Mason Science College, the predecessor institution of the University of Birmingham, did not provide accommodation for its students, but made available a list of approved lodgings. The majority of students at Mason College were from Birmingham and the surrounding area, and so probably lived at home or with family or friends, but once the college was incorporated into the new University of Birmingham it was soon realised that there was a need for residential accommodation for women students. The idea of a hall of residence for women students was first considered in 1902 when a meeting was held to elect an executive committee chaired by Alice Beale. The other members of the committee were Margaret Ashley, Helen Caddick, Charlotte Chamberlain, Mrs Dixon, Mrs Frankland, Mrs Fiedler, Miss Hodson, Anne Joyce, head of the women's Day Training Department at the university, Mrs Wilson-King, Mrs Knox, Mrs Muirhead, Mrs Sonnenschein, Miss Landon Thomas, Head of Edgbaston Church of England College for Girls, and Miss Tarleton Young, Head of Edgbaston High School for Girls. The committee issued a circular to schools and colleges indicating that a hostel for women students would be established by October 1903 if there was sufficient interest. Response to this was limited, and so action was postponed until 1904. Members of the Executive committee identified a house to rent at 215 Hagley Road, and were empowered to acquire the lease. The General committee then canvassed for the necessary funds, some of which was supplied by University Council. It was agreed that the hall of residence should not be restricted to university students but would also be open to students from the School of Art and School of Cookery. Advertisements were placed in the 'Spectator' and 'The Athenian' for a warden, and Margery Fry was appointed in June 1904. In October the Executive committee met for the first time at 215 Hagley Road, to be known as 'University House'.
Margery Fry was joined by her friend, Rose Sidgwick, who she had met while studying at Somverville College, Oxford, and who joined the University of Birmingham as a history lecturer and also managed the library at University House. Other staff members in these very early years included Helen Wodehouse who had been appointed lecturer in philosophy at the University, and Miss Phillp, Headmistress of the Girls' Pupil Teacher Centre at Handsworth. By the end of the 1904-1905 academic session there were a total of ten residents at University House, of which four were studying for a university degree. The others included students at the University of Birmingham Day Training College, Birmingham School of Art, and the School of Cookery, as well as teachers at local girls' schools.
Additional houses were rented to accommodate students including 19 Stirling Road in March 1905, and 59 Stirling Road in July 1906, but the cost of rents and staff wages made the use of private rented accommodation uneconomical, especially as numbers of students requiring residential accommodation continued to rise. A Canvassing Committee was formed to seek funds and acquire a site for a purpose built hall of residence for women students. Neville Chamberlain was appointed chairman of this committee, with his cousin, Charlotte Chamberlain, as secretary. Members of prominent Birmingham families and University staff donated funds or furniture and other gifts for the new building. Margery Fry was a member of a sub-committee appointed to draw up requirements for the new building, which was to include provision for a stage, and spacious public rooms, with the dining room boarded for dancing. Herbert Buckland was chosen as architect, and a site on Edgbaston Park Road was leased from the Calthorpe Estate, close to the new buildings being constructed at Bournbrook by Sir Aston Webb and Ingress Bell. Gardens were laid out through the generosity of the wife of William Cadbury. The completed building, the lease of the site, all subscriptions and donations, together with the furniture and equipment were offered as a free gift to the University of Birmingham. Students moved into the new University House building in October 1908.
There were thirty five residents by 1909, and numbers continued to increase as more women students enrolled at the University. The managing body of the hall of residence had agreed to reserve half the places for students at the Day Training College, provided that it retained the right to give preference to students intending to take a University degree course, and on condition that it would be free to reduce the number of places reserved on payment of a corresponding portion of the Board of Education grant. The University House Committee voted to exclude teachers at High Schools from 1913-1914, but to continue to receive School of Art students for another year. Municipal Art students were excluded from 1920. Even with the introduction of restrictions on non-University residents, demands on space in the new building prompted suggestions for a new wing to be added. Funds were again raised by public subscription, including donations from former students, and the Beale wing extension, named for Alice Beale, chairman of University House Committee, was completed in 1913. An orchard was planted behind the new building, and a strip of land towards the Bristol Road provided a vegetable garden area, a winter tennis court, and a pitch for netball. When the First World War broke out in August 1914, University House was requisitioned by the War Office to provide accommodation for nurses attached to the First Southern General Hospital, established in the new University buildings at Bournbrook. Many of the students and staff who had lived at University House and who remained at the University during the conflict were accommodated at Wyddrington, a house in Church Road, Edgbaston, offered as temporary accommodation by the executors of John Edward Wilson. The grounds included vegetable gardens, and orchard, and tennis courts, and students were also able to use the boating lake. Other residents were accommodated at Alice Beale's house at Maple Bank, or stayed in other homes in Birmingham. Margery Fry resigned as Warden in 1914, and was replaced by Beatrice Orange, previously sub-Warden at University House, who had spent the 1913-1914 academic session at Bedford College, London. The War Office paid rent for the use of University House, and also paid compensation for the expenses incurred in moving to Wyddrington. Social events continued at Wyddrington, including tennis, plays, and a iin 1915 a garden party was held there to raise money for a travelling field hospital for wounded soldiers in response to an appeal by John Masefield.
Several University House students undertook war work including fruit picking and other agricultural work, and VAD nursing. Students also sewed and knitted for soldiers and Belgian refugees. Margery Fry began working with the Friends War Relief Mission to France in 1915, and was joined by former students Marjorie Rackstraw and Hilda Clark, and French lecturer Jeanne Lepetit. In 1918 Rose Sidgwick was invited to join a Government Educational Mission from British Universities going to the United States to encourage collaboration between universities in both countries. She died in the influenza epidemic in December 1918 in New York.
Students and staff returned to University House in the summer of 1919. Beatrice Orange resigned as Warden in 1923 and Hilda Walton was appointed. Gates were added to the main entrance in 1926, presented to Alice Beale in recognition of her service to University House, and a memorial to Rose Sidgwick in the form of a bird bath and fountain was placed in the gardens in 1922, following fund raising by former residents. The opening of the Guild of Students building in 1930 enabled University House residents to take part in more student activities, including athletics and other sports events, Carnival fund raising activities, and dances. Hilda Walton retired from her post as Warden in 1937 and was replaced by Janet Carpenter. Her initial tasks as Warden in the late 1930s included negotiating a relaxation in regulations governing late leave and male visitors, but as concerns about an impending European war grew, she was also involved in air raid precautions planning to ensure that University House could continue to accommodate students during a conflict. The building was not requisitioned during the Second World War, but it was used to accommodate male medical students recruited as emergency staff at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital during the first few weeks of the war in 1939, and groups of Radar students in 1941 and 1942. The number of domestic staff employed at University House was drastically reduced during the war; previously maids had taken responsibility for waking residents and answering telephone calls, as well as catering, cleaning and washing. Students living at University House during the war were involved in fire watching and also helped to serve meals and to wash up. First Aid courses and cookery classes were held, and residents and staff devised ways of coping with food and fuel rationing. Students also took part in fire watching duties on the Edgbaston campus and in war relief work in Birmingham. Janet Carpenter took leave of absence in 1942 to join the armed services, and Edith Teverson was appointed Acting Warden. A shortage of accommodation during the war meant that all student rooms in University House had to serve as doubles by 1944. Winterbourne House had been bequeathed to the University by J. M. Nicholson, and was offered to University House as an annexe. Edith Teverson organised the conversion of the building for use as a hall of residence including acquiring furniture and redecorating. Winterbourne was used to provide accommodation for first year students, most of whom then moved into the main University House building in their second year. Meals were provided in University House, and students as there were no dining facilities at Winterbourne. The expansion in student numbers meant that the dining room had to be extended into the Junior Common Room.
Janet Carpenter resigned due to ill health in 1951, and was replaced by Amy Markwick. She resigned at the end of 1953, and Julia Friend was appointed Warden in her place, taking up the position in 1954. A prefabricated building at the end of Beale wing was constructed in 1953 for use as a common room, and was named for Edith Barling, chairman of University House Committee. Julia Friend and University House Commitee implemented a programme of repairs and improvements to the University House building, and from 1954 the Junior Common Room President attended University House Committee meetings to represent the student residents. The University had acquired the Vale site in the late 1940s, and it was intended to use it to build new halls of residence. In 1955 it was suggested that the University House could be used to provide temporary accommodation for the Faculty of Arts which was still using the original Mason College buildings at Edmund Street in the city centre, and that University House residents could be accommodated in one of the new halls. The proposal was dropped as development of the Vale site was postponed until the early 1960s, when the University also made plans to house the Extra Mural Department at Winterbourne. The University House building was extended again, and Winterbourne was closed as the University House annexe in 1964. Meanwhile, the University had bought the land on which University House and its grounds were sited in 1955, and became both owner and lessee. Control of the gardens passed to the University Estates department.
University House became a mixed hall of residence in 1964, prompted by 'the greater mixing of the sexes and the larger part that women are playing in the whole life of the University' according to the Warden, Julia Friend. There were concerns that social life in University House was suffering because its residents preferred to take part in activities organised by the Guild of Students, in mixed company. Members of academic staff, both men and women, were recruited to live at University House as a Senior Common Roomm and Mmale residents were selected from second and third year applicants by a panel consisting of the Warden and representatives from the Senior Common Room and Junior Common Room. Other members of University staff were invited to become non-resident members with the aim of building up a mixed group to represent a cross-section of the academic community. It was intended that University House should continue to be run as a self-governing body, as it had been since its establishment, and that the Junior Common Room would have a more influential role, responsible to the Warden and the University House Committee, with the co-operation of the Senior Common Room. Two Co-Presidents were elected, one male student and one female student. By 1967 Julia Friend was the only surviving Warden and University House the only independently administered hall of residence. All the new halls of residence on the Vale site were governed by the new Halls of Residence Committee. University House was not represented on this committee but retained control over its own affairs whereas in the other halls matters of finance, staffing, and internal maintenance were the responsibility of the central Halls Administrator. Links between University House and the new halls of residence were established however, with joint activities organised between the Junior Common Rooms.
Improvements to the University House building in the 1960s included the construction of a bar in the basement, the installation of refrigerators, and the opening of a shop, also in the basement. Julia Friend retired as Warden in 1968 as was replaced by Arthur Butterworth, the first male Warden and the last to be appointed as a Warden in his own right, without an academic post, unlike the Presidents of the new halls of residence on the Vale site. During the 1970s concerns began to be raised about threats to the independence of University House, and following Arthur Butterworth's retirement as Warden in 1981 a working party of University Council was set up to undertake a complete review of the management structure of University House, which resulted in the full-time post of Warden being replaced by a member of academic staff acting as Warden, and the transfer of the traditional management role of University House Committee to the Halls of Residence Committee rather than being directly accountable to the Finance & General Purposes Committee. University House Committee was reconstituted, and external members of the Committee, and representatives of University House Association were no longer part of the decision making process from that point. Financial and administrative decisions were now taken by the Administrator, Residences and Conferences rather than by the University House Bursar.
Dr David Bedford was appointed Warden in 1981 and served until 1989. During this period a growing proportion of University House residents were first year students, and places were also reserved for applicants with disabilities, because of the hall's proximity to the Edgbaston campus. Increased running costs and concerns about increases in hall fees led to the establishment of an informal working group in 1986 with membership made up of representatives from different halls of residence which recommended reduced catering at weekends and reduced cleaning. Following an informal inquiry into the management structure of University House in 1987 it was recommended that the hall should establish a Hall Council system in common with the other halls of residence. All matters of policy would then be decided by Hall Council and all committee would be sub-committees of Hall Council. The inclusion of all of the Senior Common Room and all principal officers of the Junior Common Room would give wide internal representation. The chairman of the University Student Accommodation Committee and external members of the Senior Common Room would provide for a wider University viewpoint. Links with the local community would be through external members and links with University House Association. As a result of these recommendations, the SCR/JCR Executive Committee and University House Committee were disbanded.
The bar was moved to the Barling room in 1986 and the basement room was transformed into Sky tv room. The shop closed in 1996 as supermarkets were now available on campus. Dr Tony Manchester replaced David Bedford as Warden in 1989 and supervised a redecoration work and the installation of new kitchens, baths and showers. The strip of land which ran down to the Bristol Road and which included the tennis court was sold by the University in 1990. The selection of applicants for places in University Houe was conducted by the University Housing Services for the first time in 1992, with the Warden only involved in selecting the number of applicants with unconditional offers which University House wanted to accept, and those accepted on medical grounds. By 1996-1997 applicants were accepted solely on a first-come, first-accepted basis. Tony Manchester retired as Warden in 1994 and David Rolf was appointed. He had been President at Mason Hall, and so had experience of managing a hall of residence. He retired at the end of 1997, and Professor Richard Simmons took his place as Warden. He had also previously served as Hall President, at Wyddrington. During the late 1990s a computer room was added, and the Senior Common Room was refurbished. Other repairs were urgently needed by 1999 and funds were set aside to undertake work needed for improvements and a possible extension, after a strategic review reported that University House should remain a catered hall of residence. By 2001 it had been decided to convert University House for use by the University's Business School, as it was felt that the improvements needed to refurbish and convert the building to provide en-suite accommodation for all students would be too expensive, particularly for a hall of residence which accommodated a relatively small number of students. Members of University House Association lobbied against this proposal, but University House closed as a hall of residence in the summer of 2002 and was refurbished to open as the Business School in 2004. It includes a room commemorating the history of University House.
Informal gatherings of old students took place on an informal basis from at least 1908. Yearly meetings were held at the end of the summer term and newsletters were sent out. University House Association was formally constituted in 1914 and a committee was formed. Annual General Meetings were held from this point, and a regular yearly newsletter was sent out to members. The first formal reunion weekend was held in 1914. Margery Fry was the first President of University House Association, and the post was subsequently held by former Wardens Beatrice Orange and Hilda Walton, with Margery Fry returning as President from 1939 to her death in 1958. Former students Frances Keay, Dorothy Styles, and Alice Godsell served as Presidents between 1958 and 1971, and former Warden Julia Friend was President form 1971 to 1979, and Elizabeth Kenrick took on the role between 1979 and 1982. Marianne Woolgar, a former student, served as President between 1982 and 1985, and Isobel Jackson, another former student, was President from 1985 onwards. The main functions of University House Association were to facilitate communication between former residents, though publication of the annual newsletter, and through the organisation of regular reunion events. It also supported activities at University House, and helped to raise funds to assist current students. In later years, members of University House Association committee campaigned against threats to the continued operation of University House as a hall of residence on the terms it had been established.
University House Association flourished in the 1920s and 1930s, when a large proportion of former residents were members and were able to attend reunions. Reunions were not held during the Second World War, but were re-established in the 1950s, and many who had been students at University House during the 1940s and 1950s became active members in University House Association. A group of former students based in and around London began meeting on an informal basis from around the time when Beatrice Orange went to Bedford College in 1913, and Margery Fry joined this group after the First World War. However, it was not until 1950 that a formal London branch was set up, run by Alice Godsell. The group organised theatre trips and visits to places of interest, and was active during the 1950s and 1960s but had declined by the late 1970s. It appears that proportionally fewer former residents became members of University House Association from the 1960s onwards, and the core active membership seemed to consist of older members, though more recent graduates did join, and membership was opened to current University of Birmingham students who had moved out of University House after their first year. Annual reunions were held until 2002, and included special events to celebrate anniversaries of the establishment of both University House and University House Association.
With the closure of University House as a hall of residence in 2002 and the transfer of the building to the Birmingham Business School, it was realised that University House Association could not be maintained indefinitely without new income. There were no more student members, and no new life memberships were offered. The Association was determined to celebrate the centenary of the establishment of University House in 2004 and to postpone decisions about the basis of any continuation of the organisation until after that event. Reunions were no longer annual events after this point, and the newsletter was no longer published on a annual basis. The 2009 newsletter contained information about a Special General Meeting of University House Association in September 2009 to discuss the way the Association would operate in the future and decide how to dispose of the Association's funds. The University of Birmingham Alumni Office continues to provide a University House Association members area on its alumni website in 2014 but it is likely that membership is now dwindling.