The Royal College of Art at Ambleside

Charles Mahoney: ‘Ambleside, View from the Library Roof’, 1942.

In autumn 1940 the students of the Royal College of Art arrived eager to resume their studies only to find that a notice on the locked door announcing that the college would re-open ‘in the near future, somewhere in the country.’

Eventually two hotels in Ambleside were selected to house the college away from the bombs falling on London.  The Queens Hotel would house the male students and the some of the staff, also providing classrooms. The Salutation Hotel would house female students and also accommodate  ‘the teaching of engraving and dress design.’

While Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden and Barnett Freedman were commissioned as war artists their former RCA colleagues and friends Charles Maloney and Percy Horton were evacuated to Ambleside alongside Professor of Painting Gilbert Spencer (Younger brother of Stanley).

Charles Mahoney: Waterside Hotel, Ambleside. Ambleside unfinished. Gas Mask Drill one and two. Charles’ rooms at the Queens Hotel.

Maloney and Horton went up to Ambleside in October to prepare for the delayed arrival of the students. On 2nd December 1940, nearly one hundred and fifty students arrived to resume their studies. The college would be based in Ambleside for the next five years. Reports in the local newspaper described the students ‘as being somewhat strangely garbed’, with young men ‘sporting wild and woolly beards.’

Percy Horton: Corner of Ambleside. House at Ambleside. Storm at Loughrigg. Shepherd.

The college made big efforts to integrate with the local community. For War Weapons Week the students produced window displays in local shops.  Warship Week was organized by students who had joined the 9th Westmorland Battalion of the local Home Guard.  The College Exhibition of 1941 attracted 1,000 visitors, a number which was doubled in 1942. College plays such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Percy Horton as Bottom the Weaver were extremely popular as were the lectures by visiting speakers which were open to the public.

Gilbert Spencer: Self Portrait. Grasmere Home Guard. The School on Peggy Hill, Ambleside. Troops in the Countryside 3rd version. Troops in the countryside study.

In July 1945 Principal Percy Jowett stated that the Lakeland episode had been a great success.

Graham Bennison, August 2021.

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