Archive of the University of Liverpool: Faculty of Science

Scope and Content

This sections comprises:

  • Faculty Records (1902 - 1984)

Including faculty minute books, faculty report books, committee minute books, indexes;

  • Records related to the Faculty of Science including Science Fair (July 1975)
  • Publications of the Faculty of Science (1962, 1963)
  • Records of Schools and Departments:
  • Biological Sciences (1887 - 1968)
  • Marine Biology (1887-1916)
  • Chemistry (1896 - 1902; 1910 - 1936)
  • Physical Education Committee (1978 - 1981; 1980)
  • Physics (1885 - 1905; (1936)-(1939), (1948)-(1952))

Administrative / Biographical History

It was largely as a result of the desire to make local provision for higher education, especially in scientific subjects, that University College, Liverpool was founded in 1881. As the Royal Charter of Incorporation, dated 18 October 1881, stated:-

The object of the College shall be to provide such instruction in all the branches of a liberal education as may enable residents in the City of Liverpool and the neighbourhood thereof to qualify for Degrees in Arts, Science and other subjects at any of the Universities granting degrees to non-resident Students, and at the same time to give such technical instruction as may be of immediate service in professional and commercial life. At the Town’s Meeting in 1878 a decision was reached on the minimum number of chairs which should be established in the proposed University College; of the seven recommended chairs four were in the sciences - Mathematics and Experimental Physics, Engineering and Practical Mechanics, Chemistry, and Natural History.

By the time the College opened for regular work in 1882 appointments had been made to the chairs of Experimental Physics (Oliver Lodge) and Natural History (W.A.Herdman) and shortly afterwards to chairs of Chemistry (J.Campbell Brown) and Mathematics (A.R.Forsyth). In 1885 a chair of Engineering was established and in 1894 a chair of Botany. Though initially housed in the disused Lunatic Asylum, an experience which is recalled by Sir Oliver Lodge in his autobiography Past Years, 1931, the science departments were gradually housed in purpose-built buildings erected from the late 1880’s onwards principally to the plans of Alfred Waterhouse: Chemical Laboratories were opened in 1886 (and extensions opened in 1896) and the Walker Engineering Laboratories were opened in 1889, whilst with the erection of the Victoria Building (opened in 1892) the old College building was re-adapted for Physics, Biology and Botany. An additional impulse to erect new buildings for the science departments apart from the desire to accommodate the rising numbers of day students was the movement for the separation of University College from the federal Victoria University which it had joined in 1884 and its transformation into a fully-fledged independent University. During the Session 1901-02 the Hartley Botanical Laboratory in Brownlow Street was opened, an extension to the Engineering Laboratory carried out, and sites cleared for a new Physics Laboratory and for a Bio-Chemistry Laboratory.

In 1903 University College was granted the status and powers of an independent University and the Royal Charter of Incorporation provided for five faculties including Science and Engineering. However the constitution of the Faculty of Science had already been agreed upon by Council on 3 June 1902 and held its first meeting on 17 June. Prior to this Senate had discussed the idea of setting up a Faculty: on 3 June 1896 Senate considered a resolution to proceed at once to the creation of Standing Committees in Arts and Science, to be termed Faculties but finally only decided upon the appointment of a Faculty of Arts. However at its meeting on 13 February 1901 Senate having received a statement by Prof. E.C.K.Gonner, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, upon the constitution and extension of Faculties in the College appointed a committee to forward a report on the constitution and powers proper to a Faculty or Faculties of Science. This Science Committee drew up a Constitution for the Faculty of Science which was to a considerable extent modelled on the Arts Faculty’s Constitution both a Dean and a Chairman being provided for, though no limit was placed on the period for which the Dean might serve.

The number of students in the faculty’s departments experienced a steep rise in numbers from 266 in session 1903-04 to 376 in 1906-07 and 403 in 1909-10 though numbers varied, sometimes considerably, from Session to Session. After 1910-11 numbers dropped but rose dramatically after the war: from 232 in 1917-18 to 1107 in 1920-21. In the later 1920’s the figure became stabilized between 300 and 400 until the post-2nd World War period; in Session 1970-71 there were 2,085 registered students (374 of whom were reading for higher degrees). As was remarked in the University’s Annual Report for 1924-25 with respect to the decrease in the number of students reading for degrees in science in the 1920’s: It would seen that this reflects to some extent the severe industrial conditions which still obtain... On the other hand the faculty was building up a steadily increasing reputation for all its research schools: by 1922-23 out of a total of 462 registered students 74 were research students. The increase in the number of research students especially in the period from 1920-21 onwards was largely due to the financial aid given by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (an organisation which was originally set up by the Privy Council in 1915). This increase in research students was no doubt also encouraged by the considerable development of research activities in the University especially in Chemistry during the War and to the establishment of a new University degree, the Doctorate in Philosophy, during the Session 1918-19. In response to the increase in student numbers in general and Appeal for £1m. was launched in 1920 one of its aims being to provide new buildings and equipment: University laboratories and workshops need but be of factory construction, but they must cover a large extent of ground, and must house the best and most suitable apparatus, the Vice-Chancellor stated. In the meantime the Chemistry department had to house 140 students in three Array huts in the quadrangle but by 1922 a portion of the new Chemical Laboratories (for accommodating research and some 3rd year students) had been erected and opened. Another new building to be opened in the inter-war years was the Jane Herdman Laboratories of Geology, opened in 1929, which owed its existence, as so many other benefactions of the period did, mainly to private munificence: the generosity of such as Sir William Herdman who with his wife were responsible for the creation and endowment of the chairs of Geology and Oceanography in 1916 and 1919 respectively, and the establishment of these two new departments.

However the role of the private benefactor in the field of Science was increasingly being overshadowed by the support of government agencies particularly the U.G.C. and the D.S.I.R. and it was to such bodies that the Faculty and its departments turned for aid in providing for the great expansion in science in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Note on primary sources on several Departments of the Faculty amongst the records of the Faculty of Medicine

It should be noted that several departments were also members of or were represented on the Faculty of Medicine prior to the 2nd World-War and in some cases later and consequently the Medical Faculty’s archives (particularly Faculty Minute & Report Books) should be consulted. The principal departments concerned are Botany, Biochemistry (transferred from the Faculty of Medicine to the Faculty of Science in 1962), Chemistry Natural History (whilst this Department lasted), Physics and Physiology.

Access Information

Please phone (0151 794 2696) or email for an appointment; you may reserve material in advance.

For non University of Liverpool visitors, please bring some form of photo id (e.g. driving licence, travel pass, passport); Sydney Jones Library reception desk staff will issue you with a day pass.

Please note that some materials may be closed or have restricted access.

Related Material

The Papers of Duncan Norman (D.155) include at D155/3-4 photographs of the Inorganic and Physical Chemistry Laboratories (Donnan) (ca.1950s-1960s), the Nuclear Physics Laboratories (ca.1952) and a sketch of the new Physics Building (Nov. 1955).

The Papers of Mr Harold Boon at D215 are concerned with the operation of equipment in the Physics Laboratory

The research diaries of Professor Kenneth F Bowden, Professor of Oceanography (1946-1977, 1979) are available at D522. Professor Bowden’s papers also include copies of article on the Department of Oceanography and the Tidal Institute and their staffs (1931)-(c.1969)

Photographs of the Department of Geology at Brownlow Street (later superceded by a new building in Pembroke Gardens) taken in 1981 are available at D292/5-10


For a general introduction to the history of the Faculty of Science, see Kelly, Thomas,For the Advancement of Learning: the University of Liverpool 1881 - 1981, Liverpool University Press 1981, pp.105-11;217;234-244;378-397;482;511;532-4

Jones, June,Science, Utility and the Second City of the Empire: The Sciences and especially the Medical Sciences at Liverpool University 1881-1925,PhD University of Manchester, 1989

Roderick, G.W. & Stephens, M.D.,Science and Finance in the Early Days of the University, in The University of Liverpool Recorder, No. 54, October 1970, pp.10-12