British Photographic Education 1945-60

I am researching the photographic scene in the late 1940s and 1950s and am trying to get a better idea of what aspiring photographers would be looking at and learning in these years.  Questions to which I would like to find answers include:

1. What courses were available for training in photography - and who was teaching - between 1945 and 1960? I am aware of the course run by Ifor Thomas at Guildford from 1947 onwards but were there really no others until Derby in 1966?

2.  What were the more typical technical photography courses - eg. City and Guilds or others?

3. What was the typical course content for courses examined under the Institute of Incorporated Photographers or City and Guilds?

4. What was the content on Ifor Thomas's Guildford course?

5. When did Ifor Thomas move to Farnham, and did his approach - or course content - change when he went to Farnham?

6. What role (and when) was played by Walter Nurnberg in photography education in Britain?

I will also be posting a similar request on the British Photohistory website - so don't be surprised if you come across a similar request there.

Many thanks in advance for any offerings.

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  • I joined Watford College of Technology in 1962 and I am fairly sure that there was a well-established photography course running then, which would have started in the period in which you are interested. This would have been in the Hempstead Road site.

    I have no contacts from that period, but you could try the library or Watford public library to see if they have any old prospectuses.

  • British Photographic Education 1945-60

    The School of Art within the then South West Essex Technical College, in Forest Road Walthamstow, ran a two year course starting before 1953 – I started in September of that year, and the course had been running for some time before. In 1953 the course was headed up by Tony Basil with Henry Lewes (I take it Rita Tait has the correct spelling) as the only other lecturer. The course was designed (perhaps a generous term) for the then IBP (since then becoming, as I'm sure you know, the IIP and then later the BIPP) Preliminary at the end of the first year of full time study and the Intermediate at the end of the second. As Rita Tait says, Ken Russell was a student at Walthamstow but had, I think, officially left at the end of the academic year 1952/3. He was, however, frequently in college, being toroughly entertaining and making frequent use of the darkroom, with the blessing of both Tony Basil and Henry Lewes it should be added. Tony Basil left the college in the summer of 1954 and Henry Lewes took over. Julian Sheppard then joined the staff.

    Of course you will know about the Regent Street Poly. In addition to its full time students, it catered for many evening students in those day, well into the 1960s and perhaps beyond. There was a course at Ealing somewhere (seems to be part of U of Westminster now) and Blackpool must have got under way quite soon.

    Syllabuses etc. IBP(IIP etc.) medical (London School of Medical Photography began operation around this time) and, as well as the commercial, I believe there was a 'scientific and technical' final. There may have been others.

  • You really should speak to my father, Brian Edwards. Born partially sighted in 1938, he attended Exhall Grange school in Coventry, where he expressed an interest in film and photography. While they built him a darkroom, they sent him to the Birmingham school of art, every Wednesday. He then did an apprenticeship and went on to work as a professional photographer until he retired and took up video making (which he still does, despite being registered blind!) He is a mine of information and really worth talking to!
  • Two suggestions: 1 You might try contacting Richard Sadler if you have not already done so - if you don't have contact details, ask and I'll forward request to him. 2. The Royal Navy Photography schools operating in this period (and for many years before) should not be forgotten, ex Navy phots went on to both teach in colleges and practice professionally.

  • Hi Damian,

    Just curious as to how you are progressing with your research. Particularly re. Rita's info July 26th

    Jack Tait

  • For anyone following this forum thread please also see this blog posting and associated files:


  • Jack Tait

    1.Guildford was the prime creative course unlike Regent street which was technical. It did teach some City and Guilds courses and also offered an Agfa Colour Printing certificate. But its main emphasis was on the creative side, C+G qualifications were of little value  in getting a job taking pictures.

    .2 Ifor did not go to Farnham he had died before the move. Rita has the fullest and probably the best detail on this.

    3. Walter Nurnberg ran the Guildford course for a while; he was a good friend of Ifors. Again check with Rita, she has the research.

    Jack Tait

  • Jack Tait,

    Re. the LCP, at back Hill and later at the Elephant and Castle this course was run and probably started by Freddie Cook
    who was an ex Guildford student under Ifor thomas. He was assisted for much of the time by Julian Shepherd another ex Guildford student. The course at Back Hill was certainly thriving in the 60's; I taught there as a part time lecturer for a short while between 1960-61: at that time the major courses were Guildford, LCP and Regent Street. It would be worth asking Mike Hallett re all this and also re. Bournmouth where Frank Turland ran a very good course. Mike has probably got more information on British course than anyone I know and he was one of Frank's students. 

    At an early time in the fifties before I first went to Manchester in 1958 Tom Buckeridge set up a course at Leicester. Tom again was a Guildford student who was at Guildford prior to my time there so that would have been prior to 1955. It would be fair to say that Guildford has produced more course leaders in the 20C than any other establishment.Many of my students have started courses including Dr Daniel Meadows and Bill Shepley.

    Nigel Trow another ex Guildford student taught at Birmingham and went on to run the Derby course which I had developed

    to have a reputation between 1961 and 1965. Freddie Cook had had a connection with Derby for a short time but it was only a part time course until I took it over in 1961. 


    I can probably recollect more but this may be useful for starters. Contact me on


    Jack Tait


    David Stone said:

    Your request for more information, Damian, forces me to search my memory, since I have no personal documentation from the course.


    On page 555 of the BJ Photographic Annual for 1962, however, you will find an advertisment for this course. The alternative course at the Regent Street Polytechnic (also advertised here) was generally considered to be rather old-fashioned by comparison.


    I became aware of the existence of the course via an illustrated article describing it in some detail, which, so far, I've failed to track down. I'm fairly sure that it was illustrated in colour, which would narrow the field a bit. Probably published some time in the first half of 1962.


    The 3-year, full-time course in Photography was located until the end of the 1962-63 academic year at Back Hill, in Clerkenwell. From September 1963 the course moved to the top floor of the new building - barely completed - at the Elephant & Castle, complete with double-height studio.


    Course content was an interesting mixture of very forward-looking thinking and the use of, and instruction in some practices that were then decades out of date, but nevertheless gave us a solid grounding in the basics of photographic practice.


    One morning a week for the whole of the first year was devoted to life drawing, for instance. And all the photographs we produced at college for the whole of the first year were made with half-plate Gandolfi cameras, with quarter-plate reducing backs, and a collection of uncoated brass lenses, and no shutter. And we learned how to develop an ortho plate by inspection. And much more. But of course we moved on subsequently to modern materials and methods.


    The course, generally speaking, was technically oriented, aimed at making us into competent, versatile photographers, while allowing considerable scope for experiment.


    And a major benefit of moving to the new building was the consequent interaction between photographers and those on other courses. In the third year, joint projects were encouraged between the photography and graphic design students, to the benefit of both.


    The students in my year came from a wide variety of backgrounds. Athough the majority were British, others came from Italy, Switzerland, Japan, South Africa and Belgium, indicating perhaps that such courses were not generally available in other countries.


    As for the reasons for joining the course - I think that, without exception, we all wanted to be professional photographers. An occupation that was seen as far more interesting than most others that were available to us and, in the early sixties, potentially both glamorous and lucrative.


    Our inspirations were, to a large extent, the work being produced by our near-contemporaries. This was the era of Bailey/Donovan/Duffy/McCullin, all young photographers who had started to gain a reputation. We kept a close watch on Vogue and its competitors, where all editorial photographs were credited. And anywhere that good quality advertising and editorial photography was appearing, which meant, to a large extent, the USA. So we relied heavily on the library, since most of us couldn't afford to buy these expensive magazines. As I remember it, we didn't take any interest in photography magazines, only in published work. And I can't remember going to an exhibition.


    My general impressions of the course are entirely positive. It was, I think, for its time, exceptionally wide-ranging in its content, and in the way that it introduced extra-photographic elements (such as life drawing), the results of which were a positive influence on me in my subsequent career as photographer and teacher.


    David Stone

    Damian Hughes said:

    Thanks for this David. May has mentioned the London School course. Do you have any information on course content? Was the course very technical, documentary, photojournalistic or aesthetic in outlook?
    Also, I would be interested in your impressions of what aspiring photographers were looking at in the late 1950s, early 60s. What made you and your fellow students 'sign up' for photography. Did you all look at other photography - if so where did you find it? Exhibitions? Magazines? Which magazines?

  • Thankyou for this Duncan - lots to think about.

  • Damian - we have just about recovered from the excesses of the HayFestival now so why don't you call Jack for a chat about the halcyon days of Guildford (01497 821132). I can see a number of queries raised in this discussion which I am sure

    he could answer having started and run Derby & Manchester Schools of photography ( John H was his technician I think for example)


    Do you know for example that Ken Russell was taught at Walthamstow by Ifor's ex student Henry Lewes - still alive but in his 90s?

    Priscilla Conran was ex of Guildford.

    Agatha Christie was taught by Ifor Thomas at the Reimann School of Design, London as she prepared to travel to Iraq with her new husband the archeologist Max Mallowan as his site photographer.


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