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The History of our Buildings

The Liverpool Mechanics’ School of Arts

The Institute was first known as the Liverpool Mechanics’ School of Arts. It was founded in 1825, but occupied other premises while the money was found to build a dedicated building. In 1832, the name was shortened to the Liverpool Mechanics’ Institution. Its primary purpose was to provide educational opportunities, mainly through evening classes for working men. Lectures were also provided covering topics ranging from Arctic exploration to Shakespeare and philosophy. Luminaries like Charles Dickens and Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered talks and readings.

Liverpool Mechanics InstitutionBy 1840, the institution offered evening classes, lectures, a library and a boys' lower and higher school. By the 1850s, a School of Art was evolving out of the evening classes. In 1856, this diversity was recognised by another name change – The Liverpool Institute and School of Art.

In the 1880s, a new building next to the principal building on Mount Street was opened to house the School of Art.

In 1905, Liverpool City Council took over the management of the secondary school in the Mount Street building. From then until its closure in 1985, the school was formally known as The Liverpool Institute High School for Boys.

The Liverpool Institute for Boys was a traditional grammar school. The list of distinctions at Oxford and Cambridge runs to some 300 names – this is aside from the distinctions gained at The University of Liverpool. Miscellaneous distinctions included the highest national scholarship offered at the time, as well as a Nobel Prize winner. The school was a measure of Liverpool’s intellectual capital at the time.

The emphasis on ‘the academic’ meant that ‘non-academic’ disciplines, although there was an art teacher, as well as a music teacher and a woodwork teacher, were undervalued. Although the music teacher had, at one time, Paul McCartney and George Harrison in the school, they learnt nothing about creating music.

The comedian Arthur Askey, theatre impresario Bill Kenwright and broadcaster Peter Sissons were amongst the other most distinguished ex-pupils in the performing arts. Alan Durband, one of the founders of the Liverpool Everyman Theatre, was Paul’s English teacher.

The Liverpool School of Art

This building grew out of the Liverpool Mechanics School of Arts. Indeed, engraved into the lintel of our main building is: ‘Liverpool Institute and School of Art, 1825’. People, who wanted to learn art, grew considerably in the 19th century, reaching 1,145 in 1881, so a new building was needed. This was to be the first purpose built art school outside London. The building opened in 1883 and numbers went on increasing.

In 1905, The School of Art was spilt off from the Institute and united with the applied arts section of the School of Architecture at the University of Liverpool. To accommodate the classes of the united schools, the Mount Street building was enlarged by a large extension fronting Hope Street.

In 1949, the name changed again to the Liverpool Regional College of Art. By 1960, the college was split into seven departments: fine art, industrial design, printing, graphic design, fashion and textiles, painting and decoration and teacher training. With the creation of a Foundation course in the 1960s, access was widened to encourage individuals without traditional entry qualifications. Tutors such as Maurice Cockrill, Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Arthur Ballard encouraged experimentation across a range of styles, media and popular art. John Lennon was one of those who were admitted on the strength of a portfolio.

In 1970, the Regional College came under the wing of the newly-formed Liverpool Polytechnic, which became a renamed university, Liverpool John Moores University, in 1992. By 2008, the School was relocated to the new Art & Design Academy. In March 2012, this building was bought by LIPA and, once again, the two historic buildings have been reunited for their original purpose: teaching and learning.