The Artizans’ Institute and The Trade Guild of Learning

Henry Solly, (see biographies on this website), was heavily involved in establishing both these organisations and it was his interest in working-class education which was instrumental in their creation.
The Trade Guild of Learning (TGoL)
The formation of the Trade Guild of Learning pre-dates the Artizan Institute so in strict chronological terms it makes sense to describe this organisation first. At a meeting held on the 1st March 1873 at the offices of the Working Men’s Club and Institute, discussion centred on the creation of a ‘Trade Guild of Learning’. Members from various Trade Societies including Bookbinders, Cabinet Makers, Chair makers, Gilders, House Painters and Decorators, Tanners, Woodcarvers and Zinc Workers were present. Solly was also present and the meeting was chaired by Lord Lyttleton and other members included a number of politicians, scientists, staff from the Oxford and Cambridge universities and King’s College, London.  The meeting formulated the following resolution that the Guild was to promote ‘the delivery of lectures and the formation of classes, to assist members of the Trade Societies and other skilled workmen in acquiring knowledge of history, political economy and technical education…’ (1).  Rather ambitious terms were expressed about its aims namely ‘as an attempt to bring Technical and the Higher Education within the reach of artisans, especially the Trade Union of the United Kingdom.’ The meeting also elected an impressive list of vice-chairmen including Alfred Tennyson, Samuel Morley, Matthew Arnold, John Donnelly (Science and Art Department) and John Tyndall FRS. In spite of this impressive launch the Guild soon found it difficult to gain support from such bodies as the London Trades Council. The Guild arranged programmes and courses of lectures but it never succeeded in gaining wide spread support and gradually its activities declined. Solly soon fell out with the management of the Trade Union of Learning and with other associates went on to found the Artizans’ Institute in 1874.
The Artizans’ Institute.
Surprisingly little is known about this fascinating institute even though it was the first institute of its kind. In a sense it was an off shoot of the Trade Guild of Learning (TGoL) particularly from the efforts of Henry Solly and some of his friends. It could be seen as a successor to the then defunct Workmen’s Technical Educational Union (WTEU) and advocated the importance of technical education driven by the workers themselves. It was opened in 1874 in Castle Street, St Martin’s Lane, London. Its importance should not be overlooked as it was a pioneering institute in the development of technical education. Its opening ceremony was attended by over twelve skilled trades, a somewhat surprising number bearing in mind the rivalry between the Companies and trades. One of its innovative approaches was the appointment of the instructors/teachers who were practicing tradesmen. Solly stated ‘we regard as a fundamental axiom for any real improvement in Technical teaching … that we must look among skilled workmen for Technical teachers …we must give them the means of instructing their fellows.’ (1 and 2).  The Institute offered classes in Bricklaying, Carpentry, Engineering, Masonry, Pattern Making, Metal Work, Plumbing, Stained Glass Painters, Tailoring and Wood Turning. In addition classes were held for subjects offered by the Science and Arts Department in such areas as Applied Mechanics, Art subjects, Building Construction, and Elementary Mathematics and Geometry. Lectures were also given in such subjects as Industrial History, Political Economy and Social and Political progress. Membership fees were set at 1s 6d (7.5 p) per quarter and classes cost 7s 6d (37.5p) to 10s (50p) per session. Apprentices were admitted at half price. The average number of members in an institute was 100 and for students 140. The Institute attracted a number of lecturers who later went on to make important contributions to technical education e.g. C. T. Millis.
The Institutes’ innovative approaches attracted a great deal of attention from Trade Union representives and public figures. In fact Philip Magnus stated later that it could be regarded as the forerunner of the London Polytechnics created by Quintin Hogg (see biography on this website). Magnus went on to say ‘that the methods of technological instruction – the method now adopted in the laboratories, workshops and lecture-rooms of our great Polytechnic Institutions’. (3)
Around this time many of the Livery Companies were becoming increasingly concerned about the state of technical education in the country. Evidence clearly showed that the country was falling behind its competitors and performing badly in a number of International Exhibitions e.g. Paris. In addition the continuing decline in apprenticeships and the lack of technical education opportunities fuelled this concern and on 7th June 1877 a meeting at the Mercers’ hall was convened. There were fourteen Companies present at the meeting which reflected the wide spread concerns. The meeting agreed to establish a Provisional Committee ’for the purpose of preparing a scheme for a national system of Technical Education.’ One of the tasks that they agreed on was to undertake a comprehensive review of institutions involved at the time in technical instruction. The group was lead by George Bartley (philanthropist) and the monitoring group visited 45 different establishments across the country. Other members of the group included William Armstrong (industrialist), John Donnelly (educationalist – Science and Arts Department and Society of Arts), Douglas Galton (scientist), Thomas Huxley (scientist) and Henry Trueman Wood (administrator- Society of Arts). Some of the institutions visited included the Bristol Trade and Mining School, the Cirencester Agricultural College, the Glasgow Technical College, the Leeds Mechanics’ Institution and the Yorkshire College. Also on the itinerary were the Royal Naval College at Greenwich, University College London, Working Men’s Clubs/Colleges, technical and art schools and the Artizans’ Institute. I have provided this detailed account of the review as it reflects the range of institutions delivering technical education at the time and also its bearing on the Artizans’ Institute. The  Artizans’ Institute was considered the best by far of the institutions visited. Bartley produced a very detailed report and placed the Institute at the top of the institutions inspected particularly for its promotion of scientific and technical education stating ‘not on account of its magnitude of its work, but because its objectives seem to bear with some considerable weight on the subject we have in view’.  Henry Trueman Wood a member of the review panel, who later became secretary to the Society of Arts,  said of the Institute ‘Its promoters may justly claim the great credit of having made the first attempt to supply London workmen with the sort of instruction which would be of service to them in their callings’. He also wrote later ‘that the Institute fought a very uphill fight for a long time, and justly claimed credit for having acted as pioneers’. Its main weakness was its size but its innovative and pioneering achievements were considerable in spite of this and the fact that no State funding was given made the task of managing the Institute even more difficult.
The review highlighted, yet again, that much of the provision in the majority of the other institutions was unsatisfactory resulting from inadequate grounding in elementary scientific knowledge. This weakness meant that the artizans could not benefit from the practical instruction because of the lack of the theoretical background. A similar contributing reason was suggested about the failure of Mechanics’ Institution movement. Interestingly Armstrong, Bartley and Huxley wanted more financial support for science instruction but Donnelly surprisingly rejected the request arguing that the State was already providing sufficient funding! The report also commented that there was a lack of qualified science teachers, insufficient money to pay them and very few establishments that taught the subject and equally concerning no institution that taught applied science.  Many of these factors had been highlighted previously and many were further repeated but little positive improvement resulted from all these reports. The factors identified in this report and the others are as relevant today as there were then – the history of technical education on this website attempts to describe this depressing fact.
The report proposed the creation in London of a central Institute for ‘Higher Technical Education’ – interesting to note that a similar proposal had been made by the Workmen’s Technical Education Committee (WTEC) in 1868! The committee also recommended the establishment of trade schools, the creation of a national system of examinations for technical subjects and additional financial support to institutions engaged in technical instruction. Eventually the CGLI actioned some of these proposals.
Henry Solly continued to be Principal until ill-health forced him to retire in 1878. Following his retirement weak management caused a number of problems and the Institute came very close to closure. However in 1879 a meeting was held attended by Henry Doulton, Silvanus Thompson and other key figures from the world of industry to revitalise the Institute. C. T. Millis was appointed director to succeed Solly (Millis later became Principal of the Borough Polytechnic between 1892 and 1922). The Institute gained support from a number of Livery Companies and CGLI. As mentioned already Philip Magnus (then Superintendent of Technological Examinations, CGLI) was very positive about the Institute and following a visit in 1880 requested the trustees of CGLI to award the Artizans’ Institute £300. Eventually because of its size and continuing financial viability it was transferred in 1881 to the Finsbury Technical College (see pen portrait on this website). Philip Magnus was then acting Principal of the Finsbury College. In 1881 the work was located in Cowper Street Schools where Professors Armstrong and Ayrton who were two highly influential figures in technical and scientific education were teaching pending the official opening of the Finsbury Technical College in 1883.
The Science and Arts Department and its secretary John Donnelly refused to financially support the Institute and this again reinforced one of the main themes articulated in the history of technical education on this website, namely the reluctance of successive governments to commit public funds to technical education at this time. Even the press at the time reflected the different attitudes and ambivalence towards the funding and status of technical education. At least one publication, the Globe, complemented the Artizans’ Institution as an important factor in the promotion of technical education at that time. The Globe reported ‘at the present moment this institute … contain(s) probably ..whatever germ there is of hope for the survival of English trade’. (4) whilst other publications were against the funding of technical education arguing that the workers should pay the costs and the State should not subsidise this form of instruction, reflecting the attitude of politicians and the Science and Arts Department.
The foundation of the Artizans’ Institute and the Trade Guild of Learning did reflect the growing desire to develop some form of technical education and ultimately acted as a catalyst for such organisations as the City and Guilds of London Institute (CGLI) to support such pioneering initiatives. Many key figures and a number Livery Companies were involved in supporting the Institute during their existence e.g. T. Huxley, P. Magnus, C. T. Millis, S. Morley, H. Solly and the Carpenters’ Clothworkers’, Drapers’, Fishmongers’ Companies. The development of both organisations also sadly reflected the negative attitude to technical education among politicians and the majority of society.  
(1)   ’Trade Guild of Learning.’ H. Solly. Workman’s Magazine Nos. 1 and 5. Published under Literacy and Critical Tracts. London. 1873.
(2)   ‘Technical Education: a Few thoughts and facts about it’. H. Solly. Address to the Trustees of the Artizans’ Institute. 1878.
(3)   ‘Address on Industrial Education’. P. Magnus. Cambridge. 1901.
(4) The Globe 30th May 1876.
See also:
 Millis. C. T. ‘Education for Trades and Industries’. Edward Arnold. London. 1932.
P. Magnus: ‘Industrial Education’ chapter VIII in ‘Education in the Nineteenth Century’ edited by Roberts. R. D.  CUP. 1901.
Lang. J. ‘CGLI Centenary 1878-1978’. An historical commentary. CGLI. 1978.
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