Five upcoming online exhibitions explore the diverse subjects represented in the Leeds University Archive. From the history of the campus and its coat of arms to the university’s involvement in the First and Second World Wars, the exhibitions touch on the range of material in the archive which preserves the records of the University of Leeds and its predecessors giving us an insight into past University life.

The exhibitions primarily draw on resources found in the university newspapers which are fully digitised and available to search here. These are one part of the archive which contains over 9,000 records for items including photographs, plans and drawings of the university and staff and student records.

The exhibition ‘The University has come at last’ charts the development of the university whilst ‘From College to Campus’ tells the story of its journey from a small college to the vast campus we see today. The exhibitions depict the range of architectural styles which pay testament to its continual growth. These exhibitions include photographs of the small medical school established in 1831, through illustrations of College Road buildings in 1904 and campus plans from student handbooks in the 1930s and the 1960s.

Photograph of Univeristy of Leeds Clothworkers Court in ‘The Gryphon’: Second Series, Volume 3, Issue 3. Image credit Leeds University Library

‘The University has come at last’ also details how, before the establishment of the university in 1904, the college lacked a sense of unity. The student newspaper at the time wrote: “…the different departments of the college live a somewhat separate existence, and there is, perhaps, a danger that they may forget that they are parts of one whole”.

The university was given its royal charter in April 1904 and was granted a coat of arms on the 10 August 1905. The exhibition ‘The Sphinx and The Gryphon’ explores how these mythological creatures helped to create an identity for the university with the sphinx as the official crest on the coat of arms and the gryphon as emblem of the student newspaper.

Front cover of ‘The Gryphon’: Third Series, Volume 5, Issue 6. Image credit Leeds University Library

‘The Sphinx and The Gryphon’ unpacks and explains the symbolism of the university shield and crest and also shows the unofficial shield used by the Yorkshire College, one of the University’s predecessors. The exhibition highlights how the sphinx and gryphon became a part of the iconography of the University identity, so much so that union ties in the 1940s were decorated with sphinxes.

This sense of unity, created with the help of the symbols of the sphinx and the gryphon, was important for the university community during the First and Second World Wars. The final exhibitions ‘Gryphons for the Trenches’ and ‘When the War is over’ detail how the university newspaper, ‘The Gryphon’, played an important role during these conflicts.

Non-comissioned Officers at Leeds University Officer Training Corps. Image credit Leeds University Library.

The exhibitions show fascinating items from the university archive from the first Roll of Honour from the First World War, published as a supplement to the student newspaper, to articles on how the University community was helping refugees and the role of female students. The newspaper was not only read by staff and students at home but was also sent to the front line. Copies of the newspaper were sent with food parcels which included chocolate, malted milk and Oxo.

These five upcoming online exhibitions touch on the history of the university, its unique identity and sense of community represented in Leeds University Archive. We hope that these exhibitions will, likewise, help our community to feel more connected at a time when we can’t physically be together on campus.

These exhibitions will be published on our Google Arts and Culture platform.