Chapter 5 – The Dissenting Academies, the Mechanics’ Institutions and Working Men’s Colleges

This entry is part 5 of 20 in the series A Short History of Technical Education

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.

1757 - Warrington Academy

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?

Birkbeck at tinsmiths in Gasgow

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.

Leeds Mechanics' Institute 1868

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.

Figure 1

Country  No. of Institutions No. of Members No. of Volumes News-rooms
England 610 102,050 691,500 372
Wales 12 1472 6,855 8
Scotland 55 12,554 59,661 15
Ireland 25 4,005 57,500 13
Totals 702 120,081 815,516 408

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.

Table 2

Year No. of Mechanics’ Institutions No. of Literary and Scientific Institutes Totals
1826 104 5 109
1831 101 6 107
1841 261 44 305
1851 562 136 698

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.

Table 3

Number less than 200 Number less than 200 Numbers 200-500 Numbers 200-500 Numbers over 500 Numbers over 500 Totals
1826 80 3 17 1 7 1 109
1831 81 4 16 1 4 1 107
1841 195 38 55 4 11 2 305
1851 445 106 87 25 30 5 698

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.
Fortnightly Chemical Gazette.
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.

Manchester Mechanics' Institution  c1824

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].

London Mechanics' Institution in 1826

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.

Wortley Working Men's Institute 1876

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.

Working Men's College - Great Ormond Street

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.

Figure 4

Book-keepers, clerks, shop-assistants,
shop-keepers, teachers and warehousemen.
149 135 109
Miscellaneous 24 3 0
Operatives 70 57 54

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.

Series Navigation<< Chapter 4 – Promoting Public Interest and Awareness in Science and Technology – Early Groups, Societies and MovementsChapter 6 – The Mid 19th Century >>

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