Donations Change Lives: Campus and Heritage

The impact of donations to The University of Manchester can be seen all over campus

Share How donations helped build the campus we know today #DonationsChangeLives Click To Tweet Some of our most famous buildings on campus were funded by generous donors #DonationsChangeLives Click To Tweet Learn about the history of philanthropy to Manchester #DonationsChangeLives Click To Tweet

At The University of Manchester, we can trace our history back to the creation of the Manchester Mechanics Institute in 1824. Since then, we’ve merged and changed through a variety of institutions – Owens College, The Victoria University, UMIST – until eventually becoming the modern university we know today in 2004.

Throughout our long and changing past, however, one constant has been the instrumental role of philanthropy to the University. It’s safe to say that we owe our very existence to the vision and generosity of a number of far-sighted philanthropists from our past.

Even today, donations remain at the very heart of the University, helping to transform our campus into a campus fit for a truly world-leading university.

Laying the foundations – John Owens

If you had to pick one moment which laid the foundations for what would become The University of Manchester, you’d probably look back to John Owens’ legacy gift in 1846. Manchester industrialist and cotton merchant John Owens left just under £100,000 to set up what became known as Owens College.

Owens created this institution with one particularly progressive stipulation – admission to the college was regardless of the applicant’s birthplace, rank or condition in society. This laid the foundations for Manchester’s proud tradition of educational equality we still hold today, and which our donor-funded access schemes are so crucial in continuing.

The campus we know today – Charles Beyer

Through the support of another great philanthropist – Charles Beyer – Owens College moved to Oxford Road. The site which was set up in the late 1800s still stands today, and is probably the most iconic area of campus – the old quadrangle.

The quad was made up of four main buildings. One took the name of John Owens, one took the name of Charles Beyer, and the other two were given the names of 2 more great philanthropists from that era – Sir Joseph Whitworth and Richard Copley Christie. 

Graduation Hall – Sir Joseph Whitworth

Sir Joseph Whitworth is perhaps one of the most recognisable names at the University as his name is not only given to the spectacular Whitworth Hall, but also to the University’s art gallery – The Whitworth.

During his life, he was one of the great Victorian engineers, and a founding father of modern production engineering. On his death, he left his wealth to 3 trustees – including Richard Christie – to support causes close to him, especially education.

The trustees used this money to set up a system of engineering scholarships, purchase new land for the University, and develop Whitworth Park and the attached art gallery.

The Bistro – Richard Copley Christie

Christie was one of the earliest academics at Owens College, becoming a professor aged just 23. He was instrumental in the expansion of Owens College, and, as well as being one of Whitworth’s trustees, he was also a prolific philanthropist in his own right.

Perhaps his largest contribution to the University was in funding and setting up the Christie Library, designed by architect Alfred Waterhouse. As well as funding its construction, Christie also donated 75,000 volumes from his own collection. Today, the library still stands, and now houses the Christie’s Bistro. In addition to this, Christie also set up what became the Christie cancer hospital in Withington.

John Rylands Library – Enriqueta Rylands

One figure who transformed the University away from the Oxford Road corridor was Enriqueta Rylands. A deeply committed Manchester philanthropist at the turn of the century, Rylands became the first woman ever to be admitted to the Freedom of the City.

Following the death of her husband, John Rylands, Enriqueta decided to honour his memory by setting up a library in his name. Initially the library was not part of the University, but it was acquired in 1972 and now forms part of the third largest academic library in the UK. 

Today, the library is not just a gem in the University’s campus, but also one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.

Donations on campus today

Donations have clearly played a huge role in the history of The University of Manchester’s. What’s covered above barely scratches the surface of the impact that philanthropy has had on our campus.

And even today, donations still have a massive impact on our campus. This is perhaps most obvious in donors helping to fund our large scale campus developments – The Alliance Manchester Business School, the Manchester Engineering Campus Development, or the new South Asia Gallery at Manchester Museum.

But what might not be so obvious is the impact donations have on smaller scale projects on campus. Take the wall mural of Lemn Sissay’s ‘Let There Be Peace’, for example, which was made possible by the generosity of donors in 2012.

At Manchester, we’re committed to providing a world-class campus where our students can study and our researchers and staff can work. We’re privileged to still benefit from the generosity and vision of donors from centuries past, and honoured that our supporters today still maintain that tradition of generosity.

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