This year marks 125 years of further education at Bath College. Throughout this time, the college has supported generations of students – helping them to find employment, develop new skills and improve their career prospects. There have been new administrations, new courses and new buildings. Find out how everything started here.
When did Bath College first open?
In September 1892, the Bath City Science, Art and Technical Schools opened for its first intake of students into the new institution. In the course of 125 years, this facility has evolved through many changes to become the present day Bath College.
Why did the college open?
With Britain’s economic dominance being threatened by the USA and Germany the demands of industry and commerce for a better trained, more flexible workforce had to be met.
The response of the government of the day was to make available for technical education the delightfully named ‘whisky money’. This allowed local authorities – of which Bath City was one – to raise taxes on spirits and use the extra revenue to fund technical education. In the case of Bath, the amount of money raised in the year to March 1891 was £1,374. By 1901 this had risen to £1,900.
It was a matter of choice for councils whether they took up the option of establishing technical education. In fact Bath City was one of the earliest, for only 30 were established nationwide.
What education was available in Bath before the college?
Three establishments provided the core of what became the Bath City Science, Art and Technical Schools.
Firstly, there was the long established Bath School of Art and Science. This opened in May 1854 as the Bath School of Art and only added Science to its title in 1876.
A second strand was provided by the Bath Art Night Classes. The actual date of its opening is uncertain though a report of 1890 spoke of it having been in existence for 12 years.
The third strand was the Bath Evening Science School, again aimed at ‘artisans’. It was opened in 1879 and located at 36 Broad Street.
So when the City Council came to consider what to do in February 1891 there were already in existence institutions providing the needs of those of post compulsory school age. The Council’s deliberations and their decision led to the College’s foundation.
Where was the first college located?
The existing classes were rapidly outgrowing their accommodation and a central site needed to be found.
After much discussion, the council decided that the College should be built as an extension to the Guildhall, at the north wing of the site. However, this was not a decision universally approved in Bath; shopkeepers and businesses made it clear that they would have preferred such a valuable site to be used for more shops or a hotel.
This opposition never truly disappeared and so the College opened in September 1892 in a variety of locations spread across the city. All the old premises were retained – 33 The Paragon; Victoria Room, The Corridor and 36 Broad Street – and as a temporary measure 19 Green Park was leased to become, for the interim, the temporary headquarters of the College.
Despite these difficulties over accommodation, the College got off to a successful start with 554 students.
It was not until April 1896 that the new purpose-built premises for the College at the Guildhall were actually opened and the previous premises vacated. By this time there were approximately 660 students.
What could you study at the new college?
In its original form the College provided technical education in four broad areas of work – Art, Commerce and Languages, Cookery, Science, and Technical classes. There was, however, concern about the ability of many students, because they had an inadequate grounding in elementary education.
In the Science and Technical classes area, special foundation evening classes were developed which were made compulsory for all trades classes from 1901. In other areas, arrangements were made with the local elementary schools to provide introductory classes for interested pupils so as to provide a bridge into the College.
These challenges led to the decision to found a Secondary Day School for boys and girls in 1896. It was to be located within the Guildhall site and it had to share its staff with the other aspects of the College.
What happened as the college began to grow?
With all this expansion in the work of the College, it is no surprise that the Guildhall site rapidly became overcrowded. It had been designed for an enrolment of about 700 students but even in its first year the enrolment was 1,110. As commitment increased the pressure grew and by 1906-7 enrolment had risen to 1,609 students.
The solution was to remove the College from just one site and take up a number of satellite premises, designated for particular aspects of the College’s work.
The longer term solution, though, was to separate out the City Secondary Day School from the main body of the College.
During wartime, the college ran commercial courses for women, so that they could replace men called up for military service.
What happened to the Secondary Day School for boys and girls?
Firstly, a new girls school was established in 1922 as Oldfield Park Secondary School for Girls. In due course it became City of Bath Girls’ School and later Hayesfield School.
This left the boys in the Secondary Day School still occupying inadequate premises and the pressure to find a suitable site continued.
Eventually the city purchased the site on Beechen Cliff and a brand new building was constructed, capable of taking 850 boys. The school first occupied the premises in 1932 and was known as the City of Bath Boys’ School, now Beechen Cliff School.
Pressure on the Guildhall site was only partially relieved by these changes, however, as the College found its work in this area expanded again almost simultaneously.
The RUH building in Beau Street
Where did the college move next?
In 1929, the RUH agreed to sell its Beau Street building to the City Council and then move out when its own accommodation in Combe Park was ready. In December 1932 the RUH left Beau Street and the builders moved in. The College moved in formally in June 1935, amidst much celebration.
When did Bath College move to its current site in Avon Street?
In 1955 work began on Phase One of the College’s current Avon Street campus, which was occupied in September 1960.
Phase Two produced the Main Building and the extension of the Avon Street Building, occupied in 1963. Phase Three took longer to develop – The Kingsmead Building, Sports Hall and College Theatre were finally occupied in 1973. In spring 1993 the final building, the Allen Building, was completed and occupied by Catering, Hair and Beauty, and sports students.
In 2012 there was further significant change to the College’s Avon Street campus with the construction of the £5 million Roper Building. The attractive, modern building created an impressive new reception area, café and College shop, and a new industry-standard hairdressing salon, beauty treatment rooms and a spa. The Roper Building also saw the creation of a dedicated Undergraduate Centre for the increasing number of students studying Higher Education courses at the College.
What about the name changes for Bath College?
In 1974 the College left the control of the City Council after 82 years and came under the responsibility of the new Avon County Council. As a consequence of that council’s decision, the College’s name was changed in 1986 to City of Bath College of Further Education. The name was changed again in 1989 to City of Bath College.
More recently, the college merged with Norton Radstock College to become Bath College.
This is an edited version of ‘…affectionately known as The Tech’ – a booklet charting the history of City of Bath College, produced in 1992 by John Morell, a former history lecturer at City of Bath College.