In July 2017 the University of Portsmouth celebrates 25 years since gaining university status. However, the University of Portsmouth archive reveals that the roots of the institution go back much further than this, to the late 19th century.
One of the earliest items in the university archive collection is a minute book from the Portsmouth and Gosport School of Science and Art. The school opened on 1st June 1870 and offered a mix of day and evening classes, the latter aimed at local artisans. Both men and women attended the school whose main premises were in the former Crown Sale Rooms in Pembroke Street. Students could receive instruction in a range of skills including practical geometry, artistic anatomy, and architectural and mechanical drawing.
By 1908 responsibility for technical education had been taken over by the local authority. A grand new building opened behind the Guildhall to house the Portsmouth Municipal College. The building is still in use by the university today and has Grade II listed status. The college offered a mix of higher and lower courses, the higher being of university standard. The college also had another role in the wider community as the reference library on the ground floor was open to both local residents and students.
The first edition of student magazine The Galleon was published in autumn 1911, shortly after the establishment of separate female and male student unions. It reported on the formation of a women’s basketball team and bemoaned the state of the common room. Student media is a fascinating source of information on the daily life of students and many newspapers and magazines survive in the archive.
There has been a succession of name changes among the university’s institutional predecessors. Portsmouth Municipal College became Portsmouth College of Technology in 1953, before developing into Portsmouth Polytechnic in 1969. The collections chart this process of expansion – of both student numbers and buildings – through prospectuses, newsletters, annual reports and more. The university is located right in the heart of the city of Portsmouth and the range of buildings it has utilised over the decades is notable. In addition to creating new buildings of its own, sites include a former sailors home, hotel, building society headquarters, drill hall and barracks, illustrating just how closely the history of the university is related to that of the city as a whole.
The university is also however, the result of the amalgamation of several institutions. One of the richest collections of material in the archive is from the Day Training College, latterly the College of Education. This teacher training college didn’t merge with Portsmouth Polytechnic until 1976 and was mostly based at its own separate site in the city. The collection includes college admissions registers, correspondence and photographs of staff, students and buildings. The training college was all-female for several decades after its establishment in 1907, and is a valuable resource for women’s history. Similarly, there is also a separate archival collection from the College of Art which maintained its independence until the 1990s.
In 1992 Portsmouth became a ‘new’ University, but one with a considerable heritage and a long-established connection to the local area. The university archive has an important role in helping to tell this sometimes overlooked aspect of the institution’s history.
Anna Delaney, Archivist
University of Portsmouth
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