A brief history of WSA Library and its many locations over the years…..

You might be surprised to read this but there has been a School of Art in Winchester since 1870. Unusually, it started its life at the Bishop of Winchester’s residence Wolvsey Palace, where one presumes it was given some rooms to hold drawing, painting and carving classes.

Five years on the School had become firmly established in the town and moved, due to rising numbers, to a purpose-built site at the Winchester Guildhall. There is still a Winchester School of Art sign above one of the doorways – see if you can spot it when you next walk past the Guildhall!

The School moved again in 1936 to premises that were at the time the Winchester Reference library (which can be found half way up North Walls on the left hand side). This building has now become private apartments but still looks like it could have once been some sort of council building.

In 1962 permission was granted for a purpose built Art School to be built in Winchester which was at the time in line with a general expansion of further education colleges. Winchester was one of forty Art schools approved and so in the Autumn of 1965 the grand opening took place with the Minister of Education cutting the ribbon. Students arrived from far afield, with lodgings provided for them in and around the town. The Library, in the Rotunda, provided the main focus of the site. It occupied both floors and as you can imagine, would have made a lovely space.

Once again however the library outgrew its size, as did the School generally. Alternative sites were considered but eventually the City Council decided to remove one of its municipal car parks from Park Avenue and the School was able to purchase the land to build much needed studio space, seminar rooms, a new lecture theatre, library and student union building.

The new library attracted a lot of interest, as did the whole of West Side because of what was achieved in terms of building quickly and economically – it did in fact win an architectural award from Winchester City Council for its ‘Bauhaus design on a budget’! At this point, the library was situated downstairs in what are now The Winchester Gallery and MA Fine Art studios. A huge study space was designed at the front of the library (where the building protrudes), the book stacks and loans desk were behind this, and a quiet Reading Room could be found at the very back. Nobody ever complained about the sweep of the arm of the knitting machines going whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, backwards and forwards (from the Textile Knit studio above), and it was generally considered a very nice place for quiet study!

And a final surprise for you – during Christmas vacation 1999-2000, Park Avenue suffered extensive flooding. The library had to be evacuated, and thankfully we just managed to get the book stock out with very minimal damage. The library was homeless for a short while before it was decided, once the water had subsided, that it was too risky to return to the ground floor. We were therefore moved to our current location in what used to be the Foundation Studios. The library suffered another ‘near miss’ when just before it opened one morning  in February 2005, one of the Orb lights, (the huge lights hanging from the ceiling) fell down onto one of the tables and chairs causing a fire. Fortunately, the sprinklers sprang into action, dousing the fire and a member of security was quickly alerted before too much damage could be done.

Over the past year we have re-organised all the library stock in the current location to improve access to core books, the printed back runs of key journals, the Artists’ Books Collection and the Knitting Reference Library books. However some stock is located in a store on site including the archive of knitting patterns, oversize books and the back runs of historic printed journals. We are always hoping for a new purpose built location post-flood so we shall see what the future holds..….

By Judy Russell

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