In 1912 Lansdowne House (113 Princess Road East) became the home to Astley and Poppy Clarke and their three children. If any single individual can be identified as the 'founder' of the University of Leicester, it is Astley Clarke. He had first made the case for Leicester to have its own University in his presidential address to the town's Literary and Philosophical Society in 1912. When the idea was revived towards the end of World War I, Clarke became the driving force behind efforts to gain local support and raise funds leading to the establishment of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland College in 1921.
Born in Leicester to Dr Julius St Thomas Clarke, a prominent local surgeon, and Hannah née Vawser, Astley Vavasour Clarke (1870-1945) was educated locally at Wyggeston and Oakham Schools. After graduating in natural sciences from Caius College, Cambridge, he went on to train as a doctor at Guy’s Hospital. For 34 years, he was Honorary Consulting Physician and Consulting Radiologist at the Leicester Royal Infirmary, where he undertook pioneering work on X-rays. In 1898 he married Ethel Mary Gee (known as Poppy), daughter of Harry Simpson Gee, a wealth boot and shoe manufacturer, banker and philanthropist.
Astley was an enthusiastic supporter of the Territorial Army and already
a Lt. Colonel in the Royal Army Medical Corps Reserve before the outbreak of
the War. In 1913 he was given the rank
of Colonel and became Administrator of the 5th Northern General
Hospital in the former County Lunatic Asylum building, now the University of Leicester's Fielding Johnson
Building. However, he was soon promoted
to Assistant Director of Medical Services, North Midlands Division. In about 1917 he became ill through overwork
and was invalided out with heart trouble, spending several months convalescing
at home. He was then, once again, given
charge of the 5th Northern.