A history of De Montfort University

At a public meeting in October 1869 a “considerable number of ladies and gentlemen” decided to organise a school which “would be able to afford authoritative instruction in Art to the people of Leicester”. Premises were secured in an old warehouse and in March 1870 the first classes of the Leicester School of Art were held.

In the same year, the Reverend James Went began to teach a series of technical classes at the nearby Wyggeston Boys School. Demand for lessons was so high that the Leicester Technical School was founded in 1882.

The Leicester Municipal Technical and Art School was formed in 1897 when the Leicester School of Art was merged with the Leicester Technical School, under the control of the Town Council. Premises were constructed in the Newarke – what we now call the Hawthorn Building. At first only the wing facing Hugh Aston was completed, the remaining parts were added later – Richmond Street wing in 1909, the Gateway Street wing in 1928 and the wing facing Trinity House in 1937.

The War Years

On the outbreak of the First World War the School was eager to play their part to assist the war effort. A munitions workshop was started by the Engineering staff and a programme of classes were started for servicemen who had been disabled by their injuries, allowing them to retrain in a more suitable trade. Of course many staff and students volunteered to serve in the armed forces. Sadly, at least twenty lost their lives.

The School was rebranded as the Leicester College of Arts and Crafts and the Leicester College of Technology in 1929. The College of Art taught architecture, building crafts, furniture making, printing, book production, metal working, dress design, weaving, drawing and painting. The College of Technology offered boot and shoe manufacture, hosiery and textiles, chemistry, dyeing, pharmacy, physics, mathematics, engineering, office management, grocery trades, meat trades and bakery and confectionery trades. The emphasis in both Colleges was on vocation, practical skill and employability.

During the Second World War life at the Colleges was necessarily disrupted as sand-bags piled up around the ground floor and gas-masks were carried at all times. Short courses in key skills were offered for members of the Forces and for women entering munitions factories. Students made furnishings and equipment for hospitals; painted murals in restaurants and air raid shelters and made posters and signs for the local civil defence committee. After the war it was revealed that the College had been a top secret radar training station.

The Polytechnic Years

The campus changed considerably in the 1960s and 70s. The Fletcher Building was opened by the Queen Mother in 1966, the first custom built extension to the Colleges and much needed as there was no space in the Hawthorn Building. A few years later the James Went building was added, known informally as the barcode building because of its unusual windows. This was demolished in 2004 to make way for the new Hugh Aston building and the landscaping of Magazine Square.

The Leicester Colleges of Art and Technology were formally designated as the City of Leicester Polytechnic in April 1969 and expanded greatly during this period. A new building was added when a former hosiery factory was converted into the Clephan Building, while a merger with the City of Leicester College of Education brought new subjects including teacher training, speech therapy, performing arts and social studies; as well as a new Leicester campus based at the eighteenth century manor house Scraptoft Hall.

De Montfort University

Leicester Polytechnic officially became De Montfort University on 26 June 1992. The Queen launched a new campus of the University at Milton Keynes in March 1992, and in 1994 further campuses were opened in Lincoln and Bedford. The aim was to create a ‘distributed campus’: a University made up of a network of campuses, each with its own identity and specialisms, but managed as a single corporation sharing technology, systems and skills. By the end of the 1990s, DMU boasted over 30,000 students based at the four sites.

In December 1993 the Queen opened a new building on the Leicester campus named in her honour. Housing the School of Engineering and Manufacture, the Queens Building was considered innovative in its approach to environmental issues and was awarded the first ever Energy Design Award by the Department of Energy.

The Charles Frears Campus was formed in 1995, following a merger with Charles Frears College of Nursing and Midwifery. With the Scraptoft Campus this spread DMU over 3 Leicester sites as well as the 3 national campuses. 

A new century

Many changes have taken place at DMU since the turn of the century, including consolidation of all teaching onto the original central Leicester campus. Courses and facilities at Lincoln, Bedford and Milton Keynes were transferred to local institutions, while the Scraptoft and Charles Frears Campuses were sold.

Recent years have seen the opening of significant new buildings that enhance DMU’s modern, state-of-the-art facilities, including the new Campus Centre, the PACE building and the Hugh Aston Building. Further significant transformations will be taking place on campus throughout 2014.

While the future is unknown, DMU’s strategic plan and the dynamic leadership of the Executive Board mean that exciting times are ahead for De Montfort University.

DMU Archives

The DMU Archives include student registers, annual reports, prospectuses, committee minutes, staff records, press cuttings, orders of proceedings from graduation ceremonies, visitors’ books, and photographs of the campus and classes. Catalogues of the DMU archival holdings are being hosted on the Archives Hub. These catalogues are a work in progress and more descriptions will be added over time. Meanwhile if you do not see what you are looking for please contact the archivist who will be happy to discuss uncatalogued collections with you.

Contact archives@dmu.ac.uk with enquiries or to book an appointment. 
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