North Campus – the names behind the buildings
Heritage 19th March 2019
The University’s North Campus is home to some incredible architecture, from the fine Edwardian terracotta brickwork of Sackville Street Building to the wavy Brutalism of Renold Building. But have you ever stopped to think about why the buildings are named what they are; or more importantly, who they’re named after?
Science and engineering at Manchester has been on a journey since 1824 – and there have been several new buildings and various name changes along the way. But while the move to MECD represents an exciting new chapter, it’s important to remember the earlier pages of the book.
Here, as part of The Hub’s ongoing heritage series, we look at two of the most famous buildings on North Campus and the fascinating stories – including knights, rock stars and more – behind their names.
Love or hate it, the Renold Building is certainly unique. A Brutalist concrete and glass structure with a distinctive zig-zag curtain wall, it narrowly missed out on listed status in 2008 and is one of the University’s more eye-catching buildings.
It was opened on 23 November 1962 for the Manchester College of Science and Technology (which would later become the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology – or, as it’s widely remembered, UMIST). The foundation stone was laid in 1960 by one Sir Charles Garonne Renold.
At the time Renold was Vice-President of the college and Chairman of the planning and development committee. A life steeped in the ideals of engineering included roles as Director of his father’s company Hans Renold Ltd and Managing Director of the Renold and Coventry Chain Company.
His father, a Swiss-born engineer and inventor, became a successful businessman after borrowing £300 from his prospective father-in-law in 1879 to buy a small textile-chain making business in Salford. Charles would go on to show similar acumen and, renowned for his prowess in industrial administration, management and progressive ideals in industry, would be knighted in 1948.
Born in Altrincham in 1883, Charles was an engineer and a true pioneer of management science. During the First World War he offered his services to the government on the Manchester Armaments Committee and as a civil servant would voice concerns over the threat of sabotage and other industrial relations. The Victoria University of Manchester, as it was then known, granted Charles Renold an honorary LL.D – or Legum Doctor (‘teacher of the laws”) – in 1960.
The building that bears his name was the first of its type in the UK, boasting both large lecture theatres and smaller seminar rooms. Anyone who’s entered Renold Building will know it features a huge mural on the ground floor – by celebrated abstract artist Victor Pasmore. But do you know it also once housed a popular bar?
Below where today you’ll find the Enigma Cafe (named after the machine cracked by another famous Manchester name, Alan Turing, to help end the Second World War), you’d have once found students and staff drinking in the Bowling Green Tavern. It was so called because the green space it overlooks, in the centre of the UMIST campus, was originally – you guessed it – a bowling green. Rumour has it the green had to be removed after a huge ‘UMIST’ was imprinted in the grass by mischievous students using weedkiller.
The Bowling Green Tavern wasn’t, however, the only famous drinking spot on North Campus…
Barnes Wallis Building
Facing Renold Building is the Barnes Wallis Hub. Today the building is comprised mainly of computer clusters, a canteen and study rooms, and you’d be forgiven for missing its cultural significance. However, it was once the site of a bustling students’ union and a renowned – and very lively – music scene.
Not just students at the University but youngsters from across Manchester would flock to the venue for drinking, dancing and watching some of the biggest, most exciting names in music. No less than The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry and Def Leppard have all graced the stage here (then commonly referred to as, simply, the UMIST Students’ Union). Other performers included Dr Feelgood, The Yardbirds and Nazareth. The Kids, it seems, were certainly Alright at the Barnes Wallis Building!
But what of the name? Well, the building – all white concrete with a layer of windows running above the ground floor – was opened in 1967 by a pioneering aircraft designer with his own story to tell…
Sir Barnes Wallis was a scientist and engineer with a string of inventions to his name; the most famous being the ‘bouncing bomb’. It was used by the Royal Air Force in the Second World War as part of Operation Chastise, an attack on German dams in May 1943 commonly remembered as the ‘Dambusters’ raids. The story was immortalised in the 1955 film The Dam Busters – the most successful picture at the British box office that year – in which Wallis was portrayed by the actor Michael Redgrave.
The film’s depiction of the raid would prove the inspiration for Luke Skywalker’s daring assault on the Death Star (the ‘trench run’) in the finale of Star Wars: A New Hope. Scenes from The Dam Busters would also appear on a TV set in the 1982 film The Wall by legendary rock band Pink Floyd, another big name to have played at – right again – the Barnes Wallis Building.
Wallis came up with the idea of the bouncing bomb (designed to strategically ‘bounce’ across water) when skipping marbles over water tanks in his garden. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that a ‘Barnes Wallis’ is the name often given to a shot in golf that deflects off a water hazard.
Wallis also has an interesting link to another famous Manchester name: Marie Stopes. The first female academic of The University of Manchester, Stopes was an author, palaeobotanist and campaigner for women’s rights and, more controversially, eugenics. Her son, Harry Stopes-Roe, would marry Mary Eyre Wallis, daughter of – that’s right – Barnes Wallis.
However, all was not harmonious and Marie was against the union. Her attempts to sabotage the relationship, though, proved unsuccessful and Harry would not be dissuaded. Marie, feeling betrayed by her son, would all but cut him out of her inheritance; upon her death he received only a copy of her Greater Oxford Dictionary and a few other small items.
So there you have it – the next time you walk past Renold Building or enjoy a coffee in the Barnes Wallis Hub, take a moment to consider the historical significance of these North Campus landmarks. It’s easy to miss the cultural connections, but they form an important part of the University’s story and should never be forgotten. Certainly they’re not – as Pink Floyd would later sing – just Another Brick in the Wall.
Words – Joe Shervin
Images – The University of Manchester, Joe Shervin, Gee Double You
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