The Dissenting Academies – Warrington Academy
As mentioned in chapter 1 religion has influenced the development of technical education in England. In fact all stages of the English education system have been subjected to religious dogma and beliefs that have impeded the development of an effective national system of education throughout many centuries.This refusal to recognise the importance of educating the working population can be highlighted by a quotation from the Lord Bishop of London in 1803 – “It is safest for both the government and religion of the country to let the lower classes remain in that state of ignorance, in which nature has originally placed them” In the last few decades of the 18th and early 19th centuries a new generation of middle class individuals emerged who were involved in the new industrial processes and deeply interested in science and as a result found themselves at variance with the prevailing social and religious orders. Following the Restoration and the 1661 Act of Uniformity non-conformists were subsequently excluded for a wide range of professions and barred from higher education opportunities. [Note: A non-conformist was a person who did not conform or subscribe to the Act of Uniformity in 1662 making the Book of Common Pray the only legal form of worship in England. In England applied to a Protestant separated from the Church of England]. As a result non-conformists could not hold civil and military office. They also could not enter or take degrees at the English universities that existed at the time i.e. Cambridge and Oxford. Therefore in order to pursue higher education the non-conformists had two options namely:
attend Scottish universities which retained a civic/civil connection and hence unlike Oxbridge were far more enlightened or attend Continental universities.
As a result of this discrimination there were limited options for education particularly higher education for non-conformists so they set about developing their own educational institutions, namely the dissenting academies. When they became established provided the most effective technical and commercial education. The curriculum possessed a very practical emphasis including accountancy, foreign languages, mathematics and science –the physical and biological sciences at this time were referred to as experimental philosophy. Many of the early dissenting academies were short-lived mainly because of constant harassment and persecution from the Church of England that resulted in the academies having to move frequently from town to town. In spite of these disruptions and pressures the dissenting academies gained credibility and established a tradition ably supported by a number of remarkable tutors.
The existence of the dissenting academies made a lasting contribution to scientific and technical education particularly through the achievements of their former students and tutors. For example the Daventry Academy (1752-1789) was one of the first and subsequently influenced those that followed e.g. the Warrington Academy. The academies taught laypeople but also people wishing to enter the church. The Academy founded in Warrington (1757-1786) is a typical example of the movement. The Academy was supported and funded by the newly affluent industrialists from Warrington and beyond who were disillusioned with the standard of education provided by Oxford and Cambridge Universities. The examinations and the resultant value of degrees from these two ancient universities were perceived as of little value except for the elite classes entering the church and other so-called higher order professions e.g. law, medicine. The two universities taught classical and traditional subjects with mathematics, science and its application largely ignored. One of the few exceptions at Oxbridge was the mathematics course at Cambridge which had tutored Isaac Newton and later by William Whiston, who has already been mentioned in an earlier chapter delivering public science lectures in London and at Gresham College. Sadly the subject at Cambridge enrolled very few students. Business people sponsored the academies and wanted to see subjects introduced into the curriculum that would improve the effectiveness and efficiency of commercial and industrial practices and processes in the North West region. As a result Warrington Academy was foremost in science and technical subjects and offered astronomy, chemistry, electricity, hydrostatics, logic, magnetism, mathematics, mechanics, optics, pneumatics as well as the more traditional subjects such as ethics, foreign languages, philosophy, and theology. In 1760 the Academy even introduced a 3 year programme in commercial studies. The Academy taught over 400 students in its 29 years of existence in spite of experiencing constant financial insecurities. Only about 16% of the students studied theological subjects in order to enter the church. The Warrington Academy was finally dissolved in 1786 as a result of continuing financial problems and suspicions voiced by religious bodies. A view of Warrington Academy is shown below.
However its influence continued to live on after its closure mainly through the subsequent achievements of its former students and tutors. These included Joseph Priestley tutor at Warrington Academy (1761), formally a student at the Daventry Academy (1752), an active member of the Lunar Society and noted chemist. Thomas Percival (1740-1804) – one of the first students enrolled at Warrington Academy, founder with others of the Manchester Academy in 1786, founder of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society and a noted medical practitioner and researcher. Fortunately with the support of Percival after the closure of the Warrington Academy in 1786 its library, equipment and the money realised from the sale of its building greatly assisted the newly opened Manchester Academy. The Manchester Academy was founded in 1786 and continued the tradition of dissent by teaching subjects other than theology. John Dalton was appointed teacher of mathematics and natural philosophy in 1793 and remained there until the Academy was relocated to York in 1803. Hackney College (1786-1796) was also created by the dissenters and carried on the tradition of the academies specialising in philosophy. In Manchester a drive to teach science instigated by the Literary and Philosophical Society which had been influenced by the Warrington and Manchester Academies established the Manchester College of Arts and Sciences. The closure of the Hackney College and the move by Priestley to America seriously weakened the academy movement. A number of the academies survived but the religious climate in the late 18th and early 19th centuries continued to challenge the innovative aspirations of the academies. Also successive reforms to Cambridge and Oxford began to bring about some significant and positive changes in their curriculum and entry criteria.
The legacy of the dissenting academies is a very positive one not only through the considerable achievements of its former students and tutors but also the pioneering spirit that they generated influenced the future shape of technical education. They most certainly demonstrated to the country that the principle of freedom of religion and learning without dogma was both correct and necessary in a civilised world.
The Mechanics’ Institutions
The Mechanics’ Institution movement was one of the most remarkable movements in British educational history. During the period when they existed educational provision for the children of the working classes was practically non-existent. In 1833 only about 800,000 children were receiving some form of instruction and the majority of this was very elementary reading and writing. Even the Factory Act of 1833 only provided children between 9 and 13 to be employed only if they were in receipt of a voucher stating that they had attended school two hours daily on six days in the previous week and the Act only applied to the textile industry and even in these work places the Act was not universally enforced.
Even before the Mechanics’ Institutions movement was begun a number of institutions, movements and societies had been in existence. Examples of some of these precursors were book clubs, mutual improvement societies, and various working men’s libraries. The Spitalfields Mathematical Society was a good example of a very early specialist group created mainly by weavers. Another interesting imitative was the ‘Sunday Society’ founded by a group Sunday School teachers in 1789 in Birmingham that offered instruction in applied science, arithmetic, mechanics and writing. Following its success a library was created in 1795 to help disseminate/spread knowledge to the working classes. Another society for mutual improvement also existed for a number of years in Birmingham. This society delivered a programme of lectures to its members in a number of areas of natural philosophy. Many of the members were active tradespeople in Birmingham and they constructed pieces of equipment to enhance the lectures. Areas included astronomy, electricity, hydrostatics, mechanics, optics and pneumatics. In 1796 these two societies merged, each maintaining their previous mission and purpose resulting in a remarkable synergetic relationship. As a result of the merger a new Society was born calling itself the ‘Birmingham Brotherly Society’ and extended its provision in order to promote learning for the benefit of manufacturers. In 1797 a library was created by the Brotherly Society called the Artisans’ Library whereby members could for one penny per week avail themselves of books and other reading material.
Two other institutions merit mention as they used titles very close to those later adopted by the Mechanics’ Institutions – namely the Chester Mechanic Institution (1810) that was proposed by John Broster to establish a library, reading room for masters, journeymen, apprentices and workers and in London, the Mechanical Institution (1817) was founded by Timothy Claxton a journeyman who developed instruction in commerce, manufacturing and the sciences.
George Birkbeck who is now widely acknowledged as the founder of the Mechanics’ Institutions movement actually visited the Birmingham Brotherly Society and the Birmingham Artisans Library. He must have also been aware of other self help groups and subsequently refined and enhanced the model through this experience and knowledge to develop his ideas when planning the first Mechanics’ Institution. He was the driving force behind their creation and felt passionately about the education of the workers. The Mechanics Institution movement was in many ways the first attempt to create widespread learning opportunities for the workers who wished to learn about the scientific and technical principles underpinning the processes they were using in their work. A fascinating view of Birkbeck teaching tinsmiths in Glasgow the principles of their work is shown below – the beginnings of the Mechanics’ Institution movement?
In the relatively short existence of the movement it highlighted and identified a number of important issues that have continued to impede the development of technical education and training in England. Many of these issues and obstacles can still be identified today namely lack of qualified teachers/instructors, weak literacy/ numeracy skills of the learners and the continuing negative perception of technical/vocational/work – based education. However the legacy of Mechanics’ Institutions continues even today and physical evidence of their existence is still to be witnessed. A number of institutions, colleges and universities, bear testimony to the earlier existence and achievements of Mechanics’ Institutions and one can identify their beginnings from a particular Mechanics Institution e.g. Edinburgh, Huddersfield, Keighley, Liverpool and other towns and Birkbeck College. Many of the institutions had their own libraries and artisans and workers could pursue specifically designed vocational courses by way of lectures and other programmes of study. The Liverpool Mechanics’ Institution is show below.
George Birkbeck then Professor of Natural Philosophy at the Anderson’s Institution in Glasgow founded the movement in 1800. Birkbeck proposed to the Trustees of the Anderson’s Institution the creation of a Mechanics’ Institution in Glasgow. The Trustees were initially suspicious, indeed sceptical about Birkbeck’s proposals but he was totally convinced that the workers were keen to learn about the scientific and technological aspects of the industrial processes that they were involved with. He began formal instruction for workmen and artisans in the scientific principles that were used in their trades. The workers paid a small fee to become members and attend the classes. The first lecture enrolled 75 whilst the fourth enrolled 500. In fact the lectures were so popular that ticket sales had to be refused when the numbers became too large. Birkbeck’s confidence was based on personal experience namely that he had identified the workers interest when he commissioned some work on pieces of equipment e.g. a centrifugal pump for his own research. He said “I beheld through every disadvantage of circumstance and appearance, such strong indications of the existence of unquenchable spirit. – – – Why are these minds left without the means of obtaining that knowledge which they so ardently desire and why are the avenues of science barred against them because they are poor?”
His lecture programmes lasted for three months and were staged between 1800 and 1804 and broke new ground in providing learning opportunities for workers. Following his move from Glasgow in 1804 he continued to lecture on science in Birmingham, Liverpool and Hull, and finally settled in London. Birkbeck was succeeded in Glasgow by Andrew Ure who with his students organised themselves into a society to consolidate, continue and extend the pioneering work begun by Birkbeck. In 1823 the Glasgow men founded the first ‘Mechanics’ Institution’, building on the earlier work and philosophy of Birkbeck at the Anderson’s Institution, [see biography of this institution that was established in 1796 in Appendix 4] and asked Birkbeck to become their first president. The purpose of the new institution was “the instruction of artisans in the scientific principles of arts and manufactures,”- – -“the diffusion of knowledge amongst mechanics.” In the same year a new publication was started namely the Mechanics’ Magazine that argued that a similar institution should be founded in London. This suggestion was immediately taken up by George Birkbeck, Brougham and Francis Place and late in 1823 the London Mechanics’ Institution (now Birkbeck College) was created. At the start of its existence the membership numbered over a thousand, each paying a subscription of five shillings every three months. Other institutions were established throughout the country e.g. in 1824 institutions were established in a number of principal towns and cities across Britain including Aberdeen, Dundee, Leeds, Lancaster, Newcastle and Sheffield and in 1825 Birmingham, Devonport, Liverpool, Manchester (later to become UMIST) , Norwich and Portsmouth, In 1826 a Mechanics’ Institutions was founded in Bristol. By the mid 19th century there were over 700 institutions in Britain.
Hudson (1) records that in 1850 the returns from Literary and Mechanics’ Institutions shown below in figure 1.
|Country||No. of Institutions||No. of Members||No. of Volumes||News-rooms|
Source: Hudson. J. W. ‘History of Adult Education’. 1851 (1). Kelly (2) provides an interesting table illustrating the estimated number of Mechanics’ Institutions and other Literary and Scientific Institutes in Britain between 1826 and 1851 and this is reproduced in table 2.
|Year||No. of Mechanics’ Institutions||No. of Literary and Scientific Institutes||Totals|
Kelly also reports the distribution and size of the membership in the Mechanics’ Institutions and similar institutes over the same years and this is reproduced in table 3.
|Number less than 200||Number less than 200||Numbers 200-500||Numbers 200-500||Numbers over 500||Numbers over 500||Totals|
Key: MIs – Mechanics’ Institutions. LSIs – Literary and Scientific Institutions.
Source: Kelly. T. George Birkbeck Pioneer of Adult Education.
The Mechanics’ Institutions were justifiably famous for their libraries but also had an amazing additional facility namely newsrooms. The newsrooms which were widely established in the 1830/40s were very popular but were viewed with suspicion by the upper classes who thought the newsrooms would attract persons of a ‘different caste’. These newsrooms contained a rich array of newspapers, journals and periodicals. Tylecote (3) provides a fascinating insight into the material contained in the Manchester Mechanics’ Institution in 1846. Below is a representative list of some of the journals that had scientific and practical themes.
Illustrative list of Periodicals by their frequency of publication
|Frequency of publication||Titles|
|Quarterly||Journal of Agriculture, Journal of the Royal Geographical Society. Journal of the Statistical Society. Taylor’s Scientific Memoirs|
|Monthly||Artizan. Civil Engineer’s and Architect’s Journal. Dublin University Magazine. Knight’s Book of Reference. Knight’s Library of the Times. Knight’s Penny Magazine. Literary and Scientific Journal. Magazine of Science. Mechanics’ Magazine. Pharmaceutical Journal.|
|Weekly||Athenaeum. Chamber’s Edinburgh Journal.|
|Occasional||Reports of Local Institutions. Transactions of various Societies|
The list of newspapers in 1849 available in the newsroom of the Manchester Mechanics’ Institution is equally impressive ranging through national, regional and local publications. Titles included: The Dublin Freeman. Economist, Glasgow Citizen, Illustrated London News, Morning Chronicle, New York Journal of Commerce, Scotsman, Spectator, Times and Sunday Times, Observer. There were many more from many of the large cities in Britain.
Birkbeck was supported by a number of far-thinking individuals who could see the importance of work-based education including Lord Brougham. The Mechanics’ Institution movement was greatly helped by the support of Brougham who as described in Chapter 3 created the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge and promoted and actively supported the Mechanics’ Institution movement through its publications.
The following quote, which appeared in a Journal of Adult Education, reflects the zeal and commitment of the movement:
‘The movement had genuine educational merits. It started from living interests. There has always been a strong strain of scientific curiosity amongst the English working classes, particularly in the North of England- – – -The Mechanics’ Institutions aimed at satisfying the desire of workmen in an age of scientific triumphs to understand the secret of the new power which was revolutionising industry. They filled a gap for which there was no other provision’.
Manchester Mechanics’ Institution is shown below.
Sadly in spite of the aspirations of the founders the Mechanics’ Institutions as a whole did not achieve a national critical mass in order to achieve a wider dissemination of scientific and technological knowledge as far as was hoped. In 1858 a report by a committee of the Society of Arts stated that: “Mechanics Institutes are no longer Institutions for mechanics; some enrol a small number of artisans, whilst others register none… though they are still called Mechanics Institutes, they are places for the resort of shop men and the middle class.” It would appear that the development had been pitched too high to achieve and sustain a lasting and widespread success. One major factor leading to their ultimate demise was the poor condition of state education even at the elementary stage. Other contributing factors included: the limited amount of knowledge of the practical application of scientific principles, the proportion of knowledge that the artisans actually required in their work; and the scarcity of industrial research at the time that would have greatly assisted the teaching of the applications of the concepts behind the processes. This further impeded the successful introduction of effective instruction. Therefore, in hindsight, it would be difficult to convey the technical and practical aspects until a more thorough understanding of the principles of industrial practice had been realised. In essence it was too early to reconcile theory and practice and relating and applying science to industrial practice. Also the lack of state funding and sustained political support contributed to the decline as often members’ subscriptions were insufficient to maintain the Institutions. After 1848 the educational opportunities for the workers rapidly declined and the majority of the Institutes became increasingly libraries, reading clubs, providing occasional popular lectures and locations for literary pursuits frequented by the middle and upper classes. This is another classic example of academic drift where provision is primarily focussed on the more academic subjects with the resultant neglect of the vocational and practical subjects.
(One fascinating influence during the first part of the 18th century was the impact of the technical improvements in the development of printing that increasingly provided books and other printed material to the working classes. This most certainly began to provide opportunities for the wider population to access information and improve their reading skills and awareness of technical and scientific knowledge.)
However many positive consequences of the existence of the Institutions still exist today namely that it did highlight and identify the inherent interest of workers and employers in scientific and technical concepts and the impact of this awareness on increasing motivation and productivity. Interesting to note that other European countries and America realised these factors much sooner than England as evidenced by the Great Exhibitions of 1851 and 1867 [see chapter 6]. A number of the Institutes went on to become Working Men’s Colleges and the London Mechanics’ Institution later transformed into Birkbeck College is now a constituent college of the London University and still provides part-time higher education to mainly adults who are working. Other Mechanics’ Institutions that survived and later became an established part of the further and higher education system included the Huddersfield Technical College, the Birmingham and Midland Institute, Firth College Nottingham and Manchester College of Technology. Many others continued to offer evening classes in art, commerce and the sciences until they were eventually absorbed into the emerging technical education system that occurred in the later stages of the 19th century. This invaluable contribution helped to add to the provision of technical education whilst the various Education Acts and Statutes were enacted during the latter end of the 19th century. The Mechanics’ Institutions that survived after 1850 were also able to benefit from the South Kensington grants after 1859, grants from the City and Guilds Institute of London after 1879 and the whiskey money after 1890 [See later chapters for explanations of these Acts and funding streams].
A view of London Mechanics’ Institution is shown opposite in 1826. Looking back over the history of the Mechanics’ Institutions one is struck how their fortunes fluctuated with the ups and downs of the trade cycles. In times of boom and high employment they flourished whilst in times of depression they languished. One can identify three distinct periods of expansion of the Institutions namely 1823-85, 1835-40 and 1845-50. The Mechanics’ Institutions produced many remarkable individuals e.g. James Young (1811-18830 now acknowledged as one of the most important men in the development of the petroleum industry. Also the founding of the unions in Cheshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire they began to lay the foundations for the technical education system. Also the co-operation between the Mechanics’ Institutions and the Society of Arts created the first nation-wide examination system for technical subjects. [I have written a separate history on the history of technical and commercial examinations which is on this website.]
An additional observation:
Just as the dissenting academies had their critics mainly from the Church of England the Mechanics’ Institutions had their critics who made derogatory comments about them. For example the Tories denounced the Institutions as hotbeds of radicalism (‘I had rather see my servants dead drunk than I would see them going to the Mechanics’ Institution’ wrote one critic.) Also radicals condemned the institutions as an exercise in paternalism designed to exploit the workers. Amazing with such negative attitudes and prejudices it was a miracle that the movement survived as long as it did and went on to make significant contributions to technical education.
Working Men’s Colleges and Institutes 1842+
The Working Men’s Colleges’ mission was very different from that of the Mechanics’ Institutions and focused on adult education and attempted to address deficiencies in education for working adults and provided a more general education for coping with social and economic issues. In many ways one could make a crude comparison of this movement with the current programmes for basic skills in such areas as literacy, numeracy and financial competence. Many commentators have argued that many of the attempts to educate the workers up to the mid 19th century had only been a partial success. Too often the middle classes who wished to educate the working classes came at it with a crusading mission and a patronising, dogmatic and conservative attitude. They had no real understanding, conception or direct knowledge of how working people lived .They did not understand the realities of the working classes and believed that education for the workers was about maintaining social order, creating national prosperity and religious salvation! The Working Men’s Colleges developed very different approaches often tempered with religious influences and a number rejected the idea that vocational and technical education was useful in relationship to a man’s craft or profession. Various preparatory classes were offered and opportunities for progression existed to higher levels of study were established by the colleges. More practical classes were introduced later (1870+) in bookkeeping, science and shorthand these last two being increasingly seen as important in the emerging business and commerce areas. Colleges were found in 1842 in Sheffield (People’s), Halifax, Leicester, London, Oxford and Wolverhampton. The Wortley Working Men’s Institute in 1876 Club is shown below.
The Sheffield People’s College for example was established by Rev. R. Bayley who had lectured at the Mechanics’ Institution. The classes were open to both men and women and subjects offered included classical languages, geometry, geography, history but with little or no science and technical subjects. In 1853 after many changes – Bayley had left in 1848 – more vocational programmes were introduced especially in chemistry that were closely linked to the steel trades of Sheffield and students sat Society of Arts examinations. Eventually the College was gradually absorbed, like many of the more successful Mechanics’ Institutions, into the then emerging technical college system but the Sheffield College acted as an exemplar for other institutions that followed.
One such institution strongly influenced by the Sheffield People’s College was the much more successful and longer lived London Working Men’s college founded in 1854 by Frederick Maurice. Maurice was a very religious individual and his college reflected high moral and spiritual ideals and the College was very much based on the universities of Cambridge and Oxford. He was greatly influenced by the educational ideas of Robert Owen and a supporter of Chartism. The curriculum in contrast to that of the Mechanics’ Institutions emphasised humane studies so drawing, science and mathematics were taught from a liberal perspective. The College employed some notable teachers including Ruskin. The Working Men’s College underwent a number of significant changes over the years and even created an adult school in 1855 to prepare illiterate students to gain entry to the College. Later in 1857 the College established an elementary class to act as a bridge between the adult school and the College. Interestingly like the Sheffield College it introduced more technical subjects such as book-keeping, carpentry and plumbing. The College proved a success by adopting this approach and was able to attract increasing numbers of workers which was reflected in the enrolments at the end of the 19th century, exceeding 1,000. The Working Men’s College Great Ormand Street is shown below.
The model of the Working Men’s colleges developed rapidly out from London and between 1855 and 1868 more than a dozen colleges were created in England and two in Scotland. Many did not survive very long and most had ceased operating within ten years. As in the case o the Mechanics’ Institutions the inadequacy of elementary/primary education deterred workers from accessing the provision offered by the Working Men’s College. In most Colleges workers did not form the majority of the student numbers. At Salford the College reported in 1858 ‘clerks and warehousemen numbered 79 in a total of 170, while labourers, mill-hands and packers were but 14, all told, the rest being made up of small numbers in a variety of trades and 28 described as miscellaneous’. Table 4 below shows the distribution of enrolments over the three terms in 1858 at the Manchester College.
|Book-keepers, clerks, shop-assistants,
shop-keepers, teachers and warehousemen.
The Manchester College eventually merged with the evening classes run by Owens College. Interesting to note that some who offered the more technical and vocational subjects survived longer and again were gradually assimilated into the emerging technical college movement at the end of the 19th century. The Leicester College was the longest surviving institution and eventually became part of Leicester University’s’ extra-mural department.
The Working Men’s Colleges made a significant contribution to the creation of the University Extension movement and the college in Oxford eventually became Ruskin College with a mission to educate working men to occupy leading positions in industry and commerce. Although it must be restated that many of these latter developments were still very focussed on the arts and humanities and again aimed at the middle and upper classes. One important and lasting consequence of the Working Men’s College was the influence they had on the development of adult education and began to highlight the distinction between liberal and technical education.
Colleges for Women
The London Working Men’s College did not permit the admission of women except for a limited period at the beginning of its existence. However in 1864 the Working Women’s College in Bloomsbury was established. Many of its supporters wanted a merger with the Working Men’s College seeing benefits from mixed classes from such a merger but this was refused by the Working Men’s College senior staff. Following the refusal a minority of individuals changed the name of the Working Women’s College in 1874 to the ‘College for Men and Women’. Yet another group reacted to this and created yet another college called the ‘College for Working Women’ in Fitzroy Street. This latter institution proved a greater success than the College for Men and Women by offering a wide range of technical and academic subjects as well as domestic subjects such as cookery, dressmaking and health studies. The College attracted students from a range of employment areas including domestic service workers, nursing, shop assistants and teaching. This is one of a very few institutes at this time that offered a dedicated programmes of study for women. The College for Men and Women closed in 1901 but the College for Working Women continues to this day having merged with the Working Men’s College in 1967.
Summary and Conclusions
These few examples along with others during the first half of the 19th century provide evidence of an embryonic system for technical education albeit a faltering one. However as has been said earlier it failed for a number of reasons. One of the many reasons was that England did not even have a national elementary/primary education system until well into the 19th century so it is not surprising that a national framework for technical education had to wait until the end of the 19th century. It was much later in the 19th century that a national system for elementary/primary pupils was established. The only semblance of a national system or network of educational institutions at this time were the Public, Grammar and Sunday schools. Also many barriers still existed that deterred workers both men and women from pursuing study, including limited access to educational institutions because of geographic constraints, unsociable times of attendance, relatively high costs, poor teaching staff etc. It must also be remembered that very often many workers/artisans were expected to attend evening classes after working from 6.00 am to 7.00pm in a factory often in atrocious conditions. Much still needed to be achieved before an effective national system of school and technical education could be realised.
The next chapter will continue to map the history and development of technical education including the consequences of the Great Exhibitions of 1851and 1867, the creation of the City and Guilds Institute of London and other educational movements including the Trade Schools.
(1) Hudson. J.W. ‘The History of Adult Education.’ Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans. 1851.
(2) Kelly.T. ‘George Birkbeck Pioneer of Adult Education.’ Liverpool University Press. 1957.
(3) Tylecote. M. ‘The Mechanics’ Institutes of Lancashire and Yorkshire Before 1851.’ Manchester University Press.1957.
Other useful references:
- Davies. J. L. ‘The Working Men’s College 1854-1904.’ Macmillian .1904.
- Gregg. P. ‘A Social and Economic History of Britain 1760-1972.’ Harrop.ISBN 0 245 51899 1. 1973.
- O’Brien. P. ‘Warrington Academy 1757-86.’ Owl Books .ISBN 0 9514333 0X. 1989.
- Peers. R. ‘Adult Education.’ RKP.1958.
A more comprehensive book list is provided in a separate section on this website along with comprehensive glossary and chronology.
The previous chapters of this history have attempted to provide the background and context for the issues that have dominated and shaped the development of technical education in England before, during and after the Industrial Revolution. I will now focus on some of the consequences of the successive Scientific and Industrial Revolutions during the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries that precipitated a growing awareness and interest in the practical benefits of science and its applications. This growing interest among the worker population in machinery and its workings, in the processes associated the new industries, manufacturing processes and natural science was fortunately encouraged by a few enlightened employers. However this curiosity and interest did not lead to any immediate or widespread provision of education or instruction in scientific and technical subjects until well into the 19th century.
The excitement generated by the achievements of the Scientific Revolution in the 17th century arising from the discoveries of amongst others Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) , Robert Hooke (1635-1703) and Isaac Newton (1643-1727) highlighted the importance of communicating and disseminating information about science and astronomy initially amongst other scientists then later to the wider public. An artist’s impression of Robert Hooke is shown below as no known portrait exists of him – he was a very remarkable scientist and sadly has not received the recognition he deserves.
There was much less interest at this time in the practical applications of science namely technology – interest only grew slowly as the consequences of the Industrial Revolution impacted on more people. As the scientific community grew they founded the Royal Society in 1660 in order to consider the pure and theoretical aspects of the major scientific discoveries being made at the time. Initially it was perceived as an exclusive and somewhat elitist club for gentlemen scientists. Eventually separate and independent bodies were established in Scotland and Ireland namely The Royal Society of Edinburgh founded in 1783 and the Royal Irish Academy based in Dublin founded in 1785. As the Industrial Revolution gained momentum public interest did gradually increase towards more applied, vocational and technical aspects of the scientific discoveries and basic principles associated with industrial processes. It was therefore inevitable that groups would be established that considered the workers’ interest in industrial processes and the science that underpinned them.
Even though the Royal Society purported to be about the dissemination of scientific knowledge it had little to do with the application of science preferring to focus on the pure and theorical aspects of science. In 1754 a society was founded that very much focussed on the issues associated with manufacturing namely The Society of Arts for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce that later became the Royal Society of Arts (RSA). Founded by William Shipley (1714-1803) the Society quickly received support from the aristocracy, manufacturers and the wider professional groups who financially sponsored grants and premiums for improvement in fields such as agriculture, industry and the trades. However the emphasis was still very much on the pure aspects of science and technology and the academic view persisted and reflected the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. The Society of Arts has played a significant role in technical and commercial education and training since its foundation. The City and Guilds Institute of London (CGLI) and the RSA are the two premier bodies each possessing a long and worthy history representing technical, vocational and commercial education especially in the area of examinations. An engraving of William Shipley is shown below.
Initially the Royal Society was the premier scientific body that represented all the sciences so it was inevitable that other specialised groups would be established to represent more specific scientific, astronomical and medical disciplines. These included the Medical Society of Edinburgh, (1734), the Physical Society of Edinburgh (1771), the Medical Society of London (1773), the Linnaean Society (1788) and the Royal Institution (1799), the Royal Astronomical Society (1820), British Association (1831) and the Chemical Society (1841). The majority of these organisations were based in London. [Additional information about the foundation of these and other professional bodies is more fully described in the biographies]. In addition to these societies there was a fascinating array of other movements that attempted to communicate and disseminate knowledge about science and its application. These movements centred on a wide range of formats such as debating societies, clubs, libraries, literary and philosophical societies, public lectures and various specialised institutions.
In 1799 the Royal Institution was created by Count Rumford (1753-1814) the American-born of English origin physicist who initially provided lectures on the application of science domestically in the home e.g. ovens, ventilation and heating systems. The Institution had a house on Albemarle Street, London that possessed a special room full of equipment and models associated with these domestic appliances. It was a truly remarkable facility and the Society reflected both Rumford’s unique insight and abilities and those who followed him. The initial purpose of the Royal Institution differed little from that of the Society of Arts. Both grew out of the industrial age and the resultant belief in utilitarianism. [Note: Utilitarian –designed for use rather than beauty – a person who believes in utilitarianism i.e. that the highest good lies in the greatest good of the greatest numbers.] One definite difference was the Institution’s commitment to improve the lives of the poor and to increase the technical knowledge of the artisans. In the first few years of its existence the Royal Institution ran a small industrial school for mechanics providing the basic skills and theory for such crafts as bricklaying, iron plate working, joinery and other metal workings. Rumford left to go to Germany and Humphrey Davy (1778-1829) assumed the role of head of the Institution laboratory and changed the lecture format and content so that it focused on the teaching of science and its application. Davy was then succeeded by Michael Faraday (1791-1867) who introduced a wide range of scientifically based lectures including the famous Christmas lectures, which continue to this day. In 1810 the Royal Institution became a public body in order to promote chemical science, the arts, manufacturing and the spread/diffusion and extension of useful knowledge in general. The Royal Institution was one of a few early examples of a society that set the standard and operating model for other cities to follow such as Liverpool, and the Royal Manchester Institution. These and other bodies did promote the arts, literature and sciences in a way that was not exclusive or elitist but attempted to offer provision to much wider audiences including artisans. However in spite of the worthy initiatives there is evidence that the provision for artisans and workers was sparse and as a result not on any significant scale to make any real impact.
Another body that focused on science and science teaching in schools was the British Association for the Advancement of Science founded at a meeting in York in 1831.The meeting highlighted that the educated classes of the time were becoming interested in the diffusion of science. The Association was established as a result of disillusionment with the Royal Society which was still seen as an exclusive gentlemen’s club. The leading spirit was Charles Babbage (1792-1871), a severe critic of the Royal Society arguing that the Society had reneged on its original aim ‘to improve the knowledge of natural things, and all useful Arts, Manufactures and Mechanick practises, Engines and Inventions by Experiments’[See biography of Charles Babbage in the biographies]. The Association’s main purpose was to promote research and discovery and facilitate meetings between practising scientists and as a result was far more open and democratic than the Royal Society. From about 1861 the Association focused its attention and resources on school science. In 1889 the Association presented a report strongly supporting the Heuristic* method of science teaching that had been developed by Henry Armstrong (1848-1937) who had worked at the Finsbury Technical College and which subsequently greatly influenced the teaching of science e.g., Nuffield Science. The Association introduced lecture programmes at its annual meeting and these became very famous not only because of their content but the lecturers who included Thomas Huxley, Henry Roscoe and William Tyndall. The Association rapidly became the most highly regarded organisation representing science in Britain and continues its excellent work up to today.
*[The heuristic methods of teaching are basically placing the student as far as possible in the position of the researcher – methods that involve them finding out instead of merely being told about things].
Below I will attempt to describe some of the other important movements although as Kelly (1) states the variety and scope of these is almost impossible to identify and record because of the lack of accurate historical detail. Many were short lived whilst others thrived and some still survive today although these went through many changes in title. However it must be said that many did not cater for the working classes as the cost of membership or activity was well beyond the reach of the artisan. Many of the societies and clubs were exclusively for the middle and upper classes but in spite of this failing it did reveal the growing interest in science and its application even in the upper classes. Also the majority of these movements were based in London which although understandable i.e. being the capital, did reinforce the widely held belief that everything in England revolved around London i.e. London centric. George Birkbeck (1776-1841) would develop a movement i.e. the Mechanics’ Institutions that would address the educational needs and interests of the workers more fully.
[I will describe more fully the Mechanics’ Institutions in Chapter 5.]
Some examples of Bodies Associated with the Dissemination of Science and its Application.
Gresham College and Public Science Lectures.
A good example of public lectures was the Gresham lectures based at Gresham College, founded as a result of a bequest by Thomas Gresham (1519-1579) to the Corporation of London and the Mercers’ Company in 1579. The bequeathed funds were to establish a series of lectureships in such disciplines as astronomy, geometry, law, physic, religion, rhetoric and music. The bequest was fully realised in 1597 upon the death of his wife. The college was based in his house in Bishopsgate Street with a number of the professors in residence. The professors delivered weekly lectures in both Latin and English. The lectures on geometry included elements of arithmetic whilst astronomy was aimed at the needs of mariners and their navigation skills. Gresham College and its professors played a significant part in the creation of the Royal Society in 1658 as many of the early planning meetings were held at the College. The lectures at the College continued to thrive throughout the 17th century with topics in astronomy, geometry and physics and in the 1690s lectures in chemistry and mathematics were begun. One of the most remarkable lecturers was Dr John Theophilus Desaguliers (1683- 1744) who was a gifted mathematician and natural scientist. He lectured in these subjects for over thirty years between 1712/13 until his death in 1744. He offered a series of twenty-two lectures at a cost of two and a half guineas that included such topics as hydrostatics, mechanics and optics. A portrait of Theophilus Desaguliers is shown below.
Other notable lecturers included William Whiston (1667-1752) who had succeeded Isaac Newton at Cambridge and regularly lectured on natural philosophy. Gresham College was the pioneer and forerunner for staging public lectures and in many ways anticipated the university extension movement and many elements of the adult education system that are practised today. Many of the lecturers went on to make significant contributions to science and other disciplines. Gresham College still exists today.
Following the success of Gresham College, science lectures developed across England in the rapidly developing industrial cities of the Midlands and the North but also in towns and ports. A wide range of subjects were taught reflecting the level of interest or specialism in the cities and towns. Mathematics and natural sciences were popular in Manchester whilst natural philosophy was the most frequent subject in the provinces – one can equate natural philosophy with the current title of the physical and biological sciences. As the lectures became more popular the formal lectures were complemented by experiments, working models and demonstrations. However the audiences were mainly middle or upper class because of the high cost of the lectures and that the general ambience did not attract the artisan. The Mechanics’ Institutions would provide through self help the really first opportunity for the working person to learn about science and its application [see chapter 5.]
There were a few examples of working-class scientific and mathematical societies such as the Spitalfields Mathematical Society see Appendix 4. Similar societies existed in Lancashire and Yorkshire and like the Spitalfields Society were created by weavers. Mathematical Societies were to be found in such places as Manchester and Oldham. Other Societies reflecting such interests as floriculture and entomology were active in London in the 18th century. Natural philosophy classes for the artisan were being offered in Birmingham in the late 18th century.
Literary and Philosophical Societies.
From around the 1780s provision around the country of science for adults was made by philosophical and literary societies. However these organisations were very much focussed on the middle and upper classes and were about the pursuit of knowledge as opposed to the practical aspects, although some of the Societies did attempt to popularise and raise awareness of science and its application. Interesting even at this time to see that provision was already available for the elite and privileged and not for the mechanics and artisans. This fact reinforces the influence of class on the English way of life that Weiner (2) so clearly articulates. Literary and Philosophical Societies were established in some of the big cities such as Leeds (1783), Liverpool (1779) and Manchester (1781). However many did not last long but Manchester proved to be the model of later and more successful ones e.g. Newcastle (1793). Manchester Society was founded in 1781 by Thomas Percival (1740-1804) a former student of the Warrington Academy, [see Chapter 5,] and was the most successful becoming the model for similar societies and continues to this day. Other successful and active ones existed in Birmingham, Leeds (1783), Liverpool (1779) and Newcastle but many were short-lived. The Societies were primarily operated for the mutual improvement of their own members and activities covered a wide spectrum of interests but the Manchester Society was one of the few that specialised in science. This was due mainly to John Dalton (1766-1844) a former teacher at the Manchester Academy. John Dalton is often referred to as the father of modern chemistry and was also a famous physicist who was elected as a member of the Manchester Lit and Phil in 1794 becoming its secretary in 1800 and then president in 1817, a position he held until his death in 1844. A picture of the Newcastle-upon- Tyne Literary and Philosophical Society is shown below along with a portrait of John Dalton.
Many of the more successful and financially endowed Literary and Philosophical Societies promoted science and literature by a variety of methods and techniques e.g. lectures, the reading of papers, laboratories equipped with certain pieces of apparatus, well stocked libraries and even in some cases museums. The less successful ones often had ill-defined and vague aims and offered an oddly assorted set of programmes spanning the arts, science and technology. Too often the audiences could not understand many of these and it was inevitable that the membership subsequently declined. However a few e.g. Manchester and Newcastle continue to thrive promoting and offering a wide range of subjects and activities.
The Lunar Society (1765 – 1813).
The Lunar Society (1775-1813) started out as the Lunar Circle (1765-1775) and comprised a group of leading individuals from industry and science. The Society was in many ways a forerunner of the literary and philosophical societies. At the time, it was, like the Royal Society a meeting place for inventors, scientists and natural philosophers but what made it special was that the members were interested in the application of science to such disciplines as education, manufacturing, mining and transportation. The meetings of the Society were scheduled at the time of the full moon because travelling at night, when no street lighting existed, could be dangerous and many of the members had far to travel to attend the meeting. The members referred to themselves as the ‘lunatics’. The meetings took place in members’ homes including Soho House in Birmingham and in Lichfield. The membership was relatively small, (around 12 to 14), but represented some of the leading scientists and innovators of the time.
The core group comprised Matthew Boulton (1728-1809), Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), Samuel Galton Jnr (1753-1832) chemist and manufacturer, James Keir (1735-1820), Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) a very famous scientist and educationist and very involved with the dissenting academies, William Murdock (1754-1839) engineer and inventor, Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) owner of the famous pottery and gifted chemist, James Watt (1736-1819) an engineer and inventor, John Whitehurst (1713-1788) botanist and William Withering (1741-1799) botanist.
Matthhew Boulton ( a portrait of Matthew Boulton is shown opposite) was the central figure of the Lunar Society an engineer, inventor and scientist. In addition the society corresponded with and received visits from a number of important individuals such as Richard Arkwright, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Anna Seward and James Watt. The Society was particularly interested in chemistry but discussions ranged widely across many aspects of the emerging products and scientific techniques arising from the industrial revolution. Interests and specialisms represented by the Society included: ceramics, electrical technologies, engineering, geology, manufacturing techniques, medical science, transportation systems e.g. canals. The Society did not engage directly in discussions on politics or religion although they did discuss social, political and economic issues. The Lunar Society was the most famous of such groups that existed at this time in other parts of the country, representing as it did a remarkable gathering of polymaths. It was also remarkable to see an initiative that was not based in London. The Society and its members, because of their individual skills and interests, were able to bring about the fusion of art with science and industry-a remarkable achievement in those days. The members individually and through the Society contributed greatly to the development of industrial processes and technical education. Members helped found other societies e.g. Literary and Philosophical Societies.
Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (1826 –48)
The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (SDUK) was founded in 1826 by Henry Brougham (1778-1868) and Matthew Davenport Hill (1792-1872) after the publication of an article in a journal (1821) by the radical Charles Knight (1791-1873) who had deplored the woeful influence of the popular press on the working classes. After the founding of the Society, Brougham appointed Knight in 1825 to supervise the publications of the SDUK and in 1825 Knight had devised strategies to publish inexpensive books on a wide range of topics including science. Brougham had also written a pamphlet in 1825 entitled ‘Practical Observations upon the Education of the People addressed to the Working Classes and their Employers’. This pamphlet defined two themes. The first was the creation of institutes like the Mechanics’ Institutions in Glasgow and London. These institutes should have a range of functions and supporting facilities for discussion groups, elementary teaching, public lectures and discussion groups complemented by a laboratory, library, reading room and a workshop. The second theme was the creation of the SDUK with the aim of publishing low price books popularising science and general knowledge. Knight appointed a remarkable group of individuals and scholars to advise, commission articles and write the material for the various publications. Broughton and Knight were great supporters of the Mechanics’ Institutions movement and other similar organisations that wanted to develop education for the working classes. A series of weekly and bi-weekly publications were subsequently published by the SDUK including the ‘The Penny Magazine’ first published in 1832 and ‘The Penny Cyclopedia’ also launched in 1832 as well as more expensive tomes e.g. ‘Gallery of Portraits’. Also published was the Library of Useful Knowledge, launched in 1827 costing sixpence and published biweekly and focussed on scientific themes. The Quarterly Journal of Education was published over five years 1831 to 1836.
Topics covered by these publications were remarkable and included almanacs, geography, history, maps, physical and biological sciences. It was reckoned that there were 200,000 subscribers to the Penny Magazine per week many of whom were artisans but also included middle class readers. The publications did not engage in political or religious issues but rather focused on popularising other areas of knowledge. The SDUK wanted to appeal to workers who had just learnt to read and the material would improve their reading skills as well as informing them. The SDUK focused primarily on teaching artisans the scientific principles associated with their trades and imparting useful information. In fact their reluctance to get involved in politics generated a degree of unpopularity from a number of quarters including the workers themselves – a similar situation happened with the Mechanics’ Institutions who also would not engage in political issues. The workers were beginning to feel excluded and increasingly resented being treated as second class citizens and wished to be involved more fully in political and social debates
The first publication in the Library of Useful Knowledge sold 33,000 copies mainly to middle class readers and sadly in spite of Brougham’s hopes did not attract readers from the workers. Unfortunately the enterprise lost a great deal of money in the order of £30,000 of which over £16,000 was on the paper duty/tax. The SDUK unfortunately had to cease most of its operations in around 1848 because of falling sales and revenue but some of its publications continued under the stewardship of Knight. The SDUK was an example of a valiant and far thinking initiative based on very worthy and high ideals supported by a group of remarkable individuals like Brougham and Knight. The SDUK was not a complete failure but represented at the time the first attempt to create a comprehensive and inexpensive range of educational literature for the masses. It most certainly disseminated knowledge across the country that had not been previously available. The SDUK and its publications influenced future ideas, patterns and models of educational development. It set an important precedent in a very important area when newspapers and other publications were expensive and subjected to high taxation rates and where newspapers and their owners were very often politically influenced or the owners were corrupt and biased in their opinions.
Libraries, newspapers and Museums.
This is a fascinating area far too vast to attempt more than a brief description but libraries and museums most certainly assisted in opening access to the workers and their families to books and helped to disseminate/spread knowledge that was emerging in the 17th and 18th centuries. As educational opportunities opened up for workers’ in the early 18th century the demand for written material increased and with the invention of steam-printing introduced in 1814 the cost of production significantly decreased and this coupled with the improving transport system allowed books and periodicals to be distributed more widely across the country. There were circulating libraries in Bath, London and Southampton in 1740 but these were very much for the upper and middle classes. The library movement although extensive in the first half of the 18th century was inadequate to satisfy the growing demand. Many of the larger cities such as Glasgow, Manchester and Preston had public libraries although Chetham’s in Manchester was primarily for scholars and closed at 4.00pm before the workers had finished their labours. The majority of ‘town libraries’ in England and Scotland were not strictly public but were operated by subscriptions and as a result were restricted to the subscribers. A number of libraries were linked to cathedrals–a report in 1849 identified 34 such libraries. In fact many libraries across Britain were associated with chapels and churches and as a result were primarily concerned with theological themes. A few more enlightened employers created libraries for their workers. The one area where books were plentiful and covering a wide range of topics were the collections held by cultural and specialist groups and societies. The range was truly remarkable and included many of the organisations described in this history namely Co-operative Societies, farmers’ clubs, Friendly Societies, Literary and Philosophical Societies, Mechanics’ Institutions, Mutual Improvement Societies, Oddfellows and many more. These did offer opportunities to many workers to access information that had previously been the exclusive domain of the upper and middle classes. Mutual Improvement Societies and libraries were created by local trade unions again reflecting how trade unions developed after the repeal of the Statute of Artificers. It is interesting to note how Salford and Warrington made use of an Act of 1848 that allowed a half-penny tax to be used to establish libraries attached to museums. It was only after the 1850 Public Libraries Act that towns with a population of over a 10,000 could use the half-penny tax to create public libraries.
The Industrial Revolution greatly increased the public’s interest in news and comment and with improved printing technologies and machinery a significant proportion of the working class were reading newspapers and political journals. However the political climate at the time was difficult and the ruling class readily enforced the law of blasphemy, libel and sedition which suppressed many publishers and writers. The French Revolution had an impact on many aspects of the British political and social life. Also there were a number of taxes that made the publishing business expensive and a whole series of campaigns and protests occurred throughout the 18th century until a more enlightened set of legislation removed many of the barriers to free speech and the general concept of the freedom of the press. As the various taxes were removed the price of the papers came down. The Daily Telegraph became the first penny newspaper in 1855 whilst in 1861 the Times cost 3d. But the campaigns for a free press and the removal of the taxes on knowledge took a long time and sadly involved suffering among those who fought these battles, as many of whom were imprisoned and persecuted.
Museums and Art galleries before 1820s were most definitely London centric although Scotland had two non-university museums, one in Edinburgh and the other in Perth. After about 1820 museums began to be established and records show that prior to 1845 there were about 40 museums mainly in England. Thirty of these were associated with antiquarian societies, literary and philosophical societies, natural history societies and universities. Wales had only one recorded museum based at the Royal Institution of South Wales in Swansea whilst Scotland in addition to the ones at the universities, (e.g. Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews), and in Edinburgh and Perth plus five other museums. After the Museums Act of 1845 the number slowly grew but progress was slow because local authorities were reluctant to apply for the rate–aid that the legislation required. A few cities and towns availed themselves of the rate-aid but it was only after the removal of the rate–aid that the museums movement really developed across the country assisted by government funding. The Great Exhibition of 1851 provided the catalyst for the creation of the South Kensington Museum which eventually became the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Great Exhibition most certainly awakened a greater interest in technical matters and technical education [see later chapters.] The exhibition also lead to the creation of the Department of Science and Art which had a major influence on technical education in the years after 1853.
Co-operative and other Mutual Improvement Movements
Between 1829 and 1834 there was a great deal of industrial unrest following a number of reforms to employment that worsened the working conditions of many. Strikes were increasing and other forms of industrial action were taking place across the country. It was at this time the trade union movement began to develop in order to improve the conditions of service for their members even though the majority of employers were very hostile to unions. Also a number of mutual improvement groups were established that attempted to represent the workers and the disadvantaged. These movements were trying to create an identity and independence for the working classes that did not depend on charity or patronage however well meant. These groups often were involved in educational works and sometimes they would link with other movements e.g. trade unions and create jointly managed libraries. One such group was the Co-operative movement which is still very active and highly regarded today. The movement grew out of this turbulent period and the driving force behind its formation was Robert Owen 1771-1858) a radical reformist. Owen wanted to transform the British capitalist society into a Co-operative Commonwealth. Three distinct Co-operative enterprises could be identified that were subsequently established across the country. The first was purely educational advocating the Owenite ideals through circulating literature, lectures, and meetings with a great deal of propaganda. The second was a trading enterprise buying wholesale and hence cutting out the middleman and providing cheaper food, clothing and other services e.g. burial services. The final enterprise was associated with the production of goods that were sold direct to the Co-operative shops and hence bypassing the capitalist system. By 1832 there were 500 Co-operative Societies. Owen also founded schools at his factories in New Lanark and argued very strongly for the education provision to be included in the Factory Acts. He founded a number of organisations that included educational aims e.g. the National Union of the Industrious Classes and the Society for National Regeneration. The Co-operative Societies with the trade unions were major players in adult education in the late 19th century and they laid the foundations in the creation of the Workers Education Association (WEA) founded in 1903 and also the creation of Ruskin College. [I will mention the development of adult education as it impacts with technical education in later chapters]. A pen portrait of the Cooperative movement on this website and an image of the first cooperative shop is shown below.
Summary and conclusions
These few examples along with others during the first half of the 18th century provide evidence of an embryonic system for technical education albeit a faltering one. Benevolence of individuals from the upper and middle classes was the driving force behind many of the societies and movements described above. These individuals in many cases truly believed that they were acting in the interests of the working classes. In addition they felt that such good work would create prosperity and help maintain order within the nation. However increasingly the workers and artisans felt excluded from many basic rights such as access to education without the gift of charity or benevolent support. The situation engendered a feeling of inferiority and in spite of many worthy initiatives the sense of injustice continued to grow. As the 18th century progressed various Parliamentary Acts began to address many of these injustices and eventually brought about the development of a national school system and better working conditions for employees. However as has been said earlier many of these worthy initiatives failed for a number of reasons. It must be stressed that at this time England did not even have a national primary education system so it is not surprising that a national framework for technical education had to wait until the end of the century. It was much later in the 18th century that a national system for primary pupils was established. The only semblance of a national system or network of educational institutions at this time were the Public, Grammar and Sunday schools. One very important factor that is seldom mentioned by historians is the injustices associated with how the workers were expected to engage with the various educational opportunities that were emerging during this time. Those who did take up the opportunities that might been available in their locality would have had meet many challenges and obstacles. Workers were expected to attend classes after working long hours in awful conditions and environments. Wages were low and poverty, ill health and low life expectancy were the norm. Yet they were expected to attend classes at unsociable hours and often required to pay a fee that surely added to the financial burden placed on them and their families. Those who did attend and stayed the course must have been remarkable individuals when all the deterring factors are taken into account. They must have been very intelligent, incredibly self motivated and ambitious to make their lives better not only for themselves, their families and the majority of the working class. The situation was unjust especially when one compares the way the middle and upper classes accessed education. Many attended grammar or public schools and Cambridge and Oxford Universities that were very privileged and requiring little effort by the students.
The next chapter will describe the history and development of the Dissenting Academies, the Mechanics Institutions and the Working Men’s Colleges and Institutes.
- (1) Kelly. T. ‘A History of Adult Education in Great Britain.’ Liverpool University Press.1970.
- (2) Wiener. M. ‘English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit 1850-1980.’ Penguin. 1985.
Other useful references:
- Gregg. P. ‘A Social and Economic History of Britain 1760-1972.’ Harrop. ISBN 0 245 51899 1. 1973.
- Uglow. J. ‘The Lunar Men: Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World.’ Faber and Faber. 2002.
- R.K.Webb, ‘The British Working Class Reader.’ George Allen and Unwin Ltd. 1955.1938
A more comprehensive book list is provided on this website along with a comprehensive glossary and chronology.
The first two chapters attempted to set the scene and identify and summarise the issues and factors that have dominated and bedevilled the development of technical and vocational education. They will continue to be highlighted throughout this history. One of the fascinating and recurring aspects in researching the topic is the fact that a number of innovative initiatives prior to and during the first Industrial Revolution were associated with a few farsighted individuals and so often isolated and fragmented in geographical terms and as a result did not possess sufficient critical mass to have a lasting impact. In addition many of the initiatives were associated with private generosity and municipal pride and patriotism, Many of these initiatives will be described in later chapters and in some cases more fully discussed in the biographies in Appendix 4. As mentioned in earlier chapters before the age of mechanisation and the controlled exploitation of steam to drive machinery all artefacts were hand made. What machines existed exploited the elements e.g. wind and waterpower drove windmills and water wheels to grind corn and irrigate fields. Manually operated they were associated with rural cottage industries such as spinning and weaving. The techniques used were handed down generation by generation. Agriculture was the main occupation and craftspeople worked alone or in small communities. As mentioned in chapter 2 evidence now exists that industrial development occurred at earlier times both in Britain and Europe than the first industrial revolution. For example in the 13th century water–owered mills were used widely in the woollen-cloth industries and from the mid-16th to the mid-17th centuries greater use was made of coal in such industries as metal smelting. In the time before the Industrial Revolution technical education was based on the apprenticeship system and largely managed by the Craft Guilds. To continue to set the scene the following sections will describe the work of the Guilds and the purpose and operation of the Apprenticeships.
The Craft Guilds – Livery Companies and Apprenticeships.
A Guild was basically an association of craftspeople representing a particular craft or trade. The earliest known guilds were believed to have been established in India around 3800 BC. From about the 12th century European Guilds (or Gilds) and Livery Companies gradually evolved into what one could currently identify as being equivalent to business organisations/consortia. Eventually at the end of the 1700s and the early 1800s the guilds were criticised by politicians and business people for being resistant to free trade and reluctant to adopt the newer technological and business practices and developments. They were increasingly perceived as being territorial and parochial. Industrialisation of trade and industry and the development of copyright and patent protection laws during the 18th century gradually eroded the power and influence of the guilds. Some commentators believe that the guilds were the precursors to the trade unions. Other commentators have argued that because the guilds were associated with small business associations comprising self-employed skilled craftspeople they possessed little in common with the trade union movement. Guilds still exist today across the world e.g. in Europe they represent local craft and tradespeople in the more traditional skills. In America guilds still represent actors and writers along with other occupational groups. In the City of London, the ancient guilds survive as Livery Companies whilst in Preston a guild continues as the Preston Guild Merchant operating many of the traditional ways. Much pomp and ceremony is associated with the Livery Companies even today reflecting their pride in their history and traditions. The Vintners Hall is shown below:
The craft guilds reached their apogee of power and influence during the 13th and 14th centuries both in Europe and England being solely responsible for the organisation of labour and the standards of the craft and trade skills in their particular area or locality. Guilds developed across the country both in rural and urban areas represented particular crafts and trades say in bricklaying, joinery, shipbuilding and a host of other crafts and trades associated with agricultuture, manufacturing and industrial processes. The craft guilds were very dependent on the authority of the municipal or town governance and at times patronage. Most craft guilds were established on the authority of the town major the major also being the chief magistrate who constantly revised the rules in the best interest of the townspeople As the number of Guilds increased various demarcation disputes arose e.g. between the cordwainers, the saddlers and the tanners. Other disputes occurred about the exact range of the authority exercised by each guild particular where the crafts and trades were similar and this often reflected badly on the Guilds and its overall management. The organisation of a Guild was precisely defined into three hierarchical categories or classes: namely the livery, the freeman and the apprentice. At this time members of the guilds were exclusively male hence the terminology. The liveries were people who had established businesses and it was from this category that the Master, the Wardens and the Court of Assistants were elected. They were totally responsible for the organisation and management of a particular guild including the supervising the apprenticeships, setting judging their standards and setting of prices and wages. The next category was the freemen who were bound absolutely to a guild and were referred to as the journeymen craftsmen. The final category comprised the apprentices or trainees who were bound or indentured to a master craftsman for seven years. The apprenticeships were overseen during this period by the Court who made certain the apprentice received effective training and acquired the appropriate skills for the particular craft and trade and was well treated.
The apprentice at the end of his training was required to present his masterpiece to the Wardens, this being a piece of work to justify that he had mastered his craft. The Guilds by maintaining high standards and wages limited any possible competition from beyond the City boundaries. Although the methods of the Guilds were often perceived as autocratic they established good standards at a time when England was primarily a rural country comprising craftsmen, farmers, labourers, landowners, and shopkeepers. One characteristic that the majority of the guilds possessed was the service to the local community. In Medieval times production and trade was based on two fundamental principles namely ‘service to the local community and a reasonable profit’. Where the guildsman sold products abroad they could not make greater profits again reinforcing the principle that the needs of the local community were paramount.
The system worked well until the coming of increased use of steam power and the emerging factory system that required a new set of methods of training as people migrated to the cities and away from rural communities. The advent of industrialisation, mass production and the factory system in Britain brought about the demise of the craft apprenticeship system and it is interesting to note this did not happen in Germany. This resulted in the gradual decline of the Guilds as the factor system developed. This transition highlighted the need to raise awareness of the application of scientific ideas to industry and as a result created the rudimentary beginnings of technical and vocational education. The decline of the old apprenticeship in England was greatest during the last quarter of the 18th century and the early part of the 19th century.
The Guilds were instrumental in creating the City and Guilds Institute of London following a government committee report about the need to promote the interests of several of the trades. These included such Companies as the Clothworkers’, the Goldsmiths’ the Fishmongers’ Cutlers’ and the Carpenters’. [See the complete list of the founding organisations later on in this chapter.]
(The Guilds continue today though they have become more diversified supporting their respective crafts and trades in a number of ways. The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, almost uniquely, continues to offer very high quality apprenticeship programmes where the apprentices are still managed by a master. Recently the City and Guilds Institute of London (CGLI) recognised the high standards set by the apprenticeship programme and the resulting artefacts by accrediting the Company for its Senior Awards).
Prior to the 19th century the main route into a particular craft, trade and industry was after the successful completion of an apprenticeship. The system of apprenticeships began in the late Middle Ages and were often managed by the craft guilds or a town government. The formal contractual relationship between the master and apprenticeship was created in 1562 following the Statute of Artificers that then established a structure for a national system of apprenticeships. (Note: An Artificer is a mechanic, a person who creates skilfully, a craftsman). Apprentices initially were referred to as ‘prentices’, A master craftsman was allowed to employ young people in order to provide them with formal training in a particular craft or trade. In addition the master undertook to develop the young person’s general understanding of life and the appropriate manners and wider skills necessary to conduct their business. Therefore the apprenticeship was not just about the mastery of craft and trade skills or an introduction into the mysteries of the particular craft or trade but equally importantly about gaining business and social skills. The young person received a small amount of money whilst undergoing their training and the amount increased as the programme and associated skills advanced over time. The Statute was repealed in 1814 for a number of reasons that made the existing legislation somewhat ineffective. The reasons for this erosion of the Statute included the following:
- Masters increasingly took on apprenticeships without any written contract or indenture – presumably to keep wages low?
- New trades developed in the 17th and 18th centuries and were not included in the apprenticeship programmes which therefore did not reflect these new skills emerging in industry and commerce
- Many trades did not stipulate the length of the apprenticeships and Masters increasingly took on too many apprentices whom they could not properly manage In many trades binding enforcement of an agreed period of time for a journeyman to serve was not enacted.
This shows yet again that no effective provision had been made for the implementation and monitoring of the Statute of Artificer. As a result of the repeal of the Statute no legal requirements then existed for any training e.g. no defined periods of training were stipulated and this is where the emerging trade union movement began to be involved in the training of more skilled crafts and trades. The trade unions that grow up in the mid-19th century began to establish arrangements for such aspects as the period of training and recruitment of apprentices in a number of trades. The unions established libraries in conjunction with other movements e.g. Mutual Societies. The trade unions began to fill the gaps created following the repeal of the Statute. The trade unions have since maintained an interest and commitment to technical and vocational education and training and have been represented on committees and development groups associated with this important area of the education system. The trade unions were able to maintain the standards of workers in a range o trades and crafts. However a number of guilds continued to operate apprenticeship programmes based on traditional lines and some even today adhere to the indenture and vigorous and high quality training regimes. A good example is the Goldsmiths’ Company which even now is establishing its own college to further enhance the skills of its apprentices.
Most of the apprentices during these times were male with only a very few programmes such as embroidery and silk-weaving for females – yet another sad reflection of the traditional view of the role of the female in society and work. The issue of gender and occupation stereotyping still persists today. The ages of apprentices ranged between 14 and 21 and on successful completion of the apprenticeship they became master craftsmen. A typical apprenticeship lasted seven years in England. The period of the apprenticeship on the continent was three years but much greater importance and emphasis was placed on the period and purpose of the journeyman stage in Europe i.e. the period after finishing the apprenticeship and the additional experience and skills acquired before applying to become a master. In England apprenticeships had a long tradition initially resulting from the consequences of the Poor Laws and the later factory Acts that attempted to legislate that young people received training in order to enter meaningful employment and to reduce the likelihood of becoming exploited by employers or drifting into criminal pursuits. The later Factory Acts introduced better working conditions for young people and progressively raised the age limits for entering employment. For example the first Factory Act in 1802 introduced the concept of compulsory attendance at school during part of the week but the lack of a national system at the time made this legislation rather ineffective. Again an example of ineffective implementation and monitoring of legislation particularly in the area of employment practice and the area of technical education and training. Later education and factory Acts were more far more effective as a national system of elementary and secondary school education developed in the 19th and 20th centuries. This coupled with the successive raising of the school leaving age reduce the exploitation of child labour and a greater commitment to education and training gradually developed. Following the successful completion of the seven period of the apprenticeship the apprentice would be granted the rank of a journeyman and the documents issued to him entitled him to travel and gain more experience in his chosen craft or trade. The documents included certificates issued by the Master and/or the guild. The term journeyman has its origins in the French word journee meaning ‘one day’. This meant that he could request a fee for a day’s work. A journeyman was a tradesman or craftsman who although he had successfully completed an apprenticeship could not employ other workers. They were often called jack or knave and this is where the expression “jack of all trades master of none” comes from. Because of limited resources many journeyman in medieval England could not afford to establish their own workshops and in many cases would remain employees of other enterprises. In Europe a journeyman, (Geselle), would travel extensively working in different workshops and locations in order to develop greater experience and skills in this particular craft or trade and this would increase their chances of becoming a master in their craft or trade. After several years of travelling and gaining experience the journeyman could apply to the Guild to become a Master. This journeyman phase comprised two stages. In the first stage the journeyman would operate as a day worker for typically five years followed by a period of travelling lasting another three years during which time he would wear a distinctive scarf. Approval for his application required the agreement of all the Masters of the relevant guild, a financial donation and/or additional goods, and where appropriate for the particular craft, a masterpiece. In England the journeyman stage was less precisely defined in terms of the period and many crafts and trades did not require the submission of a masterpiece. It is interesting to note how differently the apprenticeship systems operated in England and the Continent. Since the Industrial Revolution and with the developing system of technical education institutions, employers gradually became more reluctant to impart their knowledge and skills directly to young people and increasingly delegated that training to educational institutions. In fact a number of commentators have argued that the demise of the traditional apprenticeship ushered in the beginnings of technical education. Sadly employers have often seen skill acquisition as a cost requiring as it does investment of resources and resultant loss of profit that often the employer does not want to give away to other employer and competitors! Many employers also were afraid of poaching of their trained employees by their competitors. Since the mid-19th century the model that emerged combined work based training, (on job training), and attendance at a local technical institute, (off job training). It is the challenge of achieving the correct balance of the work based training with the theoretical aspects taught in the educational institution that still has not been realised in England.
Following the repeal of the Statute of Artificers until the mid-20th century the concept and purpose of the apprenticeship has been continually modified to address the ongoing concerns of juvenile labour including periods of high youth unemployment. A recurring theme is the need to offer training and basic education to young people to combat ignorance and to attempt to deal with skills shortages and gaps in the workforce. One continuing problem is often associated with poor literacy and numeracy skills and scientific illiteracy especially with school leavers. I will consider how the apprenticeship model has changed since the 18th century in later chapters as well as a separate chapter on the most recent attempts by government’s to develop more effective programmes associated with work based learning including apprenticeships. The current governments approach is a classic example of ill- conceived and muddled thinking with little regard to historical good practice where it existed but more of that later! Political and historical amnesia is sadly a recurring characteristic of successive governments when planning developments in technical and vocational education.
To assist understanding it might be helpful to illustrate the development of the Goldsmiths’ Company. The Company is a typical example of a Livery Company but one that continues to invest a great deal into education and training. The Company is one of the Twelve Great Livery Companies of the City of London. It received its first royal charter in 1327. The Goldsmiths Company was founded to regulate and oversee the goldsmiths craft or trade. From 1300 it has been responsible for the testing the quality of gold and silver and from 1975 the testing of items made of platinum. Hallmarks were introduced on gold and silver items in the 15th century when craftsmen were required to bring their products to the Goldsmiths Hall to be tested, assayed and marked if they successfully passed the process. Hallmarking still continues today and the Company manages this process under statute through the aegis of the London Assay Office. The Goldsmith Hall is shown opposite:
Some key dates
- 1300. The first reference to standards of gold and silver wares, the ‘guardians of the craft’ and the leopard’s head in a statute of Edward 1
- 1327. First Royal Charter granted by Edward 111
- 1363. Goldsmiths and silversmiths required to have a mark unique to them on all their wares in order to identify the craftsman
- 1544. The lion passant mark introduced on gold and silver ware
- 1773. Two new Assay Offices opened in Birmingham and Sheffield
- 1851. The Company offered £1000 in prizes at the Great Exhibition of 1851
- 1878. The Goldsmiths’ Company with the other City Livery Companies were instrumental in creating the City and Guilds Institute of London (CGLI). (See below for the complete list of founders of the CGLI)*
- 1880. Two Royal Commission reports investigated the conduct of the City of London Livery Companies. One report advocated their abolition whilst the second argued for their continuation. The reports most certainly fired up many of the Companies who developed more effective and proactive approaches and initiatives especially focussed on technical education. The reports identified a number of concerns including the lack of accountability and the Guilds relative insularity and lack of real commitment to education and training.
- 1891. The New Cross Technical and Recreative Institute opened by the Company which was then handed over in 1904 to the London County Council and eventually became Goldsmiths College and part of London University.**
- 1966. The Company established the Technical Advisory Committee to offer technical assistance to the trade.
* It was not until 1880 that the educational association established by the 14 founding Livery Companies was officially incorporated under the Company Acts as the City and Guilds of London Institute for the Advancement of Technical Education (CGLI). The original meeting occurred on 11th November 1878 at the Mercers’ Hall that brought about the CGLI. At incorporation there were 17 founders namely the Corporation and 16 Companies. The companies were: Armourers, Brasiers, Carpenters, Clothworkers, Coopers, Cordwainers, Drapers, Dyers, Fishmongers Goldsmiths, Ironmongers, Leathersellers, Mercers, Needlemakers, Pewterers, Plaisterers and Salters. I will describe more fully the history of CGLI in a later chapter.
**The Goldsmiths’ Company funded entirely the creation of the college following a decision by the charity commissioners to establish three polytechnics in south London
It is interesting to compare the different reasons for the foundation of the Goldsmiths and Birkbeck colleges. Birkbeck College was founded on the earlier Mechanics’ Institution movement based on democratic ‘self help principles’ whilst the Goldsmiths College was founded in order for England to complete more effectively from competition from the Continent.
I will consider the Mechanics’ Institution movement much more fully in Chapter 5.
A typical indenture is shown below. It is still used by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths’ now more commonly known as The Goldsmiths’ Company. It makes fascinating reading and indicates the high standards expected of the apprentice and the Master. Although as time progressed after the repeal of the Statute these were not always honoured by many masters and guilds. Note the emphasis on the need to maintain standards and good behaviour and one wonders how the Company checks these aspects out?
Reproduced by kind permission of The Goldsmiths’ Company
The next chapter will consider other educational movements and societies involved in disseminating scientific and technical knowledge and skills in the period before and during the Industrial Revolution.
- Cunningham. W and McArthur. E. A. ‘Outlines of English Industrial History.’ CUP. 1904.
- Cunningham. W. ‘The Growth of English Industry and Commerce in Modern Times.’ CUP. 1892.
- Peters. A.J. ‘British Further Education.’Pergamon Press1967.
- Webb. S and Webb. B. ‘The History of Trade Unionism.’ Longmans, Green and Co. 1911.
- Williams. G. ‘Recruitment to Skilled Trades.’ RKP. 1957.
- Wilson. C. ‘England’s Apprenticeship 1603-1763.’ Longman, Green and Co. Ltd. 1965.
A more comprehensive book list is provided in a separate section of this website.
The Industrial Revolution and the Role of Science and Technology in the Development of Technical Education.
“The greatest invention of the nineteenth century was invention of the method of invention” A.N. Whitehead. Lowell Lectures. 1925.
This chapter will attempt to continue to set the context and background of this history of technical education by providing more detail about the influences and driving forces associated with the Industrial Revolution and the impact arising from the growth of science and the advances in technology on the development of technical education. After all it was the Industrial Revolution that highlighted the essential need to develop a national system for elementary/secondary education and equally important a technical education system. The Industrial Revolution inevitably acted as a catalyst/trigger for the development of a national technical education system although as this history will show the development was both faltering and haphazard throughout the 19th and early 20th century. One of the interesting issues during this development period was the heated debates about the relationship between science and technology especially in regard to how these subjects were taught and their relative importance and place in a national education system.
Background to the Industrial Revolution.
The term Industrial Revolution was first used by Louis – Auguste Blanqui in 1837 and it was then widely adopted following a series of lectures entitled ‘Industrial Revolution of the 18th Century in England’ by Arnold Toynbee delivered in 1882. The First Industrial Revolution as it is more commonly called spanned the period between the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Many historians cite the period between 1780 and 1830 as the time when Britain witnessed the most rapid industrialisation activity although other historians define other periods. In addition a number of historians have argued that industrialisation occurred much earlier than 1780 and strictly was not a revolution but rather an example of gradual evolution. A number of studies using econometric techniques showed that the slow production rates coupled with low national incomes would indicate that industrial evolution rather than industrial revolution was a more appropriate term to describe the process. Other writers identified that there was a piecemeal development in processes associated with industrial innovation and in organisational structures. Clear evidence now exists that industrialisation was not the exclusive domain/province of Britain but included developments both in Asia and Europe.
There was a great deal of migration of European artisans and professional people into Britain during the 15th/16th/17th centuries bringing their superior skills and technological methods. There was evidence of exchange and transfer of ideas, skills and technologies between Britain and Europe for many centuries before the first industrial revolution. For example the Dutch made significant contributions to the technologies associated with the drainage system in the Fens in the mid 17th century and later made significant improvements to water mills. Dutch and Flemish refugees played a significant role in creating the foundations of the development of the cotton, silk and other textile trades in England. France also made major contributions to blast furnace technology as did the Germans in improving the smelting and refining of non-ferrous ores. The French were the leaders in science during the 18th century and again made many contributions to the new industries associated with chemicals e.g. dying and bleaching. The exchange was certainly not just one way e.g. Britain helped Belgium and France to modernise much of their industry but most of the transfer of technology and effort from Britain was aimed at the USA. It is interesting to note that a number of Parliamentary Acts during the 19th century prohibited the emigration of workers into mainland Europe as well as placing restrictions on the export of machinery, spare parts, design plans and expertise. These Acts most certainly limited and constrained the exchange of technology and technical knowhow between Britain and the Continent. This aspect again reflects and reinforces the secretive and protectionist nature and practices of British companies, a point that will be picked up and developed later in this chapter.
During the first industrial revolution Britain witnessed a massive set of transformations in such areas as agriculture, demographic trends, manufacturing and transportation. These and other changes had a profound effect on the cultural, economic and social climate of the country. For example Figure 1 below shows the dramatic growth in population between 1760 and 1901.
|Year||Population England and Wales||Population Scotland||Total population Britain|
|1760||6,736,000 (estimated)||8,000,000 (estimated)|
|1801||8,892,000 (1st census)||1,608,420||10,500,000|
Another important transition occurred from around 1760 when the basis of the labour economy changed from one based on manual/physical labour to one increasingly based on machines. In addition the tradesperson replaced the craftsperson and the applied scientist replaced the amateur inventor. One consequence of the industrial revolution was that for the operation of the new machines largely unskilled labour were used. Skilled workers found themselves lowered in status and in less demand and companies increasingly employed women and children to keep costs down. Coal was king as its production rose from 2.5 million tons in 1700 to 10 million tons in 1800. Three important technologies can be identified that formed the foundations of the first industrial revolution namely: iron production, steam engine and textiles.
The steam engine had been discovered before the industrial revolution and was subsequently improved by Watt and others after 1778. The steam engine was initially adapted and used to provide power for a whole series of machines and as a result was in many ways the most important ‘enabling technology’ of the time and as a result made the major contribution to the first industrial revolution. Steam driven machines were gradually improved, adapted for wider uses such as in the production of textiles and the mining of iron and tin and this evolution continued to enable the operation of more complex machinery e.g. machine tools, lathes, farm machinery. The development and refinement of machine tools by such individuals as Henry Maudslay and Joseph Whitworth played a key and crucial part in the later phase of the first Industrial Revolution as machine tool technology enabled standardised manufacturing machines to be fabricated. A portrait of Joseph Whitworth is shown below.
The movement of manufactured goods and services was also greatly assisted and facilitated by improvements to the national transport system that included better roads and the development of an extensive network of canals, (from about 1773), and railways (from 1825). To illustrate the rapid growth of inland navigation systems i.e. canals and rivers in 1750 there were around 1,000 miles of inland navigation and by 1850 this had increased to 4,250 miles excluding a significant mileage that existed in Ireland.
As the national economy increased and technological advances accelerated and gained momentum the first industrial revolution converged around 1850 into the second period of industrial revolution/evolution. After 1850 the rapid development of steam driven transport systems e.g. shipping and railways opened up new markets both in Britain and across the world. Later in the 19th century the newer technologies associated with electrical generation, the internal combustion engine and the industrial processes related to chemicals etc further accelerated and spread the growth of industrial and international trade.
By 1850 Britain was the acknowledged workshop and the leading industrial power of the world producing over half the world’s coal, cotton and iron. Imported food and essential raw materials for the manufacturing processes were paid for by the export of manufactured products as well as the export of a developing service sector including financial, insurance and shipping services. The country possessed the world’s most powerful navy and mercantile fleet and this not only helped to maintain the empire but provided the means to export its manufactured commodities. Sadly the transportation of slaves to the new world until the trade was abolished in 1807 also contributed to Britain’s wealth particularly to the city ports of Bristol and Liverpool.
Structure and the organisation of industry in the late 18th and 19th centuries It is appropriate to consider other factors, that have been raised by some writers, which they, argued undermined this country’s manufacturing performance and ultimately contributed to Britain’s economic and industrial decline. Many of these factors again highlight the lack of an effective and comprehensive technical and commercial education system as well as the continuing negative attitude towards competitiveness, entrepreneurialism, practical and technical activities. A list of some of these factors is given below:
- The sizes of companies were relatively small and in the majority of cases family owned.
- Management and organisational structures dogged by amateurism, complacency and indifference.
- Employers often engaged in fierce and destructive competition with rival companies.
- Incompetent and ineffective sales and marketing especially overseas. An unwillingness to develop marketing and sales strategies and tactics to match and satisfy customer needs.
- The inability of company staff particularly the marketing team, if they existed, to learn and converse in foreign languages.
- The widespread use of indirect selling and marketing overseas by agencies and agents.
- The relatively late adoption, (after 1851), of a distinctive or ‘brand’ or product kite mark when compared with other competitors. Exceptions were in the china/pottery industries e.g. Spode and Wedgewood.
- Reluctance to develop rigorous patenting techniques, when compared with USA, Belgium and Germany. This again highlights the tendency for English, (family run), businesses to be protectionist and secretative.
- ‘The gentrification’, (Wiener’s expression), of the first and subsequent generations of successful business people who quickly adopted the mores of the upper classes.
- The reluctance to adopt and invest in new manufacturing techniques and technologies and hence develop new products.
- The reluctance to replace obsolete equipment and invest in new plant.
- Basic hostility towards technical education especially outside the traditional apprenticeship schemes even though these were fast disappearing.
- The relatively few scientists and technologists employed in industry. There were also shortages of qualified foremen, supervisors and technicians. This factor highlights two recurring issues and links with the inadequacy of technical education.
- Low wages and status amongst workers as a result of no regulation or effective legislation that forced wages and conditions of work down. Employers were also hostile to the creation and membership of unions.
A view of the Wedgewood Pottery factory at Etruria is shown opposite.
Many manufacturing companies were family businesses and relatively small when compared with similar business enterprises overseas. In particular industries involved in the production of cotton, linen, silk were dominated by families. Small and larger manufacturing enterprises including engineering were also family owned and operated in such diverse industries as brewing, cutlery, pottery alongside thousands of workshops producing specialised products and artefacts particularly around Birmingham and Manchester. The culture of the family was apt to be very protective and secretive towards their manufacturing techniques and they were generally reluctant to cooperate and form associations with other similar based manufactures and this again was in stark contrast with companies in Europe. This secretive attitude was also evident in the way companies would avoid or be reluctant to register and patent their products for fear of plagiarism. This attitude impeded further development of a company’s products and restricted its product range and as a result this constrained the future growth of the company so maintaining the overall profile of small companies in Britain. Many businesses on the continent and the US took the opposite approach and many became very large with world wide brands and product differentiation which ultimately gave them a competitive edge over England towards the end of the 19th century. In fact this reluctance and propensity for secrecy about their industrial processes eventually became counterproductive as continental countries began to develop and manage technology in a more systematic way compared with England.
The relatively small size of the companies also had a negative impact on marketing and sales activities especially abroad. The home market was very buoyant and effective sales and marketing were relatively easy and this contributed to the culture of complacency and indifference but the overseas sales were very different and soon declining sales highlighted weaknesses in the sale techniques adopted by England companies. Because companies were relatively small they were inevitably reluctant to invest in dedicated sales teams based overseas instead preferring to use agents and agencies who also worked on behalf of other companies so no real loyalty and commitment existed with these agents and often there were issues of conflict of interests. As competition increased from continental countries and the USA the weaknesses inherent in the way sales and marketing of British products operated began very apparent. The USA and Germany developed networks of sales organisations dispensing with agencies and agents. The inability and resistance to learn and speak the languages of overseas customers, the reluctance to carry out market research to assess customer needs and the continued use of sales/marketing agents all contributed to the loss of market share from the mid 19th century.
Another factor that reflected weak management was the poor relationships that existed between workers and managers coupled with the opposition to unions and union membership that were strongly discouraged. Commercial, business and management education was virtually non-existent during most of the 19th century and was even less developed than technical education. I will consider the development of business and management education in later chapters.
Two typical views of an industrial site during the Industrial Revolution are shown above the one on the right is in Glasgow – note the high level of smoke pollution. One fascinating factor that reflects the basic hostility towards industry and technical education is explored by Wiener (1) and others namely the influence of class and social stratification. In Britain there had always been reluctance among the gentry and upper classes to send their sons into industry preferring them to enter banking or merchants’ offices. What is particularly interesting is the manner in which the first generation of successful industrialists behaved towards the education of their children. They invested their fortunes in massive country estates and did all possible to be recognised, accepted and assimilated into the upper echelons of English society. This most certainly included sending their sons to Eton or other public schools and Oxbridge and upon graduating they entered the family business ill – prepared to be part of the business lacking the necessary experiences, knowledge, skills and the techniques associated with the industrial processes, technological and scientific concepts and management of the business. Even more interesting is that many did not return to the business but went into the perceived more cultured and dignified environments of law, politics, religion and the other learned professions. The same negative view of technical/practical activities gradually permeated to the middle classes who readily adopted the mores of the upper classes and developed a distinct set of prejudices towards practical and technical pursuits, science, mathematics and technology. These negative attitudes still exists today. One only has to see the current problems with recruiting people in these subjects into colleges and universities. These deeply held attitudes and prejudices most certainly demonstrate the destructive effect of class attitudes and negative perceptions that persist even to day in some quarters of society.
Most company managers were reluctant to adapt and innovate and invested little in new plant and equipment. Having been the first industrial nation was ultimately a contributing factor in England’s decline, fuelled by degrees of complacency and arrogance. This created a culture of resistance to move with the times and overall industry failed to invest in new plant and equipment, develop new products and processes based on advancing scientific and technological ideas and reluctance to recruit scientifically and technologically qualified people. In the majority of cases companies refused to recruit highly qualified people even though very few existed and many would often argue that a ‘practical’ person was preferred over a so-called ‘theoretical one’ Companies also invested little in research and development. This reluctance to embrace new industrial and managerial practices continued well into the 20th century. One classic case was the indifference indeed hostility towards the introduction of scientific management techniques. This approach was developed with great success in the USA but employers in this country resisted its introduction arguing strongly that workers were human beings and not machines and that there was no place for scientific routines or procedures in industrial and commercial businesses.
The role and interrelationship between Science and Technology and its impact on technical education.
Just as advances in technology significantly influenced the Industrial Revolution the development of scientific ideas in turn influenced technology and made major contributions to the first and second industrial revolutions. Indeed until the advent of the scientific era, technological advances were almost exclusively based on craft and trade skills and experience, personified by the apprentice model where the skills were handed on very much on a personal and individualistic level. The secrets of the craft or trade were jealously guarded and often shrouded in mystery. Chapter 3 will describe more fully the apprenticeship model before and after the Industrial Revolution.
However the most significant technical advances during the second industrial revolution (>1850s) were driven by science as well as by the demands made on technology itself.
One of the more intriguing aspects in writing this history is the identification of a number of perplexing and paradoxical issues, none more so than the interaction between science and technology and the role and teaching of these disciplines in the emerging education systems. This paradox has been highlighted by a number of influential writers e.g. Levine (2). The belief which sadly continues today is that science is seen as being a more superior body of knowledge than technology as well as the subsequent application of scientific knowledge and ideas. This perception of precedence comprised two directly related aspects, firstly that science always precedes technology because the application could only happen after the scientific discovery was made and secondly the view that science education was superior to technical education. Although the first assertion is valid in most cases it is not universally true. The application of existing technology can itself bring about the need for further and new scientific research and discovery. As existing technologies and machines are operated in different working situations the demands and limitations of the machinery and the underlying technologies often precipitate the need for more original scientific research. Therefore the belief that science is always ahead of technology and therefore is superior is a false one as it is clearly a two way iterative process i.e. science ≪=≫ technology. A classic example of how technology precedes and interacts with science can be seen in the development of the steam engine. As the use of the engine was diversified and applied in different situations fundamental design and operating limitations were identified that required further basic scientific research and this in turn challenged and questioned the existing scientific theories and hypothesises. In this case of the steam engine the discipline of thermodynamics was greatly enhanced and refined. A good example at present is the use of bio-fuels in cars that traditionally use petrol or diesel as the array of O rings and gaskets cannot operate in the new operating environment created by the bio-fuels. Therefore a whole new area of material science has had to be established in order to deal with the challenges of the existing technology. Other examples show that science and technology possess a synergistic relationship to one another and clearly feed off each other and that no one discipline is superior to the other.
However it was the aspect of this false belief that has been so damaging to the development of technical and applied education namely that scientific education should take precedence over technical education. This assertion most certainly had a negative and retarding impact on the image and development of technical education during the 19th century – one can also see these elements in play even today as the history will show later. The acceptance of this belief by politicians and decision makers meant that education policy at the time required the instruction of science to take precedence over the instruction of technical, applied and practical subjects. For example Alexander Williamson (3) an influential figure in education and a professor of chemistry at King’s College reflected this belief in his evidence to the Devonshire Commission when he objected to the creation of technical schools rather than scientific institutions saying “this does not give due priority to pure science”. This highly questionable belief and attitude was even held and articulated by some of the greatest advocates of technical education including Lyon Playfair and Thomas Huxley (4) who both voiced similar views as Williamson. The debate continues even today as evidenced in early 2009 when an enlightened government minister stressed the need to commit a greater proportion of the research funding for science to enhance the economic and technological base of the country. The vast majority of the scientific community, mostly university based, expressed their total disagreement with this suggestion arguing it subverted academic freedom and independence.
What cannot be denied is that the period from 1750 to 1850+ particularly during the Victorian period witnessed an exciting and productive time of intense research/innovation in practically every field of scientific exploration namely biological, chemical, mathematical, physical and technological. The Victorian period was particularly productive in adopting, expanding and transforming technologies in such areas as electricity, industrial control engineering, lighting, photography, railways, steamships, telegraphy and telephony. Many of these individuals behind these great achievemnets never received formal education by attending university or secondary schools instead they were self taught and/or possessed amazing creative abilities. This was the period of the first Industrial Revolution driven by steam. The second Indutrial Revolution from the mid-18th century was driven by the chemical, communications and electrical technologies which Britain did not fully capitalise on – Germany and America did!
The development of technical education during most of the 19th century had to overcome many prejudices and problems in order for it to gain recognition and credibility. Reading the literature shows conclusively that those resisting forces and movements came from all levels of society, the State and individuals. This resistance manifested itself as shown in this and the previous chapter through a whole host of factors and these were coupled with:
- inadequate funding and support from the State up until possibly the 1860s
- negative attitudes and behaviour from managers towards technical education fearing the loss of process and trade secrets if the workers understood the industrial technologies and techniques.
The next chapter will consider the importance of the Craft Guilds-Livery Companies, the Gilds and the apprenticeship schemes before the first industrial revolution and their gradual decline as the first industrial revolution evolved. Also the impact on traditional crafts and trades skills as the factory systems developed throughout the 19th century contributing to the demise of the traditional apprenticeships will be explored. These transitions inevitably identified and highlighted the growing need to establish different educational structures to satisfy the demands of the emerging industries. One such development represents one of the most exciting and important educational movements in English educational history namely the Mechanics’ Institutions. Some of the key figures in the movement will be considered including John Anderson, George Birkbeck and Anthony Ure and other farsighted individuals who realised the importance of a well informed and trained workforce which led to the creation of the institutes. This will be seen as a period that promised much but sadly became a time of false dawns and missed opportunities arising from many of the factors identified in the first two chapters.
Picture of Anthony Ure shown opposite
References for chapter 2
- Weiner. M. ‘English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit.’ CUP. 1981.
- Levine. A.L. ‘Industrial Retardation in Britain 1880 – 1914.’ Basic Books. 1967.
- Alexander. W. Evidence to the Devonshire Commission.
- Huxley. T. ‘Science and Education- Essays.’ Macmillan. 1905.
A comprehensive book list, chronology and glossary of terms is provided in separate posts on this site.
To add value to the histories I have included a number of appendices that will hopefully provide additional information and background about technical education and training and technical and commercial examinations. I hope the material proves helpful. I will continue to correct and add to these sections.
The biographies and pen portraits appear in a separate section under biographies and pen portraits. Additional material for this section will be updated and new material added.
The section containing articles comprises a series of pieces new and some previously published during the 1990s and early 2000s which have been updated on themes associated with technical education and training. I am grateful to the publishers for their kind permission to reproduce the original articles. In addition a series of views have been included.
Other sections have been created to add value to the site including data/statistics on examinations, colleges/providers. The latest addition to the site is ‘Counterpoint’ that will comprise a series of articles from other writers I am very grateful to them for their interesting and valuable contributions.
Updated and corrected August 2013
I have undertaken to write a short history with a personal point of view of technical and vocational education, with a particular emphasis on work-based education and training. Bearing in mind the current debates about the importance and position of vocational education within the overall education system I feel an historical perspective could be useful for the following reasons:
- In recent times very little attention has been paid to the historical context of our current quandaries/dilemmas over technical education and training.
- It will hopefully provide a host of insights into this country’s current struggle to confront and tackle skills shortages and gaps and our ability to respond to and compete with the emerging global economies.
- It will provide pointers to the lessons and strategies for technical education aimed at industrial growth that have been spelt out over the last 200+ years but which successive governments and educationalists have continued to neglect or discard.
- It will illustrate the extent of industrial and economic decline both in relative and absolute terms in Britain over the past 150 years and what it would therefore be unwise to repeat in the future.
I hope that the history and analysis will be both interesting and illuminating to readers by providing additional information about this very important, fascinating and yet often neglected aspect of the education system.
This introduction will set the scene and provide a backdrop for the later chapters, which will cover the various historical stages beginning before the first Industrial Revolution up to the present time. One challenge when writing a history of technical education, say, when compared with the history of other sectors of education, is the difficulty of getting hold of the existing literature which is both relatively sparse and little referenced – thus again reflects the Cinderella image of the subject. Because of limitations of time and space I cannot hope to do full justice to this complex and fascinating topic so the major focus will be on England. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland each merit their own histories reflecting as it were their own unique, fascinating and interesting past. The Republic of Ireland and graduates from Trinity College Dublin (see picture below) also made major contributions in astronomy, mathematics and the physical sciences. Trinity College, Dublin, was and is still a very highly regarded university and introduced examinations long before their counterparts in England. Also notable Irish individuals who made important contributions to public and technical examinations include James Booth (see biography).
Trinity College Dublin shown opposite.
England has never fully recognised the achievements and contributions that the other home countries have made to education including technical education, preferring to look beyond our shores, particularly to America and this approach still continues currently. This has been certainly true over the last few decades with the imitation of a number of work based models e.g. Training Enterprise Councils (TECs) which ultimately failed and again showed that the American system had little to offer. Interesting to note that Scotland and latterly Wales have for instance developed some very innovative programmes in vocational education and modular credit based systems which in many ways are more impressive than those in England.
In addition to the contributions to science and technology across the home countries I am also acutely aware of the contributions made from further a field both within Europe and beyond. One only has to read the remarkable and seminal works of Joseph Needham (1) on the history of Chinese science and technology to realise the significant contributions that this civilisation made to these important bodies of knowledge. China made an immense number of discoveries and inventions centuries before the European countries including gunpowder, the magnetic compass and printing. It is only recently following the pioneering work of Needham and his co-workers that the world has recognised these scientific and technological achievements. A remaining mystery is why China did not continue to build on these amazing achievements. Another outstanding example was the Khmer Empire, (now known as Cambodia), with its canal system and civil engineering feats at the Angkor Wat Temple. One must also remember the massive achievements to mathematics, science and technology made by the Middle Eastern countries and civilisations and the Greek and Roman empires. Also the Islamic civilisation (9th to 14th century) preserved, recorded and translated key works in chemistry, engineering, mathematics, robotics, science, technology. water engineering for future generations as well as adding further significantly to these and other subjects. The Islamic civilisation made massive contributions to architecture, astronomy, mathematics, navigation, science and water engineering creating a golden age of science. Their influence in Spain and Sicily laid the foundations for the Renaissance and the scientific revolutions in the Middle Ages. his period between the 9th and 14th centuries was a truly golden age for science and medicine Charles Singer and this co-workers (2) in their seminal seven volume series on the History of Technology fully explored, recorded and acknowledged the major achievements and contributions made by these and other earlier civilisations. Singer and his co-writers in a sense paralleled and complemented the work of Needham by covering these earlier and other civilisations.
These perspectives always need bearing in mind when evaluating the directions and decisions of UK education policy.
Gradual economic and industrial decline and the inadequacy of technical education
One irrefutable truth that history highlights is this country’s gradual industrial and economic decline after the heady days of the first Industrial Revolution often taken to be the period between 1780 to 1850. There were a number of factors that contributed to the economic and industrial decline and these will be discussed in greater depth in chapter 2. One important factor contributing to this decline and one that is a major focus of this history was the long time it took to realise and develop a national strategy and system for technical education and training and the resultant failure to provide adequate resources to establish a network of technical education institutions. This failure was in terms of the number of technical/training institutions, their geographical spread, appropriate facilities and the low numbers of student numbers recruited. This failure meant that the growing demand from industry for these facilities and resources throughout most of the period covered by this history was not satisfied. One can identify this issue at all three levels of the education/training system namely:
- at elementary school level
- at university and latterly at the higher polytechnic level,
- at the secondary and private/independent/public school level where with very few notable examples the teaching of science and technical subjects was non-existent
- across the heterogeneous array of institutions offering technical education/instruction such as Mechanics’ Institutions, working men’s colleges and day and evening institutes.
Criticisms during this time also centred on weak institutional management as well as the quality of the provision and the ability of the teaching staff again at all three levels of the education system. Criticisms highlighted both qualitative and quantitative deficiencies. This state of affairs makes a poor comparison with other European countries even at the beginning of the nineteenth century. For example France, Germany and Prussia had already established technical universities in the early 1800s whilst little happened in England until the turn of the 20th century and then only to a limited extent.
Institutions regarded as the pinnacle of intellectual challenge and achievement such as Cambridge, Oxford and the private/independent/public schools continued to neglect science and technology providing instead a classical education. A few exceptions did exist in the public school sector e.g. Oundle, Shrewsbury introduced mathematics in 1836 and Rugby introduced physics in 1837 but overall they were few and far between.
The universities of Oxford and Cambridge were preoccupied with creating a national elite with an emphasis on liberal education. It was only after 1860/70 that industrial cities like Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester and Sheffield established institutions that introduced scientific and technical education at the higher levels and only through the efforts of such local business people as Josiah Mason and Joseph Chamberlain, William Wills, John Owen and Mark Firth. In fact universities contributed very little to creating qualified workers in technical disciplines until the final quarter of the 19th century.
However in spite of the lack of technical education at university and school level technical and scientific institutions were established early in the 19th century e.g. Mechanics’ Institutions, working men’s colleges’ et.al. that offered provision for artisans and workers. These were established by a few enthusiastic merchants, manufacturers and industrialists. The foundations of technical education and indeed the industrial revolution itself were based on the skills, experience, farsightedness and enthusiasm of practical individuals and the commitment and capital of a few successful business people. These will be described in later chapters and the short biographies of some of these farsighted individuals will be provided in a separate section on this website.
As already mentioned France, Germany, Prussia had rapidly established technical education institutions including universities in order to develop people in higher-level technical skills and knowledge thus creating a population of technocrats who would lead on their countries’ industrial developments and production. The English universities only very slowly and often reluctantly introduced vocational and technically related programmes into their provision. Many European countries had developed national systems for elementary/primary and secondary education long before England. However it must be stressed that Scotland within the British context was an outstanding exception – but more of that later. One of the few examples of Scottish influence on the English technical educational system was the adoption of the mechanics’ institutions movement into England inspired and developed from the Scottish model initiated by John Anderson and George Birkbeck (see biographies and pen portraits on this website). A portrait of John Anderson who established the first technical education in Britain is shown opposite and set the stage for George Birkbeck to continue the development of technical education in Scotland and England.
Some key historical issues.
This historical perspective identifies a number of recurring critical factors that have blighted and slowed down the development of an effective national English technical education system at all levels. Problematic factors identified include:
- A philosophy of laissez-faire and the subsequent acquiescence into voluntarism across the field of technical education.
- The reluctance of the State to get directly involved in the management of technical education guided by the principle that the State might subsidise but not direct provision.
- Preoccupation with educational elitism which always valued the academic over the practical subjects. The education provision was structured on a hierarchical and differentiated system reflecting class divisions which basically meant different class’s experienced different provision. See the viewpoint on the Academic vs Vocational Debate on this website and the issues around parity of esteem.
- The urge to push and subsume practical subjects into an academic subject culture i.e. academic drift.
- An education system for most of the period covered by this history that did not create a culture of innovation and competition that are elements that are critical to economic success.
- What some historians and commentators refer to as low social capability*, (see comments at end of this chapter), namely this country does not possess the ability or desire to more fully exploit existing scientific and technological knowledge. Social capability depends critically on the quality of education and training especially technical and vocational and its management. Social capability has an impact on economic growth of a nation.
- Neglect of commercial/technical/vocational qualifications by successive governments and the majority of educationalists which reinforced basic hostility about the validity and credibility of the more technical and practical aspects of the curriculum. Over much of the period covered by this history no sustained or concerted effort was made to integrate technical and practical elements into the school curriculum. The crucial issue of how to achieve an effective balance between the teaching of general principles and the work- based specific skills remains unresolved even today.
- During the critical period from 1870 to 1914 British employers many of whom were not educated in technical and pratical subjects were reluctant to recruit people with formal technical qualifications. They preferred to emply people were had ‘sat next to Nellie!’
- The relatively late development of an effective national elementary* school system. Without this national system the subsequent stages were most certainly undermined, namely secondary, technical and higher education. A prevailing view that practical and technical skills were of limited value with little credibility and possessed little or no kudos.
- Although the Victorian educational system may have created empire-builders, soldiers and administrators, it failed to produce great engineers. Because, in the minds of gentlemen, business professionalism was tainted with trade, the system produced amateurs on the model defined by Thomas Arnold in which high principles and gentlemanly conduct and a classical education was considered essential.
- For most of the period under consideration no real attempt was made to define technical education – a classic example of this is to be found in the 1944 Education Act that did not provide precise guidance on the organisation of technical education nor any definition of technical education within the secondary school and further education sectors.
- Arrogance, complacency, inertia and indifference among employers about international competition, particularly in the 19th century, which was largely engendered by the benefits of the empire and a false belief in the supremacy of their products. Matthew Arnold referred to the attitude of British industry as ‘blunder and plunder.’
- The misguided belief that persisted after the demise of the British Empire about Britain’s greatness and the subsequent subservience to America.
- The avoidance of warnings given by a succession of royal commissions, reports and influential individuals who had as early as 1851 highlighted future problems which in turn led to the failure to improve the situation.
- seems as if Intellectual Failure was and continues to be a permanent characteristic of successive British governments and many politicians. It seems if they never learn the lessons from history – expressed another way – do the same thing the same way and expect a different result!
*Now referred to as primary education but in the 17th and 18th centuries would be seen as the beginning of the very basic elements of learning then available for the majority of the population. I will attempt to identify and systematically cover all these critical factors in the later chapters of this history.
These factors largely explain why such issues as the so-called academic/vocational divide and the value of parity of esteem between technical, work-based and other qualifications still plague and dominate political and educational debates even today. The divide between technical and vocational education/training continues to be ill defined and confused. No concerted effort was made to integrate/assimilate aspects of technical education into secondary education – the first real attempt was in the late 1970s and 1980s, namely the Technical Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI).
No one can refute that the education system is central to any society and that its effectiveness is reflected in a country’s strengths and weaknesses both domestically and abroad. Education and training is a fundamental element of society and key to its ultimate success in competing economically in the world. The quality of the education and training system both conditions and is conditioned by a wide range of interrelated elements including economics, advances in scientific, technological and industrial knowledge and practices, politics, social and even the religious cultures. This history highlights how these interacting elements influenced developments and attitudes to technical education at various times during the period before, during and after the first Industrial Revolution and up today.
Accepting that the relationship between education and industrial growth is a complex matter mainly because of the multitude of variables that are involved, should not deter us from trying to make the correlation or causation between these two key parameters. Cause-and-effect explanations can inevitably oversimplify the analysis and as a result can only hope to provide a partial explanation of the situation. A great deal of evidence shows that the rapid industrialisation in Britain in the early 19th century was not matched by any significant development let alone improvement in the existing education system. The Industrial Revolution, in many instances, highlighted the inadequacies of the education system in Britain especially in England. This mismatch is both paradoxical and perplexing as Britain did become the first industrial nation and at one time was acknowledged as the workshop of the world. Paradoxically the country’s success in leading the world into the industrial age was achieved in spite of the lack of a national education system and most certainly no effective technical education or training system.
It must be remembered that Britain developed a national school system late and before 1833, elementary education had been left very much to the church or private agencies. Grants for elementary education only started in 1834 with £20,000 a year being allocated by the government and by 1846 this had risen to £ 58,000 but this was totally inadequate for creating and extending educational opportunities for the working classes. It took even longer to develop a national system for secondary education to be established. The State took the first faltering steps to intervene in elementary and technical education in 1833 and 1853 respectively and only in 1902 did it create a national system for secondary education. Little wonder technical education suffered in the early stages of its development and that movements like the Mechanics’ Institutions struggled to survive with inadequate feeds from elementary and secondary schools.
When Victoria came to the throne in 1837 25% of children did not receive any instruction and as the House of Commons reported 49% of boys and 57% of girls between the ages of 13 and 14 could not read whilst 67% of boys and 88% of girls could not write. Only following the Forster Act of 1870 was compulsory education introduced and even then after a delay of eleven years was the Act finally enacted in 1881 did the situation gradually improve. The Act created a national system of elementary schools divided into school districts and the schools were run by school boards. Fees were levied for pupils and attendance was required by pupils aged between 5 and 13. Eventually in 1891 elementary education became basically free following the 1891 Education Act. Sadly the late development of elementary education coupled with the high levels of illiteracy and innumeracy and the lack of basic science knowledge undermined many of the early attempts to develop technical education e.g. Mechanics’ Institutions – this will be considered later. Obviously there needs to be an effective system of elementary/primary education in order to develop and sustain effective and efficient secondary and post-secondary sectors but the evidence shows that during most of the 19th century that this was not the case.
Although many historians have written about the negative effect of the inadequate education system as a contributory factor to the industrial and economic decline at the time of the Industrial Revolution other historians have presented a different view. West (3) for example provides a fascinating analysis of the relationship between education and the process of industrialisation during the 19th century. One aspect West explores is the reliability and quality of statistical data during the 19th century and equally importantly how it was managed and used by the governments of the day and as a result highlights the dangers of drawing conclusions or making judgements from the historical data. West carries out a brilliant analysis of the relationship between education and industrial progress but stresses the difficulties in gaining reliable statistical evidence in order to come to firm conclusions. He makes the distinction between demonstrated correlation and proven causation especially when analysing the statistical evidence and other information and how the government departments recorded and published it – so what is new! The difficulty of statistical analysis was even more problematic when attempting to make international comparisons in the 19th century because of the different methods used in different countries.
He argues strongly that a vigorous education system did develop in England during the 19th century but the inadequacy of statistics and often misinformation provided especially by the Education Department which was often partial and selective complicates any analysis. He concludes that the two revolutions namely the Industrial and Educational were interrelated and significantly benefited each other. Hobsbawm (4) also warns about the dangers of accepting ‘simple sociological explanations’ that many other historians have offered when attempting to provide explanations of Britain’s historical performance in the past.
Other perspectives and views have been presented by others writers referenced at end of this chapter who considered in detail the relationship between technical and scientific education and industrial growth and the influence of the English culture. Barnett (5) highlights the impact of successive British governments on their continued anachronistic commitment to a military-political role as a (supposed) world power. This aspect is demonstrated very effectively by Barnett (5) who presented very detailed data and subsequent analysis that showed how budgets were skewed and ring fenced towards military research and development that most certainly diverted essential funding from education, particularly technical education and training during the 20th century.
Another interesting example of how governments have exercised preferential funding has been identified by Wilkie (6). Wilkie considers the rise and fall of science in relation to government policy since 1945. The government’s commitment to invest heavily in so-called big science and engineering e.g. Concorde, channel tunnel, nuclear power etc with the resultant neglect to fund blue sky research and development.
Weiner (7) in his seminal book analyses and explores the area of the British class system and the prevailing culture and beliefs that demonstrated an antipathetical view of manufacturing, science, technology and most certainly towards entrepreneurial and competitive activity. The education system in Victorian times was instrumental in creating a national elite with its emphasis on liberal education primarily based on the classics and humanities. His analysis continues beyond the Victorian age up to 1980 and shows the same attitudes persist in terms of the negative view of manufacturing. Levine (8) makes the same criticisms about the negative views of industry pointing out the stark contrasts with the performance of other European nations. One major reason which will be picked throughout the history is the class ridden nation and the resulting snobbery towards manufacturing and manual work – academic subjects are perceived as better than technical subjects. Similar views have been expressed by Landes (9) who pointed to the ‘library of lament and protest about the failure of British educational institutions to turn out applied scientists in numbers and of a quality comparable to those produced in Germany.’
Bernal (10) brilliantly explores the subtle relationship between science, technology and industry during the 19th century. I will refer to all of these critiques in greater detail in later chapters.
A number of historians have provided a fascinating insight into how English cultural elements influenced industrial and economic life arising from the class structure, which has determined so much of English history. These writers have highlighted in particular the reaction, largely one of suspicion, of the upper classes to the consequences of the industrial revolution and the rise of the ‘industrialist class’. Interesting to note also that much has been written about the destructiveness of the trade unions toward industrial progress but the so-called English elites have proved far more obstructive particularly during the critical and formative period of the first industrial revolution and beyond. Weiner (7) brilliantly examines the economic and industrial decline in England and its inter-relationship and complex interactions with the social, political and psychological elements.
Britain’s industrial decline was first identified following the Great Exhibitions of 1851 (London) and 1867 (Paris) when it became evident that the country was beginning to lag behind France, Germany and the USA. Britain’s primary energy strength, namely coal, as the symbol of her industrial might was not sufficient to keep her in the lead as a manufacturing nation. Our competitors had more quickly realised that investment in people as well as plant and machinery was equally important and this was apparent when comparing products at both of these great exhibitions. The quality and range of products from our competitors was superior to our own and reflected the beginning of our decline. In addition it must be noted yet again that England was one of the few major competing countries that did not have an organised system of technical education. The decline accelerated during the latter part of the 19th century and throughout the 20th century as we lost the highly questionable benefits arising from the empire/commonwealth namely access to plentiful and cheap resources both human and materials and the protected and given markets for our own domestic manufactured products e.g. cars, fork lift trucks, machine tools, motor cycles etc. Even with the clear advantages afforded by that fact we created the first industrial revolution – it was evident by the end of the 19th century that our productivity was declining and we were losing our international market share in a wide range of products and services. Equally concerning was our failure to develop and exploit the newer technologies associated with chemical and electrical engineering. In addition the traditional industries like shipbuilding were failing to invest in research and development and replace machinery that had become dated and inefficient. One major disadvantage of being the first industrial country was that other nations could more quickly develop and introduce the newer industrial techniques and were able to invest in new plant and equipment.
One depressing and perplexing fact emerging from historical analysis is that even when the problems were identified no real action was taken to redeem the situation. Two typical quotes reflect the growing concerns about the quality and relevance of technical education:
“The excellence of the foreign goods is due, not to the workmen, but in great part to the superior training and attention to the general knowledge of their subject, observable among the managers and sub-officers of industry. No candid person can deny that they are far better educated, as a general rule, than those who hold similar posts in Britain.”
(Lyon Playfair 1867 after visiting the Paris Exhibition).
“…evidence appears to show that our industrial classes have not even that basis of sound general education on which alone technical education can rest… our deficiency is not merely a deficiency in technical education but in general intelligence and unless we remedy this want we shall gradually but surely find our undeniable superiority in wealth…and vigour will not save us from decline.”
(Schools Enquiry Royal Commission 1868).
A portrait of Lyon Playfair is shown below (See biography on this website).
Both of these quotations sadly reveal truths that are as valid today as when they were first stated. These quotations were made at a time when there was still no national framework for technical education. In spite of some worthy attempts to develop technical education and instruction e.g. through the Mechanics’ Institutions movement progress was painfully slow and no real vision was created by the governments of the day and more depressingly most governments since.
This introduction has begun to identify some of the key issues that will be explored more fully in later chapters. Already one is confronted with differing views about whether or not the quality of the education system, where it existed, particularly in the 19th century contributed to Britain’s economic and industrial decline. Although I am not an historian, after reviewing the evidence and having had direct experience of studying and working in technical education I have come to the view that it is the prevailing culture and class structure in this country over many centuries that has created a negative attitude towards technical and vocational education/training and this persists even today. I will attempt in the following chapters to justify this view. As mentioned above many notable social and economic historians share this view but this is my version based on my own research and direct experience of technical education from 1959 to 2001.
The next chapter will consider the impact of the Industrial Revolution and the influence of the advances of scientific and technological knowledge prior to and during the first industrial revolution. The impact of the industrial revolution will then be explored with the transformations that it brought about as people moved into the rapidly developing industrial cities and the growing interest and motivation of the workers to understand the science and technology that underpinned the industrial processes. The chapter will also explore the fascinating relationship between science and technology and the resultant attitudes and perception of the relative importance of scientific and technical education.
References for chapter 1
A more comprehensive book list is provided in a separate book lists.
- Needham. J. ‘Science and Civilisation in China’ CUP. 1954+.
- Singer.C. Holmyard. E.J. Hall. A.R and Williams. T. I. ‘ History of Technology’ 5 volumes. OUP. 1954+
- West. E.G. ‘Education and the Industrial Revolution.’ Batsford. 1975.
- Hobsbawn. E.J. ‘Industry and Empire. From 1750 to the Present.’ Penquin 1990.
- Barnett. C. ‘The Audit of War.’ ISBN 0-333-43458-7. Papermac.1987.
- Wilkie. T. ‘British Science and the Politics since 1945.’ ISBN 0-631-16849-4. Blackwell. 1991.
- Weiner.M. ‘English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit.’ CUP.1981.
- Levine.A.L. ‘Industrial Retardation in Britain 1880-1914.’ Basic Books. 1967.
- Landes. D.S. ‘The Unbound Prometheus.’ CUP. 1969.
- Bernal. J.D. ‘Science and Industry in the 19th Century.’ RKP. 1953.
Other references that might be helpful:
Hill. D ‘A History of Engineering in Classical and Medieval Times’. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-15291-7. 1996.
Landels. J. G. ‘Engineering in the Ancient World’. Constable. ISBN 0 09 477280 0. 1978.
Masood, E. ‘Science and Islam’. Icon Books. ISBN 978-184831-081-0. 2009.
Williams.T. I. ‘A Short History of 20th Century Technology’ OUP. ISBN 0-19-858159-9. 1982.
Derry. T. K. and Williams. T. I. ‘A Short History of Technology’. OUP. 1960.
* Additional note.
Abramovitz .M. ‘Thinking about Growth.’ CUP. 1998. Abramovitz explores the interesting distinctions and relationships between growth and social capability.
Biographies and Pen Portraits.
This series of biographies expands on references made in the History of Technical Education and the History of Technical and Commercial Examinations to the contributions of some of the key people who have influenced the developments of technical and commercial education.
Similarly, where key organisations were set up during the development of technical education, this appendix provides pen portraits describing their existence with further insight into their roles.
I have also included additional pieces on particular issues and periods that impacted on the development of the history of technical and commercial education and training e.g the Cockerton Judgement. Again I hope these add value to the site.
The following set of book references and other useful references has been useful whilst writing the history of technical and vocational education and compiling the chronology and glossary. Many are out of print but most can be obtained via inter-library loan, via internet book companies or from second hand bookshops. In addition I have started adding seminal and important articles from various journals and other publications. I have added ISBN/ASIN numbers when known some of these relate to later editions of the books. I hope the list proves of value to the readers. A key to the abbreviations used is given at the end of the list.
Corrected and expanded July 2018.
Abbot. A. ‘Education for Industry and Commerce in England.’ OUP. 1933.
Abbot. A and Dalton. J. E. ‘Trade Schools on the Continent.’ Pamphlet no. 97. BoE.
Abbott. I. Education Policy. ISBN 10:0857025775. Sage Publishing. 2012.
Abramson. M, Bird. and Stennett. A. ‘Further and Higher Education Partnerships’. ISBN 0-335-19597-0. SRHE/OU. 1996.
Acland. A. H. D. and Jones. B. ‘Working-men Co-operators.’ Longmans. 1919.
Acland. T. D. ‘Some Account of the Origin and Objects of the New Oxford Examinations for the Title of Associate in Arts and Certificates for the Year 1858.’ Ridgeway, London. 1858.Acland. A. H. D. ‘The Working of the Intermediate Act in Wales.’ Percival and Co. 1892.
Adamson. J.W. ‘A Short History of Education.’ CUP. 1919.
Adamson. J. W. ‘ English Education, 1789 – 1902.’ CUP. 1930.
Addy. J and Power. E.G. ‘The Industrial Revolution’. London. Longman. 1976.
Aldcroft. D. H. ‘Education, Training and Economic Performance.’ MUP. 1992.
Aldcroft. D. H. (Ed). ‘The Development of British Industries. Foreign Competition 1874-1914’. Allen Unwin. 1958.
Aldrich. R. (ed). ‘A Century of Education.’ ISBN 0-415-24323-8. Routledge. Falmer Press. 2002.
Aldrich. R. ‘The Institute of Education 1902-2002: A Centenary History’. IoE. London. 2002.
Aldrich. R. ‘Pioneers of Female Education in Victoria Britain.’ History of Education Society. Vol. 54. pages 56-61. 1994.
Alexander. W.P. ‘Education in England – The National System-How It Works.’ ASIN B007ZIS1HE. Newnes Educational Publisjhing Co. 1956.
Allaway. A. J, ‘Adult Education in England’. University of Leicester. 1957.
Allbutt. T.C. ‘On Professional Education.’ Macmillan and Co. 1906.
Allen. G. C. ‘British Industries and their Organization.’ ISBN 10:0582480019. Longmans. 1966.
Allen. R. C. The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective. ISBN 978-0-521-86827-3. CUP. 2009. 9th printing 2015.
Allen. G. C. ‘The British Disease.’ Institute of Economic Affairs. 1976.
Ainley. P and Corney. M. ‘Training for the Future. The Rise and Fall of the MSC.’ ISBN 10:0304318612. Cassell. 1990.
Ainley. P. ‘Vocational Education and Training.’ Cassell. 1990.
Ainley. P. ‘Learning Policy Towards the Certified Society.’ ISBN 0 333-75034-9 Macmillan 1999.
Ainley. P. and Rainbird. H. (eds). ‘Apprenticeship: Towards a New Paradigm of Vocational Education and Training.’ ISBN 10:0749427280. Kogan Page. 1999.
Ainley. P. ‘From School to YTS: Education and Training in England and Wales 1944-1987.’ ISBN 10:0335158471. OUP. 1988.
Aldrich. R ‘Education and Employment: The DfEE and its place in history.’ UoL. Institute of Education 2000.
Anderson. R.D. ‘Universities and Elites in Britain since 1800.’ Macmillan. Basingstoke. 1992.
Anderson. R. D. ‘The Scottish University Tradition: Past and Future’. In J. J. Carter and Withrington. D. J. (eds) ‘Scottish Universities: Distinctiveness and Diversity’. Edinburgh. John Donald. pages 67-78. 1992.
Anderson. R. D. ‘The History of Scottish Education, pre 1980.’ in Bryce. T. G. K. and Humes. W. M. (eds). ‘Scottish Education.’ Edinburgh University Press. 1999. pages 215-224. (See also in same book Bain. M. ‘Technology Education.’ pages 562-567).
Anderson. R. D. ‘Education and Opportunity in Victorian Scotland.’ Oxford. 1983.
Anderson. R. D. ‘Universities and Elites since 1800.’ ISBN 0333524349/ASIN B0141DEJKO. Macmillan Press. 1992.
Andrews. S. ‘Methodism and Society.’ Longmans. 1970.
Annals of Science. ‘The Lunar Society and the Improvement of Scientific Instruction.’ Vol. X111. 1957. Pages 1+.
Archer. R.L. ‘Secondary Education in the Nineteenth Century.’ CUP. 1921.
Argles. M. ‘ South Kensington to Robbins.’ An Account of English Technical and Scientific Education Since 1851. ISBN 10:0582323835, Longmans. 1964.
Argles. M. ‘The Royal Commission on Technical Instruction, 1881-1884, its Inception and Composition.’ Vocational Aspects of Secondary and FE.’ 11 (23). 1959.
Armfelt. R. ‘The Structure of English Education.’ ASIN B0000CJ6BT. Cohen and West. 1966.
Armstrong. H. E. ‘Pre-Kensington History of Royal College of Science.’ London. 1921.
Armytage. W.H. G. ‘Four Hundred Years of English Education.’ ASIN B012TYHUY. CUP. 1965.
Armytage. W.H.G. ‘Civic Universities.’ ASIN B0000CJ50R. Ernest Benn. 1955.
Armytage. W.H.G. ‘The Rise of the Technocrats.’ ISBN 10:0415853826. RKP. 1965.
Armytage. W.H.G. ‘Social History of Engineering.’ ISBN 571 04648 7 Faber and Faber 1961.
Armytage. W.H.G. ‘J. F. Donnelly: Pioneer in Vocational Education.’ The Vocational Aspect of Secondary and Further Education. Volume 2.May 1950.
Armytage. W. H. G. ‘The German Influence on English Education.’ ASIN B012TR5MTA. RKP. 1969. (Armytage also wrote about the influences on English education from America (1967), France (1968) and Russia (1969).
Armytage. W. H. G. ‘Some Sources for the History of Technical Education in England.’ British Journal of Educational Studies. vol: v no. 2 May 1957 and vol: vi no. 1 Nov. 1957.
Armytage. W. H. G. ‘The Centenary of “South Ken”.’ British Journal of Educational Studies. Vol. v. no.1. Nov. 1956.
Artizans’ Institute. ‘Technical Education – An address to the Trustees of the Artizans’ Institute by Henry Solly.’ 1878.
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Key to abbreviations:
AoC: Association of Colleges
AEB: Associated Examining Board
ASE: Association for Science Education
APTI: Association of Principals in Technical Institutions
ATI: Association of Technical Institutions
BACIE: British Association of Commercial and Industrial Education
BJES: British Journal of Education Studies
BoE: Board of Education
BYC: British Youth Council
CER: Comparative Education Review
CPR: Central Policy Review
CPS: Centre for Policy Studies
CUP: Cambridge University Press
EC/EngC: Engineering Council
EIAGA: Engineering Industries Association Group Apprenticeships
EOC: Equal Opportunities Commission
FESC: Further Education Staff College
FEU: Further Education Unit
JBPVE: Joint Board for Pre-Vocational Education
JEW: Journal of Education and Work
JHoI: Journal of History of Ideas
JoE: Journal of Education
JoVET: Journal of Vocational Education and Training
JRSA: Journal of the Royal Society of Arts
JSA: Journal of Society of Arts
LSDA: Learning and Skills Development Agency
LSE: London School of Economics
MSC: Manpower Services Commission
NAPTSE: National Association for the Promotion of Technical and Secondary Education
NATFHE: National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education
NATTI: National Association of Teachers in Technical Institutions
NFER: National Association for Educational Research
NIAE: National Institute of Adult Education
NIESA: National Institute for Economic and Social Research
NUT: National Union of Teachers
OECD: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
OREP: Oxford Review of Economic Policy
OU: Open University
OUP: Oxford University Press
RKP: Routledge Kegan Paul
SoA: Society of Arts
SRHE: Society for Research into Higher Education
ULCI: Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes
ULP: University of London Press
UNESCO: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
UTP: University Tutorial Press
VAEd: Vocational Adult Education
VAoE: Vocational Aspects of Education
VAoSFE: Vocational Aspects of Secondary and Further Education
WMEU: Working Men’s Educational Union