Huddersfield University’s history can be traced back 175 years and a new book outlines its past in great detail.

But the publication is tinged with sadness as the academic who wrote it, Professor John O’Connell, died before it was printed.

It’s called The Making of a University: The Path to Higher Education in Huddersfield and covers its history from the 1840s to the early 1990s.

Professor O’Connell – who served in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm during World War Two – became a history lecturer at the then Huddersfield College of Technology in 1964. During a career that ended with his retirement in 1989 he became a professor and held a series of senior roles at Huddersfield Polytechnic as it had become prior to adopting university status.

He carried out detailed research, starting with the establishment of Huddersfield Mechanics’ Institution in 1841 and, on his death in 2011, left the manuscript for a full-length book on the university’s history from the 1840s to the early 1990s.

This was edited by the university’s former Director of Computing and Library Services, Professor John Lancaster, into the 160-page The Making of a University, which includes a large number of illustrations.

The book was launched at the university’s Heritage Quay archive centre and present was Professor O’Connell’s son, Martin, who said: “He did everything with enthusiasm, dedication and commitment and in this book we have a living testament to this institution’s journey to becoming a university.

The late Professor John O'Connell who wrote The Making of a University: The Path to Higher Education in Huddersfield

“The fact that my father didn’t live to see his book in print is a shame, but that doesn’t detract from the satisfaction he took in a creating a history that is a reference point for the university.”

The university’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Tim Thornton said it was deeply sad that Professor O’Connell could not be present.

But he added: “Nevertheless, The Making of a University stands as a memorial to John and to the kind of historian he was – painstaking, highly attentive to detail and absolutely insistent on accuracy.”

Prof Lancaster added: “As John himself said, it is a book that has been a long time in gestation but the result is a record of the development of an institution that has done so much for the economy and society of Huddersfield and its environs. The University of Huddersfield encapsulates all that is best in higher education.”

University of Huddersfield timeline

May 1841: The Young Men’s Mental Improvement Society was established through the inspiration of German merchant Frederic Schwann, who conducted an export business in the town. Sir Robert Peel, the then UK Prime Minister, donated funds for the purchase of books. It started on May 26, 1841 at the Temperance Hotel, Cross Church Street, Huddersfield. The members were boys and young men anxious to learn basic education.

1844: The Young Men’s Mental Improvement Society became known as the Mechanics’ Institution.

1846: The Huddersfield Female Educational Institute was founded in 1846, one of only two such institutes in the UK at the time.

December 1850: Such was its success in attracting members that within six years the Mechanics’ Institution moved into a converted warehouse in Queen Street.

January 1884: Built at a cost of £20,000 to house the Technical School & Mechanics’ Institution, the first classes took place in the Ramsden Building.

March 1885: Merger with the town’s Female Educational Institute (in 1883) to form the Technical School and Mechanics’ Institute and moved into the Ramsden Building.

January 1896: It was renamed Huddersfield Technical College.

1947: A new Huddersfield Technical (Teachers’) College was opened, becoming one of only four in the country, and was based in large houses at Edgerton.

January 1958: Huddersfield Technical College changed its name to the Huddersfield College of Technology and its international reputation began to grow.

September 1958: The Teachers’ College moved to its own purpose-built premises on Holly Bank Road and became known as Holly Bank to train technical teachers.

October 1963: Oastler College of Education set up as a day training college for school teachers.

January 1969: The old polytechnic sports hall opened next to the ring road.

June 1, 1970: Huddersfield Polytechnic formed on June 1, 1970, with the merger of the College of Technology, which took over the higher-level courses from the Technical College, and Oastler College. Huddersfield Polytechnic was officially inaugurated by Margaret Thatcher on 23 April 1971.

January 1974: The Huddersfield College of Education on the Holly Bank Road Campus became the School (or Faculty) of Education within the Huddersfield Polytechnic.

January 1977: The Central Services Building was completed which still dominates the Queensgate campus.

March 1992: Huddersfield Polytechnic became the University of Huddersfield and Professor Ken Durrands was Vice-Chancellor of the institution.

July 1995: The university’s refurbishment of Canalside West began. Formerly a mill belonging to Fred Lawton and Son Ltd, the building had lain empty since the firm had moved to new premises in the 1970s. The five and six-storey mills, the weaving sheds and the engine house with their stone walls and iron frames are now in use as 21st-century teaching and research facilities.

November 2004: Sir Patrick Stewart became Chancellor.

May 2005: The university opened satellite campuses in Oldham and Barnsley,

January 2007: Professor Bob Cryan was appointed as Vice-Chancellor which proved to be a catalyst for rapid development work at the university as well as significant improvement in academic and financial performance.

October 2008: The iconic Creative Arts Building, situated on the main ring road, was opened to house a new recital hall, electro-acoustic research studio, art and design studios and live recording facilities.

April 2010: The university’s £16m Business School opened.

May 2013: The Duke of York opened the university’s new 3M Buckley Innovation Centre.

November 2013: The university received the Times Higher Education University of the Year Award, a prestigious award which highlighted the University’s outstanding record for student satisfaction and employability.

January 2014: Student Central opened, a £22.5m development which brings together the university’s support services, access to the library and computing facilities, sport and leisure and a range of eating and social spaces under one roof. It also houses the new Students’ Union.

July 2015: The Duke of York became Chancellor of the University.

Now: Huddersfield University now has a £150 million turnover and contributes £300m to the local economy.

Student numbers have reached over 24,000, with over 130 countries represented by international students on campus.

* The Making of a University: The Path to Higher Education in Huddersfield, by John O’Connell, is published by the University of Huddersfield Press.