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The story behind the buildings

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Roscoe, Schuster, Kilburn, Stopford. We hear these names every day when we check our timetables but who are the people these buildings are named after? To answer that question we need to look back at the history of the University of Manchester. Some names will already ring a bell, for instance we probably all know about Alan Turing with recent coverage of his pardon and an upcoming film where he will be played by Manchester alumnus Benedict Cumberbatch. But few know about fellow computer scientist Tom Kilburn who helped form the School of Computer Science in 1964. Kilburn was the School’s first head of department and worked on the development of the world’s first commercially available electronic computer the Ferranti Mark 1 with fellow Manchester computer scientist Freddie Williams.

One day we all hope (most of us sooner rather than later) to graduate from the University of Manchester. Graduations are held in the Whitworth Hall named after Sir Joseph Whitworth. Whitworth found fortune as an industrialist inventing a system for screw threads and more excitingly, the Whitworth rifle. a gun commissioned by the British govt that was deemed too expensive for the British Army to use. Regretfully the gun found its way into the less than savoury hands of the Confederate States in the American Civil War, and worse still, the French.  Whitworth left his will to philanthropic causes with his friend Richard Copley Christie to decide on how the money was spent. Christie decided to donate one fifth of the money to the University of Manchester, then known as Owens College. Christie personally assigned that £50,000 pounds would be spent on the erection of Whitworth Hall, no small amount of money in those days. Christie himself will be a recognisable name to those who frequent Christie’s Bistro. The Bistro is based within the Old Christie Library which used to be the University’s main science library.

Manchester’s greatest legacy is probably its scientific achievements. The School of Physics and Astronomy is housed within the Schuster Laboratory and is named after Sir Arthur Schuster who was the University’s first Dean of Science when Owens College became Victoria University of Manchester. Schuster took charge of the University’s physics laboratory during a time of great scientific discovery.  Within the Schuster Laboratory are four lecture theatres named after past teachers and researchers. The most famous of which was Ernest Rutherford, who was appointed to the post of Chair in Physics by Schuster in 1907.

Rutherford had already carried out Nobel Prize winning in Chemistry by the time he reached Manchester, but it was at Manchester where he really came into his own. Rutherford’s gold foil experiment lead to great advances in the way we understand the structure of the atom. Considered to be the father of nuclear physics, Rutherford continued to research at Manchester and was the first person to split the atom in 1917.

Schuster was a student of Sir Henry Enfield Roscoe (of Roscoe building fame). Roscoe lived an interesting life, at Manchester, with his friend Robert Bunsen (inventor of the Bunsen Burner) he took what is considered to be the first ever flash photograph in 1864 using magnesium. Later on he served as a Liberal MP for Manchester South and even had a mineral Roscoelite named after him.

Like in physics, chemistry and computer science, Manchester also excelled as an institution in medical science. The Stopford Building, which houses the Faculty of Medicinal and Human Sciences and the Faculty of Life Sciences, is named after another leading scientist. Baron John Stopford of Fallowfield was the first medical graduate to be made a Fellow of the Royal Society. This was not the only accolade he picked up, Stopford was knighted, given the freedom of the city of Manchester and eventually given a life peerage in 1958.

Social scientists should not feel left out. The Arthur Lewis building where the school of social sciences are based is also named after a great thinker. Arthur Lewis was a West Indian development economist who joined the University of Manchester in 1947. While lecturing there he developed the Lewis model which is still taught in most introductory development modules to this day. The model stated that an economy develops when a capitalist sector takes labour from a subsistence agriculture sector to take advantage of increasing returns to capital. The model was so well received that in 1979 he was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics. To this day, he remains the only black laureate to win the prize in a field other than peace or literature.

Manchester also has a fine philosophical tradition with the School of Arts and Humanities in the Samuel Alexander Building. The building was renamed after the Australian philosopher Samuel Alexander in 2007. Students may recognise Samuel Alexander as the impressive bust in the buildings foyer. The philosopher was known for his work in the British Emergentist movement, who believed that mind emerged from the body but was not reducible to it.

The John Rylands University Library, which was recently renamed the University of Manchester library to avoid confusion, is named after John Rylands who was the first multimillionaire in Manchester’s history. When he died his estate was worth two and half million pounds which in today’s money is almost £250 million pounds. His wife erected in monument the John Rylands Library in Deansgate which in 1972 was merged with the Manchester University Library. Playing a large role in the merger was former Vice-Chancellor William Mansfield-Cooper, who has his own building named after him.

The new Learning Commons contrary to popular belief is not named after the Sascha Baron-Cohen character Ali G, but actually former University vice-chancellor Alan Gilbert. Gilbert was appointed the founding President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester when it formed as a merger between UMIST and Victoria University of Manchester.

Speaking of UMIST we shouldn’t leave out the North Campus. The Renold building is named after Sir Charles Renold an engineer and management expert who was vice-president of UMIST. Opposite the Renold building, is the North Campus SU otherwise known Barnes Wallis building which is named after Sir Barnes Wallis. Barnes Wallis invented the bouncing bomb famously used in the Dambusters raids. When the North Campus SU opened, Barnes Wallis was awarded lifetime membership of the UMIST students’ union.

Back on the South Campus, the Students’ Union building was named after anti-apartheid campaigner Steve Biko. Biko’s death in police custody was one of the defining moments of the movement against apartheid. Recently, the SU opened a new cafe Biko’s named after the activist. Some doubt the recent decision to serve Starbucks in the Students’ Union to be consistent with Biko’s radical political message. The Students’ Union also has named its rooms after famous political actors. In 2010, they named Room 2 in the Steve Biko building after Egyptian protestor Khaled Said who was killed by police in order to show solidarity with pro-democracy movements in Egypt. In late 2013, students voted at a recent assembly to rename Room 8 after the suffragette Christabel Pankhurst who was awarded a law degree in 1906 from the Victoria University of Manchester.

Finally, it would be amiss not to mention the John Owens building. Named after merchant John Owens who founded Owens college in 1951 who left a bequest of £96,942 to create an education establishment based on his ideas. Owens college of course became Victoria University of Manchester which eventually became the establishment we study at today.

Tags: Alumni, buildings, christie, kilburn, Roscoe, samuel alexander, turing, university, whitworth

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