Our work is to bridge the chasm which too often separates people’ 

– Emma Cons

Our founder

Born in 1838, Emma Cons was an artist, social reformer, suffragette and founder of Morley. Described as ‘a woman of infinite resource’, she was a true Londoner: forward-thinking, open-minded and determined to make a good life accessible to all. 

Determined to improve the prospects of the people of Lambeth, Emma started the Penny Lectures at what we now know as The Old Vic. Strong coffee, political debates and topics such as phone usage, London air quality and women’s rights characterised the discussions, which were all accessible to the local working community for the cost of just 1p.

Our namesake

Wool manufacturer and Liberal MP Samuel Morley was known as the ‘Philanthropic Merchant’ in the 19th Century. Morley was a vocal abolitionist and staunch believer in social reform and inclusivity, reducing the price of The Daily News in order to make political discussion and liberal values available to all.

Following his death in 1886, Morley endowed a sum of money to Emma Cons in order to fund the adult education college she was developing, and the Morley Memorial College for Working Men and Women was born.

Early history

In 1889 Emma opened the Morley Memorial College for Working Men and Women, the first institution of its kind to admit both men and women on an equal footing. Her mission was to educate, inspire and bring people together in an inclusive and affordable environment.

Her pioneering attitude prevailed with art, dance and music classes available to enjoy, alongside literacy and numeracy skills to contribute to the futures of working people.

The 2020s

In February 2020, Morley College London merged with Kensington and Chelsea College, which brings its own history; education has been provided at the sites of our centres on Hortensia Road and Wornington Road since the 18th and 19th centuries.

Modern-day Morley

Today we’re proud to serve communities both north and south of the river, and to extend our offering to young people aged 16-18 as well as adults of all ages.

Everything we do is about giving people the opportunities they deserve. We’re here for the adults who want to improve themselves, the artists who want to build a life using their talent, and the local communities that need key skills to start their careers.

As it was in our early years, equality is a core tenet. Each of our colleges was founded to help those who sought knowledge.

When the working class couldn’t afford an education, we set up affordable lectures.

When we saw that our students were parents, we built a crèche.

When new art forms emerged, we invested in technology to help young people learn those new skills.

Over the years, we’ve merged with like-minded colleges and centres so that we can reach more people from more backgrounds.

But we always carry the same torch.

We celebrate the arts, give everybody the opportunity to learn.

And we believe that education is the key to changing lives.