The distinctive feature of these universities was that they were non-collegiate institutions which admitted men without reference to religion or background and that they concentrated on 'real-world' skills, often linked to engineering. In this sense, they owed their heritage to University College London and to the Humboldt University in Berlin. This contrasted to the ancient English universities of Oxford and Cambridge and to the newer (although still pre-Victorian) University of Durham, collegiate institutions which concentrated on the Liberal Arts and which imposed religious tests (assent to the Thirty-Nine Articles) on staff and students. Scotland's ancient Universities (Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, and St Andrews), had been founded on a different basis
The term 'Red Brick' was first coined by a professor of music at the University of Liverpool to describe these civic universities. His reference was inspired by the fact that The Victoria Building at the University of Liverpool (which was designed by Alfred Waterhouse and completed in 1892) is built from a distinctive red pressed brick, with terracotta decorative dressings.
The six Civic Universities are:
Other colleges from the 19th and early 20th centuries which later achieved university status in the post-war expansion are also sometimes described as Red Brick - this includes institutions such as the University of Exeter (originally an extension college of Cambridge) and the University of Newcastle upon Tyne (originally a college of Durham). The term is also sometimes extended to cover the constituent institutions of the University of Wales (Aberystwyth, Bangor and Cardiff) and the colleges of the University of London (Birkbeck, the London School of Economics, Royal Holloway, Goldsmiths, Imperial and Queen Mary) founded in the same Victorian - WWI period as the civic universities.
The term is stretched even further by applying it to the pre-Victorian 19th century institutions, which predate the civic university movement - University College London, King's College London, the University of Durham and St David's College, Lampeter. Of these four, only UCL was founded on similar principles to the civic universities and may be considered proto-Red Brick - the other two did not grant the freedom of education to the poor and non-anglican that was the basis of the movement.