Falmouth University History

By | 2nd June 2017

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Falmouth University History

Falmouth University was founded as Falmouth School of Art in 1902, in response to the diminution of scientific activities in Cornwall that was brought about by the decline of the Cornish mining industry.

To appreciate fully the significant contribution that Falmouth University has made to Higher Education (HE) both within the County of Cornwall, and in the wider world, it is necessary to consider its achievements within the context of its history, and refer back to the 1870s when Miss Anna Maria Fox (1815-1897), the daughter of an esteemed Quaker family, founded The Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society (RCPS) in Falmouth.

The establishment of this august institution was in response to the diminution of scientific activities in the region that was brought about by the decline of the Cornish mining industry, and it was subsequently to become “the pioneer of education in art and science in the County1”.

It was reported in Lake’s Falmouth Packet, Cornwall Advertiser and Visitors’ List on Saturday 30 August 1902 that:

“The formal opening this week of the new Art School recalls to mind that in Falmouth the art movement, like that of the technical, has only had an enduring career of success in latter years. Classes commenced as far back as 1870 under the aegis of the Polytechnic Society made considerable progress, so much so, in fact, that they bid fair to take the premier position in the County.

Ten years later, however, prospects had altered for the worse, and by 1886, owing to the withdrawal and loss of some of the valuable teaching staff, the students and income had so declined that only classes in art and building construction were carried on, and even these were subsequently abandoned. It was the formation of a Technical Instruction Committee for the district which in 1891 gave a fresh impetus to science and art instruction in Falmouth, and at the request, and with the assistance of this committee the Polytechnic classes were restarted.

Since then there has been no looking backward. Both branches have flourished. Soon the Polytechnic accommodation proved insufficient, and new quarters were provided at the Passmore Edwards Building. But so rapid was the growth of all sections that quickly the complaint of “being cabbined, cribbed and confined” became pretty general, with the result that today Falmouth possesses a well-equipped Art School where excellent work is done by numerous students who have the advantage of very superior tuition at nominal fees. Those who have borne the heat and burden of the day in achieving such a desirable end are to be commended and congratulated.”

1 Lake’s Falmouth Packet and Cornwall Advertiser, 15 February 1902

{mospagebreak title=A history of the University College: 1902 – 1950s}

At the official opening of the School’s original premises in Arwenack Avenue in August 1902, Sir William Preece noted that the School “was destined to make its mark on the education of Cornwall2.” How prescient this remark proved to be.

A pioneering spirit and a determination not to be defeated by the “heat and burden of the day” characterizes the University’s history – and it is this attitude that underpins the ambitious, successful institution that it has become a hundred years on – a leading specialist university, with an international reputation for excellence in art, design and media at undergraduate and postgraduate level, and the driving force behind the Combined Universities in Cornwall initiative (CUC).

In 1902, Falmouth School of Art was a wholly private venture and offered classes such as Freehand Drawing, Model Drawing, Painting from Still Life, Drawing from the Antique, Drawing in Light & Shade, and Memory Drawing of Plant Form. Students were charged between four and ten shillings per session for the privilege, and were offered the opportunity to enter for Board of Education exams.

In 1938, the Local Education Authority (LEA) took over the administration of the institution.

In the 1940s, courses became the responsibility of the Head of Truro School of Art, Stanley Wright was appointed Principal, the School was recognized by the Ministry of Education and began to plan ambitious expansion. At this time there were six full-time members of teaching staff responsible for 21 full-time students, 55 part-time day students and 104 part-time evening students. Students were offered the option of studying either ‘Art’ or ‘Craft’. ‘Art’, by definition, covered Fine Art, Drawing & Painting, Museum Study and Modelling & Casting (in clay). ‘Craft’ included Leather, Weaving, Bookbinding, Block Printing and Wood Inlay.

In the 1950s, the College relocated from Arwenack Avenue to Kerris Vean in Woodlane (built in 1875), Jack Chalker was appointed Principal and courses for the Ministry of Education’s Intermediate and National Diploma in Design Examinations were offered for the first time. Studios for sculpture and printed textiles were constructed in the grounds. The School now occupied a unique site in the former Fox-Rosehill sub-tropical gardens (which rivalled many others of great renown, such as Glendurgan and Trebah), Michael Finn was appointed Principal, the School began a commercial design course for vocational students as well as a junior design course for school children, and the National Advisory Council for Art Education (NACAE) was established.