When University College, Nottingham, opened in 1881 at Shakespeare Street, the total academic staff consisted of four Professors and three demonstrators. Frank Clowes, Professor of Chemistry, gave all the Chemistry classes to the day students, who were easily outnumbered by evening students. By 1911 only 12 students had gained an Honours Degree in Chemistry.
When Clowes left in 1897 his successor was F.S. Kipping, aged 34 and already an F.R.S. The Chemistry staff was then three in number, but by 1920 it had reached eight. As well as developing the teaching, Kipping did pioneering research on silicon compounds, and prepared novel silicones.
The 1920s proved difficult, despite Jesse Boot's gift of £20,000 to endow the Sir Jesse Boot Chair of Chemistry and, later, the funding of a Lectureship in applied Chemistry. The College examinations and degrees were still managed by the University of London, annual grants from the Treasury were inadequate, winners of State Scholarships were debarred from coming to Nottingham, and basic raw materials for research had to be made or were donated by the Chemical Industry. Salaries were low; a lecturer's was £300 in 1922 and unchanged in 1932 (salary scales only started in 1945). In 1928 Jesse Boot gave the college a splendid new site and buildings in Highfields, but Chemistry staff continued to be responsible for evening classes at Shakespeare Street until 1945.
Kipping retired in 1936. The new Professor was J.M. Gulland, a pioneer in the analysis by physical methods of DNA. F.E. King replaced Gulland in 1948, the year in which Nottingham gained full University status. Of the 14 Chemistry Staff at that time, 1 was a Professor (Organic), 2 taught Pharmacy students only, and 6 were assistant lecturers. However, Chemistry at Nottingham was on the move upwards. Soon to be appointed were Professors of Physical Chemistry (1954) and Inorganic Chemistry (1958). Equality in staff numbers as between Inorganic, Organic and Physical sectors was only reached in 1960, when the department moved into a purpose designed new building and equal weight was given to the teaching of the 3 sectors.
Annual intake of students doubled in the 1960s, levelling off at about 100 for the 70s and 80s. Annual numbers of research papers by staff increased rapidly from 35 in 1960 to 80 in 1970, and around 100 in the 1980s and 90s. In addition to Kipping, 5 former Professors, 2 Emeritus Professors and 4 current Professors have all been elected Fellows of the Royal Society.
In 1998, the Department of Chemistry formally became the School of Chemistry. In the 50 years since University status was awarded, Chemistry at Nottingham has moved from humble origins to arguably one of the top Chemistry Schools in the UK with respect to the quality of its teaching and research.