New University Library granted planning approval 

The University has been successful in its planning application for the new University Library (NUL). 

The University submitted its planning application to Bristol City Council in January 2020 following an extensive consultation with a wide range of stakeholder groups including staff, students, local residents and neighbours, the wider community, and Bristol City Council. 

Impression of Library lobby
Architect’s impression of lobby
Photo credit: ©HawkinsBrown + SchmidtHammerLassen

The successful planning application outlined how the NUL – which will be built on the site of The Hawthorns, at the corner of Elton Road and Woodland Road – will play an important civic and educational role and provide an architecturally significant new building for the city, along with improved external public spaces. 

As a place to learn and a place to be, it will bring together some of the very best aspects of the city and the University for the benefit of those who live, learn and work here. The library has been designed by a collaborative team formed by Hawkins/Brown, Schmidt Hammer Lassen and BuroHappold – companies behind some of Europe’s top education and library projects 

Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost, Professor Judith Squires, commented: “We are delighted to have been granted planning permission for our new University Library and thank everyone for their input and support throughout the planning process. 

 “The new University Library will provide world-class state-of-the-art library facilities for our staff, students and visitors. It will support the learning of generations of future students and cutting-edge research into our most significant societal challenges.  

“It will also be a new cultural destination for the city of Bristol, with a museum style café, exhibition galleries, reading rooms to explore archival and museum collections, and programmed event spaces. The new University Library will sit in a new City Square, providing a welcoming and inspiring public realm for the whole city. 

“We look forward to delivering this new heart to our University campus and currently anticipate that the new library will open in 2026.” 

Scope of the NUL project 

Architect’s impression of the library forecourt
Photo credit: ©Grant Associates

The NUL will offer a stimulating and nurturing environment with world-class academic facilities that foster innovation in teaching, improving student attainment and enabling new research partnerships. Staff and students will benefit from around 2,000 new study seats and approximately 420,000 books and 70,000 journals. 

The upper floors will be open to staff and students for study and research whilst the ground floor will be open to everyone, with access to exhibition galleries, events spaces, a programme of new public art commissions and a café. 

The publicly accessible ground floor will also be home to the University’s Centre for Cultural Collections which will unite the University’s two world-class collections, the Theatre Collection (an accredited museum and archive service) and the Special Collections, under one roof for the first time. 

The Centre for Cultural Collections will give staff, students and the public access to these nationally significant resources through a year-round programme of exhibitions and complementary events and will be open to everyone in Bristol and beyond. 

Enhancements will also be made to the surrounding public realm including a new pedestrianised civic square between the NUL and refurbished Senate House, providing a welcoming sense of arrival and better connecting the area with Royal Fort Gardens. The proposed new road layouts will improve public transport and traffic flow, enhance pedestrian and cycling routes in line with the Council’s emerging policies, and make the whole area enjoyable, safer and accessible for everyone. 

NUL and Campus Heart 

The NUL and public realm plans are the cornerstone of Campus Heart, a programme of major revitalisation of the University’s main Clifton campus which began in 2018. Developed in consultation with staff and students, the Campus Heart programme is transforming the centre of our campus into a vibrant hub for the University and city community. 

As part of the Campus Heart programme, the University has already improved a number of its spaces and facilities for the benefit of our staff, students and members of the local community. These changes include a larger and better equipped Indoor Sports Centre providing bigger class capacities, improved changing facilities and faster access; and a new environmentally friendly and fully wheelchair accessible café – Source Garden Café – offering sustainable, ethically sourced food and great coffee. 

Work on the refurbishment of Senate House is also continuing to progress. Once finished, the lower ground floor will be home to a brand-new food court and SU Bar whilst the upper ground floor will contain the Student Information Service (SIS) and a new student lounge and kitchenette area – The Loft.  

video flythrough of the approved designs is available to view online and more information is available on the FAQ webpage. 

For any further questions please get in touch by emailing  

Meet the teams behind the new University Library – Archivist and Special Collections Manager, Library Service – Hannah Lowery

Plans for the new, flagship University Library (NUL) are making their way through the planning application process with Bristol City Council. In this series, we learn more about the teams involved in the NUL project. Here Archivist and Special Collections Manager, Hannah Lowery, talks about what it’s like to work in Special Collections.

Q: What are the Special Collections? How would you best describe them?
A: When people ask, I always say that it’s five kilometres of materials; archives and books, objects, photographs, films and more, covering the eleventh century up until present day. We hold everything from University records dating back to the 1870s, election materials, Penguin Book archives, records relating to the West Indies and the sugar trade, and materials from our new wild film archive. We have collecting policies and archives all work together, so we’ll look at an item and decide where it would be best housed – either with us, or with another institution. We also contribute materials to lots of exhibitions, which many people may not be aware of. Very recently we have worked with the National Trust, Arnolfini and the British Library, to name a few.

Q: What’s your favourite object in the collection, if you have one? If you can’t pick a favourite, what have you enjoyed working on most in recent months?
: I love all different sorts of things. Prior to lockdown I was doing some additional cataloguing of the Feminist Archive South which I really enjoy, and the Penguin archives are also fantastic. Last year my colleague Karen and I visited a room in the Wills Memorial building that I hadn’t visited for 15 years! It was like a treasure trove that had been locked away, untouched since my last visit, and full of University archives (or records as we call them, but not vinyl!). There are so many things that may seem like ordinary day-to-day things which can be important to record and preserve. These are the things that make up our lives, and generations that come after us will want to refer to them.

Q: Lockdown has meant big changes for all of us. How have you and the Special Collections team worked to make sure things are made accessible virtually, as much as possible?
: We’re a small team, but we are each working on our own particular sections of the archives and books. We are continuing to improve lists and adding images and catalogues to the online archive catalogue. As well as working with the Special Collections team, we work closely with all of our University of Bristol Library Colleagues, and the Theatre Collection. We also work with the SS Great Britain (our Isambard Kingdom Brunel Archives are held at the Brunel Institute), and Bristol Archives, Museums and Libraries. We also have very strong connections nationally and internationally including the National Archives, to which we annually report what we’ve added to our collection in the last year.

Q: What does a typical day for you look like? And if there is no typical day – what’s been the most unusual project you’ve worked on to date?
There is never really a typical day. You tend to get caught up in things like helping in the reading room, assisting other colleagues, answering a query, or talking to other archivists – there is always something happening. Researchers will get in touch with us, including lots of scientists lately, who we help with their research. When we receive a new item, we’ll go through a cataloguing process and assessment. There is also a lot of work going on behind the scenes to make sure our items are kept in the best possible condition, including re-boxing, making sure things are kept at the right temperature and ensuring items are properly catalogued before being stored.

Q: What difference would it make to the Special Collections to have a new home in the new University Library? What things would you be able to do that you’re currently not able to?
It will make such a difference! We’ll have exhibition spaces with permanent and temporary exhibitions which will enable us to better showcase the Collections including making them more accessible. The Collections are already open to everyone (although sometimes you need special permission to access certain parts of the Collections), but the ability to exhibit our Collections will really change things for us. We will also have storage areas of high standard and a new office. Better facilities such as lifts will also help minimise any damage when moving the Collections. We’ll have the space to properly ‘quarantine’ new items to make sure they can safely be archived and that there are no bugs. And we mustn’t forget that many items in our Collections can’t be captured completely online due to their nature. It will just be great to have that space to put to good use.


The deadline for comment and support for plans for the new University Library has been extended. Please support the project by visiting the local authority planning portal or email the council directly using reference 20/00433/F via

From Medieval manuscripts to the Brunel bridge construction – take a virtual tour of the Special Collections

The University of Bristol Special Collections team has been hard at work to make finding items in the collection and researching them easier.

The collections, which make up the Cultural Collections together with the Theatre Collection, holds more than 5km of books, archives, photographs, and artefacts dating from the eleventh to the twenty-first century.

A view of Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol, from St Vincent’s Rocks, showing the piers under construction. One of many images held as part of Special Collections at the University of Bristol.

The new University Library building, proposals for which are currently submitted to Bristol City Council for planning consent, will for the first time bring both collections together in one, more accessible, space.

Here are some top tips for accessing the collections:

  • Use the library catalogue to find out about our book holdings. Some may only be for University of Bristol people, but there is a wide variety of material available for all.
  • Take a digital tour of our Online Archive Catalogue, where you’ll find a wealth of digitised materials you can investigate.
  • Remember if you need advice, or want to find out more, do email the team at and we will try and help.

For some inspiration of the kinds of things you might find, visit the latest Special Collections blog.

A new University Library; reaching another milestone, what’s exciting about this, and sharing your thoughts

February has seen us reach a key milestone in submitting a planning application for our new University Library and improvements to the public spaces around the site. Following a period of consultation with students, staff and the wider local community, we have submitted the planning application to Bristol City Council. The new building will feature purpose-built exhibition galleries, reading rooms, event spaces, and a new home for the Centre for Cultural Collections, making them accessible to all.

The Centre for Cultural Collections is made up of the Theatre Collection, which is an accredited museum and has recently been awarded Designated status by Arts Council England; and Special Collections, which is a nationally important collection of rare books and archives with particular strengths in politics and campaigning, literature and publishing, and science and medicine.

The collections are tangible reminders of the past, and bear witness to events that have helped shape our communities into what they are today. The items in the collections are an invaluable research resource and are also a source of inspiration for new work and initiatives across Bristol and beyond. Items held by the Theatre Collection include treasures such as autographed gloves worn by Sir Laurence Olivier in ‘The Entertainer,’ designs by renowned designer Oliver Messel, as well as personal effects, photographs, posters, props, scripts, and much more. Special Collection materials include an annotated copy of DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover used by the judge in the landmark 1960 obscenity trial and a silver trowel used by Winston Churchill to lay the foundation stone of the Engineering building at the University of Bristol, where he was Chancellor from 1929-65.

Gloves worn by Sir Laurence Olivier in his comeback performance of ‘The Entertainer’ in 1960. Signed for his costume designer and then gifted to the University of Bristol Theatre Collection.
The handbag of Vivien Leigh, Sir Laurence Olivier’s long term wife as gifted to the University of Bristol Theatre Collection.
Sir Lawrence Byrne’s copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover with associated notes – University of Bristol Library, Special Collections

We are very keen to receive your comments on plans for this flagship new building, external public realm, the services we’d like to provide from it, and the proposals for the external public spaces, including a new civic square. You can share your thoughts via the Bristol City Council website or via

New University Library, view from Royal Fort Gardens looking north.
Copyright HawkinsBrown & Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects.
Planned external Public Realm. Copyright HawkinsBrown & Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects.

Landmark copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover will reside in New University Library

Sir Lawrence Byrne’s copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover with associated notes – University of Bristol Library, Special Collections

When the full, unedited edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover was first published by Penguin Books in Britain in 1960, it prompted a trail so substantial that it helped define a publisher’s freedom to print explicit material in the United Kingdom.

Penguin Books was taken to court under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959 – an act of law that made possible for publishers to escape conviction if they could show that a work was of literary merit.

Significant literary experts were called in to testify during the trail, including EM Forster, Helen Gardner, Richard Hoggart, Raymond Williams and Norman St John-Stevas, and it took a jury three hours to reach their verdict; ‘not guilty’.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover went on to sell 2m copies in just two years.

The original copy of DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover used by the judge in the landmark obscenity trial of 1960 was sold at auction by Sotheby’s in October last year, to a private individual in the US.

It has since been acquired by the University of Bristol, after a crowdfunding campaign backed by the likes of Stephen Fry and Neil Gaiman was launched to ensure it didn’t leave the country.

The book, which bears notes from Mr Justice Byrne’s wife, Lady Dorothy Byrn, will be a focal point in the New Universtiy Library as part of the Penguin Archive, held by the University’s Special Collections.

This copy also includes personal papers, notes and correspondence relating to the Chatterley case by Sir Allen Lane, publisher and co-founder of Penguin Books as well as editorial files and proof versions of the book.

It also features the archives of Michael Rubinstein, Penguin’s lawyer in the trial, including his working papers, witness statements and correspondence with witnesses and potential witnesses.

Rebecca Sinclair, Brand and Communications Director at Penguin Random House UK, added:
“The book marks a cornerstone of Penguin’s heritage and our continued dedication to freedom of expression. We’re pleased that this copy will find a home in the University of Bristol’s archives, alongside the Penguin Archive and many other materials relevant to the trial, where it will remain accessible to the public for years to come.”

Come along and have your say on proposals for our new University library

We have developed our latest design for the landmark new University Library, including exciting plans to transform the area around Tyndall Avenue in Clifton. The plans include a new civic square, with proposed new road layouts to improve traffic flow, enhance the pedestrian and cycling routes and make the whole area enjoyable, safer and accessible for everyone.

Following feedback from University staff, students and local resident groups on the initial plans, the updated pre-application planning proposals, which have been submitted to Bristol City Council this week, will be open for public consultation, with design plans being displayed in Beacon House reception and in The Hawthorns, from 1 October until 21 October.

Staff and Students preview drop-in events

  • Monday 30 September (4.00pm – 5:30pm) – Beacon House, seminar room, ground floor.
  • Tuesday 1 October (11:30 – 1.00pm) – Beacon House, seminar room, ground floor.

Public drop-in events

These events will be an opportunity to talk to the University Library team, alongside architects, Hawkins Brown, transport consultants, Arup and landscape architects, Grants.

  • Tuesday 1 October, (5.00pm – 8.00pm) – Beacon House foyer/café, ground floor
  • Tuesday 15 October (3.00pm-5.00pm) – Beacon House foyer/café, ground floor

Following feedback from the consultation exercise and Bristol City Council, the University is aiming to submit the full planning application in January 2020.

New University Library, view from Royal Fort Gardens looking north. Copyright HawkinsBrown & Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects.

New University Library, view from Elton Road looking east. Copyright HawkinsBrown & Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects.