In 1845, a group of students of the Government School of Design in Somerset House, London, no longer able to endure the academic dictates imposed on them, began to work as an independent body in Dickenson’s Drawing Gallery, located in London’s Maddox Street. In 1848 Dickenson’s changed its name to Leigh’s Academy and relocated to Newman Street with James Matthews Leigh (1808-1860) as Principal. When he retired through ill-health, his pupil and assistant Thomas J. Heatherley (1824-1913) took over the school and ran it for nearly thirty years without a break. Thus it was founded in 1845, as Heatherley’s and is now the oldest independent art school in London.
The school is among the few art colleges in the United Kingdom focusing entirely on portraiture, figurative painting and sculpture. Its former alumni include Burne Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Millais, Lord Leighton, Edward Poynter, Walter Crane, William Russell Flint, Michael Ayrton, Walter Sickert and Kate Greenaway. Heatherley’s was the first school to admit women on equal terms with men.