Village College

29 Sep 1999
Village College, New Road, Impington, South Cambridgeshire, Cambridgeshire
Photograph (Digital)
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This information is taken from the statutory List as it was in 2001 and may not be up to date.


219/15/84 NEW ROAD 28-JAN-71 Village College


Comprehensive school, built as village college. 1938-9 by Walter Gropius and E Maxwell Fry for Cambridgeshire County Council. Brick cross-wall construction, with some steel roof trusses, and steel framed assembly hall. External brick walls are faced with rough-textured yellow bricks, with dark brown brick plinths, chimney stacks and the piers carrying the steel girders which span the hall roof. Roofs of timber covered with boarding and asphalt. Steel roof trusses to classroom ranges supported on internal walls, so that the external walls can be largely glazed. This is a very early example of this simple building device. One and two storeys. The plan is based around a central promenade, which originally doubled as the dining area, reached directly from the main entrance, and with side entrance from Centre Court serving playgrounds. To the right of the main entrance is the assembly hall, intended also as a community hall for films and plays, fan shaped and in style reminiscent of Lubetkin and Tecton's contemporary hall at the Finsbury Health Centre, but with a stage. The two buildings served to popularise this plan in the 1950s, for school halls and for entertainment buildings - including the Royal Festival Hall. Beyond, two-storey classroom range over library and (slightly later) needlework room, with two staircases and later lift. To the rear of the promenade is the main classroom range, which extends from centrally-placed laboratory, and with covered way linking the classrooms. To the left of the entrance a gently curved range houses the adult accommodation: common room, staff room (formerly for table tennis), billiards, lecture room, committee room and library, connected to rear by covered way and with rippling pattern of bay windows under deep timber eaves to front.

The style of the facades anticipates the architectural idiom of the 1950s. Steel opening casements, in narrow timber surrounds, those to central core framed in plaster box surrounds; strong transoms above and/or below the main opening range. Timber glazed doors. Architectural display is reserved for the entrances. Main entrance through triple paired doors in blue tiled surrounds under thin cantilevered canopy with tiny round skylights, set within a framework of contrasting brickwork and with broad metal window over. Side entrance set between curved walls.

Interiors. The unmoulded walls, many without skirtings, reflects the conscious simplicity of the design. Original doors survive throughout. Assembly hall with folded plaster ceiling incorporating square vents, timber floor and stage front. Promenade lined with lockers. Adult common room lined in plywood. Plaque commemorates the donation of the adult wing by the Directors of Chivers and Sons Limited. At the entrance another plaque commemorates the donation of the site of Impington Village College in memory of John Chivers 1857-1929.

The village college was the inspiration of Henry Morris, proselytising Education Officer for Cambridgeshire County Council. He saw that in a rural area with few amenities those provided in a school should and could be put to serve the entire community. Between 1927 and 1940 he secured the building of four such schools, each with a wing dedicated to adult education. From these small beginnings began many ideas of community education widely promoted after the war, and developed architecturally by authorities such as Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire in the late 1960s and 1970s. Impington, the fourth, is the most significant, however, for suggesting a loose-knit, relaxed style of building, understated, modern yet user-friendly and incorporating traditional materials, that inspired the post-war school building boom that was England's most significant architectural achievement internationally. It was an important source for the ideas embodied, most notably, in the Hertfordshire schools programme. It is also much the most significant and only unaltered work by the pioneering modern architect and educator Walter Gropius (1183-1969) from his short residency in Britain (1934-7), and one of his few buildings anywhere. Gropius was the pioneer of the simple modern stylle in brick and glass, for example his Fagus Factory, Alfeld (1911 onwards) and temporary Werkbund Exhibition office buildings in Cologne (1914). But Gropius showed a particular interest as a designer of entertainment and education buildings, and among his first contacts on reaching England in 1934 were Leonard Elmhirst of Dartington Hall and Henry Morris. Morris saw Gropius's college as a prototype for subsequent buildings, and secured private funding from grant sources for the employment of an outsider.

`Henry Morris's celebrated series of village colleges in Cambridgeshire were the most prophetic expression of what a "community school" might mean. They beagan by offering an eductional example, and went on to give an architectural one as well.' (Saint, 1987). `One of the best buildings of its date in England, if not the best. Equally successful I its grouping and its setting among the trees of the Impington Hall Estate. The paattern for much to come (including most progressive scholls built after the Second World War), in so far as at Impington the practical and visual advantages of modern forms in a loose yet coherent, completely free-looking arrangement had first been demonstrated.' Later additions, detached in the grounds, were always intended, as funding allowed. The original Gropius Building is little altered and has been well maintained.

Sources Architects' Journal, 21 December 1939 Architectural Review, December 1939 Reginald Isaacs, Gropius, Boston, Bullfinch Press, 1983 Andrew Saint, Towards a Social Architecture, London, Yale University Press, 1987, pp.41-4 Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Cambridgeshire, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1970, pp.412-3 David Elliott, `Gropius in England', in Charlotte Benton, ed., A Different World: Emigr Architects in Britain 1928-1958, London, RIBA, 1995, pp.107-124

Listing NGR: TL4462263170


This is part of the Series: IOE01/0416 IOE Records taken by Neil J Clarke; within the Collection: IOE01 Images Of England


© Dr Neil J. Clarke. Source: Historic England Archive

This photograph was taken for the Images of England project

People & Organisations

Photographer: Clarke, Neil J.

Rights Holder: Clarke, Neil J.


Brick, Tile, 20th Century Village College, Education, Training College, Comprehensive School, Secondary School, School