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University of Manchester Archives

Date range: 1851 to present.

The origins of Manchester University can be traced back to 1845 when the Manchester merchant John Owens (1790-1846) bequeathed almost £100,000 for the foundation of 'an institution for providing or aiding the means of instructing and improving young persons of the male sex (and being of an age not less than fourteen years) in such branches of learning and science as were then and might be... taught in the English Universities'.

Thus Owens College was established in 1851 in Richard Cobden's house on Quay Street. The College was affiliated to the University of London, and students who successfully completed a two-year course at Manchester had the opportunity to take external London degrees.

Owens College moved to its present site on Oxford Road in 1873.

A separate college for women was opened in Brunswick Street in 1877 and in 1883 the Department for Women was established as part of Owens College.

The success of the College led to a campaign, from about 1876 onwards, for it to be accorded university status. However, conservative suspicions within the established universities, and misgivings among similar colleges about the elevation of Owens College, led to the compromise which became the Victoria University.

From 1880 to 1884 Owens College was the sole constituent of this federal university of northern England, to be joined in 1884 and 1887 by Liverpool and Leeds respectively.

By the turn of the century there was pressure again for the establishment of an independent University of Manchester. In 1903 the federal university was disbanded and the Victoria University of Manchester was established.

The University established a Faculty of Technology in 1905, which was based at the Manchester Municipal School (later College) of Technology. The School itself ultimately derived from the Manchester Mechanics' Institution, established in 1824. The University was responsible for all degree-level students at the School. In 1956 the College of Technology became the Manchester College of Science and Technology, a university college which continued to have a close connection to the University of Manchester. In 1966 it was renamed the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), with greater autonomy, but retaining its constitutional connections to the University. UMIST became a fully independent institution in 1994.

In 2004 the Victoria University of Manchester and UMIST amalgamated to form The University of Manchester, a new foundation established by Royal Charter.


The University Archives are comprehensive, and include records of governing bodies, administrative and support departments, academic faculties and departments, cultural institutions (Manchester Museum and Whitworth Art Gallery), halls of residence, staff and student societies, and a wide range of official publications, newspapers, magazines, cuttings, photographs and ephemera.

Collectively, the archives constitute one of the most significant research resources available for the history of British higher education. The archives are important in charting the development of one of the earliest 'red-brick' universities, and include invaluable source material for such topics as the development of academic research and teaching, relations with central government and other public bodies, university funding, student recruitment, including the admission of women students, university architecture, and the social, political and cultural activities of students.


Finding aids

Catalogues available online via ELGAR. For further details, see the University Archives web-pages:


Main Library

Using the reading room in the Main Library