Almost 150 years ago, Oxford saw the humble beginnings of an institution that would go on to play a critical role in the development of the city and its people.
In 1865, Oxford Brookes’ early incarnation, the Oxford School of Art, held its first classes in a small room in the Taylorian Institute.
Today, the university is in the midst of plans to celebrate its anniversary, launching with an event in March at the Ashmolean Museum – next door to where it all began.
Although the art school opened almost 150 years ago, its story really goes back to the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, which saw a huge shift in the perception of education and what it could offer after one third of the population visited the event, and came away awed and inspired by their insight into the forefront of artistry and technologies of the world.
The successful exhibition was followed by government activity to widen provision of technical and artistic education – and the narrow crack of education, which had previously been mainly viewed as a luxury for gentlemen, suddenly opened a little.
John Henry Brookes
This was the context in which the Oxford School of Art opened, and it is fitting that this ethos of ‘education for all’ mirrors the vision of Brookes’ modern founder, John Henry Brookes. This continues to guide the programming and personality of the institution and one of the core characteristics of the university is its generosity of spirit.
It wasn’t long before the under-funded School of Art was forced to move into the basement of the Taylorian in the early 1870s to make way for John Ruskin’s school of art, which opened on the ground floor.
While the damp basement was deemed suitable exclusively for the ‘industrial classes’ who became students of the Oxford School of Art, wealthier students were permitted to enrol at the Ruskin School upstairs.
The earliest incarnation of Oxford Brookes therefore quickly began to fight its corner as an educator of Oxford’s sons and daughters.
The wider curriculum of our institution began in those early days too, with the Oxford School of Science starting up in 1868, merging to become the Oxford School of Art and Science. Today, having increased its offering to the needs of its communities, and having forged partnerships with local specialist institutions, Brookes offers education in hundreds of courses, and has rightly earned a reputation for its excellent teaching and learning.
To begin the celebrations of our 150th anniversary, we will return to our roots in central Oxford in a few weeks’ time, as we join the Ashmolean in hosting a ‘Live Friday’ event on March 14.
Held after hours, the museum’s displays of priceless artefacts will provide the backdrop to performances, workshops and exhibitions from Brookes students, staff and alumni entitled ‘Wisdom, Wonders and Widgets’.
In a feast for the senses, visitors will be able to talk to humanoid robots, listen to unsigned singing stars of the future and use pioneering eye tracking technology to understand how we look at paintings.
Among many other displays they will be able to turn their smartphones into microphones, see racing cars built by students, many of whom will progress to F1 teams, and see a mountain bike made from bamboo as we bring some of the technologies of today back to the place where it all began.
You can find news, updates and get involved in the conversation at: #brookes2015 and #LiveFriday or visit our anniversary social wall: brookes.ac.uk/150-years/social-wall