Medway College of Design Archive

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Contains prospectuses, including general ones, and from specific departments including fashion and visual communication, degree work and student sketchbooks, showing art and fashion techniques

Administrative / Biographical History

In 1853 art classes commenced in Technical Institutes in Chatham and Gillingham as part of a movement to establish a national pattern for Schools of Design.

By 1886 a Government (or Rochester) School of Art was firmly established in Rochester and based in the Guildhall. It is believed to be the forerunner of the present campus. It advertised morning classes for the Government Certificate and General Art Work.

The Head master in 1886 was George Ward who remained in post for 40 years.

The college has had several name changes and changes in purpose in the course of its history, oscillating from purely vocational courses by trying to meet demands of a society post-industrial revolution (firstly by teaching subjects that required hand power such as measured drawing where a single piece of work could take several years to produce. ), in addition to trying to meet the aesthetic needs of individuals. Sometimes these two ideals worked in balance and sometimes in conflict with one another.

By 1893 the college, known as The Municipal School of Art moved into purpose-built premises on the site of The Old Duke Head, (at a cost of 3,500) which was attached to the Guildhall. This was erected as a result of the Technical Education Act of 1890, and both Art and Science classes were held. However, already space was limited as the Art school had already outgrown the three rooms it had been allocated by the date of the official opening!

Over the next few decades there was a shift in thought - students were expected to learn to combine artistic judgement with the technology of mechanical production in order to produce work, rather than relying on drawing skills alone.

Additionally, the teaching of architecture and teacher training courses were now being offered.

Mr H. Ward was its Head, assisted by 3 teachers, and 130 students.

As a result of the Education Act in 1902, which put all education (other than elementary) under the control of the County Council, Science and Commercial classes were moved to other premises. Commerce was to be taught in Chatham, and Science in Gillingham.

In 1903 work began on purpose-designed accommodation in Eastgate, off Rochester High Street (now the Adult Education Centre), which was then opened in November 1907. Continual expansion meant that by 1950 there was an extension to the original building and 3 annexes added.

It was during this time that Architecture was transferred to Canterbury College of Art, and printing classes to Maidstone. However, a Painting and Decorating course was added to the curriculum at Rochester, and by 1912 three Industrial Design courses had also begun to be taught.

In the 1920s the college, greatly influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement, became known as the Medway School of Arts and Crafts. Although it was an economically austere time, funding was found to introduce new courses in response to post-war society's needs. These included Sign Writing, Decorating and Jewellery and watch-repairing for disabled ex-servicemen.

In 1926 a County Report stated that the schools were adapting themselves to take their place as true schools of design

Mr John E. Sunderland (A.R.C.A.) was Head from 1926 - 29, and he was then succeeded by Mr A.L. Reeve (A.R.C.A.) who lead the college for twenty years.

In the 1928 - 29 prospectus college objectives were outlined as being to meet the industrial, commercial and general aesthetic needs of the locality and provide instruction for craftsmen, general students and teachers. Subjects covered included Industrial Crafts (basketry, batik dyeing, bead work, block printing, cabinet making, coach painting, dress design & making, embroidery, etching & engraving, painters and decorators work, leather work, metal work, painted decoration, raffia work, silversmiths work & jewellery, stained glass, stencilling, wood carving, writing & illuminating), shop window display, and of course drawing, painting and modelling for young people, as well as training for teachers of art in elementary and secondary schools. They also had a chance to apply for scholarships at the Royal College of Art. Architectural drawing, design and history also reappeared on the curriculum, as well as lectures on art history.

By the 1930s the college had grown rapidly. An extension was built in Corporation Street (1932/4), and then later it spread to annexes at Fort Pitt, as well as in the High Street (Yeomans) and then into Free School Lane. To relieve cramped conditions senior architects were transferred to the Canterbury College of Art.

The Medway School of Art & Crafts became allied with the Mid-Kent Art Schools region. The other schools included the Schools of Art at Maidstone and Gravesend, and also Art classes at various centres. The school at Tunbridge Wells joined this region in 1948.

C.L. Pickering was appointed as the Chief Instructor of Typography from 1933 to 1948/9

Early nineteenth century buildings at Fort Pitt were demolished in 1936 but plans to build a technical college on the site were delayed by the advent of war. Courses carried on much as usual. Members of the armed forces were exempt from tuition fees for their evening classes. However students could be assured that A.R.P. shelters were provided as well as tuition!

A huge variety of courses were being offered by 1940, from Dressmaking, Pottery, Advertisement Design, Lettering and Typography to Cabinet Making. Formal training was also given to prospective art teachers and handicraft teachers. Unsurprisingly, the college continued expanding. By 1948 there were 196 full-time and 881 part-time students. Subjects were taught from 6 departments Architecture (R.W. Paine ARIBA, ARCA), Drawing & Painting (R.W.J.H. Jones, ARCA), Commercial & Industrial Design R.W.J.H. Jones), Modelling & Sculpture and Womens Crafts (Miss L.M. Pickering and in 1949 Miss M. Early), Printing and Allied Trades (S.J. Sainsbury). Preparations were made to introduce Ministry of Education Intermediate Courses and the National Diploma of Design.

One of the most famous students, Zandra Rhodes joined the second year of the intermediate foundation course in 1957, bypassing the first year through her advanced artistic ability. Her mother, Beatrice Rhodes, taught dressmaking at the college, which Zandra tried to keep a secret from her peers. After her foundation course, she studied for a further two years for the National Diploma in Design. She originally intended to be an illustrator, but also experimented with printing processes on paper such as lino-cutting and lithography in addition to studying printed textiles. Her interest in printed textile design stemmed from the influence of one of the tutors at the college, Barbara Brown, who taught two days a week at the college, as well as being an innovative textile designer for throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Rhodes refocused her studies on printed textiles and went on to win a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, becoming one of the most pioneering and influential textile designers of the late 1960s and 1970s who took her remarkable pop art inspired fabrics and revolutionised the fashion world.

Mr C. Stanley Hayes was appointed Principal in 1952 and the college was re-named The Medway College of Art

There was a major reorganisation of art education nationally. Medway College of Art was designated as a centre for vocational courses, by contrast Maidstone and Canterbury were able to offer the new National Diploma in Art and Design (the equivalent to a modern BA (Hons) degree).

The college continued to expand under the leadership of Mr Joseph Arthur L. Jago (1911 - 72)

By 1970, the college had outgrown its existing site at Eastgate, and its three annexes

A move was proposed and the college gained a new name Medway College of Design along with a new address.

The current building at Fort Pitt was opened in September 1970, costing at that time almost 1 million to build. Designed by architect Hugh Mollison (who also designed the Maidstone College of Art Campus (now also part of UCA), and a number of other buildings of note such as Mid-Kent College, Maidstone). Although the Rochester building is similar in shape to the previous fort situated here (according to a drawing by Turner in 1832), it was built to Mollinsons own Functionalist design. He appreciated that the building needed to suit the local area; therefore he chose to follow the natural lines of the hillside thus reducing the volume of the building that would jut into the skyline. The purpose built building encompasses 8 floors and supplies a floor area of 7938 m2. The building serves as a flexible working space because interior non-supporting walls mean that the inside space is easily adaptable. (The fire escape was later added and Mollison did feel that it detracted from his original design).

Shortly after the new campus was opened it was met with some criticism. One of the main grumbles was the fact that the refectory catered for 100 places and there were 600 students.

Upon construction of the campus a tunnel was discovered approx 40 ft underground on the line of the East Wall of the building. It is 7 ft in diameter and is believe to run to Gun Wharfe in Chatham, at a length of about 1.5 miles away. It is at least 160 years old.

During the leadership of Douglas May (1973 - 1983), there was a renewed awareness in industry regarding the importance of high quality of goods in order to compete with foreign competition. Manufacturers see design as being integral to the overall marketing process. Between 1982 and 1984 work-related design courses validated by the Business and Technician Education Council (BTEC) were introduced.

Mr P.I. Williams (Principal from 1983) continued Mr Mays belief in forging strong links between the college and industrial and commercial organisations. He encouraged many prevalent designers in Britain to work with students and staff in order to create a realistic working environment. Industrial 12 week placements became commonplace and all final year students were taught Business and Management studies as well as Professional Practice. All new students were given computer training, in preparation to meet the technological changes in the workplace.

By 1986 there were 650 full-time students and approximately 145 staff (over half worked part-time).

Conditions Governing Access

Contact rtaylor8@ucreative.ac.uk or library@ucreative.ac.ukto make an appointment

Archivist's Note

Catalogued by Rebekah Taylor, Archivist, February 2013