Impington Village College owes a debt of gratitude to a group of individuals who made it possible for the College to be built, designed and sustained. This page details their stories and how they are part of the IVC legacy.
Walter Adolph Georg Gropius was a German architect and founder of ‘The Bauhaus School’, who, along with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, is widely regarded as one of the pioneering masters of modern architecture.
Post WW1 was a key time for Gropius. He was made master of the Grand-Ducal Saxon School of Arts and Crafts in Weimar in 1919, and it was this academy which Gropius transformed into the world famous ‘Bauhaus’, attracting a faculty that included Paul Klee, Johannes Itten, Josef Albers, Herbert Bayer, László Moholy-Nagy, Otto Bartning and Wassily Kandinsky.
‘Bauhaus’, quite literally means “house of construction”, but it did not actually begin through architecture. Only as it grew, did the movement start to encompass all art forms. It was a highly experimental, theoretical and modern concept. The Bauhaus style later became one of the most influential currents in modern design, modernist architecture and art, design and architectural education, and inspired many subsequent developments in the arts sector.
In autumn 1934, Gropius was introduced to Henry Morris, Cambridgeshire Secretary for Education and creator of the Village Colleges. Together they shared an optimistic faith that good building and aesthetic surroundings could assist humane living and social reconstruction. Gropius worked alongside Maxwell Fry to prepare designs for Impington Village College in summer 1936. Gropius however, left for America before he could see the completion of the building, but did return once in 1961.
English architect Maxwell Fry originally trained in the neo-classical style of architecture. Fry grew to favour the new modernist style, and practiced with eminent colleagues including Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret. Fry was one of the few modernist architects working in Britain in the thirties who were British; most were immigrants from continental Europe, where modernism originated. Fry is celebrated for his buildings in Britain, Africa and India, and was a major influence on a generation of young architects.
In 1934, Fry helped German architect and founder of the Bauhaus movement, Walter Gropius to flee Nazi Germany. Gropius and Fry prepared designs for Impington Village College in summer 1936. Gropius then left for America, frustrated at not getting commissions (particularly his rejection by Christ’s College), leaving Fry and Morris to work through a series of delays. From December 1939 to August 1939, Fry delivered revised designs and oversaw the construction of Impington Village College.
In 1946 Fry married architect Jane Drew, and together they formed the firm of Fry, Drew and Partners, London, specializing in large-scale planning for tropical countries. Among the many tropical buildings they designed are those of the University of Ibadan (1953–59), Nigeria. Their books Village Housing in the Tropics (1947; with Harry L. Ford) and Tropical Architecture in the Humid Zone (1956) are considered standard works.
Henry Morris was the Chief Education Officer in Cambridgeshire for over 30 years from 1922. Morris began to formulate and set out his idea for the “revolutionary concept…the Village College”, which was presented to the Education Committee in 1924, then approved and published in 1925. The Memorandum is one of the most important documents for English education in the 20th Century. The movement seeded a change towards “community education” in many parts of Britain and abroad. This change was based on the belief that education should be a lifelong process. He called it “raising the school-leaving age to 90”.
Morris was charged with the task of reorganising the county’s education provision. He did so with imagination, determination, and vision. This task started with the design of buildings which were planned as “silent teachers”. The buildings were to serve the whole community – not just the children. The village college would provide for and meet the community’s physical, educational, cultural, and recreational needs.
Funding for Village College’s was low in Cambridgeshire and Morris travelled to America in search of donors and sponsors towards building works. This was not very successful and in the end, Morris appealed to Pritchard for help. While in Britain, Henry Morris met Walter Gropius, and as both men shared the same passions, Morris was resolved to secure a non-local authority architect to design the new Village College at Impington.
Henry Morris’ ethos of a community college still remains important to the principles of Impington Village College today.
Jack Howe was an architect and industrial designer who worked for Joseph Emberton, and from 1934 onwards for Maxwell Fry. Describing himself as “a Corb-worshipper at one time”, Howe put on record that all Emberton’s buildings, most of them recognised classics of 1930s modernism, were designed by various assistants in his office. Wanting to move on, he applied to Maxwell Fry in 1934, when Gropius had just arrived in England.
Howe was the architect responsible for making Gropius’s design for Impington Village College, near Cambridge, buildable within a tight budget. Before leaving to take up his professorship at Harvard, Gropius had produced a scheme which was well over budget, and Howe had to redesign almost every part of it to save money. “I think Howe is working very reliably,” wrote Walter Gropius from Boston to his architectural partner, Maxwell Fry, in October 1937. Jack Howe was only then aged 26. Although Gropius retained a strong interest in the job, Howe admitted to deliberately starving him of information to prevent him from interfering too much, but the result was true to the spirit of the original design.
As well as Impington, Howe worked on the Westminster Electricity Showroom in Regent Street, which included a photo mural by László Moholy-Nagy, Gropius’s Bauhaus colleague. He also designed a modern room for an exhibition at Heal’s in 1936 under his own name. Impington was completed as war broke out, and Howe went to work as drawing office manager for Holland, Hannen and Cubitts for Royal Ordnance Factories at Wrexham and Ranskill.
As a textile and furniture designer, manufacturer, and retailer, Ernest Race was one of the most inventive and challenging exponents of mid-century British design. Race’s highly personal design vocabulary, at its height in the immediate post-war period and at the Festival of Britain of 1951, was a fluid, skilled, and at times eccentric synthesis of Modernism with Victoriana, and of mass-production with intelligent improvisation. Race’s single most important contribution to modern furniture design was his articulation of the transition from the theoretical rigour of pre-war Modernism to the accessibility and optimism of post-war Contemporary.
Race took a three-year study in interior design at London’s Bartlett School of Architecture, and was soon employed as a draughtsman for the lighting firm Troughton & Young, which supplied fittings to many of the leading Modernist architectural commissions of the 1930s. Through this early career, Race was able to meet many of the leading British and émigré European Modernist figureheads, including Walter Gropius and the founder of Isokon, Jack Pritchard. In 1937 Race spent four months in India with his missionary aunt, who ran a weaving village near Madras, and became inspired, opening a shop in London which lasted till 1939. The textiles produced were comparable in style, colour and technique to the designs produced earlier at the Bauhaus. The abstract designs of Race’s textiles were appropriate for a variety of interiors, especially those of the Modern Movement architects, and were used extensively throughout Walter Gropius’s Impington Village College of 1939.
After a varied and somewhat restless early career chiefly in advertising, and with a family to support, Jack Pritchard joined Venesta, specialists in the manufacture of plywood goods, as a marketing manager. It was first through Venesta that Jack began to promote modernist design. Then in 1930, with the architect Wells Coates, he formed the nucleus of a company that was to become synonymous with the modern style – Isokon Ltd. Jack remained with Venesta until 1936 and then resigned to devote all his energies to Isokon.
Jack Pritchard had commissioned and managed the newly opened Lawn Road flats in Hampstead. The flats, designed by Wells Coates, were a stunning advertisement for the Modernist Movement, home to a bevy of progressive artists, and a haven for émigrés fleeing the fascist powers of Europe. Pritchard, along with architect Maxwell Fry, had arranged for Gropius’ flight to England. Pritchard, who popularised Marcel Breuer’s furniture designs through his Isokon Furniture Company, knew Morris from his Cambridge undergraduate days – they belonged to a discussion group called the ‘Heretics’.
With the encouragement of Jack Pritchard, Morris was resolved to secure a non-local authority architect to design the new Village College at Impington. Pritchard brought together a body of 48 subscribers who made donations to cover the £1200 architect fee. The subscribers, largely associated with the Lawn Road Flats, ensured that Gropius had commissioned to prepare the designs for Impington Village College in summer 1936.
The Chivers family were extremely generous when proposals for IVC were put forward by Henry Morris in 1930. Before he passed away, John Chivers had always been very supportive of the local community and its people, so his family donated the land for the College to be built on, as well as money and property to support the building works. In 1930, this laid the foundations on which Henry Morris could begin further searching for funding to construct and design the Village College in Impington.
In 1939, the directors of Chivers and Sons Ltd additionally provided the adult wing for residents in the parishes served by Impington Village College. The gift comprised the library, the common room, the lecture room and various recreation rooms.
Before the adult wing was constructed, activities like playing snooker and table tennis used to occur at the Histon Institute on the village green. This had previously been a chapel, so when John Chivers bought it in 1903, he put money into converting the building to suit the social purpose they required. The family were strong advocates of encouraging their workers in recreational pastimes. Then, when the plans came in for the Village College, the Chivers generously donated an additional £6,000 for the adult wing to be built. This meant that all the previous activities conducted at the institute, moved directly to the College.
Text taken from:
- 75 Pieces website, (2014), http://www.75pieces.org.uk
- Encyclopaedia Britannica, (2013), Maxwell Fry, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/221166/Maxwell-Fry
- Powers, A., (2003), Jack Howe; architect who assisted Gropius, https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/alt.obituaries/413ZB07t3iM
- Design Museum, (N/A), Ernest Race: furniture designer 1913-1964, http://design.designmuseum.org/design/ernest-race
- Archives Hub, (N/A), Jack Pritchard (1899-1992), http://www.archiveshub.ac.uk/features/jun03.shtml