College for Distributive Trades

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The College for Distributive Trades was a technical training college in London. It was founded as the Westminster Day Continuation School in 1921. In 1986 it became part of the newly formed London Institute. In 1990 it was merged with the London College of Printing to form the London College of Printing and Distributive Trades, which in 1996 was renamed the London College of Communication.[1]

The College was on three sites: Leicester Square (formerly the premises of the Arthur Murray School of Dancing) Business, Retail and Marketing Departments

Charing Cross Road, Display Department.

Eagle Court, Smithfield, Meat Industries Department

The Display Department at 107 Charing Cross Road shared the building with St Martins School of Art, using the basement and first four floors above which and in the adjacent buildings, were the Art School. On the demise of the London County Council in 1985 the College, along with St Martins, the Central School of Art & Design, Camberwell College of Art, London College of Fashion and London College of Printing, formed the London Institute. In 1989 the Display Department moved to Back Hill in Clerkenwell and shared the site with the newly merged Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design (CSM). At the same time CSM took over the vacated space in Charing Cross Road and retained it until moved in the summer of 2011, to the new CSM building in Kings Cross. The Charing Cross Road building had been sold to Foyles Bookshop who have the corner building adjacent to 109 Charing Cross Road. Current building work will create a new space for Foyles and they will move into the lower three floors, with new apartments to be created above.

The Display Department began in the 1950s, although its significant period was in the late 1960s and 70s. There was a close relationship between the Department tutors and the receiving retail organisations. Students on full-time course, went on a period of work placement, generally in the department stores, because at the time they had quite large departments, and were able to cope with the additional number of students.

The Department was a unique organisation staffed by specialist display tutors, all of whom had previous and current experience in the display departments of most of the major (at that time) London Department Stores. The Department awarded qualifications of the British Display Society, which were predominantly based on two year full-time, as well as part-time evening courses, for those wanting to gain vocational skills to work in the display departments of department stores and fashion retailers.

The 1960s and 1970s were very much the era of 'Swinging London', full employment and large display departments, particularly in the department stores. Whilst stores such as Selfridges, Harvey Nicholls continue (albeit in quite different forms today), household names, such as Swan & Edgar, Bourne & Hollingswoth, The Civil Service Stores, Barkers, Derry & Toms and Pontings are now names of the past, and consequently, opportunities for employment and work experience for display students are much reduced.

The Department was organised into areas. The workshop for making props was in the basement, with facilities for woodwork and plaster and other materials. On the ground floor next to the entrance was the merchandise store. One of the key facilities was the range of merchandise students could select for their practice windows. Fashion, accessories, menswear, household and other items. Next to the store were the ground floor studios, made up of a number of mock windows, mainly for the part-time students. On the first floor was the College refectory and the first year studios. On the next floor the offices and design studios. Above them on the fourth floor the small specialist library second year studios and at the end of the corridor the art room, the domaine of Ron Root.

The Display techniques taught in the Department, were focused around 'traditional' displays for mixed merchandise as much as fashion and speciality goods. Displays were based on window 'boxes', much as you might have seen them in the high street. Key to these was the design idea of grouping merchandise. Windows would (generally) have a 'prop' as a background feature, possibly a sail, representing sailinfg for a nautical theme for women's blouses, or scarves. Windows were completed with a showcard or poster and small scale tickets, added to each individual piece of merchandise.


  1. ^ Robert Baxter (2001). GB 1574: London College of Printing Archive. AIM25: Archives in London and the M25 area. Accessed August 2013.