kenton library 1
Kenton Public Library (1939)

I wrote earlier about W.T.Curtis and William Burchett, architects to Middlesex County Council, who were responsible for many schools and public buildings in north-west London, including the iconic Kenton Public Library, recognisable by their brick construction, strong horizontal emphasis, flat roofs and prominent staircase tower. I was pleased to find that they’d designed my primary school, Pinner Park, in 1934, which used innovative construction methods. (Mentioned in Pevsner’s The Buildibgs of Middlesex. No usable pictures, alas.)

My secondary school, Harrow Weald Grammar, a mock-Jacobean brick construction, opened in 1933, was very different. As the building is now being converted to housing, I became curious about its designer. I was amazed to find that it was also W. T. Curtis. Curtis’s change from traditional to modern was very sudden.

Harrow Weald County School (1933)

In their page on Curtis and Burchett, Modernism in Metroland explain how it came about:

The Wall Street crash and world financial crisis of 1931, one year into W.T. Curtis’ reign, forced a change in the departments’ designs in order to cut costs. Aiming to reduce spending by 30%, Curtis and Burchett adopted a more modernist utilitarian approach to school building. Their first innovations were using steel framing at Uxendon Manor School, Wembley (1934), and then concrete slab floors supported by pillars at Pinner Park School (1934). These techniques allowed flexibility in internal planning, whilst also keeping the traditional Victorian school courtyard layout.


Claire Cuneen: Angel.  To be auctioned for the last Harrow ceramics degree show

The Harrow ceramics course at Westminster University closes this year, 50 years after ceramics teaching started there.  The fact that something is old is no reason to keep it, but the Harrow course is widely recognised as one of the best in Britain.  To raise funds for the final graduation show, there is an auction in London on Wednesday, 14th March, upstairs at the Slug and Lettuce, 1 Islington Green, London, N1 2HX.  You can browse from 6.30pm.  The auction starts at 8.00pm.

The artists who have donated include:
Claire Curneen
Carol McNicoll
Gareth Mason
Walter Keeler
Simon Carroll
Kate Malone
Aki Moriuchi
Alice Mara
Steve Buck
Kyra Cane
Christie Brown
Sarah Scampton
Daphne Carnegy
Duncan Ayscough
Aneta Regel Deleu
Katharine Morling
Zahed Tajeddin
Carina Ciscato
Kevin Millward
Barry Stedman
Stephen Dixon
Sarah Walton
Chris Keenan
Sandy Brown
Robin Welch
In the 1960s under the direction of Victor Margrie and Mick Casson the Harrow course became famous for teaching traditional studio pottery based on repetition throwing. There had been a boom in studio pottery in the post-war years, encouraged by the dearth of decorated pottery from Stoke-on-Trent following wartime restrictions, and by studio pottery’s combination of modernism and folk art, both of which had been popularised by the 1951 Festival of Britain.  Such was the demand for studio pottery that there weren’t enough throwers trained in workshop practice.  As production throwing wasn’t taught in other arts schools, the Harrow Art School studio pottery diploma was created to fill the gap.  According to Tanya Harrod, the production potter of the Harrow type had a good innings well into the seventies, by which time the market for this style of tableware was falling away
By the early 1980s the course was in trouble.  It was reinvented as a BA Ceramics, offering broader training and shedding some of its less relevant teaching, like digging and refining clay. From that point onwards, Harrow has taught a course in ceramic art, not just pottery.
Four years ago, in 2008, the university decided to close the course.  It was expensive, it took up a lot of space and it was difficult to fill all the places on it.  None of this was new. The first two had been the case since 1963.  Ceramics courses are always expensive because of the equipment needed and the large amount of space taken up by each student.  What was new was tighter government funding and better accounting. I doubt if in the 1980s the university ranked courses by cost per square foot. 
The difficulty in filling places was more problematic. Schools have been cutting ceramics for many years and arguably there is an over-supply of degree courses. It’s unfortunate that one of the best had to close.
The university’s announcement that the course was closing was the second blow in a year. In  June 2007 a fire destroyed much of the ceramics department.  The kiln room, some of the studios and the fine art and fashion departments were all destroyed.  Ironically, the fire didn’t start in the kiln room or even in the ceramics studios but somewhere else entirely.
On the night of the fire, a firefighter rescued a sculpture of a boy angel by Claire Palfreyman.  Kyra Kane, the course leader, saw it as a good omen. “We are determined that the world-renowned ceramics department at Harrow will continue to flourish despite this setback,” she said, “and this statue represents all the spirit, talent and inventiveness that will ensure our future.”  The University responded quickly, and all the affected courses were running again for the 2007-2008 academic year.
At that point I had just completed the first year of the course. After a lifetime’s passion for ceramics, I was accepted for Harrow’s prestigious BA. I had spent years in evening classes trying to develop my skills. My experience of part-time ceramics courses was that however much they welcome advanced students most of them are really for beginners. Many teachers in evening classes have limited skills and can only teach beginners. 
In some ways my previous experience put me at a disadvantage at Harrow because it’s easier to learn than to re-learn.  The experienced student was not allowed to coast until the less experienced ones caught up: the pressure was just as intense and you had to go further, throw looser and make bigger.  The throwing tutors, Richard Phethean and Carina Ciscato, were highly accomplished and their different styles introduced the student to a range of approaches and methods.
I have met several art students who say they get neither studio space nor adequate teaching on their BA courses.  Harrow was different.  The ceramics course had honed instruction to a sharp edge.  The teaching was good during the first half of the course (you were pretty well on your own during the second half) and the studio faculties were excellent.
Many of the artists contributing to this week’s auction have been associated with Harrow.  The auction will help to fund the degree show, Material Matters, which will be at The Rag Factory, 16-18 Heneage Street, London E1 5LJ, just off Brick Lane, from Thursday 7 to Sunday 10 June 2012, 11am – 6pm
The final graduates will be Jo Aylmer, Julia Beer, Zarina Kawaja, Dana Lazarus-Cass, Landon Peck, Nadine Shepley and Peter Willis.


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