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121 years of London Met in Holloway Road: A university by the community, for the community

PUBLISHED: 14:10 16 March 2017 | UPDATED: 14:10 16 March 2017

The London Metropolitan University tower building, circa 1975. Picture: London Metropolitan University Archives

The London Metropolitan University tower building, circa 1975. Picture: London Metropolitan University Archives

Archant

As London Metropolitan University plans a multi-million overhaul of its campus, the Gazette learns about 121 years of history in Holloway Road.

A First World War air raid party in 1917 at the Northern Polytechnic Institute in Holloway Road. The picture was found during a house clearance in Melbourne, Australia, in 2010. Picture: London Metropolitan University Archives A First World War air raid party in 1917 at the Northern Polytechnic Institute in Holloway Road. The picture was found during a house clearance in Melbourne, Australia, in 2010. Picture: London Metropolitan University Archives

From First World War air raid shelters to one of Islington’s tallest buildings, London Metropolitan University has always been a focal point of Holloway.

When it launched in Holloway Road as the Northern Polytechnic Institute in 1896, its aim was to equip students with skills so they could give back to the community.

Peter Fisher, who is currently compiling a central archive of the university’s history, says its formation was today’s equivalent of a crowdfunding campaign.

He explains: “Local businesses and affluent people were asked to contribute money and get the ball rolling. Thankfully, there were some very generous donations.”

The biggest was £17,500 from the Clothworkers’ Company. There was a reason why businesses were keen to donate: they would be the first to benefit.

Peter says: “The aim was to improve the educational fibre of Holloway, and north London. A key part of this was trade schools, from bricklaying to dressmaking and piano workshops to rubber technology.

“It’s what we call vocational education today. The idea was to train people up so they could go straight into work.”

The piano workshop of Northern Polytechnic Institute's music trades school in Holloway Road. Picture: London Metropolitan University Archives The piano workshop of Northern Polytechnic Institute's music trades school in Holloway Road. Picture: London Metropolitan University Archives

Last week, we reported on the university’s plans to overhaul the Holloway Road campus. But back in the days of Northern Polytechnic Institute, it was a much smaller operation.

“Originally it was the red brick building with the clocktower,” says Peter, “but throughout its history the university has been a sequence of additions.

“That includes the tower built in the mid-1960s. It’s known now for its very ’60s-style design, but back then it became quite a beacon as it was by far the tallest building in the area.

“In the early days, it was made up of 1,000 students. By the time it became the Polytechnic of North London in 1971, it had multiplied six-fold to 6,000 students.

“It stands at about 12,000 today, but I don’t think the university is substantially different, apart from more academic emphasis.”

It went through two more name changes: to University of North London in 1992 and finally London Metropolitan University in 2002.

In its 121-year history, students have included Islington North MP and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who enrolled on a course in (would you believe) trade union studies – before leaving due to rows with his lecturers.

Northern Polytechnic Institute in Holloway Road, 1942. Picture: London Metropolitan University Archives Northern Polytechnic Institute in Holloway Road, 1942. Picture: London Metropolitan University Archives

Other famous alumni include Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant and TV presenter Jamie Theakston.

But for Peter, London Met’s continued legacy lies in its contribution to Holloway life: “So many people, from across the world, come to Islington because of this university.

“There are also companies, like Collis Bird & Withey [a dissertation and thesis bookbinder in Drayton Park] that do major business because of it.

“When the polytechnic started in 1896, the really important factor was to give back to the community, and I believe that remains the case to this day.”

Peter Fisher is appealing for alumni, or relatives of alumni, to contribute to the archive. This ranges from pictures, prospectuses and sporting memorabilia. Full credit will be given. Email p.fisher@londonmet.ac.uk

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