University Of Southampton, Highfield Campus

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HCC Site ID: 1930 Parish: Portswood Ward, Southampton
Designations: TPOs Area: 26 hectares (64 acres)
Access: No Public Access Ownership: University of Southampton

Location and Site

The Highfield campus of the University of Southampton now occupies approximately 26 hectares (64 acres), bordering onto the eastern edge of Southampton Common, and is about three miles north of the medieval City. At the beginning of the twentieth century it was still undeveloped land, and was the site of a brickworks and a farm. The brickworks and a natural stream had created variations in the gradient of the land, and this had developed into a valley running from the north to south on the western side of the campus (OS 3rd ed). Over the years it has been landscaped as an amenity for staff and students, and planted with several specimen trees and shrubs. A small area at the south end was designated as an experimental garden for use by the Botany Department.  The eastern part of the campus was the original site of the University College, and has always been mostly covered with necessary buildings.  Here too there is variation in gradient due to quarrying, and some buildings have been able to take advantage of this to gain an extra storey.

Historical Development

At the beginning of the twentieth century Hartley Institute, a Technical College in Southampton, had become the Hartley University College and was looking for accommodation outside the town to be able to expand. In 1910 the Council of the College bought 11 acres of the Highfield Court Estate (Patterson 1962, 125). Two buildings were constructed on the east side of Church Lane (then known locally as Back Lane). The buildings were ready for occupation in autumn 1914 but World War I broke out and the buildings were commandeered by the War Office for a military hospital (OS Town Map 1919; Nash & Sherwood 2002, 18-29).
By autumn 1919, the War Office had vacated the site, leaving most of the temporary hospital huts that had been erected, and staff and students moved from the High street to Highfield. The Botany Department had the use of one of the wooden huts as a plant house, until the department moved into the George Moore Building (now demolished) in 1928, and developed a small botanical garden on adjacent ground (MSI 2/2/3).
In the 1930s the University College needed more space for the increasing numbers of students who were following a degree course, and a programme of expansion was started.  Private housing had developed on both sides of the former Church Lane, now named University Road, except immediately opposite the University College buildings on the west side of the road.  It was here that the first new University College building was constructed for a Refectory and Common Room, it is known as the West Building (OS 4th ed).  Once again the College plans were disrupted when World War II broke out and halted any further development.  The old quarry in the valley behind the West Building, which had been part of a brickworks, was used for rifle practice by the Senior Training Corps (the Home Guard) during the war (Nash & Sherwood 2002, 47).  An aerial view shows the new West Building, the remains of the old brickworks, a well wooded valley, and allotments covering the undeveloped land (Mann & Ashton 1998, 69).
Immediately post war there was a national demand for increased university education and Southampton benefited from Treasury capital grants to aid with the purchase of land, the erection of buildings, and expenditure on other capital projects. (Patterson 1962, 204). The University College bought the 16 acres (6.5 ha) of vacant land behind the West Building that had been brickworks, but didn’t start to develop it until the College was granted University status in 1952, when there was an even greater urgency to carry out  plans for expansion (Nash & Sherwood 2002, 49). Shortly before he retired, Sydney Mangham, Professor of Botany, was able to advise on converting part of the old brickfield site into ‘botanic gardens’, as an attractive addition to the amenities of the University” (Patterson 1962, 216). The Botany Department was allocated a small area on the west bank of the stream near the south east boundary to develop as an experimental garden with glasshouses, and to provide material for classes (Proposed Sketch layout 1953).
In 1956 Basil Spence and Partners were commissioned to draw up a master plan for the Highfield Campus, and from 1960 new buildings were constructed.  One (now the Shackleton Building) was to be shared by Zoology and Botany. To compensate for land to be taken for a new Students Union building at the north end of the Botany Department’s experimental gardens in the valley, the department was able to cultivate land adjacent to this new building stretching down into the valley (University Botanic Gardens 1990 Report & Plan).  Land flanking the stream to the north was to be maintained as an amenity for staff and students (Mann & Ashton 1998. 66).  Lawns were prepared and several specimen trees were planted (TPO List 2002).
In 1996 there was another surge of building when Rick Mather Architects were appointed as urban design consultants, and a Development Strategy was drawn up. The University had bought more land away from the campus, but were still developing at Highfield as land previously in private housing, became available.  Plincke Landscapes was appointed to work with Rick Mather and there has been considerable landscaping of the campus in recent years. To celebrate the University’s Golden Jubilee in 2002 there was a Golden Jubilee Gardens Project which included the creation of an avenue of Platanus on University Road in 2001, and the planting of the Library Square which was opened in January 2002 (Plincke Company online 2012). Paths across the campus have been defined by low hedges, small spaces in front of and between buildings planted, and the campus boundaries defined with trees (Campus Maps 2008). The large open areas of lawn and trees have been well maintained, but the experimental Botanic Gardens, which had been made the responsibility of the Biological Sciences, gradually fell into disuse and were closed to the public.  In 2008 Ann Berkeley was commissioned to redesign the former experimental area as an amenity for staff and students; it has been constructed and named Valley Gardens, and was reopened in March 2012 (Berkeley plan 2008).

Current Description

From a small University College with two buildings and a limited area of ground in 1919, the University of Southampton has expanded into one of the major universities in the UK.  Over the years, the gradual purchase of the private houses and their gardens on University Road and Salisbury Road in the Highfield area of Southampton has allowed the campus to grow and appear reasonably unified. The western edge of the campus is restricted from further development by Southampton Common, and the northern edge by Burgess Road. The southern and eastern boundaries are defined by private housing. There is less open ground on the eastern side of the campus than on the west, which spans a valley and has been deliberately left more open.  Over the years many specimen trees have been planted, some in memoriam to members of staff and students. A small experimental botanic garden which had been sited along the stream, has now been landscaped as an amenity for staff and students, and named Valley Gardens. Small pieces of ground between and in front of buildings are cultivated with shrubs and grasses, and paths are lined with low hedges of various species.


In 1919 the University College moved from the High Street, Southampton, to a 4½ hectare site in Highfield. As the numbers of students increased, adjacent land, formerly the site of a brickworks was bought and, since the College was granted University status in 1952, private land as it became available. It is now a campus of 26 hectares. A stream runs from north to south across the western section, and gardens have been landscaped along its course. A small area at the southern end, used by the Botany Department as an experimental garden is now Valley Gardens.  There are specimen trees flourishing over the whole campus.

HGT Research: November 2004; complete update & rewrite: March 2012


1909 OS 3rd ed 1:2500
1919 OS Town Map of 1919
1933-46 OS 4th ed 25”
1953 Proposed Sketch Layout for the East & West sites of the University of Southampton 1:2500
2008 Berkekely Plan for Valley Gardens
2008 Campus Maps by the Cartographic Unit
Nash, S & M Sherwood The University of Southampton.  An illustrated History Pub. James & James 2002
Mann, E.J., & P Ashton Highfield. A Village Remembered  Pub. Halsgrove 1998
Patterson, A Temple, The University of Southampton Pub. Camelot Press for University of Southampton 1962
Electronic Sources
Plinche Company ( [accessed 11 April 2012].
Other Sources
MSI 2/2/3 University Proceedings
1990 Report and Plan University of Southampton Botanic Gardens:Valley Garden
2002 (TPO) Tree Preservation Order List

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Portswood Ward, Southampton University of Southampton No Public Access Click for Disclaimer & copyright
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