Founders’ Day celebrates the visionaries who inspired a University

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Founders Day logo

Today (24 May) will be Oxford Brookes’ first Founders’ Day and mark the end of the University’s 150th anniversary celebrations.

Founders’ Day, which will take place annually to coincide with when the Oxford School of Art began teaching in 1865, recognises the visionary group of philanthropists and people who founded the University’s like-minded, predecessor institutions.

On 11 February 1865, a group of 29 met at Oxford Town Hall and set up a provisional committee to establish the Oxford School of Art. The group realised the importance of teaching practical skills to the working class people of the city. The full committee met on 21 March, headed up by His Grace the Duke of Marlborough.

John Henry Brookes moved to Oxford in 1928 when he was appointed as the Head of the Oxford School of Art and Vice-Principal of the Oxford City Technical School. At this point, the School was scattered over 19 sites across the city.

Dora CohenIn further growing and developing our educational offering, John Henry Brookes was clear that a new, single site was required for consolidation into a new technical college. After public outcry when the city council rejected plans for the first phase of this development, Lord Nuffield finally laid the foundation stone of the new college at Headington in 1954, two years before John Henry Brookes’ retirement.

As Bryan Brown, author of John Henry Brookes: The Man Who Inspired a University and Oxford Brookes alumnus, writes: “In 28 years until his retirement in 1956 he led the creation of this internationally recognised university, establishing most of the 21st century fields of study. It’s an achievement unparalleled in British education. His belief was in ‘education for livelihood’. This belief translates into his legacy which has benefited many generations of students and young people of Oxford, and is embedded in the DNA of today’s University.

Elizabeth CassonThe first Principal of Bletchley Park Training College, later to become the Lady Spencer-Churchill College of Education, was Dora Cohen who joined in 1948. She graduated from Manchester University with a degree in English in 1927 – a time when women had only recently been eligible to take degrees. Her priority was the welfare of her students and ensuring they had a learning environment in which they could excel – no small challenge in the post-World War II years. Lady Spender-Churchill College amalgamated with Oxford Polytechnic in 1976.

Dorset House School of Occupational Therapy was set up by its visionary founder Dr Elizabeth Casson in 1930. Dr Casson was the first women to qualify with a doctorate from Bristol University. She appointed its first Principal, Constance Tebbit, and under her guidance the school grew, with teaching expanding from the use of half a room to half of the house it occupied. Dorset House joined with Oxford Polytechnic in 1992 - the same year that we became Oxford Brookes University.

Rev John ScottIn 2000, Westminster College merged with Oxford Brookes. Founded in 1851 as a Methodist teacher training organisation, Rev John Scott was its first Principal. Affable and kind, he preferred an approach that rested on few written rules and simple but firm values.  He stayed in the position for 17 years and played a major role in shaping the college’s sense of a collegiate and family atmosphere as well as its reputation as a teacher training college. 

More information about Oxford Brookes’ history can be found on our interactive digital timeline.

Dragons’ Den panellist and Oxford Brookes alumna Sarah Willingham will be the University’s special guest at this year’s Founders’ Day celebrations.