One of the aims following the creation of the City and Guilds of London Institute in 1878 was to establish a Central Institution in London to improve the training of craftspeople. The CGLI was initially unable to find premises of a suitable size for the Central Institute and as a result founded the Finsbury Technical College, which would act as the first feeder for the Central Institution. The college opened in 1883 and is now recognised as the first technical college in England. Its design was to be ‘model trade school for the instruction of artisans and other persons preparing for intermediate posts in industrial works’. The college was formed out of the Cowper Street Schools where some evening classes were already being offered before the City and Guilds Institute assumed responsibility in 1878. Philip Magnus had taught mechanics at the Cowper Street site before he gained the position at the CGLI. The college offered opportunities for daytime and evening study and subjects included building, design, drawing, engineering, mathematics and science. Philip Magnus the first secretary and organising director and was ably supported by a number of remarkable professors who between them quickly established the college as a centre of innovative and progressive instruction. As a result the Finsbury Technical College quickly established its credibility as a successful institution and this subsequently provided the future model for the pattern of technical colleges across the country. Its success depended greatly on the founding professors namely Henry Armstrong (1848-1937), William Ayrton (1847-1908), Silvanus Thompson (1851-1916) and John Perry (1850-1920). Armstrong for example was able to develop and refine his revolutionary methods of teaching science at the college. Silvanus P. Thompson was professor of physics and later was Principal of the Finsbury College for thirty years. William. E. Ayrton (1847-1908) was Professor of Physics and Telegraphy (1883-1884) and went on to become a Professor at the Central Institution (1884-1908) when that was finally created in 1884. John Perry was a brilliant electrical engineer who had been Kelvin’s assistant at Glasgow and also worked with William Ayrton at the Imperial College of Engineering in Tokyo (see biography of these remarkable individuals on this website).
The Central Institution was eventually opened in 1884 in a purpose designed building in South Kensington adjacent to the Royal School of Mines (RSM) and the Royal College of Science (RCS). In 1907 the RSM and the RCS were incorporated into Imperial College and the Central Institution was renamed the City and Guilds College and subsequently incorporated into Imperial College in 1910 and became an established and noted engineering college. A picture of the Central Institution is shown below.
‘The Journal Nature’. Page 807. 24th November 1936.