The University of Southampton
Special Collections

Arts in the Archives

This online exhibition draws on material from the Archives to look at some of the key developments in the history the arts at the University, focusing specifically on music, theatre and the visual arts. It also highlights a number of objects and pieces of artwork that tie in with the history of the University and the development of its archive and manuscript collections.

The exhibition has been created to mark the exciting range of arts related activities taking place at the University and across the city, including: the launch of Arts at University of Southampton; the coming of British Art Show 8 to the John Hansard Gallery and Southampton City Art Gallery; and the opening of Studio 144, Southampton’s new arts complex in Guildhall Square.

Images from Goblio, Small Wessex and Wessex News are used with permission from Union Southampton.

Image #1: Opening of the Hartley Institution
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.
Image #2: Southampton School of Art
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 until 1871.
Image #3: 'Kelly' the skeleton
'Kelly' the skeleton was purchased by C.T. Dodd, Head of the Department of Art, in France in 1886, to be used as a model in art classes. He can be found with students and staff in photographs of graduation ceremonies and other events from subsequent decades.
Image #4: Hartley Institution Art Room
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.
Image #5: Claude Montefiore
Claude Montefiore was appointed President of the College in 1913, a position he held until 1934. It was through acquiring his private collections, together with those of Dr James Parkes, that the University developed a special interest in collecting papers relating to the Jewish community.
Image #6: Professor of Music
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.
Image #7: Music Department
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.
Image #8: Student Concert
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.
Image #9: Mikado Performance
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.
Image #10: Rothenstein Mural
The institution was granted university status when it received its royal charter on 29 April 1952, becoming the University of Southampton. The Rothenstein Mural, which currently hangs in the Senate Room, was painted by Sir William Rothenstein and presented to the University by his son in 1959.
Image #11: Jazz Club
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.
Image #12: Jazz Bands
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.
Image #13: Arts Festival
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.
Image #14: Queens Visit
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.
Image #15: University Sculptures
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.
Image #16: Nuffield Exterior
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’.
Image #17: Nuffield Interior
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.
Image #18: Nuffield Performance
Since its opening the Nuffield has developed a profile and reputation for innovation and quality in Southampton and beyond the city, and is one of the country’s leading producing theatre companies, creating bold, fresh and vital experiences through theatre.
Image #19: Rock Music
The expansion of the campus during the early 1960s enabled the Students’ Union to extend into the whole of the West Building, provided sufficient space to support live performances at a time when rock music was on the rise.
Image #20: Led Zeppelin
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.
Image #21: Mahler Score
The Chair of Music was revived in 1961 with the appointment of Dr P.A.Evans. A decade later, in March 1973, the most significant music manuscript collection held by the Special Collections arrived when the conducting scores of Gustav Mahler were gifted to the University by his daughter Anna.
Image #22: Turner Sims performance
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.
Image #23: Turner Sims instruments
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.
Image #24: John Hansard report
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.
Image #25: John Hansard exhibitions
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. The Gallery continues to play a dynamic role in the cultural life of Southampton and the region.
Image #26: Wellington Shell
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.
Image #27a: Winchester School of Art
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.
Image #27b: Montse Stanley
The Montse Stanley knitting collection was acquired by the University in 1999. While her library now forms part of the Knitting Reference Library at Winchester School of Art, her collection of objects, tools, photographs, postcards and working papers are housed in the Hartley Library.
Image #28: Special Collections Gallery
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.
Image #29: Level 4 Gallery
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.
Image #30: Studio 144
Today the profile of the arts continues to grow, both at the University and across the city. A key development is the opening of Studio 144, a new arts complex at the heart of city’s thriving cultural quarter around Guildhall Square. Find out more about current arts activities using the links below.

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