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Leicester Special Collections

A Princely Gift

University College frontage and drive, c. 1920s

Entrance to University College, Leicester, probably taken during the 1920s

An ideal location for the new College was identified as the old county asylum building and grounds adjacent to Victoria Park, occupied during the war by the 5th Northern General Hospital. The first steps towards raising the estimated £55-60,000 needed to acquire the site were taken the day after the armistice in 1918 when Dr Astley Clarke announced the creation of a trust fund, established with donations from himself and Dr Frederick Bennett as ‘thank-offerings’ for peace. However, the vision only started to become reality when Thomas Fielding Johnson, a 91 year old businessman and philanthropist, acquired the site with the intention of donating it to the Borough of Leicester to accommodate not only the proposed College but also Wyggeston boys’ and girls’ grammar schools.

Dr Astley Vavasour Clarke (1870-1945)

Dr Astley Vavasour Clarke

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Dr Astley Vavasour Clarke (1870-1945) was born in Leicester and educated at Wyggeston and Oakham Schools. He went on to study natural sciences at Cambridge before completing his medical training at Guy’s Hospital. He served as the first Administrator of the 5th Northern General Hospital after it was established as part of the Leicestershire and Rutland Territorial Force and was later Assistant Director of Medical Services, North Midlands Division. He worked tirelessly to raise funds and win support for the College scheme. In March 1919, he was preparing to make a speech urging the purchase of the site and visited Thomas Fielding Johnson, wishing to confirm ‘some historical facts about the site’. Much to Clarke’s astonishment Fielding Johnson informed him that, ‘you can’t buy it, for I bought it yesterday!’.