A founding School within the University of Reading, Art classes first started in West Street in 1860. Designed to teach day and evening pupils, the School was created from money left over from The 1851 Great Exhibition.

By 1892, the School had merged with a local School of Science, as well as the University of Oxford Extension Centre to form the University Extension College; a precursor to the University of Reading. The focus of the Art School at the time of the merger was “to promote the growth of Industrial Art, to make Drawing a part of general Education and to train those who desire to follow Art as a profession”.

Sign at Valpy Street

After gaining a charter in 1926, the new University of Reading had to deal with scarce resources. Although properly organised the Fine Art Department had a more relaxed attitude than other departments. This was typified when Professor Betts joined the Department in 1933; his studio contained only a kitchen chair.

Outdoor life drawing class

Betts’ arrival coincided with an increased academic focus in the Department.

He introduced a Degree Programme in Fine Art in 1937; this was the country’s first Fine Arts degree programme. Tapping into the nearby London art scene, Betts also helped boost the profile of Reading School of Art; enticing scholars and artists to Reading to give lectures and classes.

Throughout its history, significant artists passed through the School as students and tutors, from Allen Seaby and Walter Sickert in the College days, to Terry Frost, Claude Rogers, Martin Froy, and the more recent Turner Prize nominees Mike Nelson, Cornelia Parker and Richard Wilson.