Former Langwith College, University of York


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
University Of York, Heslington, York, YO10 5DD


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Statutory Address:
University Of York, Heslington, York, YO10 5DD

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

York (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:


University college. Built in 1963-1965 to the design of the architects Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall and Partners (RMJM), with Stiratt Johnson-Marshall and Andrew Derbyshire as the partners in charge, in association with the CLASP Development Team. The cast relief artist was Fred Millett. The structural engineers were Scott and Wilson, Kirkpatrick and Partners, and the contractor was F Shepherd and Son.

Reasons for Designation

The former Langwith College, built at the University of York in 1963-1965 to the design of the architects Robert Matthew and Johnson-Marshall and Partners (RMJM), is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Historic interest:

* as one of a wave of new universities that improved access to higher education and marked the highpoint of publicly-funded architecture in post-war Britain; * as a physical manifestation of the University of York Development Plan, which was heralded as the beginning of contemporary university planning in Britain.

Architectural interest:

* the University of York is arguably the greatest work of the influential architects Sir Stiratt Johnson-Marshall and Sir Andrew Derbyshire of RMJM, the only practice to design four universities in Britain; * for the innovative combination of teaching and social facilities as well as residential accommodation in a single college, enabling it to instantly function as a university and allow for expansion by adding further colleges on the same principles; * Langwith and Derwent colleges were the first university buildings to be erected using the CLASP prefabricated system, a model for a rapidly-built, economical and standardised form of welfare state architecture, which had never been used on this scale before; * the relationship of massing and height of Langwith college to its neighbour in Derwent, to Heslington Hall, and the landscape, as well as its layout, is exceptionally well-thought-out; * for the seven sculptural relief panels by the artist Fred Millett, which add flourish to the main pedestrian walkway.

Group value:

* with the Grade II*-listed Heslington Hall, as well as the covered walkway to the west of the college, Derwent College, Central Hall, two sculptures by Austin Wright (‘Dryad’ and ‘Untitled’), and the designed landscape, which are all separately listed at Grade II.


After several previous attempts at establishing a university in York had failed, in 1953 York Civic Trust and the Rowntree Trust launched the Institute of Archives and the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies (IAAS), which became key components of the York Academic Trust founded in 1958 in King’s Manor in the city centre. The administrator appointed to run both courses was John West-Taylor, who saw them as a stepping stone to the founding of a new university.

In April 1959 the University Grants Committee (UGC) set up a Sub-Committee on New Universities and invited applications from cities or groups of authorities wanting to promote new universities. York’s application was approved in April 1960, along with that of Norwich, with further approvals in the following year. The seven new universities in England (Sussex, York, East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Warwick and Lancaster) differed from older institutions in that they were full universities setting their own degrees and supported by the UGC from the outset. All appointed well-respected architects to prepare detailed masterplans and to design the most important buildings, giving each a sense of unity and a distinctive identity.

In York the C16 Heslington Hall about 1.5 miles south-east of the city centre, which had been secured in 1958 by local benefactor John Bowes Morrell, was chosen as the site for the university. Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall and Partners (RMJM) were appointed in 1961-1962 as masterplanners with Stirrat Johnson-Marshall and Andrew Derbyshire as partners in charge, working alongside the Vice-Chancellor Lord (Eric) James of Rusholme, West-Taylor and incoming professors to produce a detailed development plan. The hall was adapted as the administrative centre of the university in the first phase of building work in 1963-1965. More grounds were then acquired to the west and it was agreed on the need for a lake as a balancing reservoir to lower the dangerously high water table on the site. A younger RMJM partner, Maurice Lee, specialised in landscape design, which he produced here in conjunction with Herbert Francis (Frank) Clark, previously landscape architect to the Festival of Britain and a co-founder of the Garden History Society. All the new universities experimented with new course structures, particularly in the growth area of social sciences, and this shaped the movement seen at Sussex, UEA and Essex towards pushing the teaching buildings together as megastructures. By contrast, York’s course structure was relatively traditional and collegiate, but enabled daytime teaching facilities and residential accommodation to be combined together so that they could share catering, common rooms and bars, encouraging a 24/7 atmosphere and maximising their usage and the available UGC grant. Buildings were to be of no more than four storeys so that the landscape remained dominant and the overall sense of place palpable.

The masterplan included groups of loose-knit college ranges, with the science laboratories behind them and landmark buildings, such as the library and Central Hall, set within a careful pattern of circulation. The university was built in phases that progressed westwards from Heslington Hall, with development becoming more piecemeal as funding became more restricted.

A shortage of building labour, expensive materials, and waterlogged ground required a lightweight construction solution in order to avoid expensive piling. In 1946-1947 Johnson-Marshall had devised a prefabricated system using steel frames and concrete panels used by Hertfordshire County Council for building schools, a critically acclaimed programme from which six surviving examples are listed. Its ideals informed the CLASP (Consortium of Local Authorities Special Programme) system developed by Nottinghamshire County Council in 1954-1956. CLASP was designed as a lightweight and flexible structure that could ‘ride’ the mining of coal seams below them; the first CLASP building, Intake Farm School, Mansfield (Grade II) of 1955-1957 was called the ‘rock and roll school’. When York was designed CLASP was at the peak of its success and it was used for fire stations, health centres, libraries and offices. It is used in the design of many of the university’s buildings at York.

RMJM was the only architectural practice to design four universities: York, Bath, Stirling, and the University of Ulster at Coleraine, and it specialised in public sector work throughout the 1960s. It began to work outside Britain in the late 1960s and today is a massive international practice with offices in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and the Americas, as well as Europe.

The former Langwith College was built in December 1963 to July 1965 as part of the first phase of new buildings of the University of York Development Plan, which also included Derwent College and the chemistry department. The exceptionally-detailed development plan was heralded as the beginning of contemporary university planning in Britain (Dober 1966, 48). At its simplest, the aim was to provide for the social and psychological well-being of the students by generating a sense of community. This was embodied at Langwith by combining teaching and social facilities as well as residential accommodation in a single college for 400 people, including 300 undergraduates, of whom about 200 were provided with study bedrooms. The plan enabled the college to instantly function as a university, whilst making it easy to expand year on year by adding further colleges on the same principles. Integral to it was the use of the CLASP system. In the early 1960s it seemed to fulfil the ideal of an economical, flexible system of building that was as efficient as building a car or airplane; the modernists’ ideal since Le Corbusier first wrote of it in Vers Une Architecture in 1923. More widely, it was deemed as the means of producing a good quality, standardised welfare state architecture without frills or pretences, which could be rapidly constructed and rolled out to serve all those that needed it. CLASP went through several versions, with Marks 1 and 2 being the prototypes. A lighter frame was introduced in 1961 but was then quickly modified with better windows as Mark 3B, adopted at Langwith and Derwent Colleges. The university architects worked in association with the CLASP Development Team co-ordinated by the architect David Parkes during the design and building work. The system ensured the buildings were built both to cost and time; a major problem at other new universities. A distinctive oriel window and pyramidal roof lights were developed specifically for the university, and a grey Trent River Gravel exposed aggregate finish was chosen. Additional flourishes were given by the use of sculptural reliefs designed by the artist Fred Millett. The overall result was deemed a success in the architectural press, though limited insulation from sound caused some subsequent issues in the light structures.

The former Langwith College continues in use in 2018, although it has been combined with Derwent College into a single college under that name. Several of the former study bedrooms are now in use as offices, the foyer has been converted into a café and bar, the kitchen partly into an audio-visual centre, along with some other changes in use (see below).


University college. Built in 1963-1965 to the design of the architects Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall and Partners (RMJM), with Stiratt Johnson-Marshall and Andrew Derbyshire as the partners in charge, in association with the CLASP Development Team. The cast relief artist was Fred Millett. The structural engineers were Scott and Wilson, Kirkpatrick and Partners, and the contractor was F Shepherd and Son.

MATERIALS: the construction is a variant of the CLASP Mark 3B system developed by Nottinghamshire County Council for schools and other local authority buildings. It comprises a cold-rolled steel frame clad in pre-cast concrete panels with a Trent River Gravel exposed aggregate finish, softwood-framed windows with aluminium opening lights including projecting oriels, and flat felt-covered roofs.

PLAN: the college is situated to the north-west of the contemporary Derwent College and overlooks an artificial lake to the south. It is orientated east to west. A pedestrian walkway forms the main spine, running the full length of the building. There are three open courtyards attached to the south and one attached to the west end of the north side of the walkway; the former are open to the south so as not to inhibit views out towards the lake. The communal and teaching accommodation is concentrated in a one and two-storey central nucleus whilst three and four-storey residential wings are positioned at the extremities of the college. A former foyer (now café bar) and hall form the centre of the service and teaching core with a single-storey kitchen block adjoined to the north, a lecture room and seminar room at the east, and further lecture rooms and a former library attached in two blocks to the south of the walkway. The four residential wings are located at the north-west, west, south and east ends of the college; these are long, narrow wings containing study bedrooms and associated amenities.

EXTERIOR: an asymmetrical composition comprising a one and two-storey central nucleus and four residential wings of three and four-storeys. The treatment of the elevations is similar throughout. The exterior walls are formed of precast concrete panels with a Trent River Gravel exposed aggregate finish attached to steel box stanchions and beams supporting wooden floors internally. A slight variation in texture and projection of the concrete panels differentiates the horizontal floor bands from the vertically set room height panels. There are dry joints between the panels, which have angled drainage channels at their edges, and are set upon a moulded precast concrete plinth. The fenestration to the residential blocks includes a mixture of narrow, half-width windows, and wider, full-width windows, occupying the place of a full precast panel, with a central sliding aluminium light between top and bottom transoms. These are also combined into larger, one-and-a-half width windows with an off centre mullion, or double-width windows; most divided by transoms to conform to the tripartite glazing pattern. Colour is provided by white, blue and green vitreous enamel panels occupying the positions of the lower subsidiary lights in several of these windows. Further variety is provided by projecting full-width oriel windows. There are flush timber doors and softwood glazed doors providing entry into the blocks at ground level. The main entrances along the walkway have had steel-framed glazed automatic doors fitted in around 1990 and renewed in about 2014, which are not of special interest.

The elevations towards the lake and south courtyards are partly raised over ground-floor pilotis whilst the other elevations are flush to the ground floor. The former library and part of the walkway are treated with wider expanses of glazing, whilst a narrow band of lights forms a clerestory to the kitchen and to the west elevation of the southernmost teaching block. At the north of the kitchen is an entrance raised on pilotis to provide service access for deliveries. On the ground floor, generally in close proximity to the main walkway running through the college, are seven sculptural relief panels in cast concrete by Fred Millett. These comprise abstract shapes forming a variety of textures and patterns, which are enlivened by artificial light at night. They have the dual purpose of hiding the steel wind braces that support the structural frame. The blocks have flat felt-covered roofs with an extruded aluminium eaves capping. Maintenance and emergency access is provided by square timber-boarded roof porches. The original eight sharply-pointed pyramidal rooflights, comprising a combination of facetted solid panels and glazing, survive over the former dining hall. Elsewhere there are shallow-pitched roof lights. Protective steel rails have been added around the perimeter of some of the roofs, which are not of special interest.

The covered walkways linking the blocks are constructed of pilotis with precast concrete panels forming a fascia to the flat felt-covered roofs; these are built on the CLASP system. However, where they extend beyond the college to meet the neighbouring buildings the walkways are non-CLASP, comprising steel columns supporting I-beams and timber joists carrying a timber-boarded roof with timber fascias and a felt roof covering. These were designed by the main architects in conjunction with the architect Dick Howard. They incorporate a central overhead services duct constructed of timber, which carries electrical wiring, television and telephone cables between the buildings. The covered walkways extending east of the college to the footbridge over University Road and to the south-east to Derwent College are included in the listing. The main pedestrian route is paved in concrete slabs, which continue through the blocks underneath the recently-added tiled carpets. There is hard landscaping in the form of cobbled areas and dark blue brick paving, as well as tiered terraces constructed of concrete slabs to the open courtyard at the centre of the south side of the college, which are included in the listing. A timber pergola and decking, and steel handrails, were installed in the north courtyard in around the 2010s and are not of special interest.

A building housing the former squash courts, now a performance studio, is situated to the east of the college. It is square in plan and constructed of a reinforced concrete frame, externally-articulated, within which are blue brick walls. A narrow clerestory formed of ribbon windows and a white eaves cornice is set beneath a pyramid roof covered in aluminium.

INTERIOR: the college has retained much of its original internal layout and floor plan with some changes in use. The west entrance leads along the main pedestrian walkway, briefly through the west residential block and then passing externally between a north and a south courtyard before reaching the former foyer and hall. The north courtyard contains modern timber decking and pergolas. The foyer has been converted into a café and bar, which was refurbished in about the 2010s; these later fixtures and fittings are not of special interest. Above the bar is a suite of offices, the former senior common room (now a meeting room) and former junior common room (now in general use). The hall was formerly a dining hall but is now in use as a lecture and examination hall. There is an original parquet floor and a ceiling with distinctive pyramidal roof lights (currently covered) surviving within it. South of the former foyer is a teaching block, containing lecture rooms and offices on three storeys, and beyond it is the south residential block. North of the former foyer is the kitchen, part of which has been converted to use as an audio-visual centre. The pedestrian walkway has a gallery over it at the centre of the college. From the former foyer it continues externally, past another courtyard opposite the hall, and then internally between the former library block at the south and a lecture room and seminar room at the north. The former library is on two storeys, now containing computer rooms. On the floor above the lecture room and seminar room at the north are academic offices. The walkway continues from this point, passing a third courtyard at the south and then briefly through the east residential block, before proceeding externally as a covered way towards Derwent College. The four residential blocks of the college, at the north-west, west, south and east (now referred to as Blocks ‘J’, ‘K’, ‘M’ and ‘P’), largely contain study bedrooms grouped off staircases on each floor, including one and two person bedrooms and flats. The original heater and washer units and wardrobes, the only built-in items, have largely been removed and the fixtures and fittings within these rooms are not of special interest. The groupings share communal kitchens, largely containing modern fittings, as well as laundry rooms, showers and bathrooms. However, the ground floor of the south block (‘K’) and the three lower floors of the east block (‘J’) have been wholly converted to use as academic offices. The bedrooms of the north-west block (‘P’) have had modern en-suite bathrooms inserted, which are not of special interest. The former squash courts building, now a performance studio, has a viewing gallery on the east side but otherwise forms a single open space; a partition between the two courts having been removed.

Among the surviving original fixtures and fittings to the college are: linoleum floors, flush timber doors and glazed softwood doors, plasterboard or plastic-faced plywood partitions, softwood glazed screens and plasterboard or timber suspended ceilings. The internal staircases have precast concrete stair treads and landing units fixed to steel stringers and landing beams, raking steel balustrades and timber handrails. Some retain the original rubber treads to the stairs and landings.

Pursuant to s1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the following are not of special architectural or historic interest: the music room, the telephone exchange block, as well as the steel roof rails, air conditioning units, the automatic doors, the steel handrails, pergola and modern timber decking to the north courtyard of the former Langwith College. Internally, the fixtures and fittings within the study bedrooms and flats, communal kitchens, laundry rooms, showers and bathrooms, computer rooms, seminar room and offices, as well as those within the kitchen and audio-visual centre are not of special interest. The café and bar within the former foyer and the hall were refurbished in the 2010s and these later fixtures and fittings, in addition to the disabled lifts, are also not of special interest.


Books and journals
Birks, T, Building the new universities, (1972)
Harwood, E, Space, Hope and Brutalism, English Architecture 1945-79, (2015), 258-259, 627-628, 649
Muthesias, S, The Post War University: Utopianist Campus and College, (2000), 128-138
Pevsner, N, Neave, D, Neave, S, Hutchinson, J, The Buildings of England. Yorkshire: York and the East Riding, (2005), 462-466
Saint, A, Towards a Social Architecture: The Role of School-Building in Post-War England, (1987), 214-22
'York University: Five Years Old' in Perspective East Yorkshire, , Vol. 23, (September-October 1967), 534-552
'University of York' in Architects' Journal, , Vol. 143, No.17, (15 December 1965), 1435-1458
'Buildings Revisited: York University' in Architects' Journal, , Vol. 155, No.8, (23 February 1972), 415-426


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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