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Curwen College History

The College’s Origins

Curwen’s classes were formally incorporated as the Tonic Sol-fa College (TSC) in 1875. It embraced the training of teachers, education of students and provision of a rigorous set of examinations using Sol-fa from first grades through to Fellowship. Initially housed in premises in Forest Gate in east London, it moved to Finsbury Square, and later, in 1939, to Gt Ormond Street, and in 1944 to Queensborough Terrace. In addition to a strong interest in choral music, the College encouraged other forms of music making, and also set up the Curwen Press as a provider of educational music.

By 1967, when the College had moved again, to Bromley, its activities had become so diverse that it was teaching not only for its own examinations, but also GCE music and other public examinations.

In 1972, a major reorganization under the then Warden, Dr Paul Faunch, saw the College renamed as the Curwen College of Music (TSC had been using the ‘sub-title’ Curwen Memorial College for some years). Some members, led by Dr Bernarr Rainbow, formed the separate Curwen Institute, which concerned itself with the use of Tonic Sol-fa in primary education.

Since the appointment of the present Warden, following the death of Dr Faunch in 1997, the College has offered external diploma examinations in practical and theoretical music and has been the subject of an ongoing revision, reflecting its contemporary nature as an examining body rather than as a teaching institution.


  • 1850 – first Conference of teachers and singers.
  • 1852 – second Conference.
  • 1853 – Tonic Sol-fa Association started.
  • 1863 – Tonic Sol-fa School established.
  • 1864 – Curwen resigns full-time ministry to concentrate on Sol-fa.
  • 1875 – the School was incorporated as the Tonic Sol-fa College (TSC).
  • 1879 – college building commenced and opened in Earlham Grove, Forest Gate.
  • 1880 – death of Curwen; John Spencer Curwen becomes Principal.
  • 1890 – TSC moves to 27 Finsbury Square.
  • 1939 – TSC moves to 32 Gt Ormond Street.
  • 1944 – TSC moves to 9 Queensborough Terrace, the ‘Curwen Memorial Building’, and ‘subtitle’ Curwen Memorial College adopted.
  • 1967 – TSC moves to 18 Holwood Road, Bromley.
  • 1972 – reorganisation into the Curwen College of Music and the Curwen Institute;* Bromley building given up.

John Curwen (1816-1880) by George Hillyard Swinstead