The early history of the University of Southampton’s Highfield Campus

A big welcome to both first year and returning students on the first week of term! To mark the occasion we take a brief look into the early history of the University’s Highfield Campus.

Early view of the Highfield site (pc 3159)

Early view of the Highfield site (pc 3159)

This postcard from the Cope Collection, at first glance a rather uninspiring view, provides an intriguing glimpse into the history of the Highfield Campus. It shows the first buildings on the Highfield site, which had been acquired by the Hartley University College early in the 20th century with the aim of providing premises more fitting to its ambitions than the cramped and inconvenient Hartley Institution in the High Street.

Opened by Viscount Haldane in June 1914, the renamed University College of Southampton consisted of two separate wings housing an arts block and a range of single story laboratories for biology, chemistry, physics and engineering. Lack of funds meant that the construction of the administration and library building which should have filled the gap between the two arts wings was postponed.

Occupation of the site was also postponed. A few weeks after the official opening, the First World War broke out and the College offered the buildings to the War Office for use as a hospital. As the war progressed, the main building proved too small to accommodate the increasing number of wounded soldiers and extra wards were constructed in temporary wooden huts to the rear.

War hospital staff (pc 2982)

War hospital staff (pc 2982)

In The University of Southampton as a War Hospital (1983) [Cope SOU 45] the author, Norman Gardiner, recalls taking cigarettes, fruit and sweets to the less badly wounded soldiers and seeing military gun carriage funerals passing along University Road.

The War Office eventually gave up the buildings in May 1919 and University College of Southampton began the session of 1919-1920 in its new home, continuing to make use of the wooden huts – the refectory apparently occupying a hut bearing the sign ‘Dysentery’.

Financial pressures on the College meant that the completion of the central block had to wait until the 1930s when the construction of the Turner Sims Library was made possible by the donation of £24,250 by the daughters of Edward Turner Sims, a former member of Council.

Floodlit photo of the library building (ph 3073)

Floodlit photo of the library building (ph 3073)

Much altered and extended since that date, the Library still awaits its tower. According to the programme for the official opening in 1935, this was intended to give dignity to the building and it was hoped it would be added in the not too distant future.

The postcard is from the Peter Cook Postcard Collection, part of the Cope Collection on Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, a fascinating resource, of over 3,000 postcards of Southampton, most of which date from the early years of the 20th century.

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