By the end of the 20th century Canterbury was home to three universities, the University for the Creative Arts (founded as the Canterbury School of Art and Architecture 1948), Canterbury Christ Church University (formerly College of Education founded 1962) and the largest and first to be a university, the University of Kent (founded 1965).

The University of Kent

The University of Kent at Canterbury opened its doors in 1965. Situated on the high ground between St Thomas’ and Tyler hills to the north of Canterbury within 300 acres of parkland the campus affords stunning views of the old city Canterbury and Cathedral. Designed to be a collegiate university with most students living in colleges with resident tutors, the four original colleges, Darwin, Eliot (named after the poet T. S. Eliot, who died on the same day that UKC was established, 24 January 1965), Keynes and Rutherford, were followed by three more colleges in the first decade.

Originally the university was named the University of Kent at Canterbury because the campus straddled the boundary between the old city boundary of Canterbury and Kent County Council. It was popularly known as UKC from 1965 to 2003 when the name was changed to the University of Kent by which time the university had spread its provision to other centres across Kent, such as at Tonbridge.

As numbers continued to increase the colleges were followed by additions to student housing to the point that in the mid ‘80s the university abandoned the collegiate concept to treat all accommodation as halls of residence. In 1989 a set of 26 student houses were built next to Darwin College, Becket Court was opened in 1990 next to Eliot College and Tyler Court comprising three blocks of residence was developed between 1995 and 2000. Parkwood, a mini student village comprising 262 two storey houses and an apartment complex was progressively built and occupied between 1980 and 2004. Between 1965 and 2000 student numbers grew from the initial group of 500 undergraduates who arrived in September 1965 to 15,000 undergraduates and 4000 postgraduates.

While this construction was going on apace the Cornwallis building was unwittingly built over the tunnel of the historic Canterbury and Whitstable Railway. At the cutting edge of technology in 1826 the half mile tunnel under the high ground at Tyler Hill had provided a direct route for the world’s first steam passenger railway. On the evening of 11 July 1974 the south-west part of the building sank into the ground when the tunnel beneath collapsed. The university had to demolish the sunken part which was rebuilt as another wing. The old tunnel was blocked up with concrete. It was noticeable in the 1990s that parts of the building were still uneven and that within the building some corridors went nowhere.

By the early-21st century the University of Kent had established superb facilities for its vibrant student population of around 19,000 in the refurbished Templeman Library, Gulbenkian theatre and cinema, sports centres at Park Wood, Collyer-Ferguson concert hall (2013) and student social venues and welfare services. It established the University of Kent at Medway in 2001 and enjoys strong links in Europe with universities at Brussels, Paris and Athens.

Canterbury Christ Church University

Canterbury Christ Church College of Education was founded by the Church of England and opened its doors to 70 students and 9 teachers in 1962 for teacher training. In 1964 the college took over the purpose-built North Holmes Road site, built on part of St Augustine’s Abbey which had remained an open space and orchard. The roof to the chapel of Christ in Majesty, formed of four heavenwards pointing triangles in glass, is a distinctive landmark. A generally impressive ensemble of low-rise buildings (excusing Fisher Tower) are open to green spaces including an orchard and herbal garden. Although infilling has reduced the lawns, the sound of mowing still resonates outside seminars and lectures in the warmer months.

In 1976 the first non-teaching degrees were launched. Enlarged by the addition of health-related professional courses by 1988 the college had 1500 students. In 1995, awarded the power to award degrees for teaching its own courses, the name changed to Canterbury Christ Church University College. Full university status followed in 2005 in a ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral and the installation of Archbishop Rowan Williams as chancellor.

CCCU has grown exponentially in numbers as more accommodation has been built and other sites occupied around the city. The former church of St Gregory’s (North Holmes road) is a centre for music, the Sidney Cooper Gallery (close to the Westgate Towers) was CCCU’s arts school until 2020, Halls Place (Harbledown) was the university’s Enterprise Centre. A multi-million sports centre opened in 2009, the Daphne Oram Arts building opened in 2019, followed by a new Science and Technology building in 2021. Student accommodation flanks the ring road from Canterbury East station towards the Old Dover Road, where [Augustine House] (2009) is an award winning library and student services centre. CCCU spread its wings to take over the Salomons Centre (Psychology) in Tunbridge Wells (1996) and to establish the Broadstairs campus (2000) and Medway Campus (2005).

The motto of Canterbury Christ Church University, Veritas Liberabit Vos (The truth shall set you free), acquired additional significance on taking over the adjacent Canterbury Prison and Law Court in 2014. The campus can now be accessed by the former Sessions Court House with the emblems of ‘Justice’ and ‘Mercy’ over the entrance. With 15,000 students (75% full-time and 25% part-time) enlisted in all locations, CCCU has become a leading provider of higher education and is firmly committed to ‘the power of higher education to enrich individuals and to active engagement within the wider community’.

University for the Creative Arts

The University for the Creative Arts at Canterbury, which today counts 6,000 students, combines the former Canterbury School of Art (founded 1882) and School of Architecture (founded 1948). The UCA is located on part of the former Barton Manor Estate, farm land which as the medieval ‘borough” of Longport had pertained to St Augustine’s Abbey. Accessed from the Old Dover Road the site is divided between UCA and Canterbury Technology College (established 1947).

The Canterbury School of Art, founded in 1868 by the landscape and animal painter, Thomas Sidney Cooper, came into formal existence in 1882 when Sidney Cooper presented his home in St Peter’s Street to the City of Canterbury. One of Cooper’s students in the 1890’s Mary Tourtel (1874-1948) became the creator of Rupert the Bear, as a cartoon strip first published in the Daily Express in 1920. Four studios were added by the city council in 1911. By 1937 the Art School counted 137 pupils. After the Second World War the School gained an annex in St Peter’s lane. It remained housed in the building that had been Sidney Cooper’s home and studio until 1972.

The plans to combine the School of Art and School of Architecture as a purpose built college were designed by the city architect JL Berbiers. The new building was built on the Longport site which had been part occupied by the Technology College since 1947. It opened in 1971. In 1987 the college merged with the Rochester and Maidstone Colleges of Art to form the Kent Institute of Art and Design (KIAD), which in 2005 became the University College for the Creative Arts. In 2008 the UCA became a full university – a wonderful outcome for an art school of such humble origins. Alumni include the artist Tracy Emin and designer Zandra Rhodes. Ian Dury, front man of the 1970’s rock band, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, taught Fine Art at UCA Canterbury.

Fortunately the Sidney Cooper Centre also remains a place for teaching art. In 2005 it was taken over by Canterbury Christ Church University for its own fine art department. Not a bad ending for this piece of the Canterbury map.

Canterbury College

Formerly a College of Technology, Canterbury College for students aged 16+ has grown in numbers and buildings on its Longport site since 1947. One of the largest Further and Higher Education Colleges in the south east, the colleges provision ranges from vocational and diploma qualifications across a range of subjects to day-release courses and in-house training.

Most of the original and 1960s buildings have been demolished in an impressive redevelopment programme, which has won building excellence awards. The smoking area which was a common sight on the adjacent New Dover Road has been relocated to the back of the college.

Return to the homepage for 20th-century Canterbury, or explore Canterbury’s economic growth through the essays on Canterbury’s commerce and industrial heritage, its retail industry and trading estates, or Canterbury as a boom city. You can also learn more about Canterbury’s schools, and how Canterbury has been shaped by other facets of its transport infrastructure and the railway, planning decisions, as well as the significant impact of the Second World War and the disastrous 1909 floods.