OUR HISTORY


Morley College enjoys a distinguished history dating back to the late 1800s.

Image of Emma ConsOur story begins with Emma Cons, a visionary and social reformer, who fought to improve standards within London's Waterloo district. In 1880, she leased what is now known as the ‘Old Vic’ theatre, and created the Royal Victoria Coffee and Music Hall, offering morally-decent entertainment at affordable prices for the community.

In 1882 the hall began to host weekly ‘penny lectures’, in which eminent scientists would address the public on a wide range of topics. The lectures were a huge success and quickly developed into evening classes which, in 1889, led to the establishment of Morley Memorial College for Working Men and Women. The name both recognised the generous support received from Samuel Morley, an eminent textile manufacturer and MP, and also proclaimed the College’s commitment to gender and class equality.

The original CollegeBy the 1920s enough funds had been raised to move to the College’s current location on Westminster Bridge Road. However, little of the original building remains today, with the majority destroyed by bombing raids in 1940. The College was rebuilt and officially opened by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, in 1958. Since then it has expanded, with the purchase of an old pub across the road, now converted into Morley Gallery and art studios; a large extension to the main building; and the development of a new sculpture studio in Pelham Hall, a disused church close to the College’s main site. Morley’s newest building, the Nancy Seear Building, was opened in 1983.

Gustav HolstOver the years the College has attracted staff with outstanding reputations. Renowned composer Gustav Holst was Director of Music at Morley from 1907 until 1924, a post that was later filled by Sir Michael Tippett in 1940. Other high profile figures associated with the College have included composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, writer Virginia Woolf and artist David Hockney.

Morley is home to several artworks created and donated by distinguished artists over the years. Of particular interest are the series of murals painted by Edward Bawden in the early 1960s, which depict scenes from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and are unique to Morley.   

The College Renaissance, the most recent period in Morley’s history, began in April 2008, and is a process of renewal which builds on the College’s rich heritage, and sets an ambitious new path for the future.