Establishment of the University 1900–1949

Chancellors Court under constructionFrom receiving our Royal Charter in 1900 to appointing the first female professor at a UK university in 1949, Birmingham has always been a university of firsts; doing things a little differently to make the most impact on people’s lives.

Here are some of the incredible achievements made by Birmingham
in the first half-century of its existence as the UK’s first civic university, including seminal breakthroughs in research, three Nobel Prize winners and landmarks in the development of our campus.




The University of Birmingham receives its Royal Charter.


Florence Price becomes the first woman to matriculate and take a medical (MBChB) degree.


Sir William Ashley founds the Faculty of Commerce; the first of its kind in Britain leading to the establishment of the University's Business School; ranked as one of the best business schools in the world for its MBA teaching.


Sir Edward Elgar becomes the Peyton Professor of Music; he is succeeded in 1908 by his friend, Granville Bantock, who became instrumental in founding the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO).


The Birmingham Law School is established.


The Aston Webb Building is officially opened by King Edward VII.


The 325-foot (100metre) clock tower nicknamed ‘Old Joe’ in honour of our founder Joseph Chamberlain, was completed; it is the tallest free-standing clock tower in the world.

1914- 1918

The University’s Great Hall was used as the First Southern General Hospital during World War I contributing significantly to the 130,000 servicemen treated in Birmingham during the conflict. 


Francis William Aston receives the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for inventing the Mass Spectrometer.


The University opens the Guild of Students building; one of the longest established students' unions in the UK. 


Sir Norman Haworth receives the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on carbohydrates and synthesising Vitamin C.


Lord Robert Cecil is awarded the Noble Peace Prize for his work in assisting in the establishment of the League of Nations.


The magnificent Barber Institute of Fine Arts, designed by Robert Atkinson, is opened; the publicly accessible collection of art contains works from artists as diverse as Van Gogh and Botticelli to Picasso and Magritte.


Sir Peter Scott founds the Severn Wildfowl Trust (later to become the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust) in 1946; he is knighted in 1973, the same year he becomes Chancellor of the University of Birmingham.


Birmingham offers the first ever sports-based degree.


The School of Education is established; it is now one of the largest schools of education in the UK contributing significantly to the lives of thousands of school children locally and nationally every year.


Birmingham-born Dame Hilda Rose becomes the first female professor of the University's Medical School.