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University to mark founding legacy as living memorial

Our centenary video: So that they may have life

The University of Leicester will mark the 100th anniversary of its foundation on Monday, 4 October 2021.

Founded as a living memorial to the people of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland who made sacrifices during the First World War, the University’s Centenary will give students, staff and members of the local community opportunity to celebrate 100 years of change – but also an opportunity to reflect on this powerful founding legacy.

The University is unique in the UK in the nature of its foundation as a crowd-funded institution.

Elizabeth Blood is a researcher based within the University’s Archives and Special Collections team, and is completing a PhD examining war memorials across the region.

She said: “As well as hundreds of local war memorials around the County and City, Leicester made a concerted effort to create both monumental and useful memorials. As early as 1917, it was proposed that a University College would be a fitting way to acknowledge local people’s sacrifices during the war.

“In addition, Leicester invited the greatest architect of the day, Sir Edwin Lutyens, designer of the Cenotaph in London, to design a symbolic monument for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. This became the Arch of Remembrance in Victoria Park, and Lutyens saw it as forming part of a processional entranceway to our campus.

“The side of the Arch that faces campus is intentionally inscribed with lines from Blake’s Jerusalem beginning ‘I shall not cease from mental fight…’”

The Grade-I listed Arch of Remembrance in Victoria Park, unveiled in 1925 close to the University campus.

A major figure in the foundation of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland University College – which would later go on to become the University of Leicester – was local man Dr Astley Clarke.

During the war, Astley was an officer in the Royal Army Medical Corps. A military hospital was set up on the site which is now the University’s Fielding Johnson Building.

Astley first spoke publicly about the need for a new university in 1912 in his presidential address to the Leicester Literary and Philosophical Society, but when war broke out in 1914 the idea was set aside.

On 11 November 1918, the First World War came to an end and the following day Astley wrote to the local newspaper to announce the creation of the ‘Leicester University Fund’ in celebration of peace and for the founding of a university as a memorial.

Dr Clarke made the first contribution of £100 with the ambition of providing access to higher education for young men and women who did not have the means to move away to study at established universities across the country.

This founding legacy is reflected in the University’s motto Ut vitam habeant, ‘so that they may have life’.

To mark the University’s Centenary, students, staff, local people and both serving and retired members of the Armed Forces are to lay more than 50 poppy wreaths across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland in recognition of the local people who made sacrifices during the First World War.

The red poppy, which recalls the horrors of the Western Front in the First World War, is a well-known and well-established symbol of support for the Armed Forces community and Remembrance for lives lost in all conflicts.

Some of the wreaths laid in the region will include white poppies, which represent a commitment to peace and in finding non-violent solutions to conflicts.

Explore the University of Leicester’s Centenary celebrations, and discover more about our story so far at le.ac.uk/centenary.

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