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Dawson Centenary - 1923- 2023

The 30th of May marks the centenary of the Dawson Building!

While Stanley Baldwin had just become Prime minister of the UK and Calvin Coolidge was President of the USA, the first brick of the Dawson Building was being laid by the workers of R.E. Coleman.


For being such an iconic Durham University Building, very little information is known about its construction and very few photographs are available.

But one archived piece made available to us by the Palace Green Library archive team illustrates the great changes that have occurred during the building’s 100 years.

Written in May 1961, it states that “The Dawson building is our original science building, constructed in 1925 or thereabouts…” the piece goes onto mention that Dawson has been home to Chemistry, Geology, Physics, Biology, Botany and Zoology!


A building that once housed so many departments, is now home to the departments of Anthropology and Archaeology 100 years later.

Very early photograph of Dawson

Dawson has undergone several phases in its lifespan, since its construction in 1923, additions were made in 1930, 1939-1947, and 1962.

Originally referred to as the Science building, it was renamed the Dawson Building in 1952 after Sir Arthur James Dawson (Pictured Below), a Northeast educator, and Durham County Council Education Committee's first secretary, he went on to become the council's Director of Education.

The photograph below is the only known portrait of our building’s namesake and little is known about Sir Dawson (1859-1943), who was knighted in 1931.


The modest portrait of Sir Dawson can be found in our building, after being donated to the University by the Tanfield School in 2014.

While Dawson is now a Durham University landmark, it came very close top being destroyed! Irvine Masson, who was a Professor in Chemistry, former head of the Department of Science and someone who played a vital role in the establishment of Dawson, came close to demolishing the building during an experiment involving the preparation of salts of iodoxybenzene that wrecked a laboratory, blew out the window and seriously injured him! He subsequently worked on explosives in the Second World War. (Sillitoe, P, 2018)

As we can see by the photos, Durham University was a much different place in 1923!

Dawson 100 1



Photographs by Matthew Fackrell who can be found on Instagram here!

A special thanks to the Durham University Collections team who were able to find the archived photographs