For this year’s Explore Your Archive campaign, we are looking at some of the University of Liverpool’s outlying sites, through the material held about them in the university archive. Our previous blog post looked at Ness Gardens on the Wirral. This time, we will explore the development of the School of Veterinary Science’s Leahurst campus. Situated in rural Cheshire, twelve miles south of Liverpool, Leahurst provides practical training for undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as CPD courses for professional vets.
Liverpool’s School of Veterinary Science was the first veterinary school to be part of a university. In 1904 Professor William Owen Williams was tempted by the newly-chartered university to move his New Veterinary College to the city from Edinburgh. However, it was not until 1928 that a veterinary hospital was built near the university, and the following year the school was able to move in to building of its own.
The origins of Leahurst date to the Loveday Report on Veterinary Education in 1938, which recommended the establishment of field stations for the practical teaching of students. The scheme was delayed by the outbreak of the Second World War, but in 1941 the Leahurst estate was acquired by the university, with financial help from local company J Bibby & Sons. Much of the furniture for the station was acquired at auction from the old Leahurst House.
Within the university, the driving force behind the scheme was Professor J.G. Wright, appointed in 1941 to the chair of Veterinary Surgery. Wright’s appointment was a surprise to many; the Vice-Chancellor wrote to him that “some of my colleagues think it unlikely that you would be willing to leave the Royal [Veterinary] College.” Wright replied that “The thought of being able to stamp one’s personality on the teaching of veterinary surgery in Liverpool is a most pleasurable one,” but initially turned down the job due to the difficulties involved in moving his family during wartime. It was in large part the university’s commitment to setting up Leahurst which persuaded him to change his mind.
In order for Leahurst to be able to pay for up-to-date equipment, Wright proposed a scheme to the Vice-Chancellor whereby local farmers could pay to use the services of the department, in exchange for allowing students to visit and observe practising vets. It worked; by August 1942 the Vice-Chancellor could write to Wright: “It [the Veterinary School] is now really on the map and is beginning to occupy an entirely new place in the esteem of the university.”
University historian Thomas Kelly says Wright dominated the school until he retired in 1963 and was regarded as a “character.” A veteran of the Royal Artillery, he was a forthright man and a great story-teller who rose to become President of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. It was estimated in one obituary of Wright that he had taught perhaps 20% of all registered veterinary surgeons in the country. In the early 1960s, Wright was frequently sent up, affectionately, in the Leahurst students’ Christmas revues.
In 1952, in recognition of its growing significance, the School was detached from the Faculty of Medicine to constitute a faculty of its own. Leahurst was home to two of the Faculty’s four Departments, Veterinary Surgery and Veterinary Preventative Medicine. From the mid-1960s Leahurst underwent an ambitious expansion plan. Work began in 1967, and new buildings were opened by the Duke of Northumberland in 1971.
Leahurst’s facilities enabled it to become a world-leading site of equine care. Veterinary students had been learning equine surgery for decades. In 1991, as Leahurst celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, the Philip Leverhulme Equine Hospital was opened. Named for the third Viscount Leverhulme, who at the time was Chancellor of the University, it now treats over 2,000 patients every year.
Today, Leahurst employs 350 staff, including those on its two farms. The site is also home to the National Centre for Zoonosis Research and the Tesco Dairy Centre. The university’s veterinary faculty continues to lead to field, coming top in the Guardian’s university rankings for the subject for 2015.
For this year’s Explore Your Archive, we have focused on university sites located outside the city centre. We hope this inspires you to think of archives as places of exploration and discovery. You can visit us to see our displays, and view items from our collections, on Monday-Friday in the Grove Wing of the Sydney Jones Library.
Graduate Library Assistant