About Henry Morris

To find out more about Henry Morris, we invite you to read the text below and also to watch the film “Henry Morris – The Life & Legacy”, made by Sawston Village College in 2010 to mark the school’s 80th anniversary.

Henry Morris – The Life and Legacy from Sawston Cinema on Vimeo.

Henry Morris (1889-1961) was the Chief Education Officer in Cambridgeshire for over 30 years from 1922. In 1924 he wrote the now famous Memorandum which led to the founding of the Village Colleges. The movement seeded a change towards “community education” in many parts of Britain and abroad. This change was based on the belief that education should be a lifelong process. He called it “raising the school-leaving age to 90”. He was an outstanding man and one of the greatest figures in education of the twentieth century.

During the inter-war years the county of Cambridgeshire was the second poorest in England. There was no separate secondary school provision for the children of the county. A few children won scholarships to schools in the city, but most stayed behind to be taught in all-age schools until they could leave at 14. In the smallest schools, 3 to 14 year-olds were taught in the same room by one teacher. In 1930 a researcher describes classrooms so cold in winter “the ice on the aquarium did not melt for five days” and one classroom “twelve feet square and twenty feet high … like a lift-shaft. … No sun. Bad ventilation”. Henry Morris was charged with the task of reorganising the county’s education provision. He did so with imagination, determination and vision.

It is not easy now to imagine the amazement with which the first village colleges were greeted. This is a tribute to their influence. Much subsequent provision looked on the early village colleges as a model. The first four village colleges were opened before the war and therefore served as examples for the process of educational reconstruction which took place during and after it.

Henry Morris’s solution was quite staggering – the work of a genius. The idea of village colleges grew out of  a radical, liberal, paternalistic tradition. They existed to “confer significance” on a way of life. This task started with the design of the buildings, which were planned as “silent teachers”. The buildings were to serve the whole community – not just the children. The village college would provide for and meet the community’s physical, educational, cultural and recreational needs. A key principle behind this provision – buildings, curriculum, staffing, programmes – was that Education (as Henry Morris wrote) should never lie in the hands of administrators, necessary though they may be as “hewers of wood and drawers of water”, but in the hands of “philosophers, artists, scientists, prophets and scholars, operating in freedom”.

When Henry Morris died in 1961, a group of his friends decided to remember him in a way that would have been dear to his heart. They established a fund that could be used to enable young people to experience the joy and excitement of independent travel and study, and thereby be refreshed and inspired.

To read more about this man – his eccentricities, his flaws, his amazing will, and his stunning achievements – go to your library.