Campus — History

ARU History


The original Cambridge School of Art was opened in 1858 by renowned art critic and social reformer John Ruskin and has remained at the heart of the university and creative education in the city ever since.  

A portrait of John Ruskin.
A portrait of John Ruskin.

In the early 1920’s Edward Bawden, one of Britain’s most distinguished graphic artists and printmakers studied at Cambridge School of Art. Ronald Searle, influential 20th century illustrator and the creator of the St Trinian’s books, studied at the art school in 1930's. Drawing is at the centre of what we do and in 1996 we established the world-leading MA Children's Book Illustration.  

1940's - 1960s

Art and activism has always had a place at ARU: the pioneer of radical auto-destructive art Gustav Metzger studied here in the 1940’s and his role as both conceptual artist and political activist is still important for contemporary artists.  

Collaborations with science have always existed too: in 1953, in collaboration with Crick and Watson across town at Cambridge University, lecturer Odile Crick drew the original sketch to illustrate the complex concept of DNA’s double helix—an iconic image that is still used today

During the experimental 1960s, the Cambridge School of Art was home to many forward-thinking students including caricaturists Roger Law and Peter Fluck, of TV’s Spitting Image fame, and Pink Floyd members Syd Barrett and Dave Gilmour, who played one of their first gigs in 1966 from the balcony of what is now one of our best-loved illustration studios. 

We’ve seen lots of changes since 1858 - we’ve changed our name several times and we’ve invested over £115 million in our campuses, our facilities and the best of creative tech- but we’re still passionate about transforming lives through inclusive and creative education and research. We're still inspiring our students; leading them to experiment, innovate and collaborate to bring about positive change – for themselves and the world around them. 

Thinking About Nothing.
Thinking About Nothing.