Explore Your Archive: the Leeds College of Building

Next week sees the return of a familiar landmark in the heritage sector calendar: the Explore Your Archive week of events, which is designed to “increase public awareness of the essential role of archives in our society, celebrate our network of collections and emphasise the skills and professionalism of the sector.”

As part of that programme, the Library staff at the Leeds College of Building (LCB) have decided to open their collections to the public for the first time, as a way of sharing the many treasures they hold. This is a rare chance to explore the archive of the only specialist further and higher education construction college in the UK – you can find further details of this event in the attached leaflet.

Below, Helen Wood of the LCB Library explains more about the history of the College, and presents a highlight from the collections, which will be on show during the open day.


The Early Years

Further Education courses in construction skills owe their origins in Leeds to the work of the Mechanics Institute, founded in 1824; it later became the Leeds School of Science and, in 1868, was transferred to the newly-erected Leeds Institute Building in Cookridge Street.

The Leeds College of Technology was established in 1908, with its headquarters in the same Leeds Institute of Building.  The next 20 years saw great expansion, with the College being organized into eight Departments, including Building, Electrical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering.

Further development of building courses in the late 1920s led to a need for additional accommodation and, by 1931, the Department of Building was located at a new site off Roseville Road. Following the end of the Second World War, however, a review of Further Education facilities in the City resulted in the Building Department moving to Darley Street School (1946).

In 1960 the Branch College of Building was established, with the appointment of Jack Place as Principal,  supported by nine full-time teachers and six support staff.  In 1961 the Building Crafts Schemes were introduced and these, along with the Industrial Training Act of 1964, had a significant effect on the work of the College.

It was during this period that Mr. Place led a consortium who proposed that the College move to new custom-built premises; building work commenced in 1967 following approval by the Education Authority.  The building work was divided into three phases: 1a and 1b were completed in September 1969, at which point the College was ready to receive a new intake of students at the North Street Site.

North Street – Main Site and the location of the Archive event

On 1 April 1970 the name of the College changed to Leeds College of Building, much to the satisfaction of the Governors and Staff. Phase 2 of the building work was completed in 1972.

Today, the College continues to successfully teach a wide range of trades to Level 3, but also has a growing Higher Education Department.  Around 6,500 students are based over three sites, and a second purpose built site is set to open in Hunslet for 2018/19.

The LCOB Archive holds original paperwork and plans for the North Street site.

Photographs of the inside of the North Street Building, showing the main workshops and how they looked originally. The original space was big enough to construct a full sized house. There is now an extra mezzanine floor in this space to allow for more workshops. Bricklaying and Roofing are now taught at our Hunslet Campus.


A Treasure from the Collections

This is one of the books the Library cares for – one of our many treasures – and gives a flavour of how books were written and how the building craft was viewed in the past.  There is no actual date in the book, so we do not know when it was published, but the Paris and Havre International Exhibitions took place in 1867.

This book was given to the College Archive in 2001, in quite a sorry state.  We were able to have some restoration done and this is how it looks now:

Modern Building and Architecture : a Series of Working Drawings and Practical Designs, Including Numerous Examples from the Paris and Havre International Exhibitions with Papers on Technical Subjects Richly Illustrated with Wood Engravings (ed., Robert Scott Burn, c.1867)

The book contains fifteen papers, covering everything from ‘the planning and construction of working men’s cottages and dwelling houses’ to ‘warming, ventilation and artificial lighting,’ and many other topics.

The paper on ‘Architecture’ begins with the words:

There is, perhaps, no subject which has been so much discussed, and about which so little decided and definite has been agreed upon, as that which forms the basis of the present Paper, Architecture, termed by one – himself a fine expositer of its works – “the noblest and grandest of all the arts”, in place of displaying an example of an art having thoroughly and well defined the principles which dictate, or should dictate, its practice, offers, on the  contrary, one in which these are uncertain, confused, and often contradictory…

Just one of the many beautiful illustrations in the above book.


Leeds Central Library holds many other resources relevant to the study of the construction sector in the city, including books in our Local and Family History, Information and Research, and Art Library departments: contact us to find out more.

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