Guildford School of Art
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Guildford School of Art

Coordinates: 51°12?58?N 0°48?22?W / 51.216°N 0.806°W / 51.216; -0.806

Portal of Guildford School of Art

Guildford School of Art was one of several schools of art run by Surrey County Council. In 1969 it merged with Farnham College of Art to become the West Surrey College of Art and Design.[1] It has now become a part of the University for the Creative Arts.

The school had once enjoyed a reputation as a major centre of photographic excellence under the Head of Photography Ifor Thomas. Among his students were Jane Bown, John Hedgecoe, John Cleare, and Ray Dean. Staff included Thurston Hopkins.[2] One of the part-time staff, always critical to the intellectual and creative health of the school, was Alfred Lammer.

In 1966 the school was inspected by the Summerson committee[3] on behalf of the National Council for Diplomas in Art and Design (NCDAD)[4] which was charged with deciding which art schools were capable of awarding degree-equivalent Diplomas in Art and Design. The committee concluded that Guildford School of Art was beneath consideration. Surrey County Council, realising the threat to its reputation, called in Professor Lewis Elton of the University of Surrey to assess the school independently. Elton reached the same conclusion as the Summerson Committee. Surrey County Council then decided to award a "Guildford Diploma" in an effort to shore up the school's position. This effectively deceived many students who believed the school was awarding the Diploma in Art And Design but with a different name.

In 1968 it was the scene of a major "sit-in" by students disaffected by the poor quality of the teaching and resources there. The "sit in" began on 5 June with the resignation of the students' union. A few days later an attempt by the Principal, Tom Arnold, to persuade the students to desist, failed.

The students were supported by many members of the "Complementary Studies" department, all of whom were soon sacked by the Principal. These included John Kashdan (the Head), Gerald Wilson, writer (Film), David Dobinson (Literature), and Michael Steadman (Sociology).

The students sat in until taken to Court by Surrey County Council, where they were ably defended by Peter Pain, who happily kept the court in session for three days before demolishing Surrey County Council's attempt by observing that the writ they requested had not been called for by the entire council as the law required.

Forthwith the entire council was recalled from holiday and a new writ was prepared. The students left the school and settled in the house of a well-wisher elsewhere in Guildford.

The school reopened in the autumn of 1968. A Select Committee enquiry was eventually launched in 1970 and the vice-Principal Bernard Brett, was dismissed. The Principal Tom Arnold became head of the united Guildford and Farnham Schools of Art until he left in 1974 and went to Australia.


Before 1900 Britain was famous for its Arts and Crafts movement. They produced furniture design and paintings which were sold and copied throughout the world. They were particularly popular in Germany.

After WW-II the British Government realized that British design was less popular than American and Swiss design and it set up the Summerson committee as part of the National Council on Diplomas in Art and Design (NCDAD) to look into Art and Design education in Britain and decide which art schools could award degrees in Art and Design. They looked at Guildford School of Art and decided it was very, very bad.

Guildford School of Art had once been very good. It still had a photography department which was world-famous, but it too was declining. Its Printing Department was popular with printing companies. It had an excellent complementary studies department headed by a fine artist and with many art historians, broadcast scriptwriters and published authors on the staff. Its job was to help the students think critically about the world around them.

What had gone wrong?

The school was no longer in the avant-garde. It couldn't compete with the best. So good teachers mostly avoided it. But students still went there believing it to be the best. The school deluded them by offering a "Guildford Diploma" which students believed to be a degree-level qualification, a 1969 brochure for 3D Design Dept. at Pewley described the Interior Design Dept. as offering a (WSCAD student 69-71) qualification affiliated to RIBA. The School Principal and his friends believed that so long as there were departments called Fine Art or Photography or Film and TV and they were painting, sculpting and making films, photos and TV programmes that all was well.

But the school was short of money. Film and photography students couldn't get enough film to complete their work. The School had no video-tape editing facilities. Some of its still cameras were poor. The staff were often incompetent. The film and TV department for example had no-one with feature film experience. There was no longer anyone famous running photography.

Some students asked to discuss the problems with Tom Arnold the Principal, and were fobbed off.

Student protests throughout the world

By 1968 the students were very unhappy. They saw the decline in the facilities and the quality of their teachers. They noticed that while many of the Complementary Studies staff worked in industry, few of the full-time staff did. For example, the Complementary Studies lecturer in charge of film criticism was the scriptwriter of Robbery,[5] Lawman[6] and Chato's Land, another wrote scripts for the BBC, lectured at the National Gallery and London University and published books on architecture. These staff showed that the senior full-time staff were mostly second-rate.

In May 1968 students rioted in Paris and elsewhere. French, German and Italian students protested that they were not getting the education they needed: many lecturers were out-of-touch and there were too few good ones. Lectures were over-crowded and students were not getting the help they needed. In Britain many students refused to leave their universities and art schools and "sat-in". Guildford was one of those art schools.[7]

The Guildford protest starts

In late May several students, disgusted at the decline of the school met one evening. They had copied a set of keys to the School and planned to take it over. Firstly they called a students union meeting. At the meeting the entire students union leadership resigned and a new leadership was voted in.

Then on 5 June the students occupied the canteen and spent many days writing a proposal to Tom Arnold the Principal demanding changes. The proposal was backed by a majority of the staff, the students' parents and many eminent artists.

Jack Straw, the newly elected President of the National Union of Students and later the Foreign Secretary visited, failed to understand what was going on, tried to persuade the students to desist and left. The support for the Guildford students by the NUS was limited but Straw would later help to raise the issue in the press.

Before the students could present the proposals, the Governors of the School gave them an ultimatum: stop sitting-in or else.

Surrey County Council becomes directly involved

The School was owned by Surrey County Council (SCC) and run through their Further Education sub-committee and a Board of Governors. None of these people was an artist or designer. One member of the Board of Governors (Duncan-Scott) was an architect, another (Williams) was an electronics engineer. They could not understand why the students were unhappy and supported the Principal and his group of friends on the staff, many of whom had recently left Wolverhampton College of Art.

Wolverhampton had also been inspected by the Summerson Committee and had improved its courses.

Alan Coleman had been the Principal of Guildford School of Art from 1956 - 65. He was a sculptor, who had studied at Goldsmiths' College School of Art and the Royal College of Art. The Governors had sacked him: for them to have to sack Arnold would imply they had chosen two principals in four years and couldn't get either of them right. They had asked Professor Elton of the new University of Surrey to assess the College. He had agreed with the Summerson Committee. SCC decided to ignore both him and the students.

Surrey County Council issues Writs to Students

Given the failure of the Principal to contain the protest and stop the sit-in, the Governors began issuing writs on 11 June. This was the first stage of their attempt to resolve the dispute, not by understanding it but by using every legal means to close it down. They also attempted to pressurise the students by withdrawing their grants.

The following day, realising that issuing writs might not help, Tom Arnold turned up at the students meeting and offered to set up departmental panels to resolve the issue. The panels would have been weighted against the students, resulting in no changes, and the next day the students rejected the proposal.

On 14 August the Governors suspended 7 of the Complementary Studies staff who they accused of "having associated with the students". In fact the staff had all meticulously stayed off the College property from 11 June and the students had associated with them. The writs enraged the students' parents who a week later formed their own committee to pressurize SCC. Their leader Mr. Colin Ferguson said "The Students have been baulked at every step. They have behaved in an extremely democratic and constitutional way". The next day the Governors closed the building.

Closing the Art School 21-Jun-1968

The students stayed in. The Governors installed security guards. The security guards were told that the students were violent and that they should come armed with truncheons. A week later, having talked to the students, the security guards joined the students. One of them, James Teelan said "We have just about had enough. The students are law-abiding citizens and are doing no harm ... Our sympathies are now wholly with the students. They are causing no trouble ... From what I can gather, the firm's idea was to build up the force of security men gradually and without the students suspecting, so that they could be ousted. I could not bring myself to be part of it".

Not all SCC agreed. Councillor Tony Heath[8] sided with the students. Hampshire County Council - which had unwisely withdrawn a £9-a-week grant from a student, Sally Williams, at the request of SCC - realized this might be illegal, immoral and bad publicity, and restituted it. 50 parents asked the Governors not to victimise students or staff. The Governors said nothing but brought an injunction against the security guards and cut off the electricity to the College. The students hired a generator and continued.

Surrey County Council issues Writs to Staff

On 3 July the staff held a meeting at an hotel near the Art School. The School Registrar accompanied by Police barged in uninvited and handed them writs requiring them to appear before a Judge on Monday the 8th. On the Saturday the students locked the building and Council representatives shouted at them through a loudhailer to leave by 11:30. SCC sent 34 of them letters warning them of consequences if they stayed. The students stayed. Questions began to be asked in the House of Commons. On 9 July a letter from a number of noted academics, artists such as David Hockney and writers was published in the Times. It was the first of many and would eventually lead to the collapse of SCC's case and a Public Enquiry.

On 14 July the Chairman of the Governors offered to rescind the students suspension if they would leave. The students stayed. SCC went to the High Court and asked for a temporary order that 29 of the students leave the School. The judge refused because the request had not been made by the entire Council (the Councillors were mostly on holiday).

Immediately all SCC members were recalled from holiday. On 29 July the students left the building to the applause of parents and moved into the house of a well-wisher. The eight-week sit-in was over.


On 30 July there was a debate in SCC. Tony Heath asked how much ratepayers money had been spent on hiring security guards. He praised the students (some of whom cheered him from the public gallery) and was howled down. The Security guard company "Interstate Security" was a "shelf" company which was quickly wound up.

Reaction and sackings

The reaction set in: 28 part-time teachers were told on 8 August their contracts would not be renewed, eight of the teachers were from the Complementary Studies department. The Head of Complementary studies, John Kashdan, who had been teaching in the school since 1951 was not informed. This was because he too would be sacked on 16 August. Many of the teachers were members of the ATTI (Association of Teachers in Technical Institutions) and thus SCC found another opponent. Consequently, the Complementary Studies and Foundation Departments lost almost all their teachers. Eric Moonman MP for Billericay, made the first of what would become many appeals to the Education Secretary Edward Short to hold a public enquiry into Guildford School of Art on 10 August.

Appeal to the Government

On 16 August the ATTI echoed Eric Moonman's appeal to Edward Short. Short refused, but by 22 August SCC began to realise that were ATTI to boycott them, they would have difficulty in recruiting new staff to replace the total of 42 staff who had by then been dismissed. They agreed to discuss the sackings in September. SCC had claimed that the sackings were only due to the need for economies but they then started to advertise for new staff in the Photographic department.

Compensation talks

By 19 September SCC were talking of an offer of compensation to the 7 full-time staff who had been sacked. The School reopened but a student was victimised by being told to stay away by SCC. By an amazing coincidence her parents were members of the Parents association which had opposed the Governors and SCC. Realizing he had enough problems Tom Arnold reinstated her. Despite the need for economy SCC had employed 25 new staff. None was a member of ATTI.

Call for a public enquiry

In October the Guildford Trades Council added their voice to the growing demand for a public enquiry. By the 12th, with the confirmation of the dismissal of the 7 full-time staff by SCC, Jack Straw added to the call for a public enquiry. Sir John Summerson, chairman of the National Council for Diplomas in Art and Design found the decision to sack the staff "deplorable". By November the ATTI had blacklisted Guildford School of Art and was threatening to blacklist all other art establishments under SCC control. 50 students started a 24-hour sit-in at Guildford School of Art in protest against the way it was reorganised and being run and demanding the reinstatement of the sacked staff. Tom Arnold met 130 parents of students but refused to answer their questions about the staff sackings, the sit-in or the restructuring of the School. They were not pleased.

Select Committee Enquiry

By 2 December, several MPs were becoming frustrated by the lack of a Public Enquiry and on 12 December 5 members of the Select Committee on Education and Science started their own enquiry led by Christopher Price MP. The questions elicited the history of friction at Guildford School of Art and the secrecy surrounding the amalgamation with Farnham School of Art.

In the New Year the sacked staff held an exhibition at the Royal Institute galleries Piccadilly. John Lennon and Yoko Ono came and John distributed sheets of A4 paper on each of which was written "fold this 9 times". Everyone tried and failed.

On the anniversary of the original sit-in, 50 students staged another. The following term another student was victimised by the SCC until the Minister of Education intervened. The Liberal Party also called for a public enquiry. In October the Select Committee reported that there was indeed a "prima facie case for a public enquiry at Guildford School of Art". SCC immediately rejected the call. On the second anniversary of the sit-in Eric Moonman again called for a public enquiry. This time however his plea was backed by a letter to the Times signed by David Hockney, Peter Sellers, C Day Lewis and many other noted artists, writers, politicians and academics. In September the dispute was referred to the Department of Employment.

On the third anniversary another appeal was made by more artists and politicians including Henry Moore and Shirley Williams. In June Edward Short ceased to be Secretary of State for Education and claimed that all teachers should have gone on strike in Surrey until the Art School teachers were reinstated. By mid-June there was a sign of a thaw: SCC agreed to discuss compensation with ATTI and an agreement was reached by the end of June. The 7 full-time lecturers were employed by Surrey County Council.

Issues and notes

  • Not all the departments in Guildford School of Art were badly run and in those departments only a few students sat in. Tom Arnold was by training a potter and was thus very enthusiastic about 3-dimensional design. He cared very little for Fine Art and this showed when in September 1969 he changed the name of the School to "The Guildford School of Design".
  • Why is Fine Art important to any Art School? Fine Art is the point where new ideas are digested. These come from the outside world, from other departments and of course the fine artists themselves. Fine art is a kind of catalyst which works a bit like Formula 1 racing in the car industry. You can't buy a Formula 1 car on the high street or run it on a road but those countries like the Soviet Union which never had Formula 1 involvement produced cars like the Zik, the Zil and the Trabant which were out-of-date before they were produced. Fine Art keeps an Art School avant garde.
  • Tom Arnold realized that the Photography Department was poor and recruited Walter Nurnberg, a noted industrial photographer to run it. He joined the School before the sit-in, but began to teach only after. Eventually, with patience and competence Nurnberg won over the Photography students despite having little fashion, portrait or documentary experience which were areas in which Guildford had excelled.
  • The Printing Department was on the way out. All the printing department students were doing a long apprenticeship in typesetting using real type. The Department had no computers although everyone knew they would soon oust lead type as a printing medium. The Department was training a lot of students for redundancy.
  • The Film Department was an embarrassment. One of the staff was a technical operator (TV cameraman) in the BBC, the others had made some documentaries. None had experience in directing broadcast television, feature films, or video-tape editing. The studio was tiny with a low ceiling. An example exam question shows how inept they were:
The scene shows Yul Brynner playing a Russian General sitting at an ornate table. Say how you would light it.
The question told the student nothing about the story, the position of the scene in the story, the preceding or succeeding scenes, the atmosphere required, the music being played, the dialogue, the kind of camera angles or the colours. When Gerry Wilson, the Complementary Studies lecturer in charge of Film Criticism saw it he laughed.
  • Conflicts and conflicts. Tom Arnold was fighting for his job. Despite the secrecy up to the moment of the sit-in it became clear that Guildford School of Art would be merged with Farnham School of Art. Farnham was recognised by Summerson and allowed to confer degrees. Tom Arnold correctly believed that by being hard he would gain the top job in the united College. In 1974 he moved to Australia where he became Dean of Art and Design at Prahran College of Advanced Education, Victoria.[9] He was replaced by Leonardo Stoppani, a Fine Artist.

So how did the students want art education to be run? Students wanted:

  • transformation of departments into work areas (to avoid the heavy departmental splits which excluded students from pursuing different areas of study)
  • shorter courses offered by each work area each with its own pre-requisites.
  • freedom for each student to choose whatever course they wanted,
  • continuous assessment of students' work by the tutors rather than an end-of-course folder of work being assessed,
  • a point system so that each student achieving sufficient points would be awarded a degree.

Almost all these points are now accepted by Universities and Institutes of Higher Education.[10]

Notable former staff and students


  1. ^ "Our history: Timeline". University for the Creative Arts. Retrieved 2014.
  2. ^ "Thurston Hopkins, British (1913 - )". Retrieved 2015.
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  7. ^ British Journal of Photography 13-Sep-1968. Article by John Walmsley "The Guildford Sit-In"pp. 782-4
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  9. ^ Correspondence from Papers of the Print Council of Australia dated 9 January 1975; Box 17 Folder 3 National Gallery of Australia Research Library Archives, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
  10. ^ The Observer 6-Oct-1968. Peter Wilby "What the Art Students Want".
  11. ^ David Buckman (2006). Artists in Britain Since 1945 Vol 1, A to L. Art Dictionaries Ltd. ISBN 0 953260 95 X.
  12. ^,,2173276,00.html
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  16. ^,%20Thurston/HopkinsThurston-Bio.html
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