The London County Council set up this vital art school in 1896 to promote the industrial application of decorative art. Its first principal, architect, educator and conservationist William R. Lethaby (appointed with the sculptor George Frampton) vigorously pursued this goal in the years leading up to the First World War. Lethaby was in sole charge at The Royal College of Art from 1900 to 1912. During that period, the school moved to new, purpose‐built buildings in Southampton Row and saw the organisation of a curriculum that emphasised an understanding of materials and experience using workshops.
Many of the first generations of staff came from within the Art Workers’ Guild membership, and their practice‐based approach to education marked a prominent break from what was generally offered elsewhere. After the school’s expansion in 1912, Fred Burridge became principal, and the expanded school concentrated on five significant departments with an emphasis on furniture, printing, and silver and goldsmithing. During this period, printing and book design had a distinguished history, exemplified by artist J. H Mason (originally from 1905 until 1940) and Douglas Cockerell amongst its earliest appointments to the staff (in 1897) with students such as Eric Gill and Neil Rooke.
In the 1930s, establishing a course on Design for Light Industry in 1938, the Central took on a more significant commitment to industrial design education. This direction was further developed after 1945 by Douglas Scott, a graduate of the Department of Metal Studies (1926–29), who established a systematic industrial design curriculum. This emphasis on design contributed to redesigning the institution’s title to Central School of Art and Design in 1966.
Other developments in the educational sector, such as expanding the Diploma in Art and Design, occurred alongside educational changes. In the post-war years, William Johnston, Principal of the School, initiated several design curriculum changes, including textiles, theatre, and ceramics. In 1986 the school became a part of the newly formed London Institute, bringing together art, fashion, printing, and other design‐related disciplines under the control of the Inner London Education Authority. In 1989, the school merged with St Martins School of Art to become Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design. It is now part of the London University of the Arts.
Oxford University Press. (2004). A Dictionary of Modern Design (1st ed.).