Wolverhampton was at the forefront of the movement to establish schools of art and design, and opened a small school of art and design in Castle Street, towards the end of 1851.

The art master was Mr. H. Chittenden, and the honorary secretary was Mr. Charles Benjamin Mander. The classes were in drawing and designing. They became extremely popular, and led to the raising of subscriptions for a much larger, purpose-built building.

Wolverhampton’s New School of Art

Land was acquired in Darlington Street, on the corner of Art Street, for the new Government School of Practical Art, a handsome Greek-style, stone-fronted building, the first purpose-built school of art in the country. The foundation stone was laid by Lord Hatherton on the 21st June, 1853. The building, designed by Edward Banks, and built by John Elliot, was completed at a cost of about £2,300. It opened in 1854, not long after the start of the Crimean War.

The opening ceremony took place on the 1st August, 1854. Earl Granville who presided, was supported by Lord Dartmouth, Lord Lyttelton, Lord Hatherton, Thomas Thorley, M.P., John Neve (mayor), Rev. J. B. Owen, Rev. William Bevan, George Briscoe, William Tarratt, John Shaw, George Wallis, H. Chittenden, and Charles Benjamin Mander. Lord Hatherton was elected, first president of the school.

Shortly after the official opening, Henry Loveridge became chairman, and Charles Benjamin Mander became honorary secretary. Mr. H. Chittenden soon retired as headmaster, and was replaced by Mr. J. W. Muckley, who was later replaced by Mr. Archibald Gunn.

The School of Art in Darlington Street. Courtesy of Steve Martin.

The north façade faced Darlington Street, and the entrance was in Art Street on the eastern side of the building. The entrance led into the foyer and the staircase. On one side was an 18 feet by 14 feet committee room, with an identical room on the other side for the headmaster. Beyond the foyer was the elementary room, 43 feet by 26 feet, followed by the modelling room, 39 feet by 18 feet. There were also toilets and cloak rooms. The library, the painting room, and the antique room were on the first floor, all lit by skylights. The porter’s flat was in the basement.

 The principal staff are listed in Harrison, Harrod, & Company’s 1861 Directory and Gazetteer as follows:

President, Lord Lyttleton; Vice Presidents, George Briscoe, and Charles Corser; Treasurer and Honorary Secretary, Charles Benjamin Mander; Headmaster, J. W. Muckley; Second Master, Edward R. Taylor; School Warden and Collector, Augustus Ovey.

The classes were well attended, and the original subscribers continued to support the school, but within a few years the school began to struggle financially. The management committee felt that such an undertaking, which was open to all who chose to use it, should no longer be a burden on the small number of subscribers. It should be under the control of the Corporation, and supported by the local ratepayers. They felt that if the Free Libraries Act of 1850 was adopted, a rate might be levied for a free library, and school of art. In 1860, Councillor Charles Benjamin Mander moved a resolution at a meeting of the town council, to this effect, which was accepted. Unfortunately at a subsequent meeting of ratepayers under the chairmanship of the mayor, the resolution was violently opposed and rejected, after a noisy demonstration.

The side and back of the school, as seen from Art Street. The main entrance is behind the telephone box. Courtesy of Steve Martin.

Undaunted, the school managed to keep going. In 1873 there were 178 students receiving instruction in art and science. Seven of them gained Queen’s prizes, eleven gained second class certificates, and a large number obtained certificates of merit. By this time Mr. T. Vincent Jackson had been appointed as honorary secretary of the school.

In 1883 when building work on the new art gallery in Lichfield Street was underway, the school’s management committee decided to sell the school building, and to use the proceeds to move the school into new premises that would adjoin the art gallery. The building was then offered for sale.


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