1919 to 1969

by R.A. Williams

It is interesting to note that the word Jubilee came into the language to mark the occasion when, according to Hebrew History the "chosen people" celebrated with great jubilation the fiftieth year of their emancipation. In writing about the College recently I could not help reflecting on the idea that in some special way, Shoreditch History had been concerned with the emancipation of the Handicraft teacher, which can be traced back to the time of the establishment of the College fifty years ago. What we must not forget during our Jubilee Year is that the College came into existence as the direct result of Mr. Rowan leading his "chosen people" out of Orange Street into Shoreditch some years before.

The choice of a title for any article always presents a problem for me, but as my assignment was to write an article for a special number of the Bulletin to be issued during the Jubilee celebrations of the College, I finally decided on this particular title because it exemplified for me in a very real way, the tremendous changes which have taken place in the Handicraft world since the early days when I was a Pupil Teacher.

My own association with Shoreditch began in 1914 before the inauguration of the College itself. It was early in that year that I first walked down Pitfield Street with a drawing board and tee square under my arm, looking for the Technical Institute where I was due to sit for one of ten scholarships offered in London. The scholarship was awarded on the results achieved in the Pupil Teacher of Handicraft Examination in which, English, Mathematics, Drawing, and Woodwork were tested. Successful candidates were interviewed to ensure their suitability for training as a Handicraft teacher. This personal interview took place in the Principal's Room in the Technical Institute and made a great impression on me. The Principal at that time was Shadrach Hicks, a dignified and impressive figure who sat behind his big mahogany desk with all the aura of a barrister, which in fact he was. Alongside him sat Mr. Andrew Rowan in his gown, looking every bit the part of the Scottish dominee, sincere and resolute. I can still remember quite vividly "Shad" asking me — "What was the purpose of a ‘Preface' printed in the front of a book?"  I must have answered satisfactorily because I was offered a place. My greatest ambition had been achieved. Little did I realise then that the interview was to prove for me the ‘preface' to a career which was to put me behind the Principal's desk some fifty years later, in 1964. That was truly my Jubilee year.

I spent three years in the Pupil Teacher Department before I joined up in the Royal Naval Air Service, where I spent fifteen months before I was demobilised and able to return as one of the forty three men who were to become the first batch of Shoreditch students to take the newly formed Shoreditch Training College course. These were some of the happiest days of my life, where enduring friendships were made with so many colleagues, all of whom I recall in moments of reverie with affection and respect. So much for my early and formative years.

Writing recently about these early days has once again impressed on me what has been achieved, both in relation to the status of the Handicraft teacher and Handicraft itself. I can recall most clearly now, by reason of historical accident, the school workshop became isolated from the school, with the inevitable result that a very considerable gulf developed between the workshop and the classroom. Suspicion, mistrust, and antagonism existed to such an extent that the Woodwork teacher was not welcomed in the staff room. Unfortunately the qualifications of the Woodwork man did not allow him to teach in the classroom which might have been the means of breaking down this barrier. Neither was the classroom teacher qualified to teach in the workshop. Attempts had been made to bridge this gulf by encouraging classroom teachers to take the Manual Training Teacher's Certificate, which in its original form was devised by the City & Guilds for this express purpose. Unfortunately very few teachers availed themselves of this opportunity. These are fundamentally the reasons why Handicraft as a subject remained on the periphery of the curriculum, and not an integral part of it as a medium of education in its own right. The only possible way of resolving this deadlock was to train teachers who were qualified to teach in both workshops and classroom. By this means the isolation, suspicion, and antagonism of former days could be overcome and would eventually disappear. The intermingling of staff who had equal status, working together for a common purpose under one Headmaster was the only solution. The early P.T's of Handicraft under Mr. Rowan's leadership had demonstrated their teaching ability, calibre, and educational outlook, but their Final qualification did not entitle them to teach in the classroom as well as the workshop. The only hope for such men to achieve this dual role was to set up a recognised training college course to replace the P.T. course. This was agreed with Mr. Rowan in 1912 but the World War I delayed the change over until 1919 when the present Shoreditch Training College came into existence. It is not always appreciated just how important this event was, and what its inception achieved for Handicraft generally. At that moment of time began the real emancipation of Handicraft and its teachers. It is in this sense in our Jubilee Year that I have linked together ‘Emancipation' and ‘Jubilation' for the title of this article.

During my College years I had been able to renew a close personal relationship with Mr. Rowan. He lived and worked indefatigably for Shoreditch, never sparing himself in his fervour for the cause that meant so much to him, and in which he so passionately believed. This was to see Shoreditch men establish the status of handicraft in the schools as a medium of education alongside all other subjects in the curriculum. He was to live to see that dream come true, and to see the College emancipated from the Technical Institute to which it was tied for so many years, until it was established at Cooper's Hill. After a visit he made there in 1954 he wrote to me with obvious pride and intense satisfaction of what had been achieved. He had sown the seeds and his disciples had garnered them. This was his last letter to me, in which under his signature he had appended in characteristic style the words — "Captain of my soul". His devotion and determination to succeed in the cause, in which he so passionately believed, dominated his life. He met opposition with a Celtic fierceness which arose from his belief that the future plans for his beloved Shoreditch were being sabotaged. The stakes were high and time too precious to compromise, and it is hoped that those who crossed swords with him have, in the fullness of time, understood his motives and with compassion forgotten them.

When I joined the staff in 1930 Fred Giles was responsible for the metalwork and was in the process of reorganising it. I had known Fred and respected him as a man and a great friend from the early days of the College. He knew Mr. Rowan better than any other man and was completely devoted to him and his ideals, and became as equally dedicated to Shoreditch and all it stood for. From the moment I joined the staff we became inseparable friends, working with Mr. Rowan to consolidate what had been already achieved, and to plan for the future. Mr. Reed who had been appointed Principal in 1928, proved a great ally and friend of Shoreditch. I joined forces with Fred Giles and we planned, schemed, and worked together to evolve an approach to Handicraft worthy of the College, as it moved towards a closer working relationship with the University under the Delegacy scheme. Fred was a fine craftsman, an excellent draughtsman, and had a tremendous technological background; his approach to everything was thorough and demanding in standards. It was a privilege for me to work with him for so many years and I owe him so much for his guidance, help, and wisdom, but above all for his enduring friendship.

I have paid tribute to Mr. Scrivens and his personal contribution to Shoreditch in the "History of the College", but I shall ever remember him for his compassion and concern for the students' personal problems. He was truly a family man, and this was reflected in the way he ran the College. He thoroughly enjoyed being with people and had a tremendous sense of fun. This combined with his flair for organising and paying meticulous care to the smallest detail in anything he planned, ensured the smooth running of the whole community when we moved down to Cooper's Hill. He truly built the bridge between Pitfield Street and Cooper's Hill. They were very pleasant years for everybody, and all regretted the time when inevitably he had to retire.

Mr. Marshall, who followed ‘Scriv', had been on the staff of the College as History tutor before and after the 1939-45 War, until he was appointed Secretary to the University of London Training Colleges Delegacy Scheme in 1947. When the Institute of Education scheme superseded the Delegacy scheme, he took over as Secretary responsible for the administration of the Constituent Colleges of the Institute. I worked with Mr. Marshall as his Deputy Principal for nearly ten years and learned much from him because of his intimate knowledge of administrative problems and practices in the training college world. The thoroughness with which he prepared his briefs and schemes, combined with his determination to forge ahead with his plans immediately the opportunity presented itself, paid dividends so far as Shoreditch was concerned. His knowledge of the financial structure of teacher training expenditure, enabled him to winkle out monies from sources not previously exploited, to improve the facilities of the College, and to finance new projects and ventures. He certainly knew the value of going into action immediately any money was available for capital expenditure in case another cut in educational expenditure vetoed it. When the Government announced its big expansion programme for Colleges, Shoreditch was one of the first to submit plans. It was a tragedy for Shoreditch when Mr. Marshall became ill and had to spend long periods in hospital. While I was standing in for him at that time, I worked for the fulfilment of his plans and wishes to ensure that on his return he could enjoy them to the full. Alas, his sudden death some months later, denied him the opportunity of enjoying to the full his achievements, plans and dreams.

It was not only in the administrative field that Mr. Marshall made his contribution to Shoreditch. He had worked under Mr. Rowan in the early days as a member of his staff and had the greatest respect for him as a person and his belief in the future of the Handicraft teacher. He would not accept the dichotomy which pigeon-holed educational activities as either academic or practical: both to him were academic studies in terms of a modern technological society. All his planning was conceived along these lines, and his enthusiasm for practical work combined with his determination to fight for the future of Handicraft as a medium of education was an inspiration to many others in the educational world, apart from Shoreditch. I can give one outstanding example of his worldly wisdom which he demonstrated on taking up his appointment as Principal. Despite the fact that he had been on the College staff himself, and had been intimately concerned with the syllabuses and work of the College during his term of office at the Institute of Education, he told me on his appointment that he intended to make no changes at all so far as the College work was concerned during his first year of office. He intended to observe and learn, and in this he kept his word. I believe that his readiness to suspend judgement while assessing the situation was indeed a rare quality and a measure of a great man.

Mr. Bowden joined the staff as a Principal Lecturer in Education soon after Mr. Marshall was appointed Principal, and was later appointed second Deputy Principal. He immediately began a thorough overhaul of the Education Department, and proved himself to be a fine organiser and lecturer. He had a strong personality and fought fearlessly for what he believed was right. The excellent results which were achieved at the Certificate Examination in Education, truly demonstrated the thoroughness and effectiveness of his work as Head of the Department. He became a devotee of Shoreditch, its way of life and purpose, and a staunch supporter of its ideals. His enthusiasm for the College to which he had become so much attached, resulted in many calls on his time to lecture on the Shoreditch approach to Handicraft. It was a great loss to Shoreditch when he left.

When Mr. Marshall died I was appointed Acting Principal. It was therefore a complete surprise to me, but nevertheless with considerable pleasure, that within a few weeks I was to learn that I had been appointed full Principal by the Education Committee, in recognition of my services to Shoreditch. This really was my Jubilee Year: a Pupil teacher in 1914 and Principal in 1964, fifty years later. Before my appointment a further extension of college numbers was being pressed; all of the additional students were to be non-resident. As the number mentioned was in the region of two hundred, it was obvious that additional facilities would be required. It was stipulated that no further hostel accommodation was to be forthcoming. I had always felt that an opportunity had been missed during the previous building programmes, in not using the derelict site where a wing of the old Engineering College had been pulled down years ago, which had since then been used as a dump for dustbins and coal. Being close to the main building it was an eyesore. I saw the opportunity of the L.C.C. agreeing to site a new building in this particular area if a case was made out for it. With the support of the Governors I proceeded to draw up the plans for a new building, based on the needs of non-resident students who deserved to share some of the facilities already enjoyed by resident students. At the same time I included twenty-seven tutorial rooms in the plan as these were lamentably short in the College. I very much appreciated the gesture of the College staff who proposed after I had left that the building should bear my name.

Concerned about the deplorable state of the whole area from the side of the main building, past the back of the Kimberley Block up to the new Boiler House and the beginning of Chestnut Walk, from which a magnificent view of the Surrey countryside across to London Airport could be seen from the brow of the hill, I envisaged it as Ted Marshall had, as a place where visitors could sit and enjoy one of the finest views in that part of Surrey. Again with the support of the Governors and the L.C.C. it was agreed to lay-out the area at the same time as the new Williams Hall was being built.

One problem could not be solved and that was to find additional playing fields for the College in the Englefield Green area. It was therefore imperative that somehow or other the existing grounds should be more intensively used. This meant a rearrangement of existing facilities. Again the L.C.C. cooperated in every possible way with the proposition to provide a hard area for all ball games and tennis, close enough to the Gymnasium which was desperately short of facilities for outside activities during the winter months; to make another hockey pitch, a new cricket table and to rebuild the old one.

With the money already allocated for all these projects, I felt that at least I should have the satisfaction of seeing all the work started before I retired, and I could then leave feeling that during the short period of my appointment I, too, was able to play my part in helping the College to which I was so much attached. To my dismay however, the Government for economic reasons suddenly ordered a year's halt on all new work involving capital expenditure, but promised that after the year's delay all commitments previously entered into would be carried out. This meant that I was not to see the projects I had been so intimately concerned with come to fruition until after my retirement. Nevertheless it has given me much satisfaction, when visiting the College since then, to see all these improvements have been carried out. Despite my personal involvement in what was achieved, I realise that none of it could have possibly passed the planning stage without the encouragement and full support of the Governors, the L.C.C. officials, the staff, and many friends of the College at the Ministry.

One of my last official duties was to welcome Dr. Westgarth as the new College Principal, who being an ardent supporter of Handicraft, and having a liberal approach to Education, was poised to make his particular contribution to Shoreditch. Having left the College, I am sure it is right to leave it to others who knew him better, having worked with him, to write about the part he has played in the Shoreditch story.

Those of us taking part in this Jubilee Year cannot help but contemplate, and even speculate on the next one in the year 2019, although few of us will be there to see it. I sincerely hope that the first fifty years of Shoreditch will be remembered for at least two things. First, because of its uniqueness as a College of Education which played its part in the emancipation, status, and development of both Handicraft as a medium of Education, and of the craft teacher himself. Secondly, because of its rightful claim to have taken a leading part in broadening and enriching, both the cultural and educational content of Handicraft in the school setting. I hope also that the liberal approaches which were experimented with during the Supplementary Year Courses, will be remembered for the real contribution they made to new ways of using craft skills in areas of work not previously exploited. The achievements of these courses can be measured by the way the more successful activities were incorporated into the College courses, and many more introduced in the schools themselves.

The potentialities of Handicraft over the next fifty years must be seen as a challenge, and taken up as such, if the College is to retain its uniqueness and not become a General College doing some Handicraft. The future guide lines for Shoreditch must be clearly enunciated as they were over half a century ago. There is no better time to do just this than during our Jubilee Year.

This Jubilee Year will come to an end, and the long haul over the intervening years before the next one in the year 2019 will have begun. What will it have to report? What are the portents for the future of Shoreditch, and the future of Handicraft, and the part it will play as an integral of the education of a boy growing up in a technological society? Can Shoreditch continue to maintain its unique position of being the vanguard of current educational thought and practice, in relation to the contribution that the Handicraft skills can make to future concepts of a more liberal education? Having posed the questions I feel it incumbent on me to attempt to answer them.

I do not believe that the position reached today in relation to Handicraft can remain static, although it is not clear at the moment in which direction it will ultimately veer. I believe that the skills of Handicraft will still be used to produce fine creative craftwork, but that this will not be the sole purpose and use of these skills in the schools of the future. What we have not yet achieved so far, are the ways and means of integrating these craft skills alongside, and in conjunction with, such other skills as writing, reading, and speaking; all of which are vehicles of human thought and the means of communicating concepts and ideas in all so-called subject areas; not as a by-product, but an integral part of them. I believe that the craft skills can bring another dimension into the teaching and learning situations, by encouraging boys to experiment and develop ideas which would make a realistic contribution to the study of the subject itself. We cannot ignore the pioneering work of such schools as Sevenoaks, where science and craft skills have been integrated to produce a one-subject approach — that of Practical Science, rather than two separate subjects operating within the confines of their ivory towers. I believe that in a similar way a music specialist with craft skills could bring a new dimension into his teaching, in which making and devising all kinds of apparatus and instruments which produce musical sounds, would bring reality and true comprehension to the study of the theory and making of music. I had envisaged a scheme of conjoint courses, whereby a selected number of teachers in Music, Science, Mathematics, and History might be trained at Shoreditch, with their specialism as their first main subject, with a special course of Handicraft skill training to meet their specific needs as their second main subject. I was convinced that Shoreditch with all its resources and experience of both classroom and workshop could make a success of them. The idea of the courses and their syllabuses were approved by the Institute at the time, and I still hope to see them materialise at some future date. The essential ingredient to the success of such a venture is that the teacher himself must be a specialist in his own subject, capable of using his craft skills to develop an approach to his work in such a way that his subject and his skills become a complete whole and no longer exist as separate entities.

In this our Jubilee Year we celebrate the fact that fifty years ago Shoreditch began to train teachers who could bridge the gulf between workshop and classroom, between practical and academic subjects. Can we claim with all honesty that there has been no need for us to do just this in the College itself over the years, other than incidentally? The challenge is still with us, and the answer will be forthcoming long before the next Jubilee Year.