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Oxford Brookes University began life as the Oxford School of Art in 1865, when it occupied one room on the ground floor of the Taylor Institution in the centre of the city. Five years later the School of Science was incorporated, offering a wide range of scientific and technical subjects and evening classes in the University Museum. In 1891, the School was taken over by Oxford City Council’s Technical Instruction Committee and renamed Oxford City Technical School.
John Henry Brookes became Vice-Principal of the Oxford City Technical School and Head of the School of Art in 1928 and over the next 30 years he exerted a powerful influence on the development of the institution. He was committed, throughout his life, to the goal of making education available to all. When he was appointed, the School was scattered over 19 sites around the city. In 1949, a 25-acre site was secured in Headington and Lord Nuffield laid the foundation stone six years later. Brookes referred to the move to Headington as 'setting foot in the Promised Land'.
After his retirement in 1956, the institution was renamed yet again, becoming the Oxford College of Technology. In 1963, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh visited the newly completed site at Headington to preside at its official opening. Four years later, the Government announced its decision to create polytechnics, and the Oxford College of Technology became Oxford Polytechnic in 1970. Six years later, it acquired a new campus at Wheatley, just outside the city centre, when it amalgamated with Lady Spencer-Churchill teacher training college, and in 1988 it incorporated the Oxford School of Nursing.
Oxford Polytechnic became a university in 1992 under government legislation and decided to honour its founding Principal, John Brookes, in its new title. Dorset House School of Occupational Therapy in Oxford also became part of the new institution. In 1993, Oxford Brookes University acquired the 14-acre Headington Hill Hall site, formerly home to media tycoon Robert Maxwell. The following year, the University elected Baroness Helena Kennedy QC as its first Chancellor.