The Cambridge School of Art (CSA) was founded by Rev William J. Beamont (1828-1868) on the 29th October 1858 in Sidney Street. Tony Kirby, an Honorary Research Fellow for Anglia Ruskin University, wrote, ‘It brought together his interests in art and education, both for the working classes and (as long-term aim) the University of Cambridge: he saw the school as the seed from which a University Department of Fine Art would eventually grow.’ The school was inspired by John Ruskin (1819-1900) who was ‘determined to rectify ‘sins committed against good taste’ in Victorian England.’ Ruskin was a notable writer, speaker and artist who stood against the industrial revolution. By 1858, he was considered to be Britain’s leading cultural critic who was passionately concerned with social reform, as well as the relationship between human beings and society, nature, architecture, craftsmanship and ideas.
The Ruskin Building has served students through the ages and remains central to university life. At the heart of Anglia Ruskin University’s East Road campus, the Ruskin Building was 100 years old on September 2009. Housing the Cambridge School of Art, this building continues to be at the centre of the Cambridge campus which is now undergoing a £40m expansion programme to house additional teaching space and five new lecture theatres.
Built for Cambridgeshire County Council, the Ruskin Building brought under one roof three separate institutions which were struggling with inadequate accommodation. Two were in East Road, the Technical Institute (founded in 1894) and the Cambridge & County School for Girls (1900) which shared overcrowded premises in a former furniture repository (where the County Court now stands). The third was the Cambridge School of Art, which since 1862 had occupied a cramped suite of rooms at the back of the Guildhall.
Moving to new premises enabled the merger of the Cambridge School of Art and the Technical Institute to form a new ‘School of Arts & Crafts’ and allow some common teaching between this and the Cambridge & County School for Girls. The site chosen was the former Covent Garden Nursery, off Mill Road. This had the advantage of offering ample space for gardens, playing fields and tennis courts.
The new building, designed by architect H.H Dunn, opened in September 1909, although the ‘official’ opening by the US Ambassador, Whitelaw Reid was not until October. Its ‘school’ origins are still evident: the Ruskin Gallery is the former assembly hall, with classrooms opening off; the gallery gave access to more classrooms, labs and the dining room. By the 1920s, more space was needed: this was partly met by ex-War Department wooden huts. Overcrowding remained a problem but was solved, at least in the short term, by the County Girls moving to Long Road in 1940.
It was assumed that the ‘Tech’ would follow suit and move, to site in Trumpington Road. However, in 1954 this proposal was abandoned, and from the late 1950s the campus was increasingly built upon. As provision broadened and student numbers grew, its centre of gravity gradually moved towards East Road, culminating in the Helmore Building (1983).