dictionary of science

University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology

The University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) was a university based in the centre of the city of Manchester in England. It specialised in technical and scientific subjects and was a major centre for research, especially in the fields of materials, physics and corrosion. On October 1 2004, it merged with the Victoria University of Manchester to form the University of Manchester.

UMIST gained its Royal Charter in 1956 and became a fully autonomous university in 1993. Previously its degrees were awarded by the Victoria University of Manchester. The UMIST motto was Scientia et Labore (Knowledge and Work).

The Mechanics' Institute (1824-1882)

The foundation of UMIST can be traced to 1824 during the Industrial revolution when a group of Manchester businessmen and industrialists met in a public house, the Bridgewater Arms, to establish the Mechanics' Institute in Manchester, where artisans could learn basic science, particularly mechanics and chemistry. Hundreds of such institutions were founded in towns and cities throughout the country and while many of the fine Victorian buildings built to house them remain, Manchester's alone survived as an independent institution serving some of its original educational aims throughout the 20th century.

The meeting, convened by George William Wood on 7 April 1824,

was attended by prominent members of the science and engineering community, including:

A committee was elected to realise the planned institution, including Wood, Fairbairn, Heywood, Roberts and John Davies and the Institute opened in 1825 with Heywood as chairman.

However, the Institute's intentions were paternal and no democratic control by its students was intended. In 1829, radical Rowland Detrosier led a breakaway group to form the New Mechanics' Institution in Poole Street, a move that had a serious effect on the recruitment and finances of the original Institution. Subscriptions and memberships in 1830-1 were an all-time low and only the gradual opening of the board up to election by the members rectified the situation. Detrosier's break-away ultimately rejoined the Institute.

By 1840, the Institution was established with 1,000 subscribers and a library of some 5,500 books. However, the increased popularity had been somewhat at the cost of science education, more and more lectures on non-scientific subjects were occupying its programmes.

The Tech (1883-1917)

In 1883 secretary of the Institution John Henry Reynolds reorganised the Institution as a Technical School using the schemes and examinations of the City and Guilds of London Institute. A new building was begun in 1895 and opened by the Prime Minister Arthur Balfour in October 1902.

This is the western end of what until recently known as the UMIST Main Building (it was renamed after the merger with VUM as the "Sackville St. Building"), pictured above, a grade II listed building by Spalding and Cross with Renaissance motifs of Burmantofts terracotta. By this time the institution was called the Manchester Municipal School of Technology or fondly known as The Tech.

As befits its roots in the early chemical industry of the region the Tech had pioneered Chemical Engineering as an academic subject in Britain, indeed the lectures by George E. Davis in 1888 were highly influential in defining the discipline. Similarly in the 1920s it pioneered academic training in Management, with the formation of a Department of Industrial Administration funded by an endowment from asbestos magnate Sir Samuel Turner. But perhaps a more significant advance was the foundation in 1905 of a Faculty of Technology, answerable academically to its 'younger sister' the Victoria University of Manchester and awarding BSc and MSc degrees, the beginnings of UMIST as a University and the first technology faculty in the country.

Establishment as a university (1918-1993)

In 1918, the institution changed name again to Manchester Municipal College of Technology. By 1949 over 8500 students were enrolled, however most still studying non-degree courses. The appointment of B.V. Bowden (later Lord Bowden of Chesterfield) in 1953 marked the beginning of a phase of expansion. During 1955 and 1956 the Manchester College of Science and Technology achieved independent university status under its own Royal Charter and became separately funded from the University Grants Committee.

By 1966 all non-degree courses were moved to the Manchester Polytechnic which is now known as Manchester Metropolitan University, and in 1966 the name finally changed to the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. UMIST and the Victoria University of Manchester retained close ties for the second half of the 20th century, with UMIST students being awarded, or having the choice of, a University of Manchester degree until full autonomy in 1993.

Student life

In the late 20th century, student life at UMIST centred on the Barnes Wallis Building, which was the home of the Students' Union (later known as the Students' Association) and Harry's Bar.

A prominent feature of the student calendar from the 1960s onwards was the Bogle Stroll. This was a 55-mile long sponsored walk for charity which was held annually during Rag Week. Each year, hundreds of students followed the circular route which started and finished at the UMIST campus. The tradition continues in The University of Manchester .

Achievements and evolution

During the last quarter of the 20th century UMIST established a reputation as a major research-based university, performing well in the government's Research Assessment Exercise in 2001, and was well placed in various league tables. UMIST has won four Queen's Prizes for Higher and Further Education, two Prince of Wales' Awards for Innovation and two Queen's Award for Export Achievement.

UMIST was instrumental in the founding of what is now the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. Famous alumni include Nobel Laureate in nuclear physics Sir John Cockcroft, aeroplane pioneer Sir Arthur Whitten Brown, and designer of the Lancaster bomber Roy Chadwick, while famous academics include mathematicians Louis Joel Mordell, Hanna Neumann, Lewis Fry Richardson and Robin Bullough, and the physicist Henry Lipson.

Other notable alumni include Margaret Beckett, a politician who in 2006 became Foreign Secretary.

In 2004 Terry Leahy, CEO of Tesco and alumnus was the last Chancellor of UMIST, and the Vice Chancellor was fittingly a chemical engineer, Prof John Garside.

UMIST, together with the Victoria University of Manchester ceased to exist on 1 October 2004, when they were combined in a new single University of Manchester hoping to combine the strengths and traditions of both.


The merged university undertook a massive expansion and a £350 million capital investment programme in new buildings. Some, such as the Alan Turing Building, house merged departments such as the School of Mathematics. The estates plan, published in 2007, indicates an intention to sell a number of former UMIST teaching buildings, including the Moffat Building, the Maths and Social Sciences Tower, the Morton Building and the Fairbairn Building, as well as formerly UMIST-owned halls of residence including Hardy Farm, Chandos Hall, Wright-Robinson Hall and Weston Hall. The original UMIST Main Building is not included in this list. Covenants restrict it to educational use. No plans have been announced for the sale of any former Victoria University of Manchester buildings. Unions and some ex-UMIST staff and students have reacted angrily to the potential sales.

In March 2007, the press claimed that the merger had created a debt of £30 million, about 5% of the University's annual turnover, and that the University was aiming to tackle this debt by implementing 400 voluntary redundancies. As of 2007, there has been no announcement as to where in the University the redundancies will be sought or what proportion of the job losses would come from the former UMIST. The University and College Union accused the University of mismanagement and called for a halt to recruitment.

UMIST Campus

UMIST moved to its present location just south of Manchester city centre at the end of the 19th century. The Main Building (now called the Sackville Street Building) was purpose-built between 1895 and 1902 by Spalding and Cross. Starting in 1927, plans were drawn up by the architects Bradshaw Gass & Hope for an extension which would approximately double the size of the original building. However, construction was delayed by the war and other factors, so that the extension was not fully completed until 1957.

In the 1960s the institution expanded rapidly to the south, growing from a single large building to an entire campus. Around a dozen modern buildings were constructed on the other side of the railway viaduct from the Main Building. The new edifices were designed by leading Manchester architects and were all built out of concrete. They included the Maths and Social Sciences Tower, the Faraday Building, the Renold Building, and the Barnes Wallis Building, the last two of which faced each other across a bowling green.

  • Three small apple trees, said to have been grown from cuttings taken from the apple trees in Sir Isaac Newton's garden, are planted by the archway containing a statue of Archimedes in his bath by Thompson Dagnall.
  • The popular fruit cordial Vimto was formulated in a shed located in the space that UMIST eventually came to cover - around 1991-92 students and others were asked to give their opinions and perhaps vote on a memorial to this invention - the winner was a huge wooden carving of a Vimto bottle surrounded by the fruit whose juices are used in the production.
  • UMIST is situated on land which used to be home to a large number of dyers' factories by the River Medlock, which now runs through underground culverts beneath the site. An original bend in the river can be traced by observing the angles of a couple of the arches of the railway viaduct alongside UMIST. These are slanted to accommodate the winding river.

See also



  • Cardwell, D. S. L. (ed.) (1974) Artisan to Graduate: Essays to Commemorate the Foundation in 1824 of the Manchester Mechanics' Institution, Manchester: Manchester University Press, ISBN 0719012724
  • — (2004) " Reynolds, John Henry (1842-1927)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, accessed 18 June 2005 (subscription required)
  • Marshall, J.D. (1964) "John Henry Reynolds, pioneer of technical education in Manchester", Vocational Aspect 16/35, 176–96

External links

  • University of Manchester
  • UMIST website versions from 1997 onwards, preserved in the Internet Archive
  • Higher Education Policy Institute report on the decision-making process leading to the merger of UMIST and the Victoria University of Manchester.
  • Higher Education Policy Institute report based on interviews with those involved in several university mergers including UMIST's. Interviewees stressed the importance of a short timescale for mergers which "limited the time for opposition to gain momentum".
  • UMIST Forum Unofficial discussion board for former UMIST students and staff.

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