Victoria Building opened 120 years ago

The Victoria Building in 1892, the year it opened

The University of Liverpool’s iconic Victoria Building was officially opened 120 years ago today.

The Grade II listed building was built by the then University College Liverpool, at a cost of £54,000, more than the estimated £35,000, to provide desperately needed accommodation including an administrative headquarters, library, common rooms, large lecture theatre.

It was designed by Liverpool-born Alfred Waterhouse, one of the 19th century’s richest and busiest architects who also designed the Walker Engineering Laboratories and the Thompson Yates Laboratories.

The old hall now houses the Victoria Gallery and Museum cafe, following a major refurbishment that stayed faithful to the original design

His portfolio included college buildings for both Oxford and Cambridge Universities, the Natural History Museum in London and, more locally, the Liverpool Royal Infirmary on Pembroke Place and the Great North Western Hotel on Lime Street.

The distinctive exterior of the building led to the coining of the phrase ‘red brick university’ by Bruce Truscot, the pseudonym adopted by Edgar Allison Peers, a Professor of Spanish at Liverpool  from 1922 – 52, who wrote an influential book of the same title about universities originating in the 19th century.

The official opening by the Chancellor of the federal Victoria University, Lord Spencer, on 13 December 1892 was celebrated with a reception the following evening attended by more than 3,000 dignitaries who were entertained with instrumental pieces and a performance of University college’s song, Salvete cives nostri, by the College Choral Society.

A copy of the original programme distributed at the opening, on December 14 1892

The opening was reported in the press at the time.

The Daily Graphic noted:

`Lord Spencer as Chancellor of Victoria University, opened the Victoria Building of University College, Liverpool. A large assembly of visitors was present for the occasion in the University theatre……He drew a comparison between the Victoria University and the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.  In the older universities ancient tradition assisted the furtherance of education, but at Liverpool they were only at the beginning of what there was every reason to feel sure would prove a glorious career.  They had professors of the highest excellence and laboratories whose excellence could not be equalled in any ancient university.’

Lord Spencer officially declares the Victoria Building open, before unveiling the bust of Henry Tate in the building’s Tate Library (inset)

In 2008, against the backdrop of the city’s European Capital of Culture celebrations, and with public and city support, the building underwent a £8.6million restoration programme to transform it into a gallery and museum to house the University’s art and heritage collections.

A film was produced earlier this year by the University’s Corporate Communications team which explores the Victoria building’s history, the people that have passed through its doors, and what it means to Liverpool today.  You can view this film.


Today the Victoria Building forms an iconic part of a modern, 21st Century University

Did you know?

The Leggate lecture theatre has hosted guest lectures from notable figures such as writer Hilaire Belloc, poet and novelist Walter de la Mare, composer Gustav Holst, classical scholar Gilbert Murray and Academy Award-winning actor Peter Ustinov.

The Victoria Gallery and Museum

2 thoughts on “Victoria Building opened 120 years ago

  1. Neil Gilbert

    It’s worth an enthusiast taking a look at Manchester Town Hall too – a wonderful Waterhouse building, and having some parallels with our Victoria Building. If they still do guided tours, it allows a view of otherwise locked-off spaces. The large meeting hall is impressively decorated with murals of Manchester’s trading past, and there’s even a large French-built pipe organ at one end – quite the thing to enlarge the ‘civic pride’ at the time it was being built! The building regularly features in movies and on TV. The larger part of Manchester’s Christmas Markets are currently on Albert Square, in front of the Town Hall.

  2. Wah Chan

    Architect Alfred Waterhouse was also responsible for designing the former Pearl Assurance building in the city centre currently occupied by the pub “Dr Duncans” which still retains a room with similar interior decor found in Victoria Building.

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