Farnham School of Art Archive

Scope and Content

This archive includes Library Commitee records, Staff Travel Prize (prizes for student work) Committee records, prospectuses, and staff photographs

Administrative / Biographical History

A public meeting to discuss the formation of the Farnham School of Art in Farnham in connection with Kensington Museum was held in the old Town Hall and Corn Exchange in April 1871. Between 60 and 70 were present, including Mr W.C. Thomas of University College, London, who outlined the proposals. It was decided that a committee should be formed to organise both day and evening classes, with a prospect of about 80 students, equally divided.

By June 1871 it was reported that £70 had been received in subscriptions, and that the classes would start in the autumn. Lt. Colonel John Luard was appointed chairman in the absence of the Very Reverend John Utterton, Rector of Farnham and Archdeacon of Surrey.

Lieutenant-Colonel John Luard, was a veteran of the Peninsular War and Waterloo, who retired to Farnham in 1860, his 70th year. A talented artist, Colonel Luard took up sculpture in his later years. He lived at number The Cedars, Castle Hill, Castle Street in the 1870s. The house was demolished and replaced in the 1890s by Cedar Court (Nigel Temple, Farnham buildings)

The Colonel was supported by James Clarke Hook, a Royal Academy exhibitor for 60 years, who lived at Churt in Surrey, and John Knight, the Castle Street banker and brewer who was treasurer. Susan Luard, the Colonel's artistic daughter was the enrolling secretary.

The School of Art met in the Bailiff's Hall, Town Hall Buildings for several years. The 17th-century building of was remodelled in 1870 and in 1872 the School was recognized as a government school of art by the Science and Art Department, who endorsed the public examinations held annually.

George Sturt, the English writer on rural crafts and affairs, recalled his time at the school in the early 1870s. There was one long low room at the top of the Town Hall Building which was filled with Brucciani's casts, drawing boards, objects for still life and other ephemera. The Head Master was John James Offord, a certificated artist for whom Sturt had much regard.

John Offord had formerly taught at the Plymouth Drawing School (a forerunner of the Plymouth College of Art which had opened in 1855), and was a Norfolk man.

Dr Robert Oke Clark, of 4 Downing Street, became the next secretary, and Charles Hill, late of the Manchester School of Art, became the next master.

The first building to occupy the south side of Victoria Street (behind a vacant plot in South Street), was a studio for Farnham's fledgling art school. The School's minutes record that on 29th October 1879 the decision was made to "accept the offer of purchase of the land…the site of the studio for £155, and a tender by Mr Goddard was accepted." It was occupied in 1880, and was a modest affair, brick with a slate roof and four large north-lit windows. The latter have been removed in recent years and the building is currently occupied by solicitors Kidd Rapinet whose offices also include 17 South Street directly in front of it.

In 1880 together with the school's Alton branch (lessons held at Alton Town Hall) there were 84 students, of which 42 were day students and 42 evening. Eighteen students sent 58 works to the annual examination held at South Kensington. The school was managed by a committee of 17, which included James Knight as Chairman, Thomas Wonnacott as Secretary and the Head Master, John Offord.

In the Post Office Directory for 1911 the school was described as the 'Farnham School of Science & Art' with W. Herbert Allen as master and Richard W. Mason as the Honorary Secretary. Herbert Allen was appointed Master of the school in November 1889, later becoming Director until 1927. He was recommended by the Department of Science and Art with "excellent credentials". He was a renowned watercolour artist and lived at Stranger's Corner, Tilford Road which was designed for him by the noted architect, Harold Falkner, who was originally one of Allen's students. The Allen Gallery in Alton is one of his legacies. For much of the time of his tenure he was visiting art master to the Farnham Grammar School in West Street (until 1906), and also to Farnham Girls' Grammar School.

Involvement with the local Farnham pottery, came in the 1890s at the suggestion of W. Herbert Allen. The owner, Absalom Harris, had founded the pottery in 1872 at Wrecclesham, and around the 1880s started the production of Farnham Greenware. Allen commissioned a number of 'pottery shapes' for his students to draw. Later he provided Absalom with new designs for pots from the late 19th-century until 1943. These were mainly inspired by 16th-century Greenware in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which Allen believed to have been originally manufactured in Farnham. He also designed in the fashionable 'Art Pottery' style including 'Rustic Fern Pots'.

Farnham Greenware was first exhibited at the school of art on 2 December 1890. George Sturt noted in his journal that Absalom Harris, 'beaming as usual, ...had some nice pottery on show'. Business boomed and large quantities of pots were supplied to Heal's, Liberty's and others. Close cooperation developed between the Farnham Pottery and the school. Allen ran Art classes for the potters, and his students spent time at the Pottery decorating the pots which they had designed.

One of these students was Ada Kate Hazell, daughter of the wealthy local maltster, Charles Hazell, who lived in Castle Street. She led the production of

sgraffito pottery which were mainly sold at Heals and Liberty. Ellen Elizabeth Daysh, the Chawton potter was at the school in the 1920s, and she produced sgraffito in geometric and historical styles, such as Hispano-Moresque. Agnes Hall was the Assistant art mistress at the school around the same period. She also worked in sgraffito, but in contemporary Art Deco style.

In 1898 Surrey County Council's education committee took over the administration of the school.

The School of Art's extension was opened in June 1915, with two storeys and Neo-Georgian in design, later to be known as Victoria House. Brick, parapeted, with an abundance of sash windows on both floors, its entrance is in Victoria Road. The extension was the work of the County Architect to Harold Falkner's design

The Principal, Otway McCannell, was appointed in 1928, and he remained there for the duration of the war. He was a well-known figure and landscape painter of some renown who frequently exhibited at the Royal Academy and other European centres. He was an Edwardian rebel, opposing Victorian ideals and his paintings were often explicitly political. He was an excellent teacher, and although the School of Art was small when he arrived, his passion and commitment soon gave it an impressive reputation. His daughter, Ursula, was also a talented artist, and was taught by her father at Farnham from 1939. She was only thirteen years old when she first exhibited her paintings in London at the Wertheim Gallery and had her first major exhibition at the Redfern Gallery when she was sixteen.

The art school moved to 25 West Street in 1939, into premises recently vacated by Farnham Girls' Grammar School (Victoria House being taken over by Farnham UDC's housing and treasurer departments). It was still a small school, with only a few part-time members of staff teaching drawing, painting, sculpture, graphic design, and ceramics. However it was remarkably successful, with its students regularly winning places at larger, prestigious colleges. Some students won The Prix de Rome (Geoffrey Burnand in 1932) and The Abbey Scholarship.

Otway McCannell retired in about 1948 leaving a growing and widely respected art school.

In 1945 artist and engraver, James Hockey, who arrived at West Street after having taught at Kingston and Wimbledon art schools, became Principal. Hockey was an enlightened fine art painter and craftsman. Farnham acquired a cultural buzz. It had a good repertory theatre and later a concert hall. Tony Crowe, a lecturer in Hockey's later period said wryly, that Farnham had become Aldershot's Latin Quarter. Its artists and writer like Robin Ball, Charles Bone, John Verney, Arthur Hackney, Joe Atchersen, Henry Hammond and Harold Cheesman were all good friends and supported each other in finding opportunities to show their work. He gathered an unusually able group of artists and craftsmen as tutors in his school. Ella McLeod became Head of Textiles in 1949. She had been a student of Elizabeth Peacock, and Miss Peacock a student of Ethel Mairet. Joan Nicholson taught embroidery part-time as well as designing embroidery for prestigious commissions such as The Festival of Britain and the wall hangings of the Queen Mother's bedroom on the Royal Yacht Britannia. The work for the latter was carried out by the Royal School of Needlework.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s the school formed a strong association with the Ashgate Gallery [see digitised paragraph on this]

In the 1960s the National Council for Art and Design introduced the first courses leading to the award of a Diploma in Art and Design (a degree equivalent qualification)

At the end of 1968 the first moves to merge the two art schools at Farnham and Guildford were underway and the West Surrey College of Art and Design was born within 1969-1970

Access Information

Contact Rebekah Taylor, Archivist and Special Collections Officer, at rtaylor8@ucreative.ac.uk to make an appointment