In this week’s blog post, we continue to mark Local and Community History Month by taking a look at art and theatre in Southampton using our collections.
The Hartley Institution – the predecessor of the University of Southampton – was declared open on 15 October 1862. Comprising of a library, museum, and reading room, together with a lecture hall and classrooms, among its earliest activities were public lectures on literature, science and art.Art and theatre University departments
The Southampton School of Art was incorporated into the Hartley Institution in 1867 to save it from extinction. With no room for it in the Hartley Institution building, it continued in its existing premises in a single rented room in the old Victoria Assembly Rooms on Portland Terrace. From 1902 Miss E.I. Conway, aided by two part-time assistants, took on the responsibility of providing all the art courses required by the Education Department and also some general art instruction in both day and evening classes. The teaching of art came to an end with her retirement in 1925.George Leake, who was the organist at St Mary’s Church, Southampton, was made the first Professor of Music in 1920 and saw his department given faculty status in 1924. After Leake’s death in 1928, D.Cecil Williams inherited the running of the Music Department. Rather than teaching music as an academic subject, his responsibilities included providing lectures in music appreciation and conducting the annual concerts of the Choral and Orchestral Society. University societies
Performing arts have been a regular fixture of student life. While no drama society appears to have existed prior to the opening of the Highfield campus in 1914, short plays were often performed at College entertainments. One of the earliest student societies was a Stage Society, formed in 1915.From 1926 Gilbert and Sullivan operas were held annually in the old assembly hall and conducted by D.Cecil Williams, Master of Music at University College, Southampton. He was rewarded for his work in 1946 by being appointed Secretary of the Hampshire County Music Committee. By the end of the 1950s the Southampton University Jazz Club had become the University’s biggest student society. Weekly live sessions provided different styles for different tastes, with traditional New Orleans Jazz played in the Refectory and Modern Jazz played in the Terrace Room. University jazz bands included Group One, who won the Southern Semi-Finals of the International University Jazz Festival competition in 1960, and the Dudley Hyams Quintet and Apex Jazzmen, who took first and second place in the Regional Semi-Finals at Bristol in 1962.
There are now a wide range of jazz and other music orientated groups and events at the University. Learn more about these on the Arts at University of Southampton website.Art events at the University
The late 1950s and early 1960s saw an extensive expansion of the Highfield campus and a significant development in the profile of the arts at the University. The first University of Southampton Arts Festival was launched in March 1961 by Sir Basil Spence.Art around the University
Among the developments in the arts were the formation of a Fine Art Committee in 1964 and the appointment of John Sweetman as the University’s first lecturer of Fine Art in 1967. Alongside lecturing on the history of art through the History Department, Sweetman was responsible for organising art exhibitions and managing the University’s permanent art collection, including its collection of sculptures by artists such as Barbara Hepworth and Justin Knowles.University art venues
The University’s Nuffield Theatre was officially opened on 2 March 1964 by Dame Sybil Thorndike. The national and local press heralded the opening of Southampton’s “first genuine theatre”– the city had no regular playhouse at that time – so the Nuffield would serve both ‘Town and Gown’. A flexible, multi-purpose venue, it was designed to function as a lecture hall, cinema, concert hall and theatre for both open-stage and proscenium productions. The Nuffield theatre developed a profile and reputation for innovation and quality in Southampton and beyond the city, and as one of the country’s leading producing theatre companies, creating bold, fresh and vital experiences through theatre. On 16 February 2018, Nuffield Southampton Theatres (NST), opened a second venue, NST City, in Southampton’s Cultural Quarter with the world premiere of Howard Brenton’s The Shadow Factory.The expansion of the campus during the early 1960s enabled the Students’ Union to extend into the whole of the West Building, providing sufficient space to support live performances at a time when rock music was on the rise. Performers included Manfred Mann (1966), T-Rex (1968), Pink Floyd (1968 & 1969), Deep Purple (1970), The Velvet Underground (1971), Captain Beefheart (1973 & 1975), Procol Harum (1975), and Talking Heads (1978). What most people recall is the legendary gig by Led Zeppelin in January 1973. In 1967 a bequest was made by Miss Margaret Grassam Sims to build a hall for the people of Southampton. In response to strong local support for classical performance and the need for better accommodation for the University Concert Society, the Turner Sims Concert Hall was opened in 1974. The opening of Turner Sims was to transform the musical landscape of Southampton. It is now acknowledged as one of the finest music venues in the country, with a year-round programme of outstanding classical, jazz, world and folk music, as well as talks from personalities. Another key development in the arts came when the Engineering Department’s tidal model building was transformed into a contemporary art gallery. The John Hansard Gallery was formally opened on 22 September 1980 and quickly began to acquire a strong reputation. John Hansard Gallery is one of Britain’s leading public galleries of contemporary art and supports, develops and presents work by outstanding artists from across the world. In 2018 the gallery moved to a new location in the centre of Southampton, opposite Guildhall Square, as part of a new arts complex. It was officially opened on 12 May, and continues to play a dynamic role in the cultural life of Southampton and the region. Winchester School of Art was originally founded in 1860 to teach cabinet-making, embroidery and leather work. The school became part of the University’s Arts Faculty in 1996 and now stands as one of the UK’s leading art and design institutions. Following the acquisition of the papers of the first Duke of Wellington, the Wellington Suite was officially opened on 14 May 1983. The archive was the first major collection of manuscripts to be acquired by the University, and has acted as a catalyst for further developments and acquisitions. The extension of the Hartley Library in 2004 provided an opportunity to incorporate public exhibition space as an integral part of the library environment. The Special Collections Gallery was developed for the display of material from the collections to encourage public awareness and access. Exhibitions in the neighbouring Level 4 Gallery reflect three ideas: themed links with the Special Collections exhibition programme; promotion of the research and education mission of WSA; and work celebrating the University’s contribution to the culture of the city and the region.
To see more images of arts in the archives at Special Collections, please check out our online exhibition: https://www.southampton.ac.uk/archives/exhibitions/online/arts-exhibition.page