Henry Morris, village colleges and community schools.His vision of the village college – and his capacity to realize his ideal – have made a profound impact on our understanding of what is possible in schooling
Life: (outline prepared by Tony Jeffs)
1889 Born Southport, Lancashire
1903 Office boy then reporter – The Southport Visitor
1910 St David’s University College, Lampeter – read Theology
1912 Exeter College, Oxford
1914 Volunteered for Army Service – Officer RASC
1919 King’s College Cambridge – read Philosophy
1920 Learner to Salter-Davies (Kent CC)
1921 Assistant Secretary of Education Canbridgeshire
1922 Secretary of Education for Cambridgeshire
1923 Cambridgeshire Agreed RE Syllabus published
1924 Wrote and published Memorandum
1930 Sawston Village College opened
1937 Bottisham and Linton Village Colleges open
1939 Impington Village College opened
1946 Visits West Africa as advisor, joins Ministry of Town and Country
Planning (2.5 days per week)
1949 Publishes plan for Cambridgeshire Regional College of Technology
1954 Retires – Cambridgeshire now has 6 Village Colleges. Also planned for
Devon, Leicestershire, Cumbria and Somerset.
1955 Hilltop project, South Hatfleld
1957 Digswefl Arts Trust, Welwyn
1959 Opens Comberton Village College – last public appearance
An assessment of Morris’s contribution
When talking of community schooling, perhaps the most significant vision of
what it could be is associated with Henry Morris. From 1922 to 1954 he was
Secretary of Education for Cambridgeshire, the third poorest county LEA
(Burton 1943), which despite proximity to prosperous Cambridge was beset by the
problems of rural decline. There was considerable concern about the future of
the rural economy. First, there was the development of more mechanised
approaches to farming and the consequent loss of jobs on the land. Second, there
was a general movement to towns and cities as these offered a range of jobs and
opportunities. Third, there were concerns about the loss of rural crafts because
of changes in the local economy, the introduction of machinery and the movement
to the towns.
Morris argued that a new institution – the village college – could play a
significant role in regeneration.
Exhibit 1: Henry Morris’s vision of the
The village college as thus outlined would not create something
superfluous; it would not be a spectacular experiment and a costly luxury. It
would take all the various vital but isolated activities in village life – the
School, the Village Hall and Reading Room, the Evening Classes, the Agricultural
Education Courses, the Women’s Institute, the British Legion, Boy Scouts and
Girl Guides, the recreation ground, the branch of the County Rural Library, the
Athletic and Recreation Clubs – and, bringing them together into relation,
create a new institution for the English countryside. It would create out of
discrete elements an organic whole; the vitality of the constituent elements
would be preserved, and not destroyed, but the unity they would form would be a
new thing. For, as in the case of all organic unities, the whole is greater than
the mere sum of the parts. It would be a true social synthesis – it would take
existing and live elements and bring them into a new and unique relationship.
The village college would change the whole face of the problem
of rural education. As the community centre of the neighbourhood it would
provide for the whole man, and abolish the duality of education and ordinary
life. It would not only be the training ground for the art of living, but the
place in which life is lived, the environment of a genuine corporate life. The
dismal dispute of vocational and non-vocational education would not arise in it.
It would be a visible demonstration in stone of the continuity and never
ceasingness of education. There would be no ‘leaving school’! – the child would
enter at three and leave the college only in extreme old age. It would have the
virtue of being local so that it would enhance the quality of actual life as it
is lived from day to day – the supreme object of education… It would not be
divorced from the normal environment of those who would frequent it from day to
day, or from that great educational institution, the family… The village
college could lie athwart the daily lives of the community it served; and in it
the conditions would be realised under which education would not be an escape
from reality, but an enrichment and transformation of it. For education is
committed to the view that the ideal order and the actual order can ultimately
be made one.
Extract from Henry Morris (1925) The Village College. Being a
Memorandum on the Provision of Educations and Social Facilities for the
Countryside, with Special Reference to Cambridgeshire (Section XIV).
Morris published and circulated the Memorandum at his own expense. It is a
rich and diverse document which offers a blueprint for the reform of rural
education. His writing puts the bulk of the current outpourings on community
education and community schooling to shame. In this sense it is not difficult to
see why he has been so influential. However, what really brings him to our
attention is the fact that he was able to bring a number of colleges into being
(although not as many as he wished). These were marked by some imaginative
design and architecture, matching programmes, and the involvement of a number of
highly committed senior teachers. As we have seen, one of the interesting
features of his vision is the way he seeks to collapse some of the boundaries
that are erected in the minds of school based educators. The community is not
seen as some entity that exists beyond the school or college fence. He seeks to
have teachers and students see the daily routines and experiences of schooling
as an expression of community life, rather than something that has to be
carefully insulated from the vagaries of the ‘outside world’. His school or
college is very much ‘in the community’.
Morris faced monumental difficulties in even bringing his ideas to partial
fruition. Councillors, who were reluctant to spend one penny more than they were
legally obliged to, insisted the scheme be self-funding. Morris, therefore,
funded it by ‘consolidating’, (closing small, costly and inefficient schools)
and by raising funds himself. Holidays and spare time were devoted to cajoling
benefactors and charitable trusts into making donations. Donated land, grants
and gifts enabled Sawston Village College to be built. The college we are about
to look at – Impington – was built on land gifted by the owners of the local jam
factory. The owners had been persuaded by Morris that it, plus a cash donation,
would be a worthwhile investment which would allow them to close their costly
social and welfare centre.
Funding may have been cobbled together but he refused to cut corners. A
friend said that “his sharp eye for beauty and his hatred of the second rate
were his most pronounced characteristics’ (Fenn undated: 17). Accordingly his
Colleges deserved only the best. Morris saw the opening of the first, Sawston,
as such a significant event that it could only be carried out by royalty. So the
Prince of Wales, who believed he was opening a University College and was most
miffed to find it was a ‘mere school’, did the honours. Walter Gropius, a
founder of the Bauhaus Movement, and Maxwell Fry were commissioned to design
Impington – thus securing Morris a niche in architectural history for ensuring
that Gropius left one building as a memento of his brief stay in Britain. See:
Further reading and references
Morris published very little – surprising given his early
experiences in journalism. His classic Memorandum can be found in Ree’s
Ree, H (1984) The Henry Morris Collection. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press. A greatest hits anthology. Ree has made all our lives easier
by collecting most, not all but most, of the articles and talks Morris
delivered. Includes the Memorandum. He also adds and commentary where
Commentaries on Henry Morris
This listing was prepared by Tony Jeffs:
Bowen, F Watson (1973) ‘ The Cambridgeshire Village College: A cultural
centre for village life’ Aspects of Education pp 98-110. Reflections on
the work of a College Warden in particular but a good account also of the life
of a College during this period
Dent, H. C. (1946) The Countryman’s College, London: Routledge and
Kegan Paul. Enthusiastic account of Impington Village College written shortly
after it opened – illustrated.
Dybeck, M. (1981) The Village College Way, Cambridge: Cambridge
County Council. Written by a Village College Warden this offers a history of
their development plus documentation and a thoughtful reflection of the
direction they had and were taking.
Eyken, W. van der and Turner, B. (1969) Adventures in Education.
London: Allen Lane. Essays on progressive educators, including Morris.
Sympathetic, includes original material unavailable elsewhere.
Farnell, D. (1968) Henry Morris: An architect in education.
Unpublished Thesis, Cambridge Institute of Education. Written by a teacher at a
Village College it looks at the contribution of Morris and provides a unique
insight into College life from the neglected perspective of a classroom teacher.
Fenn, T. (undated) Recalling Henry Morris. Collection of short pieces
written by his friends shortly after his death. The emphasis is on the personal
rather than the educational.
Palmer, M. (1976) ‘Henry Morris’ Education
12th March. Short reflective piece written by a friend.
Ree, H (1973) Educator Extraordinary: The Life and Achievements of Henry Morris.
London: Longman. Detailed and well researched biography written attend and
collaborator. Some friends are somewhat unenthusiastic regarding the balance of
the book between the private and public persona but it surely remains one of the
outstanding biographies of educator.
Jeffs, T. (1999) Henry Morris. Village colleges, community
education and the ideal order, Ticknall: Educational Heretics Press. 92
pages. Exploration of Morris’s contribution and legacy that takes the debate
beyond Ree’s earlier biography. The book places his achievement within a proper
appreciation of the development of community schooling (and the roots that
Morris himself denied). Lots of new material, including some reflections on the
sad state of village colleges today.
Prepared by Mark K. Smith and Tony Jeffs December 1998.
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