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[Photo: College House]
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History of College House

This page provides information about the history of College House. If you are looking for information relating to careers please return to the main menu on the Careers Service home page.

College House

The image of College House appears on the banner of, and as a background to, each of our web pages. College House, in which the Careers Service is situated, has a rich and colourful history. Although small in comparison with the other buildings on the campus, College House is actually a large, three storey, Victorian building with tall chimneys, a slate roof and lovely bay windows. Ivy and parthenocissus cling to its front wall, producing a riot of red colour during the Autumn. Forsythia and winter jasmine at the side of the building provide colour in the Spring and cotoneaster bushes are planted at the rear.

The history of College House is inextricably linked with that of the older parts of the University. During the nineteenth century the current administration building of the University was the Leicestershire and Rutland County Lunatic Asylum. The asylum, situated on University Road (known then as Occupation Road) was built in 1837, and further extended and enlarged over the following sixty years.

College House was built in 1872 to accommodate the Medical Superintendent of the asylum. Dr John Buck had been in the post since 1853 and remained so until his death in December 1879. He was succeeded by William H. Higgins who was the Medical Superintendent until he became ill in 1894; he died in 1897. Rothsay C. Stewart, a London medical graduate, was appointed to succeed him in March 1895 and remained in post until the closure of the asylum.

The building of College House freed space in the asylum for the separation of pauper and charity patients from the other inmates. The grounds of the asylum extended over 20 acres, with walks and pleasure grounds tended by the patients themselves. A glazed covered passageway joined College House to the wards of the asylum; this was later removed, in 1971, to make way for the present University Library. Photographs have shown that in the 1890s College House was surrounded by lawns and flower beds, only a little of which remains today.

In 1908, the patients were moved to a new asylum in Narborough. The old asylum was left empty and untended until it was requisitioned by the army medical authorities for use as a field hospital following the outbreak of the First World War. In August 1914 the old asylum buildings were renovated and altered in order to provide suitable accommodation for wounded soldiers and became the 5th Northern General Hospital in 1915. The army evacuated the buildings in 1919.

The asylum site and surrounding 37 acres of land were purchased for £40,000 by Thomas Fielding Johnson, a retired local textile manufacturer. He gave the buildings and land to the Borough of Leicester for the proposed University College. The main building was officially renamed the Fielding Johnson Building in 1964, as it is still known today.

The College admitted its first nine students in October 1921. College House became the home of Dr R. F. Rattray, the first Principal of the University College.

The second Principal of the College, Mr Frederick L. Attenborough, was appointed in 1931 and remained as Principal until 1951. The Arts and Social Science Building bears the name Attenborough Tower in his honour. The famous sons, Lord Richard and Sir David, who brought the Attenborough name to international fame, lived in College House when they were boys along with their younger brother, John. Richard was eight years old when he came to live at College House and David was five.

The University College became the University of Leicester in 1957 when it was granted its Royal Charter. Since that time, the area around the original asylum buildings has been transformed from the walks and pleasure grounds to the campus as we know it today. Considerable modifications have been made to the internal layout of College House; its original ornate fireplaces, ceiling roses and kitchen ranges have been replaced by the requirements of modern office life such as bookshelves, fluorescent lights, filing cabinets, and fire and burglar alarms. However, the main, rather majestic, staircase remains much as it was when it was built; with a little imagination one can almost hear the swish of bustled skirts as Victorian ladies descended to the ground floor.

Major restructuring work was carried out to the building in the summer of 1995. This resulted in the first floor being made into offices and the Careers Information Room transferred to the ground floor. In order to accommodate these changes various walls were demolished and new ones built.

College House has served a number of different functions over the years including: part of a women's students' hostel, Student Health Centre, the University Chaplaincy, Department of American Studies, Department of Urban History, and Enterprise Learning Initiative. Its current use is to house the University Careers Service, Student Learning Centre, Teaching and Learning Unit (all part of the Educational Development and Support Centre) and the Subject Centre for History, Classics and Archaeology.

College House is now a bustling environment with around twenty members of staff working to help the students of the University; visitor numbers to the building total in excess of 30,000 per year.

Sources: Leicestershire's Lunatics, Henry Orme and William Brock; The Grand Old Man - Before and After, Elizabeth Halford; Leicester University Archives; University of Leicester: A History 1921 - 1996, Brian Burch.

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Careers Service, College House, University Rd, Leicester, LE1 7RH
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Last updated: October 2001
Careers Service Web Maintainer

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