John Henry BROOKES (1891–1975)
Artist, craftsman, educationist
195 The Slade, Headington
When Oxford Polytechnic became one of the new universities in 1992, it was named Oxford Brookes University in recognition of John Henry Brookes’ inspirational vision and promotion of arts, crafts and technical education in Oxford earlier in the century.
Born in Northampton, the son of a bootmaker, he qualified as an art teacher at the Leicester School of Art and Crafts. During the First World War, when he was a conscientious objector engaged in farmwork, he added silversmithing to his range of skills. After several years of teaching, he trained as a sculptor and stonemason with Alec Miller in Chipping Campden.
In 1928 he came to Oxford as Head of the Oxford School of Art and Vice Principal of the Oxford City Technical School in Church Street, St Ebbe’s. He introduced a school of architecture in 1929 and the principle of day release classes for employees among other initiatives. In 1934 he became Principal of the newly merged Schools of Technology, Arts and Commerce. The combined department of architecture and building was testimony to his strong belief that art and technical education should go hand in hand. The University of Oxford conferred an Honorary MA on him in 1935.
By the 1940s student enrolments were rising rapidly but the various departments were housed in nineteen separate buildings across the city. Brookes’s relentless campaign from 1936 for a single campus was dogged by constant obstacles. Backed by a public campaign launched by Kenneth Wheare, Oxford University’s Gladstone Professor of Government, he finally persuaded the city council in 1952 to approve planning for the Headington site purchased several years before. The foundation stone for the new College of Technology, Art and Commerce was laid by Lord Nuffield and the first students were admitted in 1954. Brookes, awarded the OBE in 1953, retired in 1956 having finally glimpsed the ‘promised land’, to use his own phrase. The institution he had nurtured was well equipped to become Oxford Polytechnic in 1970 and later the new university was to be his ultimate legacy.
He brought a unique combination of qualities to the hard-won realisation of his dreams: a consummate artist and craftsman, he was also a superb administrator, tenacious of purpose, a genial personality and effective chairman. He was greatly esteemed in the wider community which he served in countless ways, including as a magistrate and chairman of the Oxford Bench 1960–63. His exquisite topographical drawings regularly delighted readers of the Oxford Times.
From 1929 he made his home at ‘The Gatehouse,’ designed by his friend the architect Thomas Rayson, at 195 The Slade, Headington, and lived there, cultivating his lovely garden, until his death in 1975.
- Sources: John Henry Brookes: craftsman, educator, administrator ed. A Stuart Addison, 1979; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, article by Malcolm Graham; Bryan Brown, John Henry Brookes: The Man Who Inspired a University (Oxford Brookes University, 2015)
- Picture: Plaque unveiling ceremony
- Oxford Mail, 18 March 2011: ‘Blue plaque honours educator Brookes’
The plaque, erected at 195 The Slade, was inaugurated on 16 March 2011 by Professor Janet Beer, Vice Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University, after a tribute by Mr Bryan Brown.
Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board
JOHN HENRY BROOKES
Oxford Brookes University
Oxford Brookes University