own unique dialects, creating an unprecedented resource to document the rise of English as a global lingua franca


We acquired rare documents, thanks to generous benefactors, marking the rise and fall of Oscar Wilde. Wilde’s lecture notes from his 1882 tour of America mark his rise to fame. In contrast, a rare copy of ‘The Chameleon’ was used as evidence in his trial for indecency and contains the line ‘the love that dare not speak its name’.


A University of Leeds team developed a world-first blood test for diagnosing pre-eclampsia, a serious high blood pressure condition which affects one in 10 pregnant women and kills 1,000 babies a year. It’s not a cure, but the earlier we diagnose, the better we can control the disease, and the more chance we have of keeping the pregnancy going for longer.


The museum, in Millennium Square, replaced the 19th century Leeds museum which was damaged by bombing in 1941. It includes artefacts from the old museum along with information about the history of the city and new interactive galleries.


A research institute, led by Professors John Fisher and Eileen Ingham, won the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its development of innovative joint replacement and regenerative technologies. The University’s Institute for Transport Studies won the prize in 2009. (Image credit: Theodore Wood Photography)


The collection, comprising over 70,000 items, was moved from North London to the Michael Marks Building on the University’s Western Campus, where it was made open to the public in March for the first time. Academics and students can also access the collection for research purposes.


Leeds alumni made their mark at the London Olympic and Paralympic Games with medallists including triathlete brothers Alistair and Jonny Brownlee, who took gold and bronze. Hockey player Ashleigh Ball, swimmer Claire Cashmore and handcyclist Karen Darke also won medals


A major archive comprising hundreds of hours of unseen interviews with many of the world’s leading artistic figures was established at the University of Leeds.
We acquired thousands of video tapes from the 32 year run of The South Bank Show from ITV. The cultural coup was driven by the University’s Chancellor Melvyn Bragg, who conceived, edited and presented the flagship arts show throughout its run.


A new library opens at the University. It was named after Irvine Laidlaw, who studied economics at Leeds in the early 1960s, and whose £9m gift for the project was the biggest ever received by the University.

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