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What’s the first thing that springs to mind when you think of the University of Leeds? For many it would be the Parkinson building, its iconic tower is one of the city’s defining landmarks, remaining long in the memory for the hundreds of thousands of people who spent their three university years studying in the city before entering the world of work.
The University of Leeds is one of six original “red brick” universities set up around the turn of the 20th century, and the eye-catching Parkinson building emphasises the prestige of the institution itself. The university’s roots date back to the formation of the Leeds School of Medicine in 1831 and the opening of the Yorkshire College of Science in 1874, which combined before joining forces with Owens College Manchester and University College Liverpool to become the federal Victoria University. But it soon became obvious the three great northern cities needed their own universities, and King Edward VII granted the University of Leeds its own charter as an independent institution in 1904. Student numbers grew rapidly and, unlike Owens College Manchester, the University of Leeds can proudly say that it has always permitted female students.
The Parkinson Building was officially opened in 1951, commissioned by Frank Parkinson, a wealthy benefactor who died five years before the building was opened. Parkinson, who was born in Guiseley in 1887, studied electrical engineering at the university before working for a local firm and subsequently leading his own gas lamps company, Crompton Parkinson. Looking at the building and its tower today - which is visible from miles around - it certainly does him proud.
Parkinson Court was refurbished in 2004, being restored to its former glory as an impressive gateway to the fantastic Brotherton Library, which opened in 1936, and the rest of the university campus. The Parkinson building is also home to the University of Leeds Art Collection and Gallery, which is free to enter and displays an extensive array of paintings, drawings, sculptures, ceramics, and photographs, along with interesting temporary exhibitions from time to time.
The university, like its home city, has grown impressively over the past 100 years: it has both propelled and reflected Leeds’ emergence on the international stage. When the university was given its royal charter in 1904, seven out of eight students came from Yorkshire; today the university is home to students and staff from more than 100 countries. As the university looks forward to another dynamic century of progress, that grand old tower reassuringly remains the same.
University of Leeds, Woodhouse Lane, LS2 9JT
Posted on Wednesday 25th November 2009
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