Obituary: Sir Ross Chesterman

WHEN ROSS Chesterman became Warden of Goldsmiths' in 1953, it was a small college beset with academic and financial problems, facing an uncertain future in its relations with London University. Today it is a constitutional and flourishing school of the university. Most of the necessary ground work that made this transformation possible was carried out during Chesterman's 21-year term as warden.

Chesterman was born in 1909, and graduated with first class honours in Chemistry from Imperial College, London, in 1930. He went on to combine a career in polytechnic teaching with part-time doctoral studies. After the award of his doctorate in 1937, he taught in various grammar schools, served as headmaster of Meols Cop Secondary School in Southport from 1946 to 1948 and held the post of chief county inspector of schools for Worcestershire from 1948 to 1953. Then, in his mid-forties, he applied for the wardenship of Goldsmiths' College and much to his surprise and delight, was appointed.

His delight was swiftly qualified as he came to realise the complexity of the task which he has taken on. Goldsmiths' was an institutional anomaly. It consisted of a teacher training department, an arts school, and a department of evening studies, all separately funded and intent on following their own agendas.

College policy as such was decided by a delegacy of London University, which owned the freehold of the land on which the college stood. A few of the staff held the status of recognised teacher, which allowed them to serve as examiners.

In other teacher training colleges, all students followed a two-year certificate. Some of Goldsmiths' students, however, were registered as undergraduates, but admission to these courses was restricted to prospective teachers. The college was also allowed to award its own teacher certificates. In all other matters, its scope for policy initiatives was strictly circumscribed.

Nevertheless, Goldsmiths' worked reasonably well as an educational institution. During the first decade of Chesterman's wardenship, it began to work even better. With the help of his registrar, George Wood, he imposed a coherent structure on its managerial and financial arrangements. He created a greater sense of collegiate unity while preserving the distinctive identities of Goldsmiths' three institutional parts. He appointed a younger generation of new education lecturers. The art school prospered and achieved new eminence. The evening courses were transformed into a burgeoning department of adult studies.

Chesterman's plans for securing the future of Goldsmiths', however, were overtaken by the dramatic expansion of higher education which followed the publication of the Robbins Report in 1963. In the early 1960s, Chesterman anticipated these changes and persuaded the college and the delegacy that unless Goldsmiths' diversified and grew, it would eventually be absorbed into one of the new polytechnics. He wanted Goldsmiths' either to become a school of London University or to be granted its own independent charter.

Chesterman devoted the second decade of his wardenship to the aim of creating a new kind of university institution in south-east London. He wanted it to become a college offering a combination of courses in academic disciplines, professional teacher education, the creative and performing arts and adult learning. New degrees were soon established in the social sciences, social and community work, music, drama and dance. With much patience and diplomacy Chesterman persuaded the university to establish the college's first chairs in education and social administration. The second of these posts was funded by the Borough of Lewisham, and was the first university chair to be sponsored by a local authority.

Despite these achievements, the Murray Committee refused to award school status to Goldsmiths' when it reported on the future of London University in 1972. Indeed, the committee went on to recommend that Goldsmiths' links with the university should cease. Chesterman, with the backing of many influential supporters, secured the restoration of the status quo. But the denial of school status was a cruel setback.

Chesterman refused to accept defeat. He spent the last two years of his wardenship restoring morale, encouraging new academic initiatives and attracting more revenue to finance further growth. When he retired in 1974 he left his successors a college that was prepared and poised for future success. In 1987, the senate voted to make Goldsmiths' a school of the university.

Throughout his long life, Ross Chesterman strove to foster and encourage innovation and excellence in teaching. He was continuously active in building closer links between Goldsmiths', the London Borough of Lewisham and its local schools and social services. In 1968 he was made a Liveryman and Freeman of the Goldsmiths' Company and his distinguished services to education were recognised by the conferment of a knighthood in 1970.

He married Audrey Hollick in 1938 and this was to be the beginning of a close and constant partnership that enriched both of their lives. They shared the same enthusiasms for hill walking and natural history, painting and music. Audrey always accompanied Ross on his travels throughout the world as an educational consultant. They were together for eight years of happy retirement until Audrey's death in 1982.

Ross had an imposing presence, a natural congeniality and concern for others and a great zest for life. He married again in 1985 and shortly afterwards moved to the Lake District with his second wife, Patricia. He died a few days short of his 90th birthday, still active and happily involved with family life and friends.

Ross Chesterman, educationist and university administrator: born 27 April 1909; Headmaster, Meols Cop Secondary School, Southport 1946-48; Chief County Inspector of Schools, Worcestershire 1948-53; Warden, Goldsmiths' College 1953-74, Honorary Fellow 1980; Dean, College of Craft Education (later College of Design, Craft and Technology) 1958-60, Vice-Master 1960- 82, Master 1982-99; Kt 1970; married 1938 Audrey Horlick (died 1982; one son, one daughter), 1985 Patricia Burns Bell; died Lancaster 24 March 1999.

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