The origins of Physics at Newcastle

The interior of Armstrong College quadrangle (looking from the Queen Victoria Road end, circa 1934) shows the grandeur of the architecture; the view is essentially unchanged even today.

[Photograph of Armstrong College Quadrangle]
Armstrong College quadrangle

The buildings at Barras Bridge were started at 1887 and have grown with the University; the site is still being developed today, the most recent major development was the construction of the Robinson Library. The main entrance to the original buildings at Barras Bridge is now on Queen Victoria Road.

The first of the buildings to be completed was the north-east wing which included the Herschel Physical Laboratory (adjacent to the Armstrong Electrical Laboratory). From the electrical laboratory, a door opened into the preparation room, and finally, beyond that was the physical theatre, with accomodation for 200 students. Above the preparation room was an apparatus room, and beyond it was a physical laboratory for advanced students. On the second floor were three lecture rooms for physics, one being a large dark-room for optical experiments.

At its foundation, the newly formed College of Physical Science had no power to grant degrees. Soon after its foundation, the University of Durham granted the title (not a degree) of Associate in Science to students of the College who had completed a two year course in science and had been jointly examined by external and home examiners. After a longer interval a degree was granted - Bachelor of Science - which could be taken by Associate of two years standing (altered afterwards to one year). The new degree did not give the graduate a vote in the Convocation of Durham University, but this was remedied in 1881 when the further degree of Master of Science was introduced, holders of which had the same rights as holders of the degree of Master of Arts. The full set of degrees was completed in 1888 when a Doctorate in Science was introduced.

The manner in which the College of Physical Science had grown up, left peculiar constitutional arrangements between the College and the University of Durham. In particular, it was not at all clear what was the constitution of the hierarchy of command. This prompted a crisis between the College and the University which was ultimately resolved by parliament!

Further reading