How a craftsman shaped education in Oxford

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

John Henry Brookes

Honorary Graduate and author Bryan Brown will appear at this year’s Oxford Literary Festival to speak about the life of John Henry Brookes, the modern founder of Oxford Brookes University.

Bryan’s book, John Henry Brookes: The Man Who Inspired a University which was published last year, explores the life of one of the 20th century’s most influential educational leaders, a driving force behind education in Oxford and a man who was determined to change education for young people in Oxford. 

Art and design education teach one to be observant, an intellectual process strongly manifest for example, in learning to draw. Applied to the right personality, it is a useful management skill. In Brookes’ case, he was extremely well organised, perceptive and creative so his training enabled him to become a visionary educator.

Bryan Brown, author of John Henry Brookes: The Man Who Inspired a University

A highly accomplished artist and craftsman, Brookes’ work, both as an artist and as a teacher, was profoundly influenced by William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement. The philosophy of the Arts and Crafts Movement and Brookes’ belief in education for livelihood and that education should be close to the world of work, forged his ideas and influenced the development of education in Oxford.

Author of the biography, Bryan said: “John Henry Brookes’ achievement is all the more remarkable as art-trained leaders in tertiary education are rare beings. You can count such people on the fingers of one hand. Perhaps if there had been more people of his calibre, public opinion would have changed and technical education, the UK workforce and the British economy would be in a stronger position.

“Art and design education teach one to be observant, an intellectual process strongly manifest for example, in learning to draw. Applied to the right personality, it is a useful management skill. In Brookes’ case, he was extremely well organised, perceptive and creative so his training enabled him to become a visionary educator.

“To sustain his vision over such an extended period took firm educational ideas drawn from his own life and educational experiences and practicality and craftsmanship were among his personal strengths. He was determined that things, processes as well as artefacts, should be made to the highest standards of human endeavour, carefully planned and skilfully executed. His influences were his family forebears and his father; it was in his genes. This was then honed and developed by his art and craft education and the Guild of Handicraft.”

Under Brookes’ leadership, education was able to serve the industrial economy of Oxford. He believed that manufacturing was essential to successful economies so set up courses related to engineering, building and was a pioneer in business studies. 

John Henry Brookes became the head teacher at the Oxford School of Art in 1928 when there were just two members of staff teaching 90 students. By the time he retired in 1956, the institution had grown significantly and was by then called the Oxford College of Technology. He had set the foundations and ideas enabling it to grow into the internationally recognised university of today.

The event will be an In Conversation talk and with Bryan speaking with Susie Baker, Director of the Waynflete Office at Magdalen College School. Previous to this role, Susie was Communications Director at Oxford Brookes and was the Editor of Bryan's book on John Henry Brookes.

Bryan and Susie will be in conversation at the Oxford Literary Festival on Wednesday 6 April at the Taylor Institution: Meeting Room 2 at 3.00pm. Tickets are £12 and be booked online or via the Oxford Literary Festival Box Office 0870 343 1001.

Read more about Oxford Brookes’ other involvements in the Oxford Literary Festival on the University’s news pages.

The book is available to buy online at Amazon and at other selected independent book shops, RRP: £20. The author will donated his royalties to applied art and design projects at Oxford Brookes University in honour of John Henry Brookes. Readers are also able to contribute to the fund, details of which can be found on the Oxford Brookes website.