YORK is one of the most historic and historically important cities in the whole of the United Kingdom. We've got bits of Roman building still standing (the Multangular Tower) or sticking out of later medieval walls, for goodness sake.

And the city isn't only old - it is an ancient seat of learning, too. A local man named Alcuin, after studying right here with Ecgbert, the Archbishop of York, went on to become one of early medieval Europe's leading scholars at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne, in the 780s and 790s AD.

So why did we leave it so late to get our own university?

Yes, we know that teachers were being trained at two colleges in York (one for men and one for women) from the 1840s onwards - those colleges eventually went on to become today's York St John University.

But York didn't get its own, dedicated, degree-awarding university until the 1960s. We were a real late-comer to the higher education game.

Why? Well, it wasn't for want of trying.

The city fathers apparently first applied to establish a university in York as long ago as 1617. King James I wasn't having any of it.

The city tried again in 1641, drawing up a second petition to be allowed to create a university. But then King Charles I upset Parliament, civil war broke out - and the petition was never delivered.

The city tried for a third time in 1647, but this time the application was rejected by Parliament itself.

Failing once was bad enough: but three times? Thoughts of founding a university seemed to fade into the background for the best part of 200 years.

Debates about the possibility of founding a York University resumed in the 1820s. But this time Durham beat us to it, dashing the city's hopes for another century or so.

A renewed campaign for York to get its own university began in the 1940s, led by, amongst others, Oliver Sheldon, a director of Rowntree's and co-founder of the York Civic Trust.

Permission for a University of York was eventually granted in 1960. In 1962, interviews for the first students were held, and on October 9, 1963, the first 230 students registered for courses in economics, politics, English, education, history and mathematics.

It was still a small university, based mainly in two buildings - King's Manor, right in the centre of York at Museum Gardens, and Heslington Hall.

But the university was keen to expand. Construction began of a new campus at Heslington, and in 1965, none other than the Queen herself came to officially open the university's first two colleges, Derwent and Langwith. More colleges followed over the next few years, and today the university is busily expanding onto a second campus at Heslington East. some locals, in fact like to complain that in certain quarters of York you can barely move for the new student accommodation springing up.

Few, however, can seriously doubt that the university has been a great ting for York: it has brought jobs, technology, investment - and an influx of fresh young talent. Some of the students even stay in York and contribute to the city's growth and economy once they have graduated...

Our photos today, which we unearthed during a trawl through The Press's electronic photo archive, all date from the very early years of the university. They show some of the first students; construction under way on the original campus; and the Queen arriving in 1965 to open the first colleges. enjoy...

Stephen Lewis