The Impact of the Great War

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

The school at the outbreak of war

In 1914 the Leicester Municipal Technical and Art School was based in what is now the Hawthorn Building. At this time it consisted of only two wings, one facing Magazine Square and one along Richmond Street. The school  was governed by the Committee of the Borough of Leicester Education Department, and managed by two Principals, Benjamin Fletcher for the Art School and John Hawthorn for the Technical School. Subjects offered included art and design, boot and shoe manufacture, dress making, carpentry, engineering, pharmacy and architecture.

The impact of war on the students

War conditions had an immediate effect on the schools, from the loss of their playing fields for military training to the scaling back of events like prize-giving ceremonies. The most noticeable effect was on student numbers. Many students or potential 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.

Image above shows recruitment in Magazine Square, courtesy of the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland.

The impact of war on the staff

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 armed forces – painting instructor John Brookes registered as a conscientious objector and worked on a farm from 1916 onwards.

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”.

The Roll of Honour

A treasure of the De Montfort University Archive is the Roll of Honour listing 177 staff and students who served during World War One, including 20 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.

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 at Gaza on 8 November 1917, aged 27.

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

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 with the rank of 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 Saint Saviour’s Church, Leicester.

The Battle of the Hohenzollern Redoubt

Three School of Art students were killed in action on the same day. Cabinet making student John Mawby and typography students William Henry Grayson and William Davis died on 13 October 1915. 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 undertook the main assault on the Hohenzollern Redoubt (pictured below), resulting in 3,643 casualties within the first ten minutes of action. The British Official History of the war calls the attack “nothing but the useless slaughter of infantry”.

Classes for servicemen

From 1916 applications 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.

Munitions manufacture

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 it was decided to rent the workshop 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”.

Ernest Edward Brooks

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.


Image above courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

Leonard Rowland

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. 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.

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.

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