Impact of the Great War

The First World War and Leicester Municipal Technical and Art School, predecessor of De Montfort University.

Portrait of Benjamin. J. Fletcher, Principal of the Leicester Municipal Art Schoo

By 1914, Leicester Municipal Technical and Art School was a well-established institution, offering students trade courses in various disciplines such as art, design, boot and shoe manufacture, dress making, carpentry, engineering, pharmacy and architecture.

The school was based in what is now known as the Hawthorn Building and managed by two Principals, Benjamin Fletcher (Art School) and John Hawthorn (Technical School).

Outbreak of the War

Men enlisting for the Great War in Magazine Square, Leicester, 1919.
Men preparing to enlist in Magazine Square, Leicester, 1919.

The outbreak of the War had an immediate effect, from the loss of playing fields for military training to the cancellation of some classes and the scaling back of events such as prize giving ceremonies.

However, the most noticeable effect was on student numbers. Many students enlisted, while others had to enter employment. As early as October 1914 fewer registrations were noted, and by 1916 it was necessary to close the Engineering Department.

In 1919 the schools found their position reversed as returning servicemen signed up for classes. Evening class applications, for example, jumped from 618 in 1917 to 1321 in 1919.

Maintaining enough staff to carry on the work of the schools was a challenge as both teaching and administrative staff enlisted. The committee decided to hold open the positions of those staff on active service. Some did not join the Forces. Painting instructor John Brookes registered as a conscientious objector and worked on a farm from 1916 until the end of the war.

After the war ended it took time for staff to return to Leicester. As late as January 1920 the committee had to write to the Army asking them to release one of their teachers. The war had other impacts too. In February 1920 Mr Langran, one of the administrators, was granted leave to have an operation “in connection with wounds he received in the War”.

Munitions Manufacture

War Munitions Volunteers poster
A war munitions workshop where shells were manufactured

In 1915 the Technical School converted their engineering workshop into a small munitions’ factory, with the approval of the Ministry of Munitions who asked that they make gauges. Staff were asked to work full time, bringing in students to assist.

The work was expanded to include the manufacture of fixtures for gun primers, punches and dies for drawing cartridges, shell bases, screws and pins.

In April 1916 the workshop was rented to an existing munitions company, although one machine was kept aside for the use of staff and students, as “they desire to do something to help the school and the country”.

Staff Contributions

Ernest Edward Brooks

A German submarine attack on a British navy vessel (Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum).
Poster highlighting the submarine menace (Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum).

Ernest Edward Brooks was a teacher at the Technical School from 1884 until 1936. He was the Second Master of the school and also the Head of the Electrical Engineering Department. He co-authored a manual for students of magnetism and electricity, published in 1914, and on retirement was described as “a much-loved teacher and successful research worker.”

In October 1917 the schools discovered that Brooks was working for the Admiralty on secret research relating to electrical devices for destroying submarines. The Admiralty made a large contribution to his salary and thanked the committee for his services, “which have been of the greatest assistance in the development of the anti-submarine apparatus.”

Leonard Rowland

Rowland's work focussed on parts for sea planes similar to the one pictured. Photo by Henry Ross Alderson.
The Engineering Testing Laboratory at Leicester School of Technology.

Leonard Rowland taught engineering at the Technical School from 1905 to around 1919. During the War he was a stalwart of the munitions workshop, and also undertook a large amount of testing work, particularly on aeroplane parts. Turner and Company used his expertise to improve their manufacture of elastic shock absorbers for aircraft, and showed their appreciation by loaning the school expensive polariscope equipment.

Rowland also used the polariscope to experiment with the testing of screw threads in order to improve their design and streamline their manufacture. He presented his work to the Engineering Standards Committee, which gave him a commission to continue the work. It was noted that the Air Board Directorate much appreciated Rowland’s contribution to the war effort.

Students Lost

Walter Anson

Reproduction of a pencil drawing by Walter Anson, print by Leicester School of Art students from Letterpress Machine class.
Book illustration by Walter Anson.

Walter was a star pupil of the Art School, where he studied painting and drawing. Between 1911 and 1915 he is frequently mentioned in the local press as a prize winner and scholarship holder. He had been awarded a place at the Slade School of Art in London, and when his drawings featured in a national exhibition they were praised by the art critic of The Observer newspaper. The Midland Free Press wrote in September 1912 that “there is no doubt he will have a brilliant future”.

Walter enlisted at the very start of the war, in August 1914. He first joined the Leicestershire Regiment before moving to the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, where he was a Second Lieutenant. He was killed in Gaza on 8 November 1917, aged 27.

Julian Gould

Lithographic print on paper of a drawing by Julian Gould.
Lithographic print on paper of a drawing by Julian Gould.

Julian studied drawing, design and lithography at the Art School around 1907 to 1909, and won a silver medal for his drawing. In 1910 he went to Paris to sketch before returning to the family home in London and working as a graphic designer for a printer.

Julian enlisted out of disgust at the sinking of the passenger ship Lusitania by a German U-boat. He became a Private in the 16th Middlesex Regiment, participating in the Battle of the Somme and acting as Company Machine Gunner. He was killed in action on 31 May 1917 at the age of 25. His grave is unknown and his name is recorded on the Arras Memorial.

Percy Cockayne and Percy Gordon

Typography work by Percy Cockayne.
Typography work by Percy Cockayne.

Cockayne and Gordon were both on the Typography course, part of the Printing Trades Department. They both received commendations for their design work at the 1915 Board of Education National Competition.

Cockayne was a Corporal with the Machine Gun Corps. He died in August 1918 at the age of 20 and is buried at the Heath Cemetery in France.

Gordon joined the Leicestershire Regiment as Private. He died on 26 March 1916, also at the age of 20, and is buried at Ecoivres Military Cemetery in France and commemorated in St. Saviour’s Church, Leicester.

The Battle of the Hohenzollern Redoubt

Gas clouds and artillery smoke from an attack on Hohenzollern Redoubt (Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum).
The Hohenzollern Redoubt, a strongly fortified defensive position (image from Richardson, Leicester in the Great War)

Three School of Art students were all killed in action on the same day, 13th October 1915: Cabinet Making student John Mawby and Typography students William Henry Grayson and William Davis. The men were in the 1st/4th Leicestershire Regiment, which was part of the 46th North Midland Division.

On 13 October 1915, during the Battle of Loos, the division took the main part in an assault on the Hohenzollern Redoubt, resulting in 3,643 casualties within the first ten minutes of action. The official history of the war calls the attack “nothing but the useless slaughter of infantry”.

Roll of Honour

A treasure of the De Montfort University Archive is the Roll of Honour listing 177 staff and students who served during the First World War, including 20 students who lost their lives. The Roll only lists men from the Art School; we have no corresponding list of men from the Technical School who served. The Roll of Honour was made by arts students as an exercise in, printing and design that would commemorate the sacrifice of their classmates.

Roll of Honour, printed by students of Leicester School of Art
A detail from the Roll of Honour, printed by students of Leicester school of Art

Classes for Servicemen

From 1916 application were received from disabled ex-servicemen who needed to learn a new trade to accommodate their injuries. By October 1917 special classes were established at the Technical School specifically for the disabled. Hand Sewn Boot and Shoe Manufacture was the most popular, although printing, watch repair cabinet making and carpentry were also offered. At the Art School men took lithography, draughtsmanship, jewellery making and illustrating. 

By 1919 the schools found their position much improved as returning servicemen signed up for classes, more than doubling numbers. 

Boot and Shoe Manufacture teaching workshops at the Leicester School of Technology
Register of discharged soldiers taking the Bot and Shoe courses.

The Post-war Future of the School

The management of the school was eager to ensure the institution would emerge from the war in a good position. As early as 1916 a prominent educationalist and politician, Viscount Haldane, was invited to speak on the greater efforts in education which would be necessary after the war in order to ensure industry could match global competition.

In 1918 the advisory committees for each department of the school held meetings to consider their post-war structure and development in order to meet the needs of the industries and businesses of Leicester. Departments were restructured, new machinery and equipment sought, the school building was expanded, and the school was renamed, becoming the City of Leicester School of Arts and Crafts and the City of Leicester School of Technology.

School of Art student painting of a victory parade, 1919.

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