Features / Bristol

22 amazing facts about Bristol Uni

By joy molan, Friday Sep 18, 2015

1.The invention of Ribena

Ribena was invented at the university by scientist Dr Vernon Charley in 1936 as a blackcurrant cordial to be added to milk. Originally seen as a health drink, in the Second World War it was distributed for free to children and pregnant women as an important source of Vitamin C. (Image credit: University of Bristol Library, Special Collections)

2. The student union

The Richmond Building, home to Bristol’s student union on Queen’s Road, is the largest purpose-build student union in the country with a floor area equivalent to nearly four full-size football pitches. (Image credit: Liz Eve/Fotohaus)

3. Gender equality 

In 1876, the University of Bristol was the first institute of higher education in the country to admit women on an equal basis with men. (Image credit: University of Bristol Library, Special Collections (DM2199/1/3/3))

4. Sir Winston Churchill 

Aside from being one of the greatest wartime leaders of the twentieth century, Sir Winston Churchill was the University Chancellor from 1929 until his death in 1965. After the formal ceremony installing him as Chancellor in 1929, the student RAG ‘arrested’ him and carried him through the streets on their shoulders to the Victoria Rooms where they held a mock trial. (Image credit: University of Bristol Library, Special Collections (DM2507))

5. Bristol opens its doors

University College Bristol opened at 32 Park Row on October 10 1876 with two professors, seven lecturers and fees of seven shillings per course. 30 men and 69 women registered for a total of 15 subjects. (Image credit: Nick flickr)

6. Student newspaper

Epigram was the first student newspaper in Europe to go online and the first student newspaper in the country to be printed in colour. It was also founded by James Landale, current deputy political editor of the BBC. Other notable contributors include Good Morning Britain presenter Susanna Reid and former NME editor Krissi Murison. (Image credit: Epigram)

7. Biscuit dunking

Scientists at the university discovered the perfect technique for dunking biscuits in hot tea in 1998. Dr Len Fisher, who led the research team, used a gold-plated digestive to investigate and concluded that the perfect dunk should be followed by smoothly twisting the biscuit 180 degrees, so that the dry side supports the weaker, soaked side. (Image credit: Paul Downey)

8. Wills Memorial Building

It’s said that the Wills Memorial Building was the last large building in the UK to be built using wooden scaffolding. For many years, all there was to see at the top of Park Street was a huge skeleton of wood, which became an attraction in its own right. The 68 meter tall building was officially opened in 1925 by King George V and Queen Mary. (Image credit: crabchick flickr)

9. Half ton bell

Great George, the nine and a half ton bell in the tower of the Wills Memorial Building, was cast in 1924. It quickly gained a reputation as the finest E-flat bell in Europe and remains to this day one of the deepest-toned bells in the world. It even has its own Twitter account – @GreatGeorgeWMB. (Image credit: University of Bristol Library, Special Collections)

10. Garden grotto

Goldney Hall is not only home to students but also one of the finest surviving examples of an eighteenth century garden grotto in Britain, lined with rare and exotic shells from all over the world. It took 27 years to complete, between 1737 and 1764, and is a Grade I listed building. (Image credit: University of Bristol)

11. Drama Department

Bristol was the first university to open a dedicated Department of Drama in 1946. A whole host of famous faces studied drama, TV, film and theatre at the University, including Simon Pegg, David Walliams, Matt Lucas, Marcus Brigstocke, Greg Doran and Emily Watson.  (Image credit: University of Bristol)

12. Harold Pinter

Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter staged his first play, entitled The Room, in the University’s Drama Department in May 1957. The play was introduced to the Department by student Henry Woolf, a friend of Pinter’s, and performed in a converted squash court. (Image credit: BBC)

13. Dorothy Hodgkin 

Dorothy Hodgkin, Chancellor of the University of Bristol (1971 to 1988), was the first British woman to win the Nobel Prize for science. She remains the only woman to have received this award. (Image credit: University of Bristol Library, Special Collections)

14. Quiet labs 

The Centre for Nanoscience and Quantum Information, on Tyndall Avenue, houses some of the quietest laboratories in the world. The £11 million building provides state-of-the-art specialised laboratories where vibration and acoustic noise levels are among the lowest ever achieved, despite being located in the centre of Bristol. (Image credit: University of Bristol)

15. Cantock Steps

There are two monkey sculptures, nicknamed Peter and Paul after Nobel Prize winners Peter Higgs and Paul Dirac, at the top of Cantock Steps in the university’s precinct. The steps are known as ‘Indecision Steps’ due to their awkward spacing causing you to unnaturally take one and a half steps on each pace. (Image credit: Philippa Walker)

16. Sandwich course

No, not that kind. Bristol was the first university to introduce what became known as a ‘sandwich course’ – a course combining academic study with a period working in industry. (Image credit: Molly Elliott) 

17. Noel Coward

The university’s Theatre Collection houses one of the largest archives of British theatre and live-art history in the world. It holds more than 4,500 items relating to Noël Coward, one of the most significant figures in British theatre in the twentieth century, including one of his famous silk dressing gowns. (Image credit: Harvard Theatre Collection, Harvard University)

 18. Super computers 

The university has one of the fastest and most advanced supercomputing facilities in the UK, capable of over 200 trillion calculations per second. (Image credit:Dr Ian Stewart).

19. Moon dust

Samples of moon dust scooped up from the lunar surface by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin during the first landing of a man on the moon were analysed at the University of Bristol to look for any signs of life. As soon as the samples arrived in Bristol in October 1969, the team put them on show to the general public. Queues formed for hundreds of metres outside the University and much of the way down Park Street. (Image credit: University of Bristol)

 20. The old student club

The Victoria Rooms are steeped in history, having hosted readings by Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde. The landmark building, which first opened its doors to the public in May 1842, was once the most important and lively cultural centre in the West of England. It was given to the University in 1920 as a ‘student club’ and used to house two gymnasia, a refectory, common rooms and a games room until the students’ union was relocated in 1965. (Image credit: University of Bristol)

 21. Rare books 

The university’s library houses 1.4 million volumes of printed books and journals – the largest academic collection in the South West. The Special Collections Library alone has over 3 kilometers of shelving containing rare books and manuscripts. (Image credit: University of Bristol)

 22. The first mobile phone

Research at the university into mobile communications technologies and systems led to the development of the first mobile phone. (Image credit: Nana B Agyei)


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