Birmingham School of Art Archive

Scope and Content

The collection covers the Birmingham School of Art from before its formation as a Government School of Design in 1843 up until its absorption by Birmingham Polytechnic in 1971. The collection includes a substantial number of art works by past teachers and students of the school; these include Florence Camm, Gerald Leslie Brockhurst, Charles March Gere and Arthur J Gaskin. With municipalisation of the School in 1885, and under the heads Edward R Taylor and Robert Catterson-Smith, the School gained a freedom in its teaching and pioneered an arts and crafts system of designing by actually making. This aspect of teaching is very much reflected in the collection. Each of the various departments within the School over the years is represented in the collection in some way including the School of Printing, Fashion and Textiles, Fine Art, Ceramics, Jewellery and Metalwork and Furniture Design.

Although the collection spans from the 1870s onward, the majority of the works of art date from the 1880s to the 1920s. At this time the Birmingham School of Art was at the forefront of art education being one of the largest and most successful Government Art and Design Schools. The majority of these works are works on paper, but there is a small number of works on canvas and board. The subject matter covers over 20 different categories including portraits, botanical illustrations, life studies, mind drawings, shut-eye drawings and memory pictures. The works of art held in the collection include a small number of applied art objects including metalwork, stone and bronze sculpture, glass and ceramics and needlework. Further applied art and three-dimensional work by students and teachers is recorded in the form of mounted photographs and lantern slides. Design work forms a substantial part of the art works in the collection; many of these relate to the Royal Society of Arts Industrial Bursary Competition entrants of the 1950s and 1960s.

Various other teaching aids are held in the collection, reflecting changes in teaching practice over the last 100 to 150 years. Around 400 posters form part of the collection, many of which relate to the London Underground and rail services of the 1920s-1950s. At the height of its School of Art's popularity in the early twentieth century, a number of branch schools existed in various areas of Birmingham. Small collections of work from these schools are also included in the Birmingham School of Art Archive.

Information regarding the administration and management of the college is retained in the collection through minute books and files relating specifically to the School of Art as well as Birmingham Education Committee. Various other minute books, registers, files, logs, reports and school prospectuses detail the history of the School since its inception in the 1820s. There are a substantive number of student records cards in the collection.

Administrative / Biographical History

Due to the work of Birmingham Society of Artists, Birmingham Government School of Design first opened in 1843 at Somerset House, where basic drawing and painting skills were taught. The school changed its name in 1853, becoming the Birmingham Government School of Ornamental Art - later shortened to just the School of Art. The School of Art adopted the National Course of Instruction , a 23- stage programme for teaching art and design developed by Henry Cole. It proved very popular and problems arose with overcrowding in classes. The School moved to larger premises in 1858. It quickly outgrew these as well,but it was not until 1877, with the appointment of Edward R Taylor as the Head of the School, that there was a concerted push for a move to larger facilities. His persuasion, coupled with growing numbers of students and good examination results, succeeded in convincing the Birmingham Committee to sponsor the building of new school premises.

In 1884 the School became Birmingham Municipal School of Arts and Crafts - the first municipal school in the country - and moved to the new premises in Margaret Street, Birmingham, which were designed by John Henry Chamberlain. The influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement (which had always been popular in Birmingham) and the needs of local employers and employees resulted in a change in the direction teaching began to take at the School at this time. Although drawing and painting continued to be important, more practical based courses and teaching were developed e.g. metalworking, needlework, sculpture etc. Obviously these practical subjects needed much more space and equipment for them to take place, so an extension was built to the School in 1892.

In 1890 the Vittoria Street School of Jewellery and Silversmithing was opened in the heart of the Jewellery Quarter, specifically to serve the needs of the local jewellery trade. Robert Catterson-Smith was head of this School until 1903, when he became the Head of the Central School due to Taylor's retirement. Arthur Gaskin took over the headship at the School of Jewellery, where he remained for the next twenty years. The Central School's success continued at its new home, with Birmingham students gaining many National Government Prizes and Awards. A system of elementary Branch schools in Birmingham teaching art and design to children from as young as 12 had first been started in the mid 1850s. The success of these continued to grow with 15 such schools existing in the city in 1900.

Enrolments continued to increase until the First World War, after which the School became the College of Art and Design. Initial plans for more new facilities first made in 1933 were finally completed in 1964, when premises were built at Gosta Green to accommodate new design departments. The College of Art and Design continued to be independent until 1971 when, along with five other Birmingham colleges, it was merged to form the City of Birmingham Polytechnic. In 1975 three further colleges joined the Polytechnic, and 1988 saw Bournville College of Art also join. This resulted in Birmingham Institute of Art and Design being created, which incorporates Bournville College of Art, the School of Art at Margaret Street and the Gosta Green facility (the latter moved to the new city centre campus at Parkside in 2013). The polytechnic was formally designated a university as the University of Central England in Birmingham (UCE) in 1992. It was renamed Birmingham City University in 2007.


The collection is divided into three sub-fonds: administrative records, artworks and secondary material.

Access Information

The Arts, Design and Media Archive at the Parkside Building is currently closed due to the COVID-19 restrictions. Please email any inquiries to

Acquisition Information

Donated and collected.


This description was compiled by Sian Everitt.

Custodial History

The collection has either been collected by various teachers of the school as fine examples of work, or donated by past teachers and students. The administrative records were created as part of the on-going management of the School of Art.. Several abortive attempts to catalogue the sections of the collection were made in the 1970s and 1980s. In many cases there is no record of whether they were donated, purchased or simply left behind.

Geographical Names