The ‘Andersonian’ – The First Technical College.

The “Andersonian” was initiated and lived on under its various names – Anderson’s Institution, Anderson’s University and Anderson’s College. The Glasgow Mechanics’ Institution which was an offshoot from it, and more recently the two combined (with Allan Glen’s School) as the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College. They all have occupied a significant place in Scottish education. The influence of these pioneering institutions on technical education cannot be over estimated.
Founded in 1796 the Anderson’s Institute was the first technical college to provide scientific instruction with particular reference to the practical application of scientific ideas. The institution was the first in the world to provide systematic evening classes in science and its application and the first to admit women unreservedly on the same terms as men. Its influence was wide spread e.g. in 1799 Count Rumford founded the Royal Institution in London based on similar lines to the Anderson’s Institution.
John Anderson (1726 – 1796) (1, 2) was initially professor of oriental languages but later occupied a chair in Natural Philosophy (1757 – 1796) at Glasgow University (founded in 1450). Anderson was an individual of great energy and held some radical views about teaching. He felt that Natural Philosophy was not just a branch of mathematics which was a view held by many academics at this time but he argued in his ‘Institutes of Physics’ (published in 1786) * that the teaching of the subject must include more practical and experimental aspects. He decided to put his ideas into practice. In addition to his regular University teaching four days a week he taught the other two days the new approach teaching the subject experimentally. The lectures on the four days were focussed on the history of Physics and Reasoning concerning facts of the material world involving plane and solid geometry, arithmetic and algebra. The new approach was very different on the other two days. No mathematical reasoning was employed in the lectures and the practical lessons and the only text book used was the ‘Institutes of Physics’*. His portrait is shown below.
John Anderson
 In addition to his professorial duties he continued to develop his radical ideas of education and delivered a series of part-time evening lectures in applied science for working class people. He strongly believed that these classes were for the benefit of ‘the Manufacturers and Artificers in Glasgow’. The lectures proved very popular and he provided free tickets to encourage such trades as bookbinders, brewers, engravers, founders, gardeners and turners to attend. A radical and visionary in every sense he was often in conflict with the university authorities. When he died he decided to leave his estate, valued at the time as £1000, to a trust dedicated to the creation of a rival university. The Andersonian Institution was founded ‘for the good of mankind, and the improvement of science’. The bequest was insufficient to fund a new university but in 1796 the Andersonian Institute was established which gradually progressed through a number of different titles, (see below), and ultimately became the Glasgow Royal College of Science and Technology. George Birkbeck was at one time a professor at the Institute (1799) and he continued to provide free classes in chemistry and mechanics (see biographies). Birkbeck’s work was continued with the same zeal by Dr Andrew Ure after Birkbeck left Glasgow. Dr Ure continued the lectures for the workers and in addition created a library in 1808 that further enhanced the reputation and standing of the Institution.
This ultimately led on to the creation of the Mechanics Institute movement. The Anderson’s Institute was in many ways the prototype for what would later become the Mechanics Institute movement in Scotland, England and beyond. The lectures continued until 1823 when the Anderson’s Institute decided to move the provision to a new independent organisation namely the Glasgow Mechanics’ Institution. The Glasgow Mechanics’ Institute was housed in a disused chapel and comprised a lecture room, library and a collection of scientific apparatus. Classes included such subjects as chemistry, mechanics, mathematics and natural philosophy. The numbers in the mechanics classes gradually declined and the trustees of the Andersonian Institution decided to implement some of the original ideas of John Anderson and formed a collegiate school with distinct groups of students for each of the elementary classes. In 1828 the Institution assumed the title of Anderson’s University. A portrait of Dr Ure is shown below he and Birkbeck were two remarkable individuals.
Dr Ure
Interesting to note that Edinburgh had in 1821 already established the Edinburgh School of Arts, which in spite of its title was a Mechanics Institute and in strict historical terms was the first institution in the movement in Britain. The Edinburgh School of Arts was funded by the rich and leading figures of the town. However what makes the Glasgow Institute distinctive was that it was financially self-supporting and self-governing where even the lecturers were elected by the general body of the members. The Glasgow Mechanics’ Institute enrolled over a thousand students in its first year. This example again clearly highlights that Scotland was most certainly the leader within the home countries in technical education. John Anderson was a remarkable individual with a great deal of foresight.
Sexton (2) delineates the various titles that attached to the Andersonian Institution up to 1894 as follows:
·         Anderson’s Institution -1798 to 1828
·         Anderson’s College Medical School – 1800+
·         Anderson’s University – 1828 to 1877
·         Technical College Weaving Branch – 1877+
·         Anderson’s College – 1877 to 1887
·         Mechanics’ Institution and College of Science and Arts– 1823 to 1887
·         Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College 1887+
A brief chronology:
·         1796 – Anderson’s Institution founded. Dr Garnett appointed Professor of Natural Philosophy.
·         1799 – Anderson’s Medical School established
·         1800 – Dr Birkbeck appointed
·         1804 – Dr Ure appointed
·         1819 – Chair of Botany established
·         1823 – The Glasgow Mechanics’ Institution succeeded the Anderson’s Institution to become the first Mechanics’ Institution possessing that name and the first in the world.
·         1825 – Chair of Mathematics established
·         1830 – Chairs of Chemistry and Natural Philosophy separated
·         Around 1830 – The first public laboratory for teaching chemistry in Britain opened at the Glasgow Mechanics’ Institution.
·         1840 – Chair of Theory of Medicine established
·         1843 – Allan Glen’s School founded
·         1870 – Chair of Technical Chemistry established
·         1875 – Chair of Applied Mechanics established
·         1877 – Name changed to Anderson’s College
·         1877 – Technical College (Weaving Branch) opened
·         1880 – Mechanics’ Institution reorganised as a Technical College
·         1881 – Name changed to College of Science and Arts
·         1886 – Merger of Institutions to form the Technical College
·         1887 – Chair of Metallurgy established
·         1889 – Anderson’s College Medical School, Partick, opened
·         1891 – Chair of Agriculture opened.
* ‘Institutes of Physics’ this book proved to be very popular and went to five editions in his lifetime. The book consisted of fifteen chapters namely (1) Somatology (the science of the properties of matter/human body), (2) Mineralogy, (3) Botany, (4) Zoology, (5) Electricity, (6) Magnetism, (7) Gravitation, (8) Mechanics, (9) Hydrostatics, (10) Hydraulics, (11) Pneumatics, (12) Optics, (13) Astronomy, (14) Cosmogony (theory or myth of the origin of the universe) and (15) Conclusions which consisted of a vast set of tables of contents under the heading of Natural Philosophy.
Glasgow also established The Commercial College in 1845 and this was subsequently called Glasgow Commercial College and Glasgow Athenaeum Commercial College. In 1903 this became the Glasgow and West of Scotland Commercial College. Again this reinforces the progressive view in Scotland to commercial education.
(1) J. Muir. Ed. By J.M.Macaulay. ‘John Anderson and the College He Founded’ Glasgow. 1950
(2) A.H. Sexton. ‘The First Technical College’ The History of the “Andersonian” and the Institutions Descended From It 1796 – 1894. London: Chapman and Hall, Ld. 1894.

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