Origins and Growth

Find out about the early years of the University. You can explore how the initial idea for a university in Lancaster came about. You can also look at how it was initially established in various buildings in the city and how the new campus was constructed.

Following the Second World War, the future of further and higher education became an important concern of the British government. The government faced immense problems as it tried to cope with the demands of an expanding population and the advent of a new technological age. After the war, there were only nine universities and less than 1000 full-time students in the country. Between 1958 and 1961, this balance was readdressed as 7 new universities were announced; one of these was Lancaster University.

In the 1960s, the North-West had more than 7 million inhabitants so it is easy to see why a third university was proposed for the region. The first Vice-Chancellor of Lancaster University, Charles Carter made a somewhat tongue-in-cheek comment about why the university was built, when he stated that the people in London wanted a new university in this area in order to “civilise the North.”

Foundation of Lancaster University

In 1947 a public meeting in Lancaster endorsed a proposal that there might be a university college established in the city. Although the idea lapsed for lack of government funding, in early 1961 it was revived by Lancashire County Council, and a Promotion Committee for a University in North-West Lancashire, chaired by Lord Derby, presented a proposal to the University Grants Committee for Lancaster to be chosen.

On 23 November 1961, an announcement was made in the House of Commons to that effect, and two bodies were set up to bring the new institution to life: an Academic Planning Board, chaired by Sir Noel Hall of Brasenose College, Oxford, and an Executive Council for the Establishment of a University at Lancaster, chaired by Sir Alfred Bates.

The founding vice-chancellor, Charles Carter, came into post on 1 April 1963. In April 1963, it was also announced that a Russian Department was to be formed as a means of studying the language, political system, philosophy and social system within the country.

Innovation was also demonstrated by Charles Carter’s decision to set up a charter against any “discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, politics or any other thing.”

With regard to departments, Lancaster also set a trend. The university developed the first Marketing Department of its kind to be formed in the UK. Of his decision to form the department, Charles Carter commented:

We consider there is a need for a greater university interest in the problems of marketing. Marketing is of great importance in the solution of the problems of the British economy and it needs a greater share of good brains and honest research.

A quote from Charles Carter Lancaster University

Charter and Statutes

On 14 September 1964 HM the Queen approved the Charter and Statutes, and the first students were admitted in October 1964 to study for degrees that were from the outset to be conferred by the university. Teaching took place at St Leonard's House, and students were accommodated in lodgings in Morecambe or Lancaster. HRH Princess Alexandra was installed as Chancellor in November 1964 and remained in post until December 2004. The transfer of departments from Lancaster to Bailrigg took place between 1966 and 1970, at the same time as the first four colleges were being established, enabling students to come into residence from 1968 onwards.

October 1964 first undergraduate intake

The University accepted its first students in October 1964 and there were initially 13 professors, 32 additional members of teaching and research staff, 8 library staff and 14 administrators on academic grades.

The motto adopted by the new university “Patet omnibus veritas” which means ‘Truth Lies Open to All’ reflecting the hope that the expansion of higher education would lead to the extension of education to all. The colours of the university are red and Quaker grey, the latter reflecting the strong Quaker presence in the town and region.

Princess Alexandra's inauguration

Princess Alexandra became the Chancellor of the University and was inaugurated in 1964.

Development of Lancaster University

The founding subjects were in the natural sciences, business subjects, and the humanities, including an emphasis on modern languages, while the second generation of subjects focused particularly on social sciences and technology. Four colleges were initially set up: Bowland and Lonsdale, Cartmel and County, and another five followed by 1990; Furness and Fylde, Pendle and Grizedale, and the Graduate College. Much time and effort was expended in building up the physical form and infrastructure of the university, including an increasing amount of space for research, and in the first decade of the new millennium a major expansion of residential accommodation took place at Alexandra Park, enabling all new students to have a room of their own, and most of the other years who wished to be in residence to do so.

From the outset, the university was committed to undertaking research as well as teaching, and many successful teams built on early initiatives; for example, on the environment, low-temperature physics, or the study of the creative arts. The seven research assessment exercises between 1986 and 2014 saw Lancaster rising steadily in the ascendant, especially in 1992 when the institution appeared in the top ten overall for the first time. The University has maintained its outstanding research reputation, and continuously seeks ways in which its research can be applied for the good of society. This work includes the development of three knowledge business centres, based on InfoLab21, the Management School, and the Lancaster Environment Centre.

Harold Wilson’s acceptance speech

The ceremony also saw the granting of various honorary degrees to amongst others, the new Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Wilson delivered his speech only a short time after his election win.