Reviving a legacy: New John Henry Brookes biography launches

Wednesday, 01 April 2015

JHB book cover

A biography of Oxford Brookes’ spiritual founding father John Henry Brookes has been launched by the University.

The book, titled ‘John Henry Brookes: The man who inspired a university’ by Bryan Brown, explores the educationalist’s life; his birth and upbringing, his career and talents in the arts, to the lasting principles he instilled within the institution. 

With photography dating back from the early years of the 20th century, and beautiful colour reproductions of artwork produced by Brookes, the biography will provide a compelling insight into the life of a man who was determined to change education for young people in Oxford. 

As well as an insight into one of the most influential educational leaders of the 20th century, the book explores how the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts Movement influenced the development of education in Oxford. 

After several years of researching JHB’s life, I can say that I have never come across anyone so universally respected, admired and loved.

Bryan Brown, author of John Henry Brookes: The man who inspired a university


When John Henry Brookes (JHB) became head teacher at the Oxford School of Art in 1928, there were just two members of staff teaching 90 students; the institution had grown very little since its foundation in 1865. 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. 

During his 28 year career, Brookes, believing that education should be available to all, also helped to create two other schools; Oxford Spires Academy  and Cheney School – also an academy, as well as the Oxford College of Further Education, now known as the City of Oxford College. 

A remarkable achievement considering the historical context, one of the most challenging periods in British history including the Great Depression of the late 1920s and 30s, World War 2 and its deprived aftermath; an achievement  perhaps unrivalled in the history of British education. 

Author Bryan Brown said: “JHB was an influence on my own life, but it was not until 1992, the time Oxford gained its second University, and over the past few years researching his life, that I realised just how significant that influence has been.

“I was once asked if there were any ‘skeletons in the cupboard’. After several years of researching JHB’s life, I can say that I have never come across anyone so universally respected, admired and loved.

“I hope my book will go some way towards repaying the huge debt of gratitude that I and many other past students owe to JHB.”

The book is available to buy in the Blackwell’s store at Oxford Brookes, online at Amazon and at other selected independent book shops, RRP: £20.00.  The author will donate 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. For more information about donating to the fund, email giving@brookes.ac.uk.