Saturday, 8 May 2021

Government School of Art

Municipal Technical Institute, College Square North

I received an intriguing message from a reader whose great-grandfather was headmaster of the Government School of Art in Belfast during the late 19th century.

Her great-grandfather's residence at the time was 2, Mount Pleasant, off Stranmillis Road, Belfast.

I had never heard of the Government School of Art so, after a little research, I discovered that it opened in 1870, in the north wing of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution (Inst).

Other names included:
  • Normal School of Design (1849-1855);
  • Government School of Art (1870-1900);
  • Municipal Technical Institute (1907-1930);
  • Municipal College of Technology (1931-70);
  • College of Art (1931).
The Normal School of Design, Belfast, was established in 1849.

It was housed in two rooms of the north wing in Royal Belfast Academical Institution and opened to the public in 1850, its first headmaster being Claude Lorraine Nursey.

Royal Belfast Academical Institution, College Square

The school closed in 1855 (government funding ceased in 1853) and a general lack of interest from local industry and manufacturers in Belfast.

In 1870, the Government School of Art opened, with Thomas Mitchner Lindsay as headmaster, and increased training geared towards local industry, particularly architecture and textiles.

George Trobridge, headmaster and teacher, 1880-1900, introduced nude drawing classes.

In 1900, the school merged with Belfast College of Technology; and in 1901 the new Municipal School of Belfast opened, with RA Dawson as headmaster.

College Square North, from College Street, Belfast (Image: Alexander R Hogg, 1905)

This wing must have overlooked the town-houses at College Square North.

The then headmaster, Thomas Lindsay (b 1838), said that the school's aim was to impart instruction of practical value to the operative no matter by which craft he earns his daily bread.

The school's principal benefactor was possibly Vere Foster, youngest son of the RT HON SIR AUGUSTUS FOSTER, Bt GCH.
I imagine that the headmaster would probably have walked from his home at Mount Pleasant via Stranmillis Road, University Road, Bradbury Place, Shaftesbury Square and Great Victoria Street to the school at College Square: Unless, of course, the weather was inclement; in which case the services of a hansom cab may well have been employed.
Illustrious artistic alumni of the Art School have included Rosamund Praeger, John Luke and Paul Henry.

Inst, established in 1810, is located at College Square in central Belfast.

First published in January, 2009.


Anonymous said...

The North or N block became the Classics Department of the school. The art department moved to the top of the new C block built as part of the new quadrangle behind the front facade, with large north facing windows.
The upper rooms on the very top floor of the N block had, probably still have, high ceilings and glass roof lights for the natural light needed in the art department. These rooms were big enough to play hand ball in at lunch time. The N block is the building to the extreme right of the engraving at the top of your article.

Anonymous said...

I understand that the Government School of Art was also William Conor's alma mater