Against a backdrop of political demonstrations started in Paris, a group of students decided to hold an all-night protest at the Crouch End building at Hornsey College of Art on 28th May 1968. Initially triggered by a disagreement with the college about student union funds, this developed into an organised occupation which lasted six weeks.
The activist group, (including some sympathetic staff members) had become increasingly frustrated by what they felt was an authoritarian management. This Association of Members of Hornsey College of Art drew up lists of issues to resolve ranging from the purpose of art education to leaks in the building. The sit-in was highly organised with rotas for the library, cleaning, cooking and the practical day-to-day running of the campus, and also a programme of discussions, meetings and seminars. Creatives such as Buckminster Fuller, Henry Moore, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner and Eduardo Paolozzi visited the site to give talks as part of an ongoing debate about the education of artists and designers.
Hornsey's Vice Principal Harold Shelton, and the authorities did their utmost to regain control of the Crouch End Hill site. In an effort to intimidate the students, security guards were sent in with German Shepherd dogs, but this proved ineffective when the passive protesters made friends with the dogs and guards. There were photographs in the press of shared tea and biscuits in the college garden.
The occupation finally ended in July when the demonstrators left the campus to attend a conference on art education at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm. In their absence, the building was secured by the authorities, the locks changed and eventually re-opened for normal business in the autumn term 1968.
Kim Howells and Alex Roberts (photography by John Rae)
Many of the students and staff expressed disillusionment that many of their aims were not achieved, but the widespread debate about art education was far-reaching and influential, raised in the House of Commons and in countless papers in the fifty years since it happened.
The Hornsey College of Art archive held in the Sheppard Library at Middlesex University contains fascinating primary materials produced by activists during the sit-in. There are letters, manifestos, photographs, flyers, press cuttings and hand written memos which give an amazing insight into the whole machine of the occupation from the practical to the philosophical.
The Hornsey College of Art archive is held in the Materials Room in the Basement of the Sheppard Library. The Materials Room is open from 11am to 4pm Monday to Friday during term-time but please contact Marion Syratt-Barnes (firstname.lastname@example.org) for enquiries about the archive. Please be aware that we may not be able to offer access at busy times during the academic year.
Tickner, L. (2008) Hornsey 1968: the art school revolution. London: Frances Lincoln
The Hornsey affair (1969) Harmondsworth: Penguin
Carey, T. (1968) Hornsey poster [ David Page: Pictures & Words]
Hornsey College of Art: Archive
This is one of the archives and special collections held by the Library at Middlesex University. It is a collection of original material produced by the Hornsey College of Art which was established in 1882 and formed part of Middlesex Polytechnic in 1973.
The archive is catalogued in a rudimentary way and some material is still unsorted so please be aware that it is not always easy to find specific items in the collection.
The Hornsey School of Art was a private institution established by Charles Swinstead (1815-1890) in 1882. The original building was commissioned by Swinstead on a site on Crouch End Hill, north London. Frank Hillyard Swinstead became headmaster on his father’s death in 1890. Middlesex County Council took over responsibility for the School from the Swinstead family in 1920. The 1960s saw great reforms in art education and the introduction of the Diploma in Art and Design (DipAD). The College grew rapidly, expanding into several annexes around north London. In 1968 the students occupied the Crouch Hill building for about six weeks in a protest for student autonomy and a restructuring of art education. The College moved to a purpose-built site at Cat Hill, Barnet in 1970 but work on this building was not completed until 1979.
Scope of the Archive
The collection comprises records of the Hornsey College of Art including minute books, account books, prospectuses, Swinstead family material including photographs and a scrapbook, programmes, press-cuttings and examples of student work. There is a significant amount of material relating to the centenary exhibition of the College in 1982 and the Sit-In of 1968. The archive contains material dating from 1882 to 1980s.