Commemorating one of the great figures in our University's history
This week the University of Sheffield commemorates one of the great figures in Sheffield’s history – Mark Firth. Born 200 years ago on 25 April 1819, he is considered one of the founders of the University of Sheffield.
The eldest of ten children, Mark Firth built one of the leading steel firms in the world. He was successful as an entrepreneur, businessman and leading citizen. He used his fortune to give back generously to Sheffield as a major philanthropist. Both Firth’s benefaction and vision created the embryonic University of Sheffield. His name is commemorated around our University and the City: Firth Court, Firth Hall, Firth Homes and Firth Park.
He became Master Cutler for three years from 1867 to 1869 and in 1874 he was elected Mayor and Alderman. In 1875 he hosted a royal visit from the Prince and Princess of Wales. In 1871 Sheffield’s manufacturing and steel industry was booming and the population had doubled over the previous 30 years to around 240,000. Firth had been inspired by a new vision of higher education and decided to bring it to Sheffield. In 1877, Firth bought a city centre site on the corner of what is now Leopold Street and West Street to build new premises for the classes.
Firth College was opened in 1879 by Prince Leopold, the youngest child of Queen Victoria. The College has come to be considered the forerunner to our University’s faculties of arts and pure science. The Executive Committee agreed that the purpose of the College was “the promotion of moral, social and intellectual elevation of the masses, as well as of the middle and upper classed.” The College was open to men and women on equal terms. “Being desirous of aiding to carry out in his native town of Sheffield aforesaid a system of higher education in connection with the English Universities, for the promotion of moral, social and intellectual elevation of his fellow townsmen, is desirous of providing, at his sole expense, a building containing a lecture hall, class rooms, lecturers and other rooms with fixtures and furniture.”
Within 25 years of Mark Firth’s initial efforts, the College, along with the Technical School and the Medical School amalgamated under a Royal Charter as the University of Sheffield in 1905. Firth’s other donations included 36 acres of land for a public park and almshouses (now Firth Homes) located near Oakwood, his home in Fulwood, which is now the Sixth Form of Notre Dame High.
Miles Stevenson, Director of Advancement, will be giving an illustrated lunchtime talk on Mark Firth – using rarely seen archive material from the Firth family – on 30 May 2019 at 1-1.45pm in the Council Room, Firth Court.