The Digswell Arts Trust was founded in 1957 by Henry Morris, the revolutionary educationalist, and inaugurated by Lady Mountbatten on 29th May 1959. Morris was a great enthusiast for the arts, and had been appointed to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning to advise on the cultural and leisure arrangements in the recently designated British New Towns. Morris passionately believed in art for people, and maintained that artists were vital for the well-being of society.
Through his energy, dedication and influence he persuaded the Government and the Welwyn Garden City Development Corporation to establish a Trust for professional artists. Digswell House, the first home of the Trust, was a regency mansion with cottages and outbuildings on the edge of Welwyn Garden City. The Development Corporation agreed to restore the house for artists’ accommodation, studios and workshops and lease it to the Trust at a modest rent, which would in turn reflect public patronage via affordable rents for the artists, who were designated “Fellows”.
Nearly 150 artists were accommodated by the Trust over the next 27 years at Digswell House. Some became internationally famous, including Hans Coper, Michael Andrews, John Brunsden, John Mills, James Butler, Peter Collingwood, Ralph Brown, Liz Fritsch, Lol Coxhill. Many other distinguished people supported the Trust including Henry Moore, Herbert Read, Bryan Robertson, Roland Penrose, Jane Drew, Jack Pritchard, and Victor Margrie.
Digswell House provided a collegiate environment but over the years required significant repair which the Trust was unable to financially support. Therefore, in 1984 the Trust moved to Attimore Hall Barn, near Welwyn Garden City, where it resided until 2006. At this time, with the support of English Partnerships, the Trust took a 25 year lease on a purpose-built studio building on the site of the former forge in Digswell, near Welwyn.
Over the last fifteen years, the trust has expanded from its initial base. In 1993, Stevenage Borough Council kindly agreed to lease Fairlands Valley Farmhouse to the Trust, which doubled the Trust’s available studio space. In 2011, in an exciting development, in partnership with the Heritage Foundation, the Trust opened a new flagship studio facility in Letchworth at the Fenners Building which will bring capacity to approximately forty artist studios.