Morley College

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Morley College
Morley College.jpg
Type Further Education
Principal Dr Andrew Gower
Location 61 Westminster Bridge Road
England, United Kingdom
Gender Mixed
Ages –no upper age limit

Morley College is an adult education college in London. It was founded in the 1880s and has a student population of 11,000 adult students.[1] It offers courses in a wide variety of fields including art and design, fashion, languages, drama, dance, music, health and humanities.

Morley College is located in the Waterloo District of London, on the South Bank, close to the city's arts centre. Its buildings occupy sites on either side of the boundary between the London boroughs of Southwark and Lambeth.

Morley College is a registered charity under English law.[2]


Students at Morley College in 1944

In the early 1880s, philanthropist Emma Cons and her supporters took over the Royal Victoria Hall, (the "Old Vic") a boozy, rowdy home of melodrama, and turned it into the Royal Victoria Coffee and Music Hall to provide inexpensive entertainment "purged of innuendo in word and action". The programme included music-hall turns with opera recitals, temperance meetings, and, from 1882, lectures every Tuesday by eminent scientists.

Local enthusiasm for these "penny lectures" and success in attracting substantial philanthropic funding, led in 1889 to the opening of Morley Memorial College for Working Men and Women. The College was founded by an endowment from Samuel Morley, MP for Nottingham and later Bristol. Samuel Morley is buried at Dr Watts' Walk, Abney Park Cemetery, in Stoke Newington, London.

The College was run separately from the Theatre, but held its classes and student meetings back-stage and in the theatre dressing rooms. The two split in the 1920s, when Emma's niece and successor Lilian Baylis raised funds to acquire a separate site nearby. It attracted some intellectual celebrities such as Virginia Woolf.[3]

Around the same time as the founding of Morley College (c.1880s), concern for the education of working people led to the establishment of other institutions in south London such as the forerunner of the South London Gallery.

The original Victorian college building was extended by Sir Edward Maufe in 1937. The Victorian building was destroyed in the Blitz in 1940 but Maufe's 1930s extension survived. The remains of the Victorian building were cleared and a new college building designed by Charles Cowles-Voysey and Brandon Jones was completed in 1958 and opened by Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother. It was decorated by fabulous murals by Edward Bawden, John Piper and Martin Froy. A further bronze curtain-wall extension followed in 1973 designed by John Winter, and another in 1982 clad in corrugates Corten-steel, on the eastern side of King Edward's Walk.

Music Department

Gustav Holst was Music Director at the college from 1907 to 1924 and its main music room is named after him.

Michael Tippett was director of music at Morley College from 1940 to 1951. His first connection with the College was as conductor of an orchestra of unemployed musicians, who gave the first performance of one of his best loved early works, the Concerto for Double String Orchestra.

Morley Chamber Choir, the Morley Chamber Orchestra, and Morley College Choir are established music groups within the College.

Notable staff members

Drama Department

A classical dance class at Morley College in 1944

The Drama department began in the rehearsal rooms of the Old Vic Theatre. Classes continued to be held there as recently as 2004, although most drama classes are now held in the main building at Westminster Bridge Road.

The college was the scene of early experiments in Improv Theatre when Keith Johnstone brought his troupe from the Royal Court Theatre Studio (later to become the Theatre Machine) to demonstrate his ideas to his Contemporary Theatre class. (source "Impro" ISBN 0-413-46430-X)

Courses have included Absolute Beginners Acting, more advanced classes, leading to a year-long auditioned Acting Studio course from which students were expected to go on and write, direct and produce their own theatre.

The department also combined with the education department of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre to teach the "Groundlings on Stage" course.

The Theatre School enjoyed success during the 1980s and early 1990s under the direction of Paul A Thompson (who was resident dramatist with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1977 and with the National Theatre 1977 to 1979) and Brian Croucher (who played a number of roles in TV shows including EastEnders, Blake's 7, Doctor Who, The Bill, Casualty, Doctors and Edge of Darkness).

The Acting Studio was particularly prolific under the tutelage of Craig Snelling, from 1993–2005, during which at least a dozen theatre companies were formed which went on to produce plays in various theatres at London Fringe venues.

Companies producing plays in 2005 included: Short and Girlie, Bedlamb, Twice as Loud, Mulabanda Productions, and Acting the Goat.

Notable staff members

Morley Gallery

Morley Gallery opened in 1968 as part of the Arts Centre in Morley College. The Arts Centre, situated in an old pub adjacent to the main College building, has a painting and drawing studio and a print studio on the first, second and third floors. Morley Gallery occupies the whole of the ground floor with six imposing windows facing Westminster Bridge Road and King Edward Walk, London,SE1.

The Gallery shows between eight to twelve exhibitions a year, each exhibition running on average for one month. The annual exhibition programme usually includes exhibitions of painting, printmaking, sculpture, photography, ceramics, textiles, installations, digital and sound art by independent artists and groups. Over the past 40 years many high profile artists have exhibited in the gallery, including solo exhibitions by Peter Blake Cabinet of Curiosities and several shows by Maggi Hambling including the acclaimed Father.

Morley Gallery is an integral part of College life and there is a strong commitment to exhibit work made by Morley students. For some students, such as Advanced Painting Workshop and Advanced Textile Workshop, exhibiting in the Morley Gallery provides an important part of their academic year.

The Gallery oversees an impressive permanent art collection throughout College. This includes a striking early painting by Bridget Riley in the foyer, a large painting by John Piper in the Gustav Holst auditorium and portraits of the College’s principals painted by Maggi Hambling. Miss Hambling has been a highly valued member of the teaching staff at the College since the 1970s.

There is no entrance fee to exhibitions and artists’ talks in the gallery are also free of charge.

Some noteworthy artists connected with Morley Gallery:


  1. Annual accounts for the year ending 31 August 2009.
  2. MORLEY COLLEGE LIMITED, Registered Charity no. 1023523 at the Charity Commission
  3. "Virginia Woolf: The Morley College Teacher". Retrieved 24 June 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

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