Tighes Hill school of arts building to go down in history

In the year 1900, a school of arts building was officially opened at Tighes Hill.

Renowned Newcastle architect James Henderson designed the building, which remains among the region’s most elaborate structures. 

Henderson designed numerous buildings in Newcastle, many of which have a “Victorian Italianate influence”, Les Reedman wrote in his book, Early Architects Of The Hunter Region.

The history of the old Tighes Hill building is now part of a research project.

The Newcastle branch of the Australian Decorative and Fine Arts Societies is seeking information from the public about “this splendid and magnificent-looking old building”.

The branch is particularly interested in the period between 1950 and 2000.

“The historic records cover early years, but there is a gap in the records between those particular years,” society member Jane Smith said. 

About 70 school of arts buildings were established in the Hunter and 3000 across Australia and overseas. 

The concept began in Scotland to educate the working class.

“We’ve taken on the job of preserving as many of these buildings’ records and histories as we can physically manage,” Mrs Smith said.

“They’re not meant to be weighty tomes or PhDs.

“It’s rather a gathering of the knowledge across the nation, so it’s preserved and kept in the national archives and available for people to access.”

Mrs Smith said school of arts buildings were built “at the beginning of the establishment of Australia, as a place where people could go to learn new things and study”.

“It was a school designed as a cultural establishment.

“They had libraries and newspaper reading rooms. People went there for lectures and to dance and all sorts of things to do with the arts,” she said.

In some towns, these kinds of buildings were called mechanics institutes.

“Some were called both,” she said.

“They were vital to the community’s educational and cultural development.”

In later years, schools and libraries were established and the school of arts buildings declined.

“They ceased to have the central meaning they had originally,” she said.

The Tighes Hill building is now being used for community purposes.

Contact Mrs Smith on 0418 647 783 or email at janeysmith1@bigpond.com.


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