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Explore the history of Aston University in 20 Objects

History of Aston in 20 Objects

27 January 2015

Explore the long and varied history of Aston University through an exhibition of 20 objects intimately connected to the institution – including 18th century title deeds, original university ‘uniforms’ and satirical student magazines.  

For the show, members of the Aston community, ranging from the Vice Chancellor to Professors to graduates, were asked to select items that they felt told an interesting story about the University and its unique and progressive culture. 

Among the objects on display to the public are commemorative batons used only during graduation ceremonies, a newspaper cartoon portraying Prince Charles visiting campus, a scroll awarding the Honorary Freedom of Birmingham, the Chancellor’s Chain of Office and a patent for a drug used worldwide to treat brain cancer. 

The oldest artifact on display is the hand-written title deed to Stafford Street, upon which the University’s campus is today, enclosed in glass casing for all to see. The document dates from 1747, when Colmore Row was a country lane called New Hall Lane and much of the surrounding area was rolling agricultural land. 

The colourful striped blazer of Marjorie Willetts (née Pearce), who was a Pharmacy student at Birmingham Central Technical College from 1938 to 1942, is also exhibited. A forerunner of Aston University, the Technical College had its own blazer and tie, supplied by Hicks University Outfitters. During her course, Marjorie filled 24 notebooks with her observations on all aspects of the subject from Botany to Volumetric Analysis. 

Perhaps the most curious object on display is the skeleton of a young chimpanzee, chosen by the Head of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Professor Anthony Hilton. Biology has been taught at Aston for over 50 years – and for the duration of this time, the skeleton has been traditionally placed in the safekeeping of the head of the department. 

The exhibition was launched this week with a special ceremony, attended by alumni, staff both past and present, Birmingham luminaries and relatives of those associated with the show – including the son and daughter of Marjorie Willetts, Terry Willetts and Beverley Knight.

Speaking at the launch event, they said: “We were delighted when Aston informed us that not one but two of our mother’s belongings were to be included in this fantastic exhibition. The diversity and dynamism has been really well captured by these 20 objects.” 

The show, located in the foyer of Aston’s Main Building, is free and open to the general public. 

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 For further media information, please contact Jonathan Garbett, Aston University Communications on 0121 204 4552 or j.garbett@aston.ac.uk.