University is a time of great opportunity, meeting lots of people, having fun and for many, drinking huge amounts of alcohol (then doing stupid things!) Heck, why wouldn’t you? For most, it’s the first time that you’ve lived away from home and you’re in the centre of a community where so much is going on. In my time at University, I enjoyed many of the excesses and loved the social aspects of student life. However, deep down I was just a slightly nerdy History student. And historians like old buildings almost as much as the archaeology lot! In Britain, we are lucky to have such a rich history and due to the advantages of being difficult to attack (i.e. we’re an island), we have been able to preserve many artefacts and of course buildings.
Around the country, Universities inhabit some of the most magnificent and historical buildings in Britain. Oxford and Cambridge are the most famous Universities and each day tourists flock in their thousands to the University grounds just to have a look. Many other Universities also enjoy a historical background. Don’t get me wrong, having more modern buildings and a shorter history does not detract from the academic or research standards of a particular University although, due to 1960s and 70s architecture, some University buildings today look like the Peckham block of flats of Only Fools and Horses fame! Other Universities have aimed to create modern and dynamic campuses which have brought about interesting and bold, modern designs.
However, here I celebrate some of the fantastic traditional buildings which form the centre of some Universities; buildings which possibly aren’t always appreciated by students walking back home, hungover, from a one-night-stand!!
Durham Castle - Durham University
Originally built six years after William the Conqueror conquered Britain in 1066, this has been the home of Castle College at Durham University since 1840. Over 100 students each year actually live inside the Castle, which definitely beats the slightly run down halls to which most students become accustomed in first year. There is a magnificent college bar on the ground floor which you feel should host a banquet rather than a drunken rugby social. If you ever have the chance, it is definitely worth having a drink there.
Heslington Hall – University of York
This picturesque, rebuilt manor house belongs to the University of York. Originally built in the sixteenth century, it has had many occupants and uses, including as a RAF base in the Second World War. When the University of York was founded in 1963 it was opened to students and is largely used as the administrative headquarters of the University. Situated next to the campus lake, it is definitely worth a look if you find yourself killing time in York.
Main Building – Cardiff University
Celebrating its centenary in 2009, Main Building at Cardiff University is not just a focal point for the University, but one of the most cherished pieces of architecture in the city of Cardiff. Main Building today houses a number of Schools and Departments, including the School of Chemistry, the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, and the Vice-Chancellor’s Office. It is neoclassical in style and I’m reliably informed its usable space is equal to four football pitches. Plus, it looks like this:
Radcliffe Camera – University of Oxford
Pages could be written about the history of the numerous Oxford colleges and their buildings. Luckily for you, I’m just going to focus on one individual building – the Radcliffe Camera. Built in the 1730s/40s, this round building is one of the most iconic at the University. In this context ‘camera’ simply means room and it was built to function as a library. Nowadays, the books have been moved elsewhere and it is primarily used as a reading room for the Bodleian Library. Unfortunately, it isn’t open to the public, so you’ll have to start applying for your Oxford master’s degree or just settle for looking at the pictures.
King’s College Chapel – University of Cambridge
The King’s College Chapel is probably the most famous building at the University of Cambridge. Started in 1446 by King Henry VI, it took over a century to complete and was opened while Henry VIII was on the throne. Set just back from the river, the Chapel boasts some of the finest stained-glass windows of the period. It also hosts a Christmas Eve service, comprising A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, which is broadcast to millions around the world. Cambridge as a city is definitely worth a visit and with the University overlooking the centre, it cannot be missed.
Royal School of Mines – Imperial College London
Designed by the famous early twentieth century architect, Sir Aston Webb, the building of the Royal School of Mines is definitely one of the most amazing university buildings in London. It is the home of the departments of Earth Science, Materials and Engineering at Imperial. Its iconic entrance has appeared in many film and television productions, including Hustle. Interestingly, Sir Aston Webb also designed the main building of the Chancellor’s Court at the University of Birmingham (called the Aston Webb Building – there’s a surprise!). These are two very different buildings but both equally impressive and a focal point of their respective universities.
Left: Royal School of Mines (Imperial College London); Right: Aston Webb Building (University of Birmingham)
Have we missed your University off the list? If there is building you think should be added, let us know in the comments section below.