Work has started to transform the former Austin House in Worcester’s Castle Street in top class arts facilities for city students.
The University of Worcester is restoring and refurbishing the Grade II Listed building into what will be known as The Art House, providing high quality teaching and learning space. The new facility will also provide further public exhibition space, alongside those in The Hive, and will build on the University’s cultural contribution to the City.
Midlands-based contractors, Stepnells, are carrying out the works and The Art House is expected to open in September 2018.
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 large open plan spaces of the building lend themselves naturally to art and design based courses, giving students plenty of freedom for creative thought and activity.
Professor David Green, Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University, said: “This is an iconic building in Worcester and we are thrilled to be bringing it back into use for the whole community to enjoy.
“Many of the original features will be retained, including, of course, the distinctive clock tower. The Art House will provide students on our arts courses with excellent space to be creative and to showcase their work. Our plans include using the building as a centre for children’s creative camps – all part of the University’s inclusive approach to education.”
The Grade II Listed 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.