Chapter 7 – After the Great Exhibition – A Growing Recognition for the Need for Technical Education?

This entry is part 7 of 20 in the series A Short History of Technical Education

Chapter 6 highlighted some of the positive benefits and outcomes of the Great Exhibition particularly in regard to stimulating and provide incentives to develop provision in scientific and technical education. However the hopes of a sustained and vigorous continuation of the initial burst of enthusiasm was not realised. The rigid class structure with its hierarchical nature still largely preserved the prevailing elitist culture to be found in public schools and the older universities. Also the managers of industry were still not convinced of the value of employing qualified workers and nor particularly the importance of technical education and training. The gap between the English and overseas countries in regard to technical education grew ever wider. The period described in this chapter and the next identifies the growing interest and commitment to scientific and technical education albeit in a relatively slow and faltering fashion. A number of important parliamentary committees occurred during the 1860s/70s/80s that had a bearing on future developments. Also it witnessed the creation of the City and Guilds of London Institute as well as the founding of some technical institutions including the first technical college in England namely the Finsbury Technical College.

Developments in higher education.

The momentum created by the Great Exhibition continued after 1851 to have positive influences on a number of other aspects of education. In England technical and scientific higher education was almost non-existent particularly within Cambridge and Oxford. Both universities had been strongly opposed to the recommendations of a number of royal commissions to reform themselves and introduce science into the curriculum. Oxford and Cambridge had dominated the sector since the early 14th century and in spite of a succession of criticisms about their adherence to medieval statues and closeness to the Establishment e.g. the Church, had done little to change. However eventually partly because of the increased interest in scientific and technical matters engendered by the Exhibition and the growing impact of the developing network of new universities and university colleges created throughout the 19th century, reforms gradually occurred. Cambridge introduced the natural sciences tripos in 1851 and Oxford followed by creating honours schools in science although very few students enrolled for these new opportunities. As mentioned earlier the reason the Dissenting Academies were created was a reaction by the non-conformist against the domination of Oxbridge and a curriculum that was resistant to the sciences and technology.

However Cambridge and Oxford did not have a monopoly on higher education during the 19th century. A small number of Universities and colleges that would eventually become universities were created from the about the second decade of the 19th century. These included: University College, (London) in 1826; St. David’s (Lampeter Wales) in 1827; King’s College, (London) in 1828; Durham in 1832; University of London in 1836; Queen’s College (Birmingham) in 1842; Owen’s College, (Manchester) in 1851 see picture below) and as mentioned already the School of Mining, (London) in 1853.

Owens college

These and other Higher Education Institutions were more prepared to introduce science and technology into their programmes and were often assisted by leading scientists, industrialists and thinkers such as: Whitworth, a machine tool manufacturer from Manchester; Brentham a philosopher from London; and Hamilton a professor of civil history from Edinburgh. These and other individuals were aware of the achievements and developments in such institutions as the Ecole Centrale in Paris and the higher institutions in Germany and other European countries preparing people to enter industry well informed of scientific and technological principles. However the country still continued to lack behind our competitors in Europe and America and even when programmes in science and engineering were offered in the new universities and university colleges the student enrolments were small. Even in London with the active and enthusiastic support of the Prince Consort and Lyon Playfair progress was slow and a number of attempts to establish more facilities for science and technical teaching involved long and difficult arguments and the sad reality was that provision outside London was meagre. For example Owens College Manchester founded in 1851 only had 88 day-time students in 1861. To illustrate the development of higher education in science and engineering at this time I provide some brief pen portraits of these new universities and colleges:

University College – London. Founded in 1826. (University College was incorporated into University of London in 1837).

Quickly established chairs in 1827 in Astronomy, Chemistry, Engineering, Mathematics and Natural Philosophy. Later Chairs in Geology (1841), Analytical and Practical Chemistry (1845), Mathematical Principles of Engineering and Descriptive Machinery (1846), and then a succession of chairs in specialised areas of science and the emerging technologies.

King’s College-London. Founded in 1828.

Immediately established chairs in Chemistry, Experimental Philosophy (physics), Geology, Mathematics and Zoology. Between 1838 and 1840 chairs were created in Civil Engineering (1838) and a teaching post in Manufacturing Art and Machinery (1839). In 1851 a course in military engineering was attempted but ultimately failed to recruit sufficient students.
University of Durham. 1832.
A number of posts were created immediately including a chair in Mathematics, a readership in Natural Philosophy and a teaching position in Chemistry. In 1843 engineering was introduced but the university was very much based on the Oxbridge model and the technology of science and technology did not figure significantly in the early life of Durham. However a College of Physical Science based in Newcastle was established in 1871 to teach the scientific principles of agriculture, manufacturing and mining

Owen’s College, Manchester-1851.

John Owens bequeathed £100,000 to create a college to teach such subjects that were taught in existing universities and colleges including science. He made no particular reference to the teaching of technical subjects that might be of value to industry. Chairs were immediately created in Chemistry and Physical Sciences, Mathematics and Natural History. Engineering was instituted in 1868. Owens ultimately became Manchester University in 1903 and was the first of the civic universities.

The Royal School of Mines and the Royal College of Science- London. 1853.

The Government School of Mines and Science as Applied to the Arts was founded in1851 and was originally the Museum of Economic (later named Practical) Geology which was founded in 1839. The Royal College of Science grew out of the Royal College of Chemistry founded in 1845. The two institutions were merged to create the leading scientific and technogical teaching institution in the country. The Royal College of Chemistry technically became the chemistry department of the Royal School of Mines. Both institutions had already well established teaching posts in such disciplines as Applied Mechanics (1851), Biology (1851),Chemistry (1845), Geology (1851), Mathematics (1851), Metallurgy (1851), Mining (1851), Physics (1853) and Practical Chemistry (1851). To affirm its pre-eminence lecturers included some of the greatest scientists and technologists of the time including Thomas Huxley [see biography], John Percy (Metallurgist), Lyon Playfair {see biography] and John Tyndall (physics).

During the last four decades of the 19th century a number of other university colleges were established which are now referred to as the civic universities. Examples of some of these were:

  • Hartley Institution founded 1862→Southampton University (1952).
  • Yorkshire College of Science founded 1874→Leeds University (1904).
  • College of the West of England founded 1874→Bristol University (1909).
  • Frith College Sheffield founded 1879→Sheffield University (1905).
  • Joseph Mason’s Science College founded in 1880→University of Birmingham (1900).
  • University College Liverpool founded 1881 → University of Liverpool (1903).
  • University College of Nottingham founded in 1881→University of Nottingham (1948).

I will consider the development of the Higher Education Sector in later chapters and the creation of the Red Brick, Plate Glass and New Universities as well as the Colleges of Advanced Technology and the Polytechnics particularly in relation to their commitment to technical education.

Other Developments in the 1860’s and 70’s

Following the Great Exhibition science was gradually introduced into schools across the country. The Royal Commission, established in 1864, inquired into the ‘Revenues and Management of certain Colleges and Schools and the studies pursued and instruction given herein’ (Clarendon Report). The report recommended that the nine so-called public schools should introduce science into the curriculum for an hour a week. The Clarendon Report was focussed on the upper classes and in 1868 another Royal Commission (Taunton Report) was established and became known as ‘The Schools Inquiry Commission.’ The Taunton Report advocated the adoption of the Prussian school system: a classical Gymnasium for those able to progress to Oxbridge, and a Realgymnasium, together with the trade schools, for the middle and lower middle classes, with science as an essential part of the curriculum. It is interesting and somewhat depressing to see the obsession yet again with the class structure. Class structure still dominated and determined so much of the English way of life. Sadly even after the promising start following the Great Exhibition politicians and teaching professionals e.g. head teachers still failed to accept that the teaching of science and technology was equally important and relevant for all ages. An interesting statistic that reinforces the hold that the classics still had on the public schools is illustrated by the fact that Eton employed 24 classicists, 8 mathematicians and only 3 teachers for all the other subjects.
The Science and Art Department continued to be responsible for providing grant aid to art schools from 1856 and to design schools and technical schools from1868. This funding regime was known collectively as the South Kensington Grants and this also supported the teaching of science albeit in the evenings.

The Paris Exhibition of 1867 was a resounding wake up call for this country. Whereas in 1851 Britain had won most of the awards across the majority of the manufacturing categories the 1867 Exhibition was a disaster producing only twelve awards. This poor result had been predicted by a number of commentators including Lyon Playfair.As a result Lyon Playfair who had been an assessor at both exhibitions wrote a passionate letter published in the Journal of the Society of Arts (2) reflecting his observations at the Paris Exhibition and wrote:
“- – – opinion prevailed that our country had shown little inventiveness and made little progress in the peaceful arts of industry – – -. The one cause upon which there was unanimity of conviction is that France, Prussia, Austria, Belgium and Switzerland possess good systems of industrial education for the masters and managers of factories and workshops, and that England possesses none”.
This letter and the concerns of others was supported by another conference convened by the Society of Arts which forced the government to establish a select committee in1867 to inquire into the state of scientific education. It was chaired by Bernhard Samuelson [see biographies] and involved a number of visits abroad to compare other countries’ systems. The select committee was tasked to ‘inquire into the Provisions for giving Instruction in Theoretical and Applied Science to the Industrial Classes.’ Samuelson was a successful and well regarded businessman who brought a refreshing and enlightened perspective to the inquiry. His leadership was energetic and he sought evidence from a variety of sources especially from industrialists. He was ably supported by a number of influential people who gave evidence including Thomas Huxley [see biography], Edwin Abbot (a very progressive head teacher of the City of London School who had introduced the teaching of science into his school) and Joseph Whitworth. The committee made a number of strongly worded recommendations particularly associated with the inadequacy of primary and secondary education and the shortage of science teachers. As a result the Select Committee made a very strong plea for the development of a comprehensive and sound system for secondary education, a significant reform of primary education and vastly improved facilities for science teaching. The report from the select committee was a crucial document or the future development of technical education.

The Select Committee on Scientific Instruction met from 1867 to 1868 and reported in July 1868. It concluded with a series of conclusions including:
·         Effecicient elementary instruction should be available to every child to enable the working class to benefit from scientific instruction.
·         In order for this to be effective, regular attendance of the child for a sufficient period must be obtained.
·         Elementary schools should teach drawing, physical geography and the “phenomena of nature”.
·         All those who are not obliged to leave school before the age of 14 should be taught science.
·         Parliament and the nation should consider immediately the reorganisation of secondary education and the introduction of more scientific teaching.
·         Certain endowed schools in the relevant districts should be reconstituted as science schools. Exhibitions open to public competition would enable children of every grade to rise from the lowest to the highest school.
·         Fees alone cannot adequately fund colleges and schools of scientific education: the State, the localities, endowments or other benefactors could contribute.
·         Centres of industry are ideal locations for such colleges and schools due to the possibilities of combining science with practice, and also because some pupils would not be able to live far away from home.
·         The agricultural districts in particular of England in general do not enjoy sufficient State grants for scientific instruction.
·         These provinces of England are entitled to increased funding.
·         Increased pay for science teachers would probably ensure the establishment and permanence of elementary science classes.
·         The Public Libraries and Museums Act should be amended to enable public bodies to charge slightly more for scientific purposes.
·         The managers of teacher training colleges should devote more time to instructing elementary teachers in theoretical and applied science.
·         Teachers in elementary day schools should be paid on the basis of the results for teaching science to older scholars. The universities of Oxford and Cambridge should grant degrees in science.
·         A closer relationship between government institutions for scientific in London would increase the efficiency of each institution.


Bernhard Samuelson continued to be a significant figure in the development of scientific and technical education. He was a member of the Royal Commission on Scientific Instruction and the Advancement of Science (the Devonshire Commission -1872 to75) and chaired the Royal Commission on Technical Instruction – 1882 to 84 that will be described later.

The terms of reference of the Devonshire Report were as follows: ‘An inquiry with regard to Scientific Instruction and the Advancement of Science, and to inquire what aid thereto is desired from grants voted by Parliament or from Endowments belonging to the several universities in Great Britain and Ireland and the Colleges thereof and whether such aid could be rendered in a manner more effective for the purpose.’ Members included Thomas Huxley, Bernhard Samuelson and James Kay-Shuttleworth. The resulting report provided a comprehensive survey of scientific education at universities, and other institutions and organisations e.g. the British Museum involved in higher education. It also considered science in the public, endowed secondary schools, elementary schools and training colleges. It recommended the science teaching should be introduced for older children in elementary schools. It also urged improved training for science teachers and made a wide ranging set of recommendations to improve training, salaries for qualified science teachers and more investment on buildings and equipment.

Another influential industrialist and engineer Joseph Whitworth (1803-1887) wrote to the Prime Minister Disraeli in March 1868 offering thirty scholarships valued at £100 each to promote science and technology and to bring science and industry into closer relation with each other.
Also in1868 the British Association for the Advancement of Science established a high powered committee to review the provision of research and education of science. This Committee’s Report along with the select committee’s findings and recommendations eventually forced the government to establish, in 1872, the Royal Commission chaired by William Devonshire .

The Elementary Education Act of 1870 (the Forster Act) went some way in responding to the recommendations of the Select Committee but progress was still painfully slow – as usual positive actions on the development of technical education were secondary to lots of rhetoric over the next few years and no real progress was witnessed until the 1880s following the Samuelson Report (1882-84) and the Technical Instruction Act.

City and Guilds Institute of London (CGLI).

By the late 1870s it was becoming clear that the country urgently needed a number of initiatives to establish a national framework for technical education and to capitalise on the inherent interest of workers in science and technology but one not based exclusively on State funding. The poor results of the Paris Exhibition (1867) and the awareness that the country was continuing to lose its competitive edge to overseas countries precipitated a meeting of a number of Livery Companies on 3rd July 1876 at the Mansion House that resulted in the following key resolution being proposed:
“That it is desirable that the attention of the Livery Companies be directed to the promotion of Education not only in the Metropolis but throughout the country, and especially to technical education, with the view of educating young artisans and others in the scientific and artistic branches of their trades”
A provisional committee was established in1877 to consider and advance this recommendation and this ultimately led to the founding of CGLI in 1878 which subsequently made a significant contribution to the creation of a national system for technical education. The main purpose of the CGLI was to improve the training of craftspeople and the Institute was finally incorporated in 1880 to promote and advance technical education. Philip Magnus [see biography] was appointed its first director and secretary in 1880. One crucial driving force behind the creation of the CGLI was that the Livery Companies felt there needed to be a general and national scheme for technical education and that they needed to work together collectively to maximise and capitalise on their individual strengths and promote the interests of several trades. The Livery Companies and their various committees continued to develop ideas on how to realise their ambitious agenda for a national system for technical education and in January 1879 established a set of objectives namely:

  • The transference of the Society of Arts Technological Examinations to the Association of Livery Companies which had now been constituted as the CGLI for the Advancement of Technical Education.
  • The establishment of a Trade School at Finsbury and a Trade School of Applied Art at Kennington.
  • The establishment of a Central School which should serve as a training school for teachers, and which should afford technical instruction of a high character.
  • Grants for assisting certain technical classes already established at King’s College and, elsewhere, and grants for the proposed Chairs of Chemical Technology and Mechanical Technology at University College, London.

Below I provide some brief details of how these four recommendations were actioned.

(First objective) -Technological examinations.

This was an incredibly important initiative, which predates the creation of CGLI and required annual examinations to be held after technical instruction had been given to students and teachers of handicrafts through Britain and in the colonies. The prime mover in this development was the Society of Arts [see history of technical and commercial examinations]. Remember the Society of Arts had pioneered technical and commercial examinations in 1873 under the stewardship of James Booth [see biography]. The first examinations were staged in 1873 when 6 candidates presented themselves. This number gradually increased to 184 in 1878 following financial assistance from the Clothworkers Company for payment to teachers for registering the candidates. Following the establishment of CGLI and the subsequent transfer of responsibility of the technical examinations to the Institute from the Society of Arts more rapid progress was witnessed. CGLI offered the examinations for the first time in 1879 when 202 candidates from 23 centres were entered with 151 passes. The subjects offered in 1879 included; Cotton manufacture, Gas manufacture, Steel manufacture, Telegraphy and Wool Dyeing. Subjects offered but did not enrol any candidates included: Paper manufacture, Photography, Pottery and Porcelain and Silk manufacture. The table below shows the situation between 1879 and 1900 which reflects the beginning of a national examination system for technical subjects. (Readers may have their own interpretations for the relatively poor pass rate!). For example the pass rate for the 1884 examinations was 50.3% and the examiners’ report stated that the candidates “are already familiar with the practice of their trades, but possess a very imperfect knowledge of the application thereto of the principles of science” – interesting to compare with a similar situation today where lack of scientific and mathematical capability causes concern to teachers and employers.
However for those candidates who passed the examinations the universities regarded them and the technological examinations very highly e.g. King’s, University College, Nottingham and Firth College, Sheffield. Another indication of their reputation was that in 1887 Australia applied to enter candidates.

Year Number of subjects Number of centres Number of candidates Number of passes
1879 7 23 202 151
1880 24 85 816 515
1885 42 167 3,968 2,168
1890 49 219 6,781  3,507
1900 64 390 14,551 8,114

The CGLI organised the examinations in line with the approaches used by the Science and Art Department, namely staging examinations and issuing certificates to successful candidates. In a similar fashion to the Department and using the additional funding made available from the City Livery Companies allowed the Institute to award grants on the results of examinations. CGLI continued to pay these grants until the enactment of the Technical Instruction Act in 1889 and the Local Taxation (Custom and Excise) Act of 1890 that empowered county councils to raise funds from other sources to assist the development of technical education.
The City and Guilds was and continues to be one of the few jewels in the crown of technical and vocational education. As well as being the premier awarding body for trade, craft, vocational and technical qualifications it has played a significant role in other developments such as establishing the Finsbury Technical College. In 2008 the Institute awarded approximately 2 million certificates in over 70 nations. The recent census showed that over 20 million people in Britain hold CGLI qualifications. Throughout its history it has maintained close working relationships with the Livery Companies, technical colleges, training providers and employers. The Institute has remained true to its founding principles and has not succumbed to academic drift (an expression first coined by Tyrrell Burgess).
Other awarding bodies complemented the work of CGLI but were associated with predominantly non-scientific and technological subjects and included the Royal Society of Arts, College of Preceptors and a number of Regional Union Institutions. An excellent history of examinations including those offered in technical subjects can be found in Montgomery (3). The history of examinations is a fascinating and complex topic in its own right [see history of technical and commercial examinations].
Excellent histories of the two premier vocational awarding bodies have been written namely: for the Royal Society of Arts (4) and for the CGLI (5).

(Second objective)-The City and Guilds Technical Art School at Kennington.

Established in 1878 in Kennington it was an extension and further development of the South London Art School. The South London Art School had been founded by The Rev Gregory in 1854 and had already established a high reputation in art and design. The CGLI were able to provide money to make the necessary extensions to the school based in Kennington Park Road. The new institution was an example of a trade school for applied art enrolling students engaged in art and the industries in the locality including such subjects as: house decoration, illustration, pottery and sculpture. This institute by focussing on the applied aspects of art very much mirrored the vocational mission of the Finsbury Technical College and went on to produce many notable people in the world of applied art. In 1932 the school was renamed the City and Guilds of London Institute – Kennington and Lambeth Art School and is now known as the City and Guilds of London Art School.

(Third objective)-Central Institution at South Kensington.

The Central Institution, later to become the City and Guilds College, was founded by the City Livery Companies under the auspices of the CGLI. One of the objectives of the CGLI was to found a Central Institution in London. However initially it proved difficult to find a site within the City so the Finsbury Technical College was established in 1878, [see later]. This college was intended to act as a feeder for the Central Institution. Eventually a site was found for the Central Institution at South Kensington that had been purchased from the surpluses generated by the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Central Institution

The institution see picture opposite) focussed on the instruction and the awarding of qualifications in the practical aspects of scientific and artistic subjects necessary for entry to such professions as: technical teachers, architects, mechanical, civil and electrical engineers and senior people in the chemical and other manufacturing industries. Formally opened in June 1884 by the Prince of Wales, then President of the CGLI, it adopted a very different approach in its instruction from the existing universities focussing on the practical applications of science to industrial methods. It very much mirrored the approach adopted by the Finsbury Technical College and the CGLI Institution of Technical Art focussing as it did on applied science and art as opposed to the theoretical and pure aspects of these subjects. In addition the Institution offered opportunities for progression to HE to students completing their studies at Finsbury Technical College and the Technical Art School. These two institutions today could be equated with Colleges of Further Education (CFEs). Philip Magnus [see biography] with his knowledge of developments in mainland Europe and direct involvement with CGLI was a key figure in configuring the Central Institution and technical education owes a great deal to this visionary individual. Subsequently the Goldsmiths’ Company provided very generous funding to extend the buildings and facilities of the College which eventually became the Central Technical College and finally in 1909 the Engineering Section of the Imperial College of Science and Technology under the title of the CGLI (Engineering) College.
It became known as the City and Guilds College after its full incorporation into Imperial College.

(Fourth objective)-Grants to Technical Institutions in London and Beyond

The Livery Companies and the CGLI continued to provide grants to existing technical institutions both within London and a number of provincial towns throughout England. Grants, subsidies and scholarships from these two organisations included:

  • The London Polytechnic and the Artizans’ Institutes [more about these institutions later].
  • Subsidy to the British Horological Society.
  • Annual grant to the Society for Promoting Employment of Women.
  • The Leicester, Manchester and Sheffield Schools.
  • Engineering Departments at University College, Nottingham, Mechanical and Chemical Engineering Departments and for the study of Metallurgy at King’s College, London and the School of Practical Fine Art in London.
  • Extensive grants for textiles to a number of colleges including Bradford, Stroud, Trowbridge and Halifax.

This list is by no means exhaustive but indicates that from around 1881 additional external funding began to establish a wide range of technical institutions that reflected and aided the industrial bases at the end of the 19thand beginning of the 20th centuries. Various writers have estimated the total amount of money given by the Livery Companies and the CGLI was of the order of £ 2,000,000 over a period of forty years which was an immense sum at that time. However it ultimately proved impossible to sustain this level of financial support and it was becoming clear that State funding was essential in order to create a more secure and long term basis for the consolidation and further expansion of technical education and its constitute institutions.

Artizans’ Institute and the People’s Palace.

These two important and influential movements merit mentioning. The Artizans’ Institute although it predated the formation of the Finsbury Technical College was a significant establishment. The Institute was founded in 1874 by the Rev Solley following a number of meetings and conferences held during 1873 some of which were held at Society of Arts. They were supported by a number of key figures representing various trades, which led to the creation of the Trades Guild of Learning, which in turn established the Artizans’ Institute. The following resolution of a meeting held in March 1873 indicates the intentions of the Trades Guild of Learning:

“ That in the opinion of this meeting it is desirable to form a Trades Guild of Learning with the view of promoting the delivery of lectures, and the formation of classes, to assist members of trade societies and other skilled workmen in acquiring a knowledge of history, political economy, and technical education, as well as of literature, science and art generally.”

The Trades Guild of Learning quickly led to the development of the Artizans’ Institute and true to its founding principles focussed on a wide range of trades. Interesting to note the creation of the Guild and the Institute was triggered by a growing disillusionment with the weakness of technical education and the demise at the time of many apprenticeship programmes. The purpose of the Institution was to:

“Offer systematic instruction of workmen and apprentices in the principles of art and science forming the basis of various handicrafts and in the technical applications of those principles to actual work. In other words the object may be stated as that of affording combined instruction in principles and practice, the one illustrating the other”.

This set of objectives is as relevant today as it was then. Another interesting aspect of the Institute was that its instruction would complement the training in the workshop or factory and not attempt to subvert it. The Institute was housed in relatively small premises in St. Martin’s Lane and the range of trades and other subjects was remarkable for the time including: Bricklaying, Carpentry, Pattern Making, Plumbing and Sheet Metal Working. In addition classes were offered in science and mathematics with such subjects as Applied Mechanics, Building Construction and Geometry as well as in the Arts. To further enhance the curriculum lectures were given in Economics, Industrial History and Politics although sadly these subjects failed to recruit many students. A series of problems with funding, premises and weak management eventually brought about the incorporation in 1883 of the Artizans’ Institute into the newly created Finsbury Technical College becoming the Trades Class Department. Throughout its relatively short life the Artizans’ Institute received considerable support from the Livery Companies and CGLI as well as having a strong advocate in Philip Magnus then Director and Secretary of the CGLI. Notable teachers were employed included Professors Armitage and Ayrton who were to become pioneers in the teaching of science education. Equally important were a number of successful former students who went on to become influential figures in industry and technical education.

People’s Palace

The People’s Place is an excellent example of how an isolated initiative developed successively into a technical college and finally a university.The People’s Palace was established by a generous benefactor, the Palace then received significant and on-going financial support from a City Livery Company namely the Drapers. It began following a bequest by John Beaumont upon his death in 1841 to establish a home for education and amusement/creation in the East End of London. John Beaumont as well as being a gifted artist had been a successful businessman who made his fortune in insurance. The People’s Palace was formally opened by Queen Victoria in 1887 the name being taken from a successful novel at the time by Walter Besant entitled ‘All Sorts and Conditions of Men’.

The Drapers’ Company provided £20,000 for the construction of permanent technical schools as well as a significant sum of money including endowments totalling £7,000 a year for ten years. The People’s Palace received other donations from other trust organisations and as a result was able to offer courses in trades and industrial disciplines to young workers. The whole complex was completed in 1892. The technical schools operated both day and evening classes with an average attendance of about 400 and of these about 300 were on free scholarships. In 1896 the Palace became the East London Technical College being divided into three departments: a day school for boys that were closed in 1906, day classes and evening classes both preparing students for university and the civil service.

People's College 1891

The College (see opposite) offered an amazing range of courses with an emphasis on chemistry and engineering but equally important was the teaching of the trade and commercial subjects including carpentry, tailoring, needlework and photography. The College amalgamated with the Bow and Bromley Institute in 1898 and continued to 1911 when this branch was closed. By 1900 five professors at the college were recognised as University of London teachers. The College by now had become an institution of higher education promoting HE in East London. In1907 the Technical College made a successful application to become a school of the University of London and eventually in 1934 the College became Queen Mary College part of the University of London.


One striking impression during this time is the rapid growth of different kinds of technical institutions many of which were short lived whilst others thrived and ultimately transmogrified into major institutions. The period 1850-90 witnessed in London and beyond a rapid development of technical education with widely differing purposes, operating at different levels and managed in a variety of ways. As has been seen new institutions were created whilst existing ones like some of the Mechanics’ Institutions were assimilated into others. The hands off approach adopted by successive governments of the time had produced an array of largely unregulated technical institutions – the inevitable consequence of the laissez faire philosophy (interesting to compare the situation TODAY where the free market is still encouraged!). The concern about the unregulated growth of technical education and it’s constitute institutions was one of the factors that led to the establishment of two important Royal Commissions which published the Devonshire and Samuelson Reports in 1872/75 and 1882/84 respectively both of which will be described in chapter 8.
As one can see the momentum, at last, was now being generated and the basic framework for a national system for technical education was emerging in colleges, industry and other training providers and the next chapter will continue to map the developments at the end of the19th century including the founding of the first technical college in England namely the Finsbury Technical College.


  1. Hole. J. ‘An Essay on the History and Management of Literary, Scientific and Mechanics’ Institutions.’ London. 1853.
  2. Playfair.L. Letter to Journal Society of Arts. 15.p 477. 1867.
  3. Montgomery. R.J. ‘Examinations.’ Longmans. 1965.
  4. Hudson. D. and Luckhurst. K. W. ‘The Royal Society of Arts 1754 – 1954.’ J. Murray.1954.
  5. Lang. J. ‘City and Guilds of London Institute Centenary 1878 – 1978.’ ISBN.0 85193 007 7. 1978.
  6. ‘City and Guilds: A Short History 1878 -1992.’ ISBN 085193 010 7. 1993. Both volumes published by CGLI.

Please note a very comprehensive book list , chronology and glossary are present on separate sections of this website.


Series Navigation<< Chapter 6 – The Mid 19th CenturyChapter 8 – The Developments at the End of the 19th Century. >>
Print Friendly