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Detailed history of UMIST

In 1824, several Manchester businessmen and industrialists met in the Bridgewater Arms, High Street, to establish the Mechanics' Institute in Manchester, where artisans could learn, part-time, the basic principles of science, particularly mechanics and chemistry. Of the hundreds of such institutions founded around that time, it alone has survived to date as an autonomous body.

The meeting, convened by G Wood on 7 April 1824, was attended by some of the most prominent members of the science and engineering community, including:

  • Sir Benjamin Heywood - a prosperous banker.
  • Robert Hyde Greg - a cotton mill owner and soon-to-be MP.
  • Peter Ewart - millwright and engineer.
  • Richard Roberts - machine tools inventor.
  • David Bellhouse - builder.
  • William Henry - pioneered scientific chemical industry and developed his business into fizzy drinks.
  • William Fairbairn - the versatile engineer, whose name is associated with water wheels and machinery of every kind, and the Britannia tubular bridge but above all with scientific engineering. He was elected first Secretary of the Mechanics' Institute. Later in his life he was made a Baronet.
  • John Dalton - became known as the father of Atomic Theory. He became the Vice President of the Mechanics' Institute in 1840.
  • Sir Benjamin Heywood - acted as President of the Mechanics' Institute 17 years (1824-1841).
  • Oliver Heywood (Sir Benjamin's son) - also became President of the Mechanics' Institute and was the first Freeman of the City.

In 1851, another institution - Owen's College, Manchester - was founded. This became the University of Manchester in 1904, having previously been part of the Federal Victoria University from 1880.

In 1883, John Henry Reynolds, Secretary of the Mechanics' Institution reorganised the Institution as a Technical School using the schemes and examinations of the City and Guilds' of London Institute.

Building a new future

The Institute's building (which now forms the western end of the present Main Building) was commenced in 1895 and opened by Prime Minister Arthur Balfour in October 1902. By this time the institution was called the Manchester Municipal School of Technology and was a large and active force in the area.

Already the "Tech" had pioneered Chemical Engineering as an academic subject in Britain as it was to do immediately after the First World War with Management studies. But the major leap forward early in 1905 was the setting up of a small Faculty of Technology - responsible academically to the University of Manchester - where a few students took BSc and MSc degrees. This was the forerunner of the modern UMIST.

In 1918, the institution was renamed to the Manchester Municipal College of Technology. The period of the two world wars, separated by the depression and the decline of the Lancashire cotton industry in the 1920s and 1930, was one of consolidation, and one in which the part time courses were of major importance to the region.

Time for a change

Full implementation of plans for an extension to the new building, needed almost immediately after the 1902 opening, was delayed until 1957. Nevertheless ONC, HND and PhD qualifications were introduced and research was revitalised, starting in the 1921/3 period, with further renaming of the institution as the Manchester Municipal College of Technology in 1918. By 1949 over 8500 students were recruited, most taking non-degree courses.

Dr B V Bowden (later Lord Bowden of Chesterfield) became Principal in 1953 and expansion started. In 1955/6 the Manchester College of Science and Technology, as it had become achieved independent university status under its Royal Charter.

In 1955/6, the Manchester College of Science and Technology, as it had become, achieved independent university status, under its Royal Charter, and separate funding from the University Grants Committee.

In 1966, all non-degree work was moved to the Manchester Polytechnic, now Manchester Metropolitan University. In 1966, it became UMIST.

A first for UMIST

Prof Harold Hankins was appointed Principal in 1984 and became UMIST's first Principal and Vice Chancellor in 1994.

It is really in the last quarter of a century of our long history that the growth and development into a major international research based university has taken place. UMIST performed well in the UK's last Research Assessment Exercise, in 2001, and now all its Departments are rated 4, 5 or 5*. Since the 1990's UMIST has won four Queen's Prizes for Higher and Further Education, two Prince of Wales' Awards for Innovation and two Queen's award for Export Achievement.

Throughout its history, UMIST has close links with industry. In 1968, UMIST set up the first industry/academia liaison group - now called UMIST Ventures Ltd - which supervises technology transfer and research contracts which lead to successful spin off companies in high-tech areas.

UMIST's specialisms number Paper Science, Textiles, Languages Engineering amongst the more unusual areas plus highly rated leading edge Departments and Centres such as Biomolecular Sciences, Corrosion and Protection, the Management School and Atmospheric Physics.

Cutting edge research

Staff and students today take part in well over two hundred separate degree programmes and are at the forefront of cutting edge research.

UMIST was the founding father of what is now the Greater Manchester Museum of Science and Industry and honours its wide range of successful and famous alumni, like Nobel Laureate Sir John Cockcroft and aeroplane pioneer Sir Arthur Whitten Brown.

Those early industrialists might not have understood genetic engineering or computational fluid dynamics but they would have understood the ethos of UMIST, which remains true to their foundation and their intentions, to be at the heart of learning and research.

Last updated: 20 October, 2003

 
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