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University of Northampton Avenue Campus demolition – the end of the start of the School of Art

Historic campus making way for housing after the main campus moved to Waterside in 2018

It’s difficult to count the number of students who must have passed through the doors of Avenue Campus in Northampton, now under demolition to make way for a housing estate.

From its official opening by the late Queen’s mother and father, the then Duke and Duchess of York in 1937, Avenue Campus in St George’s Avenue has had several names and purposes relating to education. From the purpose-built Northampton Technical College in 1924 through incarnations including the Central College of Technology, Northampton School of Art, Nene College, University College Northampton and eventually University of Northampton. Eight decades of students and staff have worked and studied on the site (and no, it was never a mental hospital as the rumours had it.)

Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and the Queen Mother

According to the University archives, On March 11, 1867, a free public lecture on Science and Art was held by the Museum Committee in the town hall (maybe the Guildhall, which had just been built in the same year?) It was so popular evening classes in painting and drawing started in October.

Art evening classes continued and expanded, closely linked to science classes, until in 1894 the Northampton and County Modern and Technical School was established.

The (ugly) central Maidwell building was reception, with the library above and classrooms below – Image
via wikimedia commons

In 1907 the evening class organisation became the Northampton and County Technical and Art School, with the Art School functioning separately. A further name change occurred the following year, to Northampton and County Technical School and School of Art.

One source states that the Northampton School of Art was re-designated the Northampton School of Arts and Crafts in 1917, but there are no documents in the archive from this date. However, two documents contained in the archive dated 1934 and 1937 use this form of name for the Northampton Art School.

The School of Art continued to grow, working in overcrowded rented accommodation, until new purpose-built premises were opened in 1937 next to the Technical College on St George’s Avenue.

In 1954, the Central College of Further Education was established, to include both the School of Art and the College of Technology. The School of Art appears to have continued to function as a separate college. It is likely that relevant papers were destroyed by a fire in a County Council records store.

The former staff parking entrance next to Newton building (now Bosworth College). At the back is Malcolm Arnold prep school on the site of the former Trinity Upper School swimming pool

In 1972 the School became known as the College of Art and 1975 saw the establishment of a college of higher education, Nene College. The Northampton colleges of Education and Technology along with the School of Art were amalgamated to form this new higher education college.

After many years as a journalist, I joined the university as a part-time lecturer on the journalism degree in 2009 and quite liked the building. My former classroom/newsroom was called MB5, later renamed the Matthew Engel room, down the hill opposite the rather useful cashpoint at the base of the Bassett Lowke halls of residence. It had a beautiful parquet floor and students in Year 1 could pretty much roll out of bed and into my lectures, but often still managed to be late. Many times the fire alarm would go off and see students having to stand on the Racecourse in their pajamas at all times of the day, waiting to be allowed back to bed. The radio studio on the same floor was named after Jo Whiley.

The old MB5 newsroom
Clive Lewis MP came to visit, having worked with me in the Chron days at Upper Mounts

I have plenty of good memories of the place, but also of the people. My first mentors were the now retired Richard Hollingum and Ted Sullivan. Avenue had plenty of great guest speakers, from Chris Mason, now BBC political editor, to the late Faye Weldon and comedian Stewart Lee.

The offices for staff were up the stairs, but due to the layout of the building, on a steep slope, they were really on the ground floor. I shared an office with the journalism and media staff, and it was a welcome hideaway where we could support each other, get marking done in peace and swear loudly when necessary.

One area, tucked away behind a large weeping fig, disposed of by the authorities in the move to the new campus, was a small sofa and this became ‘Hilary’s crying corner,’ not for me, but for students, when the pressures of academia all got a bit too much. We were lucky to have our own space and students – although they may not felt so at the time, had a brilliant location for studying – even the day I sent them out to report on a solar eclipse with paper plates.

Our media and journalism office during the clear-out before the move in 2018

Despite its whiff of furniture polish, mixed with multitude different cheap perfumes and body odour, I liked the place. Navigating it often felt like going in circles, due to its multilevel design on the only hill in the area. It had brass handrails and tiled walls in the old sections, some of which will stay – with the two ‘end’ buildings saved from destruction due to their listed building status, along with the old caretakers’ house/security building, Quinton Lodge.

It’s the second building I’ve worked in that I’ve watched be demolished, as the old Chronicle & Echo Building at Upper Mounts is now an Aldi…

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