University’s New Art House Taking Shape

Work to transform an iconic Worcester building into high quality teaching and learning space is progressing well.

The University of Worcester is transforming the former Austin House car showroom and garage in Castle Street, Worcester, into an Art House, which is expected to open to students early next year.

Members of the University of Worcester’s senior leadership, including Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive, Professor David Green, were given a tour by Midlands-based contractor, Stepnell, which is working to sensitively restore and refurbish the Grade II Listed building.  

Once complete, the Art House will be the home for Fine Arts and Illustration students, as well as providing facilities for a range of other arts-based learning.  It will also build on the University’s cultural contribution to the City, providing public exhibition space and be used as a centre for children’s creative camps in school holidays.

Professor David Green, Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University, said: “The University offers outstanding courses in illustration, design and art.  Our work in children’s illustration is acclaimed and exhibited around the world.  The creation of the new University of Worcester Art House will not only give this work a wonderful new home, it will provide a perfect city centre for children’s creative camps in the school holidays and a wonderful new venue for public exhibition.  Like all our new facilities, the Art House is purpose designed with inclusion and accessibility in mind – we believe that art is for all.  We plan that the first exhibition at the Art House will be on the theme of people moving countries with postcards specially created and contributed by leading illustrators from around the world.  This marvellous 1930s building, long a landmark in Worcester, is being brought back to life in a most creative way and will, we hope, be very well received as a further contribution by the University to Worcester’s renaissance.”  

Stepnell regional director, John Rawlinson, said: “We’re delighted to be working in partnership with the University of Worcester to breathe new life into this striking building.  Our team is making excellent progress, drawing on their expertise in creating high-quality teaching and learning environments for the university sector and their track record in working on listed buildings in historically important settings.”

Many of the building’s features will be retained, including its recognisable clock tower, which is being refurbished.  The roof has been replaced and the interior is being refurbished to give an open, light and airy, urban studio feel.  Inside, a number of more recently added internal walls have been removed to provide an extensive open studio and teaching space, while a most elegant new spiral ramp gives access between the two levels of the building for both able bodied and disabled users.

The internal refurbishment work is expected to be complete by autumn this year and the building will be fully open for regular timetabled teaching from the beginning of 2019. 

The art deco building, with its impressive and distinctive clock tower, was designed and built in 1939 as a car showroom for Lord Austin of Austin Motors.  Over the years it has been used by various motor dealerships, including HA Saunders, Mann Egerton and Rover.  In the 1990s it became the home of Rowe Carpets of Kidderminster, and most recently was used by County Furnishing for the sale of soft furnishings.

The building stands on part of the site of the old County Gaol, which closed during the early 20th Century.  It is understood that in the early 1800s, bodies of hanged prisoners would be taken, via a tunnel under Castle Street, to what was then the Worcester Royal Infirmary hospital, where they were used for medical practice. The University of Worcester’s Infirmary Museum, within the former hospital, which now forms part of the University’s City Campus, tells the story of this historical, gruesome link.