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WM College and The Pre-Raphaelites

Working Men’s College is among the earliest adult education institutions established in the United Kingdom, and Europe’s oldest centre for adult education.

Founded in 1854, the College was established by Christian Socialists to provide Victorian skilled artisans a liberal education. The College’s founders were Frederick Denison Maurice, (the first principal), Thomas HughesJohn Malcolm Forbes LudlowFrederick James FurnivallLowes Cato DickinsonJohn WestlakeRichard Buckley Litchfield and John Llewelyn Davies, with notable early supporters such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Ruskin of the Pre-Raphaelites brotherhood . Dante Gabriel Rossetti later went on to become a tutor at Working Men’s College alongside John Ruskin.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelites brotherhood and married Elizabeth Siddal, an influential model, muse and artist in her own right. Siddal most famously posed for John Everett Millais‘s Ophelia, in which she floated in a bathtub full of water to portray the drowning Ophelia. She became an icon of the Pre-Raphaelite movement and was perhaps the most significant of the female models who posed for them. Their ideas of female beauty were fundamentally influenced and personified by her.

The connection between Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Elizabeth Siddal and WM College is noted in Tate Britian’s recent exhibition ‘The Rossettis’ in which the romance and radicalism of the Rossetti generation is explored. During the exhibition there is a room dedicated to Rossetti and Siddal’s relationship and her untimely death, aged just 32. On the night of Siddal’s death, Rossetti and Siddal had gone for dinner before Rossetti went on to teach at Working Men’s College. On his return, Rossetti found Siddal unconscious with an empty bottle of laudanum beside her. A doctor treated Elizabeth, but she died the following morning. The Rossetti’s exhibition runs until Sunday 24th September 2023.

We’re very proud of our long and rich history at WM College and strive to protect it. That’s why we have invested in a complete refurbishment of our history library for 2023/24 academic year. The library is the historic heart of WM College and has some incredible resources which tell the story of the College from its inception in 1854. The tasteful developments by Atomik Architects will provide additional study spaces for working in small groups, improved desk areas for independent study and a new area for specialist talks and events. The aim is for the library to become a central space for the College bringing our heritage to life through more active use.

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