The Department of Physics at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne originated as the Department of Physics of Armstrong College, University of Durham, in 1871. Since this time it has variously been known as:
The College of Physical Science of the University of Durham was founded at Newcastle upon Tyne in 1871 due to the recognition by local manufacturers and industrialists that England was behind other continental nations in early training in science. There had been attempts to create a School of Physical Science in Durham itself, but the existence in Newcastle of the Coal Trade Buildings, the Literary and Philosophical Society and the Natural History Society of Northumberland and Durham eventually resulted in the formation of a University College in Newcastle upon Tyne.
A public subscription of £20,000 was raised, and supplemented by an annual grant from the University of Durham. The subjects selected to begin the teaching work of the college were
and advertisements were made for eminent workers in these fields to be appointed as Professors. The appointment to the Chair of Physics was Alexander Stewart Herschel and his stipend was paid from the annual grant by the University of Durham.
The premises in which teaching could be carried out could not be built fresh, because of insufficient money, and the numbers of students initially expected were not great. Laboratory work also required far less space and equipment than is now the case. As a result of these considerations, the new professors were moved into available buildings.
The new Professor of Physics was given three cellars beneath the Wood Memorial Hall (which adjoined the College of Medicine and the Coal Trade chambers). The cellars were a dark store-room, a physical laboratory ("little better than a passage") and a fairly large lecture-room common to both physics and chemistry. These buildings stand adjacent to the buildings of the Literary and Philosophical Society, by the main railway terminus in Newcastle.
Herschel's initial impression of the new college was that "He was provided with probably the worst physical Laboratory that any Professor of physics has ever been asked to work in." However, circumstances gradually improved; as time went by a triangular area between the Wood Hall basement and the College of Medicine was covered in with a glazed roof and used for practical work in physics. Later still, a large upstairs room was converted into a physical laboratory. Finally, in 1888, the College of Science moved into new buildings at Barras Bridge, the current site of the University of Newcastle.