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Manchester University Rutherford Building and Hopkinson Memorial Wing, Manchester

Description: Manchester University Rutherford Building and Hopkinson Memorial Wing

Grade: II
Date Listed: 19 October 2011
English Heritage Building ID: 1402635

OS Grid Reference: SJ8449296633
OS Grid Coordinates: 384509, 396622
Latitude/Longitude: 53.4661, -2.2348

Locality: Manchester
County: Manchester
Country: England
Postcode: M13 9NR

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Listing Text


University physics laboratory, now administrative offices. 1898-1901 by James William Beaumont in collaboration with Professor Arthur Schuster over the interior arrangements.

Reason for Listing

The Rutherford Building and Hopkinson memorial wing (formerly the Physical Laboratories and John Hopkinson Electrotechnical Laboratory) of 1898-1901 by James William Beaumont is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architect: Designed by James William Beaumont, a prominent Manchester architect, with a number of listed buildings to his name, in collaboration with the Professor of Physics, Arthur Schuster, resulting in a well thought-out bespoke university science laboratory building
* Historic interest: Ernest Rutherford led the Manchester physics laboratories between 1907 and 1919, and it was in this specific building that he carried out ground-breaking research resulting in his discovery of the nuclear atom in 1911, subsequent splitting of the atom in 1917, and initiation of the field of nuclear physics
* Design: The building, which was one of the largest physical laboratories in the world when built, combined the practicalities required to provide first-class teaching facilities covering electrical engineering, electro-chemistry, practical physics, and research, with a judicious use of more elaborate detailing to the building, concentrated on the main entrance which incorporates the university coat of arms and motto, manifesting a sense of civic pride in the provision of this dedicated science building at a provincial university.
* Interiors: Much of the original layout survives and the rooms retain their original glazed brick linings which, although more costly, were used to facilitate the cleaning and brightness of the rooms. Other original features include the decorative dado tiling and terrazzo flooring to the wide corridors, original staircases, panelled doors, moulded architraves, moulded cornices, observation balconies, panelled ceiling and wooden roof trusses in the large lecture room.
* Group Value: The Rutherford Building forms an important component of the development of the science faculty at the University of Manchester and is located close to a number of other listed university buildings including the Main Quadrangle (Grade II*), the Museum Extensions (Grade II) and Former Department of Metallurgy (Grade II), both on Oxford Road, and the Pharmacy Department, formerly the Medical School, Coupland Road (Grade II).


The Rutherford Building was originally known as the Physical Laboratories. Work commenced in 1898, and the building was formally opened in 1901. It was built to designs by James William Beaumont in collaboration with Professor Arthur Schuster over the interior arrangements. When built they were amongst the largest and best-equipped physical laboratories in the world. The building was partially funded by anonymous donations totalling £17,000, thought by some to have come from Schuster himself. To the rear of the main building is a contemporary wing referred to on a stone plaque as The John Hopkinson Electrotechnical Laboratory which was erected and equipped in 1899 in memory of Dr John Hopkinson FRS by his parents, relatives and friends. (Hopkinson was an eminent electrical engineer born in Manchester who had studied as a student at Owens College and died in 1898 in an Alpine climbing accident.)

James William Beaumont was a leading Manchester architect of the late C19 and early C20, whose designs include the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester (Grade II), Pendlebury Hall, Stockport (Grade II), Winters Buildings, 28-32 St Ann Street, Manchester (Grade II), a former packing warehouse on Tariff Street, Manchester (Grade II), and Hyde Town Hall (Grade II).

Arthur Schuster had moved as a child to Manchester from Germany in 1869 after the family textile business transferred there. After attending Henry Roscoe's evening classes in science at Owens College, he determined to study physics. He was subsequently appointed professor of applied mathematics at Owens College in 1881, which in the previous year had become the first college of the new Victoria University, and in 1888 became professor of physics. From 1903-5 Schuster was dean of the faculty of science before resigning his chair in 1907, due in part to ill health, having first ensured Ernest Rutherford would become his successor. He also left the laboratory his personal assistant, Hans Geiger, who went on to work closely with Rutherford. Ernest Rutherford led the Manchester laboratory from 1907 to 1919, before leaving to work in Cambridge. It was whilst he was working in Manchester that he discovered the nuclear atom (1911), split the atom (1917), and initiated the field of nuclear physics. In 2006 the University of Manchester renamed the building the Rutherford Building in honour of its most famous former resident.

A contemporary report stated that Beaumont was sent to visit the principal modern laboratories in Germany by the Council of Owens College before drawing up the plans for the building. It also reported that Professor Schuster advocated an internal arrangement with rooms sufficiently large to accommodate at least several students rather than individual rooms for single students (which was the tendency in some contemporary continental laboratories) as experience had taught him the educational value of mixing senior and junior students together. There was a carefully planned system of ventilation designed to exclude dust as far as possible from all the rooms and especially from instrument cases, and many rooms were supplied with water, gas, steam for experimental purposes, and compressed air, conveyed by a series of pipes coloured differently to enable them to be easily distinguished. A 1906 publication describes the building as being arranged so that the ground floor was devoted to electrical engineering and electro-chemistry; the first floor to general instruction in practical physics; and the second floor and basement mainly to research purposes. A large lecture theatre, seating 200, and a smaller lecture room, seating 25, were also situated on the second floor. On the roof was a small astronomical observatory. The Hopkinson memorial wing contained a dynamo house containing seventeen examples of types of direct and alternating-current generators and motors, an accumulator room, photometer room, and the electro-chemical laboratory. It is visible to the rear on a drawing of the building by Beaumont.


PLAN: L-shaped building of two and three storeys over a raised basement. East range, running north-south, contains largest laboratory and lecture room; west range, running east-west, contains two parallel series of rooms separated by wide spine corridors. The ground floor was devoted to electrical engineering and electro-chemistry, the first floor to general instruction in practical physics, and the second floor and basement mainly to research purposes. There is a flat platform on the roof of the west range, which originally housed an observatory. Attached to north end of east range is a single-storey range over a raised basement which was formerly a dynamo house for the Hopkinson memorial wing; it contained seventeen examples of direct and alternating-current generators and motors.

EXTERIOR: The front, south elevation is of eight bays with a gable over the third bay, the main entrance in the fourth bay, and a slightly projecting wide, four-bay gable to the right. Stone window surrounds with heavy stone mullions and thinner stone transoms with lintel bands to basement and ground floors, and sill bands to first and second floors, which carry round onto the east side elevation: bays one and two have four-light mullion and transom windows on the ground and first floors; the second-floor of bay one is blind with a two-light mullion window in bay two; bay three has six-light windows on ground, first and second floors; bay four has a four-light window on the first floor and two-light mullion window on the second floor; bays five to eight have four two-light transom windows on the ground and first floors. The windows on the second and third storeys are set in a stepped stone panel, with four widely spaced single-light windows on the second floor and four closely spaced single light windows on the third floor. The main entrance has a stone fronted porch with stone steps leading up to a wide, depressed arch doorway with panelled double doors, narrow side lights and five square overlights, all with Art Nouveau leaded glass, flanked by two octagonal columns with cupolas. A triangular pediment over the doorway has a relief carving of the University of Manchester's coat of arms and motto (ARDUUS AD SOLEM). The area in front of the building has low brick walls with moulded stone coping and decorative iron railings. At ground-floor level between bays one and two is a circular blue plaque commemorating Ernest Rutherford's achievements within the building; between bays five and six is a circular blue plaque commemorating Alison Uttley, children's author and Physics graduate of the university in 1906.

The west side elevation is of three bays with symmetrical gables over the outer bays. The central bay has a wide doorway with double, part-glazed doors and a mullioned overlight; in front are modern steps and a ramp. Above, on the first floor is a doorway set in a segmental-arched glazed screen, which opens onto a small stone balcony with decorative iron railings (originally used to adjust telescopes and practice using a sextant). Immediately to the left is a narrow single-light window. On the second floor is a similar central doorway set in a segmental-arched screen, which opens onto a wide stone balcony with decorative iron railings running almost the entire width of the façade. To the immediate left of the doorway is a small window and to the immediate right are two small apertures with a projecting stone ledge, with a similar single aperture and ledge towards the right corner (the room to the rear contained a Rowland concave grating (spectrograph) and the apertures enabled sunlight to enter via helioscopes placed on the ledges). The left bay has a stone segmental-arched window frame containing a wooden canted bay window. The right bay has a single-light window.

The east side elevation is of five bays defined by buttresses. The left bay is wider with a gablet over; it has six-light mullion and transom windows on the ground and first floors, three single-light windows on the second floor set in a stepped stone panel with a single-light window above in the gablet. The remaining bays have four-light mullion and transom windows on the ground, first and second floors.

INTERIOR: The main entrance opens into a porch with barrel-vaulted and panelled ceiling, orange terracotta screen with double doors, and side and overlights, the upper lights with Art Nouveau leaded glass. Beyond is an open space with two wide segmental arches of cream-coloured brick; the arch to the rear (now with an inserted glazed screen containing double doors) opens onto a stairwell containing the main staircase and a corridor through to the lobby of the Hopkinson memorial wing; the left arch opens onto the wide spine corridor. The open well staircase has concrete steps and half landings supported on iron girders, decorative iron balusters with a moulded wooden handrail and blue tile dado. Features of note include corridors with terrazzo flooring with black and white border bands, blue glazed tiling to dado height with Art Nouveau floral border, and moulded cornices. Rutherford's personal laboratory is located on the ground floor in the north-west corner of the building; along with many other rooms the room is lined with glazed brick, with an orange brick dado with dark brown border and cream bricks above (in some rooms the glazed bricks are covered with plasterboard and some are painted). All rooms have moulded cornices, wide ground-floor doorways have six-panelled doors, with four-panelled doors on the upper floors. The east range contains a large former lecture room on the second floor which rises through to an open roof with wooden roof trusses and panelled ceiling. High on either side of the south wall is an individual observation balcony. A modern mezzanine floor has been inserted in part of the room.

The Hopkinson memorial wing has a stone wall plaque in the east wall of the corridor inscribed 'THE JOHN HOPKINSON ELECTROTECHNICAL LABORATORY / This portion of the building / was erected and equipped in the year 1899 / in memory of / Dr JOHN HOPKINSON F.R.S./ by his parents relatives and friends'. The lobby and corridor have glazed brown and cream bricks; the bricks in the dynamo room have been painted blue. The dynamo room has iron roof trusses; Perspex sheeting has been inserted beneath the original skylights to each side of the ridge. Attached to the west gable wall is a metal relief portrait of John Hopkinson.

The modern entrance block to the museum extension on Oxford Road which is attached to the north-east corner of the Rutherford Building is not of special interest.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.