University of Manchester, Vice-Chancellor's Archive

Scope and Content

Archive of the University of Manchester, Vice-Chancellor's Office. The archive is extensive and is one of the most important sources of information for many of the University's activities in the twentieth century.

The vice-chancellor's archive contains invaluable material relating to the development of the University during the twentieth century. The vice-chancellor's position as the University's senior executive officer is reflected in the content of the archive, much of it dealing with high-level policy issues of staffing, buildings, departmental organisation, relations with other UK universities, central government, and other public bodies, both local and national. Overall, the records of the Vice-Chancellor give an unique overview of the 'politics' of administering a large civic university in the twentieth century..

The most significant part of the archive is the vice-chancellor's correspondence and policy files (VCA/7) and the ceremonial files (VCA/8) which document major events in the University's history and development from the 1910s onwards. Subjects covered by these files include: governance issues, relations with University lay officers, academic departments (in theory, all academic departments should be covered), senior appointments including professorial chairs, administrative departments and halls of residence, relations with local organizations including the city council, the College of technology/UMIST, Manchester Business School, local NHS bodies, the Students Union. Relations with national bodies are also covered in detail including the University Grants Committee, Committee of Vice-Chancellor's and Principals, and Department of Education and Science.

Correspondence for the pre-1914 period is covered in the letter books (VCA/5) and correspondence files (VCA/6). The official speeches and writings of vice-chancellors, Stopford, Cooper and Armitage are to be found in VCA/10-12. Significant University events may also be traced through the cuttings books (VCA/1).

Administrative / Biographical History

The vice-chancellor is described in the University of Manchester's Supplemental Charter (1973) as the 'chief executive officer and principal academic and administrative officer of the University'. The vice-chancellor was therefore the senior official in charge of the day-to-day running of the University of Manchester between 1903 and 2004.

The office of vice-chancellor was created by the Royal Charter of 1903, which established the independent University of Manchester. Until independence, a principal had been in charge of Owens College, while the federal Victoria University, of which the College was a constituent member, had its own vice-chancellor. The post of principal was discontinued with the formal incorporation of Owens College into the University of Manchester in 1904.

The vice-chancellors of the Victoria University of Manchester, 1903-2004, were: 

  • Sir Alfred Hopkinson 1903-1913
  • Frederick Ernest Weiss 1913-1915
  • Sir Henry Alexander Miers 1915-1926
  • Sir Walter Hamilton Moberly 1926-1934
  • Sir John Sebastian Bach Stopford 1934-1956
  • Sir William Mansfield Cooper 1956-1970
  • Sir Arthur Llewellyn Armitage 1970-1980
  • Sir Mark Henry Richmond 1981-1990
  • Sir Martin Best Harris 1991-2004

The duties of the vice-chancellor were several. The vice-chancellor was an ex officio member of most Council and Senate Committees, and chaired Senate and many Council committees. More generally, the vice-chancellor was the public face of the University in the wider community, and was the key figure in the government of the University, linking academic staff and lay officers.

Sir Alfred Hopkinson (1851-1939) was the University's first vice-chancellor, having previously served as principal of Owens College, 1898-1904 and vice-chancellor of the Victoria University, 1900-1903. Hopkinson had been a student at Owens in the 1860s, before going on to study law at Oxford. He practised as a barrister, and was professor of law at Owens from 1875 to 1889. Hopkinson was also active in politics, sitting as Liberal Unionist MP for the Cricklade division of Wiltshire from 1895 to 1898. In later life he was a Unionist (Conservative) member of parliament for the Combined English Universities between 1926-1929. Hopkinson was knighted in 1910. His period as vice-chancellor was dominated by the setting up of a new teaching and administrative structure following the creation of the independent University of Manchester in 1903.

Hopkinson was succeeded by Frederick Weiss, the University's professor of botany, in 1913. This was a stop-gap appointment until a suitable candidate for the post could be found. Weiss continued to act as professor of botany during his tenure as vice-chancellor; he resigned in 1915. His replacement, Sir Henry Miers (1858-1942), was a distinguished scientist, who had been professor of mineralogy at Oxford University, and was a former principal of the University of London (1908-1915). His tenure of this post coincided with the war years, and the difficult post-war period when student numbers expanded rapidly against a background of constrained financial resources.

Miers in turn was succeeded in 1926 by Walter Moberly (1881-1974). Moberly had trained as a philosopher, and held academic positions in Oxford and Birmingham, before becoming the first principal of the University College of the South-West of England in 1922. Moberly's success in this post led to him replacing Miers as vice-chancellor in 1926. He made great efforts to build links between the University and the city's business community. A devoted churchman, Moberly was keen to emphasise the continuing importance of Christian thought in higher education. In 1934 Moberly resigned to become chairman of the University Grants Council.

Moberly was followed by John Sebastian Bach Stopford (Baron Stopford of Fallowfield, 1888-1961). Stopford was probably the most influential vice-chancellor in the history of the University. A medical practitioner by training, Stopford was appointed professor of anatomy at the University in 1919 (he continued to hold this chair for a short period after his appointment as vice-chancellor). He remained in office as vice-chancellor until 1956, overseeing a major expansion of the University, with a doubling in the number of staff and students. Stopford's reputation as an administrator saw him much in demand as a member of public bodies, and he served as chairman of the Universities Bureau of the British Empire, vice-chairman of the CVCP, vice-chairman of the Nuffield Foundation, and first chairman of the Manchester Regional Hospital Board. Stopford's diplomatic skills and unpretentious manner proved invaluable to the University at a time of rapid change in the post-war period.

Stopford was succeeded by William Mansfield Cooper (1903-1992). Cooper had worked his way up from WEA classes to become the University's professor of industrial and commercial law in 1949. He had previously been the University's registrar, and continued to act as joint registrar until 1952. In 1953-1954 he had been acting vice-chancellor when Stopford was absent through illness. In 1956 he became the full-time vice-chancellor. Cooper occupied this post during a period of great change at Manchester, with the expansion of staff and student numbers, and substantial administrative re-organisation. By the late 1960s, Cooper was forced to deal with student unrest, which clouded the last years of his term.

At the time of Cooper's retirement in 1970, Manchester was the largest (non-federal) University in the UK, and it faced a number of difficult challenges. There was obvious instances of dissent from the student body, but also concerns amongst academic staff about promotion, the running of departments and a feeling that Manchester was falling behind in certain areas of research.

Cooper's successor, Sir Arthur Armitage (1916-1984), tackled these problems with vigour in the face of diminishing financial support from central government. he oversaw the introduction of a new charter in 1973, which introduced a fomal departmental committee system in the academic departments, and allowed a degree of student participation in some areas of university government. Armitage retired in 1980, and in 1981, Mark Richmond became the University's seventh vice-chancellor. Richmond promoted administrative and academic restructuring in light of the stringent economies required of the University in the 1980s. He placed great emphasis on reinvigorating research performance, particularly in the sciences and medicine. He was succeeded by (Sir) Martin Harris in 1991, a linguist and former vice-chancellor of the University of Essex. Harris was the last vice-chancellor of the Victoria University of Manchester, and played a leading role in Project Unity, which brought together VUM and UMIST. He retired in 2004, and in October 2004 the new University of Manchester was instituted, with Professor Alan Gilbert being appointed to the new office of President and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester.


In most cases, record series in this archive have been maintained in a chronological order. Files (VCA/7 and VCA/8) had been kept according to a simple numbering system, and it appears in some cases duplicate numbers have been used. Until the early 1980s, these references were applied retroactively, and this was not a genuine file registration system. The original order of the files has been retained.

Several series in this archive had been listed previously; reference codes for several of these series have been changed.

The archive is divided into the following series:

  • VCA/1 - Cuttings Books
  • VCA/2 - Vice-Chancellor's Statements
  • VCA/3 - Newsletter to Graduates
  • VCA/4 - Appointment Diaries
  • VCA/5 - Letter books
  • VCA/6 - Correspondence 1899-1914
  • VCA/7 - Vice-Chancellor's Files
  • VCA/8 - Ceremonials Files
  • VCA/9 - Government Reports etc.
  • VCA/10 - Stopford: Articles, Speeches
  • VCA/11 - Cooper: Articles, Speeches
  • VCA/12 - Armitage: Articles, Speeches
  • VCA/13 - Richmond: Articles, Speeches
  • VCA/14 - Harris: Articles, Speeches

Access Information

Access conditions apply to several series in this collection. Special permission may be required to see certain items in the archive; some material is closed to public inspection.

The archive contains personal data about living individuals, and readers are expected to comply with the Data Protection Act 2018 in their use of the material. This finding aid also contains personal data about living individuals. Under this Act, The University of Manchester Library (UML) holds the right to process such personal data for research purposes. The Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2000 enables the JRUL to process sensitive personal data for research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, the UML has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately, according to the Data Protection Principles.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester M3 3EH.

Appraisal Information

Some records in this collection have been subject to appraisal by the Vice-Chancellor's Office before transfer to the Archives.

In 2015 a further appraisal of the remaining files at the President's Office was conducted. This identified a number of files as not warranting permanent preservation, and these have now been disposed of. In addition, a number of files, including some which would have been retained permanently, were irreparably damaged in a flood in their former storeroom, and these too have had to be disposed of.

Custodial History

The archive was retained by the Vice-Chancellor's Office until transfer to the University Archives in several accessions between the 1980s and 2015.


Further accruals unlikely; some files from the final accrual of material in 2015 have not yet been catalogued.

Related Material

The archive of the principal of Owens College can be found in the Owens College Archive (OCA). No records of the Vice-Chancellor of the Victoria University have survived.

Geographical Names