Chapter 9 – The Beginning of the 20th Century 1900-1921

This entry is part 9 of 20 in the series A Short History of Technical Education



Chapter 8 showed the relatively rapid progress in the development of technical and commercial education particularly from about 1880 to about 1905 and highlighted that before 1880 it had been a period that had been punctuated by a series of promising initiatives but leading to relatively little real progress. From the late 18th century, as we have seen, there had been so many false dawns, in spite of some isolated and amazing initiatives and significant statements and contributions from a number of exception individuals. The momentum generated after 1880 was maintained until around 1905. Chapters 9 and 10 will describe the progress or lack of it between the beginning of the 20th century and the Second World War.

The State of British Industry From 1870 to the Early 20th Century.

In spite of some modest progress in the development of technical education between 1880 and 1905 Britain’s industrial performance still continued to decline when compared with its competitors. The period from 1870 witnessed the decline of this country’s predominance in manufacturing, innovation and more worryingly by the failure to exploit new scientific discoveries and their application to industrial processes. The measures of decline can be described both in absolute and relative terms when compared with our competitors. The country was not only losing its international market share in the traditional industries e.g. steel, ship building and textiles, but more concerning was its failure to capitalise on the newer technologies in such areas as chemical and electrical engineering.

The following few examples attempt to illustrate these two aspects of decline during the late 19th and early 20th century. In 1880 the UK accounted for 41.1% of the world’s manufactured products but by 1913 this had decreased to 29.9%. In 1913 the British chemical industry represented just 11% of the world market compared with 34% and 24% held respectively by America and Germany. The final example shows the country’s failure to embrace and exploit the modern technologies even though we had been in the forefront of many of these discoveries. One such area was that associated with electrical technology where we quickly lost our initial advantage to other countries e.g. by 1913 the UK’s electrical industry was just a third the size of that of Germany. It was the failure to compete in the traditional industries as well as those associated with the new industrial processes which makes the picture so depressing. In addition industry was becoming known for poor quality products and this, coupled with decreasing levels of productivity when compared with our competitors, further contributed to our loss as the first major industrial nation. Some more statistics in 1913 Britain had 9,000 university students compared with approximately 60,000 in Germany. The country sent 5 day release students in every 10,000 to institutions compared with 13 per 10,000 in America. Germany produced 3,000 engineering graduates each year compared with just 350 (1st and 2nd class honours) for England and Wales in ALL branches of mathematics, science and technology

These statistics and other forms of evidence emphasised and reinforced this country’s continued failure to recognise the importance of a national system for technical education and its inability to rise to the challenges and opportunities that technological innovation afforded. In addition to numerous statistical reports a number of influential individuals had conducted a series of comparative studies with our major competitors, for example Shadwell (1) and Magnus (2). Shadwell had carried out a very detailed analysis of the relative industrial efficiencies of Germany, America and England. His findings reinforced earlier reports that English industry was over regulated by government and was reluctant to invest in up-to-date equipment and get directly involved in technical education. A typical quote from Shadwell reflected his view of this country’s performance “Other nations have not only caught up with us from behind but have surpassed us” and he continued that Germany and America regarded England with ‘a mixture of contempt and pity as a spent force.’ Shadwell also pointed out the superiority of the German education system namely that it worked closely with industry and fully recognised the importance of the application of science and technology in industry. Both Shadwell and Magnus commented very favourably on Germany’s commitment to training and the national system for commercial and technical education when compared with this country.

Coupled with this was the continuing indifference of successive governments, mainly fuelled by ignorance of technical and scientific concepts, to recognise the strategic importance of science and more importantly its application in industry and as a result to the future economic health of the country. It is depressing looking back to this period when so much was happening as a result of scientific discovery and technological innovation that the political community failed to fully realise its importance and as a result had little or no impact on government policy not only for industry but also for technical education.

The State System of Education Starts to Take Shape.

After this period of expansion i.e. 1870 to 1905, for a number of reasons some of them understandable, the pace of development of technical education began to slow dramatically after the 1902 Education Act. The devolution of power to local authorities following the 1902 Education Act slowed down the impetus that had been generated during the latter half of the 19th century. The provisions in the Act, which had been place on the local authorities and their education committees, were of a permissive nature and not a duty. Interesting to note that following the 1902 Act politicians became concerned about the loss of central control of education and one of the initial intentions of the next major Education Act of 1918, was an attempt to wrest back some of those powers given to the local authorities. However yet again intentions were thwarted and classic fudge was achieved. When reading the history of education it is a miracle that a national system of education across any of the sectors was ever realised bearing in mind the succession of compromises and political machinations. Even with the development of secondary education in the early 20th century there was still great uncertainty about the importance, role and place of technical and scientific subjects in the school curriculum.

The 1902 Education Act had belatedly established a national system for state secondary education the curriculum it perpetuated was based on the traditional public school academic model. The Act introduced a co-ordinated national system of education but it was very much a compromise. This was evidenced by the fact that the older grammar schools and the public schools remained independent and aloof from the state schools and continued to largely perpetuate and pursue classical education – preparing students for entry to Oxbridge and the professions. The political machinations associated with the 1902 Education Act had produced a set of compromises that amongst other elements had weakened the existing central system and replaced it with power bases devolved to county and county borough level. This left the further development of technical education to the discretion of local authorities which up to then had shown little interest in this aspect of education. This cocktail of localism and discretion laced with the inevitable ambiguities enshrined in the 1902 Act most certainly impeded the development of a national system for technical education. The 1902 Education Act is yet another classic example of the laissez- faire philosophy so beloved by successive governments. This hands off, piecemeal philosophy which by definition is permissive has continued up to the present time as evidenced by the operation of the so called free market recently and will be described in later chapters.

An insight into how local authorities viewed technical education can seen in the way they managed the whiskey tax. The tax had provided additional monies for technical education but not all had been used exclusively. In fact only 59% of the total raised was used for that purpose because some authorities had spent it on strengthening secondary education. Even more concerning was the fact that much of the money had been spent on encouraging and improving the teaching of pure science rather than for technical subjects. This sad fact again reinforces the impression of a hostile perception of technical subjects and their relation to industry, and that this country regarded pure science as more important and of higher status than its application. It finally took the Great War and its consequences to begin to bring about changes in perception of technical subjects. For example it was only after the First World War that craft subjects such as plumbing, carpentry, joinery, welding and fabrication were introduced in a number of technical schools.

One early development at the beginning of the 20th century in technical education was the introduction of the ‘grouped courses of instruction’ some of which had been in operation in the late 19th century. Grouped courses had been offered in Sanitary Engineering at the Manchester Technical College from about 1890. Other courses were operation in Halifax and St. Helens. The grouped courses developed rapidly after 1902 particularly in the north of England and by 1905 over 85% of the larger towns in Cheshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire were staging grouped examinations. Development was slower in London and the south but the system was finally adopted across the country. The grouped courses replaced the rather unregulated and badly co-ordinated arrangements for study by a more effectively managed scheme of instruction. The following illustrates how evening courses were configured:

The Junior Course.
Courses were not specialised and were offered over two years in evening continuation schools for students aged between 14 and 16. Provision aimed to give a good general background in a number of vocational studies.

The Senior Course.
Three years duration from about 16 years of age and taken in technical schools. Courses were more specialised and catered for the educational needs of industry and commerce. Admission to the courses required previous educational experience from schools or other institutions with a leaving age greater than 14 e.g. a continuation school, secondary school or another education establishment.

The Advanced Course.
These courses were of two or three year’s duration and usually available in the larger technical schools. The courses were obviously far more advanced and specialised and built on the Senior Courses. The courses were generally welcomed by students and increasingly by employers who liked the national standardisation and management and relative simplicity of the schemes. The first and second years of senior courses were referred to as S1 and S2 respectively. This designation was adopted later with technician and operatives examinations which I will describe later. The majority of students in evening technical schools were studying on Senior Courses. The courses represented and reflected the demands and needs of a particular industry and students could attend more than one set of classes/courses e.g. a mathematics class was freely available to engineering and construction students whilst an economics course was accessible to banking and insurance students.

The abolition of the school boards inevitably required a great deal of energy, time and resource to be expended by the local authorities as they assumed responsibility for the wider range of duties placed upon them by the 1902 Education Act. They had to develop totally new systems and structures to manage the responsibilities that they were required to manage including a much wider and heterogeneous range of both colleges and schools. In addition they were required to bring together and to integrate the hitherto separate organisations of the Education Department, the Science and Art Department and the educational sections of the Charity Commission. These early preoccupations provided another opportunity to divert attention away from technical and commercial education and as a result slowed down the pace of its development. Obviously the impact of the Great War further added to the other factors that retarded the momentum that had been established between 1880 and 1905.

During the 19th century concerns were constantly expressed about the country’ industrial performance, the inadequate state of education including technical instruction and the resulting weak educational background of the workforce. All of these factors resulted in the loss of international competitiveness. Unfortunately these factors and themes would haunt most of the 20th century and dominate educational and political debates. To be fair the early 20th century experienced a number of massive social, financial and political transformations that inevitably impacted on state spending. However some important and positive developments did occur in technical and commercial education during the early 20th century in spite of these difficulties. So as we will see during the next forty years there was a more ‘gradual evolution, that built on the foundations that were laid between 1880 and 1905.

There was a flurry of political activity with a number of key parliamentary Acts and reports at the beginning of the 20th century. The 1902 Education Act (Balfour Act) has already been mentioned along with its weaknesses but it did establish a national system of secondary education by integrating higher grade elementary schools and fee-paying secondary schools. LEAs replaced the School Boards. The term elementary school was gradually being replaced by a more appropriate title for the early stage of education namely the primary sector and school. The 1904 Secondary Schools Regulations continued the reforms and introduced a subject based curriculum. Subjects included Drawing, English Language, Geography, History, Mathematics and Science as well provision for manual work and physical education. Science instruction was to include both theoretical and practical aspects. Housewifery was introduced in girls’ schools which yet again reinforces the continuing perception of the role of women.

The 1907 Code improved the quality and aims of primary education and introduced free places and scholarships for secondary schools. As you can see the emphasis was very much on schools with little legislation on technical education. In 1909 the Board of Education (BoE) published a consultation paper that recommended the introduction of Day Continuation Education for school leavers. In 1911 the Board published a report on Examinations in Secondary Schools which would have some minor implications for the development of technical and commercial examinations. The Committee was chaired by Dyke Acland a key figure in education during the late 19th and early 20th centuries having been President of the BoE Consultative Committee from 1907 to 1916 and Vice-President on the Committee for Education between 1885 and 1889. The terms of reference were: To consider when and in what circumstances examinations are desirable in secondary schools (a) for boys and (b) for girls. The committees are desired to consider this question under the following headings:

  • Examinations at entrance to school.
  • Examination during school life.
  • Examination at leaving school.

The Committee made a number of recommendations about the conduct and inspection of external examinations and that the examinations for pupils up to 16 years of age which they said should form the basis of a liberal education and serve as a foundation for further studies. They suggested the main external examination should be called the Examination for the Secondary School Certificate giving it credibility to the members of the general public. The Secondary Schools Examination Council was eventually established in 1917 to administer the new School Certificate and Higher School Certificate examinations first recommended in 1911.

The rather late recognition that some form of preliminary technical education for young people was essential in order to prepare them for employment in particular trades brought about additional legislation to strengthen the existing trade schools which were then offering instruction in a number of trades. In 1913 the Board of Education with the promulgation of the Regulations for Junior Technical Schools recognised the trade schools. These Regulations were subsequently incorporated into the 1914 Regulations for Technical Schools, Schools of Art and other institutions offering further education. The regulations and the position of the schools were finally sorted out following the 1944 Education Act when the trade schools were established as an integral part of the secondary school sector. I will describe the range of institutions involved in technical and commercial education in chapter 10.

The Lewis Report in 1917 with an interim report in 1916 focused on the consequences of the Great War. It was entitled: Juvenile Education in Relationship to Employment after the War and its terms of reference were: To consider what steps should be taken to make provision for the education and instruction of children and young persons after the war for those

  • who have been abnormally employed during the war;
  • who cannot immediately find advantageous employment;
  • who require special training for employment.

The interim report published in 1916 recommended the strengthening of the juvenile employment bureaux and the local employment committees. The final report in 1917 recommended the raising of the school leaving age to 14 with no exceptions, followed by attendance for at least 8 hours a week or 320 hours per annum at Day Continuation Classes up to the age of 18 years. These two recommendations were picked up and considered by the 1918 Education Act (Fisher Act) which enacted most of the Lewis Report recommendations. As a result this gave all young workers right of access to day release education. However the raising of the school leaving age from 12 to 14 was only implemented following the 1921 Act. In 1920 the Unemployment Insurance Act gave the Government powers to link benefits to training. No national funding was made available and what developments occurred were at a local level.

Earlier chapters have highlighted and continually stressed that the growth and development of technical education was to say the least unsystematic, if not haphazard, and had as a result created a complex, confused and disjointed system, a matter which had become only too apparent at the time of the 1902 Education Act. By the end of the 19th century a wide range of continuing education existed for adults and young people including day-time, evening study, part-time study etc. History had created a heterogeneous group of institutes whether these were evening schools, mechanics’ institutions, polytechnics, and schools of art, tutorial classes, university extension lectures and various forms of the working men’s college.

Unfortunately this confusing complexity has continued in many ways right up the present time and has contributed to the relatively poor public perception and track record of technical education. Successive governments have failed to tackle and implement educational reforms that could have created a national system of technical education that was equally valued with the so-called academic route. The long gestation period to establish and locate technical education within a national education framework has most certainly contributed to this country’s decline and weakened our competitive edge over the past 150 years. The striking feature of the English education system particularly for secondary and technical sectors that emerges was the lack of any central direction and the absence of the essential elements necessary for any overall organisation namely coherence and integration. One essential and critical factor that had impeded the development of a national framework for technical education was the inadequacy of existing elementary and secondary schools and the absence of practical subjects and science which would have provided a flow of more educated young people into the technical institutions that existed at the time. Obviously the ultimate success, well-being and long term security of technical education critically depends on a sufficient flow of suitably qualified young people from schools. In spite of many worthy attempts by a number of visionary individuals in creating institutions for technical instruction e.g. Mechanics’ Institutions, Polytechnics etc the majority mostly failed because of weaknesses in the learners’ educational background. Inadequate basic literacy and numeracy skills, coupled with lack of any scientific and technical awareness, either theoretical or practical, was a result of inadequate and in some cases non-existent schooling. Margaret Gowing made the following a very incisive statement and judgement in a Wilkins Lecture to the Royal Society of London in July 1977:

“Most economic historians seek objective, primarily economic explanations ranging from markets and tariff policy to the complexity of Britain’s inherited industrial structure. In this interpretation, education is scarcely mentioned, and such views attune with our current disenchantment at the results of recent large educational expenditure. Of course it is impossible to draw a simple cause and effect line between education and economic strength – but a smaller group of historians do accept that Britain’s failure in the nineteenth century to develop the educational system essential for national efficiency was a main cause of this decline. I am on their side”

As already mentioned the period between the late 19th and early 20th centuries was one of unparalleled change in science and technology and this inevitably impacted on and subsequently influenced social and economic thinking. Many historians have attempted to describe the industrial decline but as Gowing commented very few linked the decline with the weakness in education particularly the elements relating to industry. However one aspect where historians did agreed was that at the beginning of the 20th century the traditional English view still persisted namely that theory and practice should be separated and the schools should concentrate on the theoretical aspects whilst the practical activities were delivered in the workshop. This was reinforced by the 1889 Technical Instruction Act which had expressly stated that schools should not be involved in the instruction of any trade or industry. This approach was in stark contrast to similar schools elsewhere in Europe, which emphasised the importance of workshop practice and the apprenticeship.

Developments in Examinations.

As already mentioned in 1917 the Board of Education recommended that the junior certificates and other awards that existed at the time should be replaced by the School Certificate Examinations Scheme. Universities would be responsible for their operation and a Secondary Schools Examination Council was established to advise the Board of Education. Thus was born the School Certificates and Higher Certificates often called the School Matriculation, which continued to be offered until their replacement in 1951 by GCE ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels. These were by definition academic in nature with little technical content. I will continue discussing the development of the examination system in later chapters describing more fully the developments with CGLI, RSA, the Regional Examination Unions, ONCs/HNCs and other awarding bodies [see also the history of technical and commercial examinations also on this website].

One of the most fascinating and important developments and a facet of technical and commercial examinations arose out of a collaborative scheme between the Board of Education and a Professional Institution namely the Institution of Mechanical Engineers that was to become known as the ‘National Certificate Scheme’. This co-operation began in 1921 and certification was available to successful students in technical schools and colleges. The National Certificate Scheme and its awards proved a success and subsequently were extended when other Professional Institutions including the Institution of Electrical Engineers, Institute of Building, Institute of Chemistry and the Textile Institute got involved. Similar arrangements were developed later for Commercial subjects. The Board of Education and the Professional Institutions would determine the standard and range of the subject content which would attract the award of the certificate. However they would attempt to allow the greatest degree of freedom to the school/college in terms of the organisation of the work and its assessment.

The success of the scheme soon saw the development of national certificates and diplomas across a wide range of technical subjects. Each provider would draft its own syllabus very often focussed on the needs of local employers and reflecting local industries. The syllabus would then be submitted to the Board of Education and the relevant Professional Institution for their approval. Once the course was approved successful candidates in the examinations would receive a certificate or diploma according to the level of the course and/or the mode of attendance i.e. part or full –time. For example Ordinary Certificates (ONCs) were awarded after a three- year part –time course at a technical college whilst Higher Certificates HNCs) were awarded after a further two years. Ordinary and Higher Diplomas (O/HNDs) required two and three years of full-time study respectively.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries the Professional Institutions had introduced their own examinations e.g. Institution of Civil Engineering in 1897 and the Institution of Mechanical Engineering in 1913 respectively. In addition the universities and university colleges awarded qualifications in technical subjects although the latter could not award degrees. In spite of the increasing numbers of students pursuing technical subjects there was already a mismatch between supply and demand. Industry wanted qualified people but even during this period complained that the universities and other providers of HE were biased against vocational and technical subjects. Surprisingly there was also evidence in the 1920s/30s that there was also an imbalance in graduate science numbers e.g. a surplus of chemists and deficit of biologists – a problem that persists to this day in e.g. engineering, physics, mathematics and statistics. Finally ,interesting to note that of the 4,439 students in full-time technology courses in 1934 the vast majority of them went into technical i.e. research, testing and design as opposed to the production side of industry – yet another example of academic drift?

Developments in the universities

One crucial indicator of a country’s commitment to technical education is the number of graduates in such subjects as the sciences, engineering and technologies. As has been said before, England significantly lagged behind other countries such as America, France and Germany in this critical area. British industry during the 19th century employed very few graduates at both management and specialist level, again in stark contrast to our main competitors. This to some extent reflected the attitude of industry which did not recognise the need to create qualified scientists and technologists. This negative attitude was further exacerbated by successive governments which had failed to establish a unified educational system. Rather belatedly the newer universities and university colleges (many of which were later referred to as the civic universities) were established to train the cohorts of scientists and engineers/technologists. In addition successive governments had not invested or encouraged the ancient universities to develop provision in line with the emerging technologies and newer industrial processes such as electrical and chemical engineering. The development of the university sector at this critical period especially in the technical subjects again reflects the low esteem that the country held the application of science and its impact on industry. Even at the higher levels of achievement we lagged well behind other countries and coupled with the inadequate provision it sadly reflected how industry was responding to the new technologies.

It will be helpful to quickly review the development of the universities in England as this reflects the level and type of commitment. In 1902 six universities existed in England namely Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, London, Birmingham and the federal Victoria University. This compares with twenty universities in Germany at the beginning of the 19th century many of which had a strong commitment to technical subjects. However during the early part of the 20th century there was a relatively rapid development of new independent universities. Victoria ceased to be a federation and separate institutions of Manchester and Liverpool were established in 1903, and Leeds in 1904 quickly followed by Sheffield in 1905 and Bristol in 1909. These universities and their precursors as university colleges had been encouraged by the government but not supported or funded adequately to develop honours and general degree programmes in technical subjects. Enrolments in these subjects increased although they were relatively low when compared with our competitors. For example in 1910 the total number of graduates in science and technology from all institutions offering these programmes was just 3,000 compared with 25,000 in Germany. Figure 1 attempts to show the relatively slow growth of science and technology graduates from 1870 to 1910. Figures do not include graduate numbers from Oxford or Cambridge, which were dominated by mathematics.

Figure1. Numbers of Science and Technology Graduates between 1870 and 1910

Subject 1870 1880 1890 1900 1910
Sciences 13 38 136 304 800
Technologies 6 17 30 74 431
Totals 19 55 166 378 1,231

The domination of Oxbridge continued well into the 20th century for example even in 1938 these two institutions still accounted for 20% of the total university population. The total student population in 1938 was approximately 50,000. Another interesting but depressing statistic was that in 1908 the number of full-time students in provincial university colleges and technical schools was below 3,000.

In spite of 500 new secondary schools opening as a result of the 1904 Education Act the post-14 participation rate was still under 20% in the first two decades of the 20th century which meant that the reforms had little impact in encouraging pupils to stay on at school, let alone increasing progression on to further study in technical subjects.

The gradual realisation of some of the weaknesses within the 1902 Act had been identified and addressed by the Lewis Report (1917) and 1918 Education Act as described above. Clearly the Great War would have a number of repercussions on the future development and shape of the national education system and this will be considered in chapter 10.

The trade unions still showed little interest in technical education outside the existing apprenticeship programmes. The reason for this reluctance seemed to stem from a fear that the unions would lose influence and their ability to control wages and conditions of service of their members when in employment.
Other relevant developments between 1900 and 1920.

A number of other developments deserve a mention as they indicate that the country was beginning to take science and technology more seriously. In 1900 the National Physical Laboratory at Teddington was founded that carried out testing, research and setting standards. In 1915 A Committee of the Privy Council on Scientific and Industrial Research was established that lead to the creation of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. In 1919 the University Grants Committee was created that fundamentally changed the way universities were funded. A comprehensive chronology in Appendix 1 provides far more detail about key dates in the development of technical and commercial education.

In spite of a great deal of legislation the period between 1900 and 1920 this gave little advantage to technical education.

Chapter 10 will continue to describe developments up to the Second World War.


  1. Shadwell. A. ‘Industrial Efficiency. A Comparative Study of Industrial Life in England, Germany and America.’ Longmans, Green, and Co. 1909.
  2. Magnus. P. ‘‘Industrial Education.’ Kegan Paul, Trench and Co. 1888.

Other Useful References:

Abbott. A. ‘Education for Industry and Commerce in England.’ OUP. 1933.
Maclure. S.J. ‘Educational Documents 1816 -1967.’Chapman and Hall. SBN 412 07960 7. 1968.

Comprehensive book list, chronology and glossary available on this website in separate sections.

Chapter 8 – The Developments at the End of the 19th Century.

This entry is part 8 of 20 in the series A Short History of Technical Education

This chapter continues to describe the most significant developments during the 1870s/80s/90s and the beginning of the early 20th century.

Finsbury Technical College.

Of the three institutions created by CGLI Finsbury Technical College is the only one that no longer exists. In spite of its relatively short life 1881-1926 it was truly a ground breaking institution and a remarkable success with a number of outstanding teachers. Finsbury Technical College was officially opened in 1883 although day and evening classes had been taught from November 1879 and it was the first true technical college in England. It was based on technical institutions in Germany and Switzerland. Subjects taught initially included applied chemistry, mechanical engineering and physics. Students, both sexes, were enrolled from those who wished to study scientific and practical instruction for intermediate posts in industry or from schools preparing for entry to the Central Institution in higher technical and scientific studies. Evening classes were provided for people working during the day in order for them to receive additional instruction in art, practice and science to more fully understand industrial processes. In 1883 100 day and 699 evening students had been enrolled. The range of subjects taught was amazing including brick-laying, chemistry, drawing, electrical technology, joinery, mathematics, metal-plate work and workshop practice. Even foreign languages were taught including French and German.

Finsbury Technical College

One very important distinction between the College (shown opposite) and the Mechanics’ Institutions was that at the College practical work formed part of the programme whereas the Mechanics Institutes predominately taught the theoretical aspects of technology and science. The College was the first to attempt to integrate practical/manual training and pure science. This approach proved a great success and was adopted by the emerging Polytechnic movement in London. It was organised and managed by way of a number departments that catered for the different subjects and differing attendance modes. Unfortunately in spite of its pioneering work it increasingly experienced competition from the London Polytechnics, Working Men’s Colleges and other technical institutions. Throughout its existence it had serious accommodation shortages – cramped laboratories and unsuitable temporary accommodation that became permanent. Through out its relatively short history even with the continuing support of the Livery Companies and the CGLI the College experienced continuing funding problems. Successful as the College was it could not break even financially and the gap between revenue and expenditure continued to grow in spite of generous donations and support from the Livery Companies. For example in 1912 the annual running costs of the College were £11,700 whereas income from student fees and other sources was £3,680. The College tried to operate an open access policy and was reluctant to increase student fees for fear of deterring attendance. The students already made great sacrifices e.g. by losing two years’ employment opportunities. If the fees were increased it would change the student profile completely and attract students who already had other opportunities afforded by the wealthy status. The College in many ways set the model for the future shape of the technical education system and the institutions that constituted the Further Education Sector of the 20th century.

The Royal Commission on Technical Instruction (Samuelson Report) 1882-84.

Chairman: Bernhard Samuelson.
Members included: Philip Magnus. Henry Roscoe (see portrait below).


The Samuelson Commission was set up in 1881 with the following terms of reference:

“ To inquire into the instruction of the industrial classes of certain foreign countries in technical and other subjects for the purpose of comparison with that of the corresponding classes in this country; and into the influence of such instruction on manufacturing and other industries at home and abroad”

The Commission attempted to address the continuing and wide spread concerns about the random and fragmented development of technical education and the resultant unregulated nature of technical education institutions. It also focused on the continuing and increasing worry about the declining ability of the country to compete with overseas countries as evidenced from the time of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the Paris Exhibition of 1867.
The most important outcomes from the published reports by the Commission were the comparisons with other countries, which showed this country’s continuing lack of effective instruction in science in schools particularly its relationship with industrial practice and the absence of a national system for technical education. This investigative approach of the Royal Commission helped to make the series of reports truly seminal as its remit allowed members to visit European countries and witness first hand their technical education systems. Commissioners visited Austria, Belgium, France, German, Holland, Italy and Switzerland. Evidence was also gathered from a wide range of sources across Britain. The reports were published in 1882 and 1884 and made a number of key recommendations including the following ones:

  • Rudimentary drawing be incorporated with writing as a single elementary subject
  • Advocated more teaching of agriculture and craft work
  • Advocated more teaching of science and art in training colleges
  • More support for CGLI
  • Greater powers for local authorities to establish more technical and secondary schools
  • Advocated less part-time employment for children
  • Recommended more systematic training for young workers in work schools and that employers and trade organizations should make financial contributions to help realise this recommendation.

The Samuelson Commission made a number of key recommendations three of which related directly to technical and secondary education namely:

  • “That steps be taken to accelerate the application of ancient endowments, under amended schemes to secondary and technical education,
  • That provision to be made by the Charity Commissioners for the establishment, in suitable localities, of schools or department of schools, in which the study of natural science, drawing, mathematics and modern languages shall take the place of Latin and Greek,
  • That local authorities be empowered, if they think fit to establish, maintain and contribute to the establishment and maintenance of secondary and technical (including agricultural) schools and colleges”.

One of the visits made by the members was to Messrs Mather and Platt’s Workshop School which was a private technical evening school established and supported by the company for the benefit of its workers – even by today’s standards a rare occurrence. The school had 68 workers enrolled which was operated to provide science teaching to the apprentices employed at the works. The facilities were well resourced and very impressive with realistic working environments. Mr Mather was very clear about the purpose of the school and the methods of instruction – he said that you must bring the school to the workshop as you cannot bring the workshop to the school. He argued that bringing the school to the workshop was simple and inexpensive, I find his evidence truly amazing- what an enlightened employer years ahead of his time and even today he could teach our politicians a thing or two about work based learning and the value of realistic working environments.

The Royal Commission also commended the Finsbury Technical College as a ‘model trade school for the instruction of artisans and other persons preparing for intermediate posts in industrial works.’

One obvious conclusion of many of the recommendations was that a single central authority should be established for technical education. However the remit of the Commission did not permit such a recommendation to be made directly but reading the reports one senses it was strongly implied.
These recommendations were presented after exhaustive inquiries and investigations across the country and the continent but were not as bold as many of commentators would have wished for. One lasting consequence of the Commission was the very detailed analysis given to the issues and formed the basis of many of the subsequent reforms in the early 20th century. What it reinforced yet again was that the country still possessed an inadequate and insufficient secondary school system that seriously weakened progression onto higher technical studies especially for managers in industry. Even though compulsory education was established and a school leaving age of up to 14 was bringing about improvements to literacy among workers, major problems still existed through ignorance of scientific and technological concepts by managers especially when compared with their counter parts on the continent. The Commission and its recommendations influenced a number of important parliamentary Acts that followed including the 1888 Local Government Act that established County and County Borough Councils. The real positive legacy of the Royal Commission was the Technical Instruction Act of 1889, which was the first piece of legislation of any real significance in technical education. I will describe more fully the Technical Instruction Act later in the chapter.

Quintin Hogg and the Polytechnics

Trade instruction for workers was still driven by private enterprise and in London one of the examples was the Polytechnic Young Men’s Christian Institute (better known as the Regent Street Polytechnic) founded 1882. The Polytechnic started as a ragged school in1860 when Quintin Hogg [see biography], a city businessman gradually became aware of the urgent need to offer greater educational opportunities for young workers. In 1864 he was teaching in a ragged school and in 1868 had become head of a boys’ home in Drury Lane and using his wealth then opened an evening institute in 1878 in his Long Acre Institute. His working Lads’ Institute proved a great success and offered classes for boys from the slums in London. The classes proved a great success and as a result dealt with wider social classes. Quintin Hogg based his institution on the model developed at the Artizan Institute founded by the Rev Solly in 1874. The Artizan Institute was at the time the only institute in London providing practical trade instruction. The Artizan Institute was eventually incorporated into the Finsbury Technical College in 1881. The head of the trade class department was C. Millis (1) who wrote a number of key books on technical education and became the first Principal of the Borough Polytechnic. As accommodation became too crowded a number of moves occurred until in 1880 he acquired a building as the Polytechnic located on Regent Street.

Royal Polytechnic Institution (Incorporated 1838)

The Polytechnic was established in 1838  (shown opposite) for the demonstration of ‘practical science’ – Hogg adapted the building for his own purpose and retained the name Polytechnic. The creation of the Polytechnic in Regent Street in 1882 was a quantum leap in terms of size and financial backing. To date the technical institutions depended on the generosity of the Livery Companies, the CGLI, the Science and Arts Department and a few benefactors. However in order to begin to compete with America and Europe larger institutions with better facilities had to be built and critically the need for the State to become more directly involved to fully realise this aspiration. The driving force behind the Polytechnic was Quintin Hogg [see biography] who had already invested heavily in his Long Acre Institute, which he founded in 1878. Quintin Hogg spent over £100,000 in creating the Polytechnic and his commitment and belief in technical education was truly remarkable. He was the catalyst in the formation of other Polytechnics in London in conjunction with the financial support and patronage of the City Parochial Foundation and the Charity Commissioners. In 1883 the City of London Parochial Act further added impetus to the development of the Polytechnic movement and hence the technical education in London. The Act amongst other aspects made a commitment to create, fund and promote:

  • Education for the poorer inhabitants of London in technical, secondary and art subjects
  • Public libraries, art galleries and museums
  • Extend working men’s and women’s institutions

Central funds were established to realise these worthy endeavours and included capital grants to Polytechnics and the Charity Commissioners influenced by the Report of the Royal Commission on Technical Education and evidence from CGLI. Other Polytechnics were quickly established across London including: Battersea, Borough, Chelsea, Northampton Polytechnic (one of the few outside London) and Sir John Cass College in the City. Interesting to note that even at this time differing views existed about the relevance of technical education particularly for the poorer members of society and at HE level and a number of individuals openly questioned the need let alone the importance of such proposals. In spite of this opposition the recommendations of the Charity Commissioners were accepted and the endowments to the institutions were implemented. When the London County Council was created in 1888 under the Local Government Act they took responsibility for the supervision of the Polytechnics. The Polytechnics provided a very wide range of activities including social, recreational and educational pursuits. The Polytechnics operated secondary and technical schools, day technical classes for more advanced students and evening classes for apprentices and workers. Practical classes offered included bookbinding, building, engineering, furniture and textiles. Commercial courses were also offered along with the teaching of foreign languages and a number of students prepared for degrees accredited by the University of London. Table 1 shows the number of student hours at the London Polytechnics for 1893/94 and 1900/01.

Table 1

Student hours in 1000’s
Subject 1893-94 1900-01
Building trades 37.5 123.4
Carpentry and joinery 1.4 23.1
Chemistry 23.7 52.1
Electrical engineering 4.1 31.3
Experimental physics 16.8 75.8
Mathematics 11.4 36.6
Mechanical engineering 17.0 92.5
Plumbing 6.8 19.6
Totals: 118.7 454.4

These developments were inevitably focussed on London but nevertheless provided valuable experience for later developments across England and beyond. This example of London centricity raises some interesting questions. Other developments were happening else where in England but overall these have not been fully documented –perhaps that is a worthy project for the future?

The Technical Instruction Act 1889.

The Technical Instruction Act defined technical education as follows;

“shall mean instruction in the principles of science and art applicable to industries, and in the application of special branches of science and art to specific industries or employment.”

In retrospect the founding of the CGLI in 1878 can be seen as an important bridge between the Samuelson Select Committee Report of 1868 and the Technical Instruction Act of 1889. After all the Institute had developed a number of strategically important elements that subsequently supported the emerging technical education system e.g. it established a system of technical examinations building on the pioneering work of the Society of Arts and also created three key technical institutions namely the Finsbury Technical College, the Central Technical College and the City and Guilds Art School. The Royal Commission on Technical Instruction gave rise to the Technical Education Act of 1889. Thirty- eight and twenty-two years after the Great and Paris Exhibitions, the Technical Instruction Act was passed fully recognising the need for a national framework for technical education in an attempt to halt industrial and manufacturing decline. The Act gave powers to the County Councils and the Urban Sanitary Authorities to levy a penny tax to support technical and manual instruction by: founding schools and appointing teachers; further supporting technical education by making grants to institutions; providing technical education and creating exhibitions and scholarships. The curricula in technical institutions also had to be approved by the Science and Art Department. In 1890 Local Taxation Act passed legislation to decrease the number of public houses and imposed an additional duty on alcohol in an attempt to reduce excessive drinking. The additional revenues were initially meant to compensate publicans whose licences had not been renewed but a number of MPs opposed that proposal and the monies were retained by the government. As a result the government found itself in the rather peculiar and unique position of having an excess of tax revenue and nothing to spend it on! Arthur Acland proposed that the money should be spent by the county councils either to further develop and strengthen technical education or as a means of reducing the local rates. Fortunately the majority of councils used the money to fund the development of technical education. The annual sum became known as the  ‘whiskey money’ or  ‘whiskey tax’, which really did provide a timely and valuable contribution for technical instruction.

The majority of authorities established Technical Instruction Committees and this brought about a rapid development of technical institutions across the country that began to satisfy the growing demand from technical education across the country. One result of the extra money was a spate of technical college building, mainly in the industrial northern towns and cities, but also a few in the South where industrial processes were developing. For example institutions were built in such places as Bath, Bristol, Bury, Cardiff, Derby, Glasgow, Halifax, Leeds, Liverpool, Portsmouth, Swindon and Wolverhampton. Many of these institutions went on to become the FE and Technical Colleges we know today (2). During the last decade of the 19th century twenty five-five institutions had been transferred to the technical instruction authorities and of these twelve were in county councils. The sums of money were considerable for that time being £179,501 in 1895/6, £142,413 in 1896/7, £69,333 in 1987/8 and £105,301 in 1898/99, although it must be said that a great deal of the money was spent on the teaching of science in schools rather than technical instruction. Between 1892/93 and 1901/02 the annual amount raised via the whiskey tax rose from £472,500 to £859,011 – this last figure represented 83% of the total public expenditure on technical education! In 1895 – 93 out of the 129 county and county borough councils were spending all the whiskey money on education. Of the £317,000 directly managed by the county councils in 1895, £188,000 was spent properly on technical education, £17,000 subsidised secondary schools, £39,000 was awarded on scholarships, £14,000 was spend on evening continuation schools and £22,000 was expended on training evening school teachers. Although most of the money was spend on technical education the majority of the money went to the younger students i.e. schools aged pupils as opposed to adults. The Balfour Act of 1902 eventually repealed the Act empowering the expenditure of the whiskey tax by authorities for technical education, although the money was still ring fenced in this Act for the development of HE. The issue of the whiskey tax is a fascinating episode in the history of education. Could it have been an early example of a hypothecated tax? Interesting to note the development critically depended on the consumption of alcohol but it did accelerate the development of technical education at the end of the 19th century and in the North of England, as usual did just that! It also influenced the 1889 Technical Instruction Act that included the authorisation of the new local authorities to fund technical and manual instruction by way of a penny rate.

Even though the Technical Instruction Act began to address and remedy one of the problems of the British technical education system through the empowering of local authorities to establish technical schools/colleges and to financially support the teaching of science in secondary schools it did not establish a national system of secondary education which had to wait until the 1902 Education Act! Also in spite of these positive developments the impact on the labour force was still fairly minimal and only about 10% of skilled workers in engineering had experienced formal training. One interesting feature, when one looks at the various Royal Commissions and other parliamentary committees/groups that considered different aspects and sectors of education, is the almost complete lack of any continuity and links between them. For example the Royal Commission on Technical Instruction had little impact on the Royal Commission on Elementary Education –the Cross Report of 1888, the Royal Commission on Secondary Education –the Bryce Report of 1895 and the Education Act of 1902. The Cross Commission had recorded that numbers of students studying at evening schools had declined and suggested that these institutions should be regarded as continuation rather than elementary schools. This recommendation was enacted by the Code of 1890 and as a result evening schools taught art, domestic work, languages and science. The legislation was further developed in 1898 under a separate Code for evening continuation schools. The upper age limit was abolished and grants were given for attendance rather than for examinations passed. The new code extended the range of subjects taught to include commercial and technical subjects and real opportunities to students to pursue subjects not available in elementary schools. As a result it offered progression opportunities to more advanced programmes in technical schools. The legislation did bring about increased enrolments in evening class students rising from 298,724 in 1896 to 474,563 in 1899 but still most of the instruction was at elementary level. To remedy this situation the Board of Education in 1907 introduced the grouped system of subject selection namely that students were required to select a group of related subjects to study. See below how this initiative evolved.

Evening Continuation Schools

Evening schools had existed for many years and were operated under the Elementary Schools Code and offered a rather limited curriculum often repeating the work covered in the elementary day schools. In addition to the narrow range of subjects strict age limits were imposed in order to gain funding from the Science and Art Department. However in 1898 a separate Code for Evening Continuation Schools was issued which dramatically changed the situation. In addition a wider range of subjects was introduced and the age restrictions removed allowing persons over the ordinary school leaving age to attend and new more effective funding arrangements were based on attendance and not on examination results. The students who enrolled for evenings fell into two categories – one group wishing to progress onto a technical school and the other completing their studies and leaving formal education. The consequences of these reforms were immediate, resulting in the doubling of enrolments in three years namely from 298,724 in 1896 to 474,563 in 1899 and approximately 14% of the students were over 21 years of age. A growing percentage of females were studying needlework and domestic science again still reinforcing stereotypical roles. The success of the continuation schools greatly accelerated the development of technical education as more people were more able to progress onto more specialised programmes. Grouped programmes were organised in five main themes to reflect the occupations or industries that the students wished to enter. These five groups were industrial, commercial, domestic, rural and general. Initially the industrial and commercial groupings enrolled the most students but later the general programme became more popular. The introduction of grouped programmes was a real improvement as up to their introduction the curricula were comparatively disorganised as students could randomly choose subjects possessing little coherence with skills needed in industry or commerce. In some areas of the country the School worked in collaboration with the university colleges in their locality. It is important to realise that up to this time many of these subjects were not eligible for funding in elementary schools – only grants being available for a limited range of science subjects. Even though the majority of the teaching was at a very basic level it did increase participation and ultimately created a greater demand at the higher levels. In 1901 the responsibility for these Schools was transferred to the Science and Art Department and the Board of Education, which were already funding other evening classes in science and art and organised science schools.

Board of Education

The Board of Education Act of 1899 brought together the powers previously held by the Education Department and the Science and Art Department. Then in 1901, as mentioned above, the responsibility for the central administration of the evening continuation schools was transferred to the South Kensington Branch of the Board. These various reforms culminated in the 1902 Education Act that formally created Local Education Authorities (LEAs) which would play a significant part in the development of Further Education (FE) in the 20th century.

The Education Act 1902.

Even though the 1902 Education Act is seen as the beginning of state funding for secondary education, in strict terms state aid had been made available before e.g. through the grants of the Department of Science and Arts, South Kensington and also following the Technical Instruction Act of 1889 that allowed county councils to spend money on technical education and finally the funding arrangements for the School Boards. The Act replaced the School Boards by the LEAs and these were given wide-ranging powers to administrate all higher education up to university level. The Act represented the first comprehensive Bill to reach the Statute Book. It attempted to bring about the unification of the education system but ultimately did not fully succeed in this worthy aspiration. Many existing schools including the public schools were suspicious of the local authorities and any central authority. As a result of this the attempt to totally unify and create a true State system of secondary school failed. The major challenge for the LEAs arising from the Act was to bring order across the amorphous and somewhat disjointed systems of the educational sectors and their constitute institutions. LEAs were empowered to co-ordinate elementary and higher education, (excluding universities), and at the time defined the possibility of providing “the ladder from elementary school to university.” To assist the realisation of this lofty aspiration scholarships were available to able pupils from the elementary schools. Balfour in this speech to the House of Commons stressed that a successful technical education and higher education system depended critically on a sound elementary and secondary education system. The Act clarified the limitations imposed by the 1899 Act of the Board of Education and attempted to put in place a set of duties and responsibilities for the LEAs. Part of the Act stated: the LEAs shall consider the needs of their area and take steps as seem to them desirable, to supply or aid the supply of education other than elementary, and to promote the general coordination of all forms of education – – -. It is important to note the use of the words consider and take steps as seem to them desirable as these gave rise to LEAs exercising different degrees of discretion and differing interpretations when implementing the Act and this was most certainly true for the implementation of technical education institutions. Many LEAs established and supported technical education to a high degree whilst others showed less enthusiasm. In many cases the munificence of provision in technical institutions can be likened to the Victorian propensity to build chapels and churches with certain similar results in the longer term. The use of such discretionary expressions in subsequent Parliamentary legislation has produced similar results creating a disparate range of technical institutions in terms of quality and quantity. The exercise of discretion coupled with lack of sufficient resources has dogged technical education through out its history and sadly reflects the market mentality that persists today. The 1902 Act was particularly successful in the provision of county secondary education and teacher training colleges but partly because of inadequate resources and the discretionary elements in the Act it was not so successful in bringing about a unified education system.

The 1902 Education Act, important as in was, did little to advance technical education. The Permanent Secretary of the Board of Education Robert Morant was very much an elitist and as a result mainly interested in improving elementary education and creating a system of higher education by developing grammar schools whose curriculum was modelled on that of the traditional public schools. The inevitable consequence was that little creativity or imagination was invested in technical education and very little was witnessed in further improvement of facilities in technical schools and institutes. The whiskey money represented a welcome but short window of opportunity to advance technical education and the building of new colleges. As will be seen in the next chapter progress during the early 20th century was very slow and depressing and even accepting the problems that were caused by the First World War and all the inevitable constraints that created only ten new colleges were established nationally between 1902 and 1918.

In 1904 a set of three new regulations and codes was introduced which dealt with evening and continuation schools, technical institutions for advanced, specialised, full-time instruction and with a variety of day technical classes. The framework for the future structure of technical, (further), education had finally begun.

Other relevant developments

It’s an opportune time to briefly describe a range of other developments that influenced technical education. Even though the State kept away from direct involvement in technical education for most of the 19th century there was one striking and obvious exception, namely the military. The armed services received technical training and a great deal of government funding and attention was focused on the manufacture of weapons to support and drive the Empire. Military schools and academies were established including; the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich in 1741; the Royal Military College at Sandhurst in1799; the Royal Naval College at Greenwich in 1873. Army Certificates of Education were first awarded in 1800 and service personnel were required to learn arithmetic for the use of ballistics and other related scientific and technological principles of their equipment. The following table taken from Mitchell and Deane (3) shows clearly the relatively low expenditure and development of education between 1840/49 and 1900/09 when compared with the total expenditure on the military:

Table 1: Net Government Public Expenditure 1840 to 1909

Year Military Expenditure Education Expenditure Total
£ m % £ m % £ m %
1840 – 49 15.1 30 0.3 1 51.0 100
1850 – 09 21.9 37 0.7 1 59.6 100
1860 – 09 26.8 41 1.3 2 64.6 100
1870 – 09 24.2 37 2.6 4 66.1 100
1880 – 09 28.0 37 4.9 6 76.7 100
1890 – 09 36.4 41 9.2 10 89.2 100
1900 – 09 79.1 55 14.9 10 143.6 100

A fascinating account of Army History has been written by White (4).
The two world wars accelerated the commitment of the armed forces to technical education and this will be described in later chapters. A view of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich is shown below.


Developments in the Wales, Ireland and Scotland.

To date most of the history has been focused on England but it might be helpful to comment on some the developments in the Wales, Ireland and Scotland. Up to the early 20th century most of the education parliamentary acts enacted in England were also generally applicable to Wales.
In Scotland and Ireland for a number of reasons education very often developed in different ways. A Technical Schools Act of 1887 was passed exclusive to Scotland that allowed school boards to provide funds establish and maintain technical schools. Much less revenue from the Local Tax Act, (Whiskey Money), was received by Scotland and with the much smaller population and the greater diversity and number of authorities the sums were too small to have any real impact on education institutions. However with the passing of the Local Taxation (Scotland) Act in 1898 additional monies were made available and a number of institutions did receive funds for technical education. No funds or grants to support art or science instruction were made available to Scottish schools from the England although a number of the technical schools offered examinations by CGLI and the English Board of Education. As mentioned before the Scottish education had established a system far in advance of its English counterparts. The universities had offered far more enlightened curricula including science and technical subjects long before Cambridge and Oxford. John Anderson and George Birkbeck [see biography] had pioneered the Mechanics’ Institution movement and the Scottish elementary school system was the best in Europe. Scotland already possessed a number of impressive and well equipped technical colleges including the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College (Glasgow), Heriot-Watt College (Edinburgh), Robert Gordon College (Aberdeen) and the Technical College (Dundee). These institutions operated on very similar lines to colleges in England both in terms of subjects taught and the examination boards used. One characteristic of the Scottish system in elementary and secondary schools was the emphasis on practical and manual skills and the teaching of science – far more than in English schools. Scotland also developed a system for awarding leaving certificates based on examination results. The universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow continued to excel in science and technology including such subjects as engineering and naval architecture. St Andrews too had an outstanding reputation in science and mathematics.
Ireland’s education system especially the technical side sadly was very much less developed than in England, Scotland and Wales. Even though the Technical Instruction Act of 1889 was applicable to Ireland it was never enacted to any real effect. The revenues from the Local Taxation Act were expended on intermediate education and not on technical education. Recommendations made from the Recess Committee of 1896 proved to be valuable and influential leading to the passing of the Agriculture and Technical Instruction Act of 1899. These two key commissions the first focused on manual and practical instruction in elementary schools and the second focussed on these subjects in the secondary sector brought about the teaching of technical subjects and as a result greatly enhanced the quality of teaching and instruction in Irish schools.

Conclusions and some observations

One interesting issue that has emerged so far is the difficulty of assessing how much industry itself provided direct training for its workers. We have the example of the Mather and Platt Workshop evidenced in the Samuelson Report but it has proved difficult to find let alone analyse any statistical data and so far little evidence exists in company reports in order to identify if any training was offered. This area needs further research.

Another intriguing if not unsurprising finding was the random way governments established the various Royal Commissions and other committees that looked at education. Very often there appeared to be a complete lack of any systematic approach, planning or sequencing in regard to their overall purpose. Many of the key Commissions seemed to be established in an ad hoc fashion with little regard to how their recommendations linked or were influenced by previous reports. It almost seems as though they were regarded in isolated and separate compartments and were often strongly influenced by political dogma and inbuilt prejudice. This attribute sadly continues even today. Real consideration of the complex linkages between the various sectors of education and training seem to have been ignored or subjected to political amnesia. Issues associated with the essential need to progressively build up competence and capability in literacy, numeracy and the foundations of mathematical and scientific knowledge were ignored.

The period covered by this chapter witnessed a large number of important developments in technical education many of which laid the foundations for the future shape and management of technical education. As one can see the momentum, at last, was being generated and the basic framework for a national system for technical education was beginning to emerge in colleges, industry and other training providers. The 1902 Education Act would establish a national system for secondary education but its impact on technical education was fairly limited. The gradual development of secondary education began to provide more highly educated youngsters who were more able to benefit from further study at college and as a result increased progression opportunities as well as participation rates after compulsory schooling. Also developments in higher education through the existence of the Polytechnics and the creation of a number of civic universities began to offer enhanced opportunities in scientific and technical subjects and so gradually developed a system of technical education that began in schools and progressed to higher education.

The class structure still dominated the way this country perceived technical education. In England the failure of the middle and upper classes to organise a national secondary education system and their neglect of scientific studies in the majority of their public schools produced generations of employers who failed to appreciate the value and place of technical and scientific studies.

The last two decades of the 19th century also witnessed other transformations e.g. the disappearance of the scientific and technological amateur who was gradually replaced by the specialist and the professional. This transformation was mainly due to the growing complexity of science and technology and not necessarily brought about by the demands of industrialists or industry.

More Reflections (Linking the late19th and the 20th Century)

In a sense four key dates in the 19th and 20th centuries can be identified in the development of technical and commercial education. These were the Elementary Education Act of 1870 which ulimately established the foundations for the earlest higher technical education. The Technical Instruction Act of 1889 which identified the urgent need for industrial and commercial education and training for young people. The Education Act of 1902, even though, it did set back the development of secondary technical education did provide a number of loop holes for the more enlightened Local Authorities to exploit and this ultimately led to the Regulations for Junior Technical Schools issued in 1913. The final key date was the 1944 and the Education Act – see later more detail of the 1902 and 1944 Acts.

The 1870 Act allowed the more enlightened school boards, (sadly very few), to develop provision to cater for their localities e.g. science shools, day technical schools assisted with grants from the Science and Art Department. A high Central School was opened in 1878 in Sheffield and similar schools were established in London, Birmingham, Leeds, Bradford and Manchester. Sadly the majority of school boards were held back by the traditions of the past!

Unfortunately the high grade schools, including the science schools and day technical schools developed between 1870 and 1900 were largely killed off by the Cockerton Judgement of 1899.

Chapters 9 and 10 will describe the developments in the rather turbulent first two decades of the 20th century.


  1. Millis. C. ‘Education for the Trades and Industries.’ Edward Arnold. 1932.
  2. Millis. C. ‘Technical Education, Its Development and Aims.’ Edward Arnold. 1925.
  3. Venables. P. F. R. ‘Technical Education Its Aims Organisation and Future Development.’ Bell. 1955.
  4. Mitchell B. R. and Deane P. ‘Abstract of British Historical Statistics.’ CUP. 1962.
  5. White. A. C. T. ‘The Story of Army History 1643-1963.’ Harrop. 1963.

Comprehensive book list, chronology and glossary are provided on separate sections of this website.

Chapter 7 – After the Great Exhibition – A Growing Recognition for the Need for Technical Education?

This entry is part 7 of 20 in the series A Short History of Technical Education

Chapter 6 highlighted some of the positive benefits and outcomes of the Great Exhibition particularly in regard to stimulating and provide incentives to develop provision in scientific and technical education. However the hopes of a sustained and vigorous continuation of the initial burst of enthusiasm was not realised. The rigid class structure with its hierarchical nature still largely preserved the prevailing elitist culture to be found in public schools and the older universities. Also the managers of industry were still not convinced of the value of employing qualified workers and nor particularly the importance of technical education and training. The gap between the English and overseas countries in regard to technical education grew ever wider. The period described in this chapter and the next identifies the growing interest and commitment to scientific and technical education albeit in a relatively slow and faltering fashion. A number of important parliamentary committees occurred during the 1860s/70s/80s that had a bearing on future developments. Also it witnessed the creation of the City and Guilds of London Institute as well as the founding of some technical institutions including the first technical college in England namely the Finsbury Technical College.

Developments in higher education.

The momentum created by the Great Exhibition continued after 1851 to have positive influences on a number of other aspects of education. In England technical and scientific higher education was almost non-existent particularly within Cambridge and Oxford. Both universities had been strongly opposed to the recommendations of a number of royal commissions to reform themselves and introduce science into the curriculum. Oxford and Cambridge had dominated the sector since the early 14th century and in spite of a succession of criticisms about their adherence to medieval statues and closeness to the Establishment e.g. the Church, had done little to change. However eventually partly because of the increased interest in scientific and technical matters engendered by the Exhibition and the growing impact of the developing network of new universities and university colleges created throughout the 19th century, reforms gradually occurred. Cambridge introduced the natural sciences tripos in 1851 and Oxford followed by creating honours schools in science although very few students enrolled for these new opportunities. As mentioned earlier the reason the Dissenting Academies were created was a reaction by the non-conformist against the domination of Oxbridge and a curriculum that was resistant to the sciences and technology.

However Cambridge and Oxford did not have a monopoly on higher education during the 19th century. A small number of Universities and colleges that would eventually become universities were created from the about the second decade of the 19th century. These included: University College, (London) in 1826; St. David’s (Lampeter Wales) in 1827; King’s College, (London) in 1828; Durham in 1832; University of London in 1836; Queen’s College (Birmingham) in 1842; Owen’s College, (Manchester) in 1851 see picture below) and as mentioned already the School of Mining, (London) in 1853.

Owens college

These and other Higher Education Institutions were more prepared to introduce science and technology into their programmes and were often assisted by leading scientists, industrialists and thinkers such as: Whitworth, a machine tool manufacturer from Manchester; Brentham a philosopher from London; and Hamilton a professor of civil history from Edinburgh. These and other individuals were aware of the achievements and developments in such institutions as the Ecole Centrale in Paris and the higher institutions in Germany and other European countries preparing people to enter industry well informed of scientific and technological principles. However the country still continued to lack behind our competitors in Europe and America and even when programmes in science and engineering were offered in the new universities and university colleges the student enrolments were small. Even in London with the active and enthusiastic support of the Prince Consort and Lyon Playfair progress was slow and a number of attempts to establish more facilities for science and technical teaching involved long and difficult arguments and the sad reality was that provision outside London was meagre. For example Owens College Manchester founded in 1851 only had 88 day-time students in 1861. To illustrate the development of higher education in science and engineering at this time I provide some brief pen portraits of these new universities and colleges:

University College – London. Founded in 1826. (University College was incorporated into University of London in 1837).

Quickly established chairs in 1827 in Astronomy, Chemistry, Engineering, Mathematics and Natural Philosophy. Later Chairs in Geology (1841), Analytical and Practical Chemistry (1845), Mathematical Principles of Engineering and Descriptive Machinery (1846), and then a succession of chairs in specialised areas of science and the emerging technologies.

King’s College-London. Founded in 1828.

Immediately established chairs in Chemistry, Experimental Philosophy (physics), Geology, Mathematics and Zoology. Between 1838 and 1840 chairs were created in Civil Engineering (1838) and a teaching post in Manufacturing Art and Machinery (1839). In 1851 a course in military engineering was attempted but ultimately failed to recruit sufficient students.
University of Durham. 1832.
A number of posts were created immediately including a chair in Mathematics, a readership in Natural Philosophy and a teaching position in Chemistry. In 1843 engineering was introduced but the university was very much based on the Oxbridge model and the technology of science and technology did not figure significantly in the early life of Durham. However a College of Physical Science based in Newcastle was established in 1871 to teach the scientific principles of agriculture, manufacturing and mining

Owen’s College, Manchester-1851.

John Owens bequeathed £100,000 to create a college to teach such subjects that were taught in existing universities and colleges including science. He made no particular reference to the teaching of technical subjects that might be of value to industry. Chairs were immediately created in Chemistry and Physical Sciences, Mathematics and Natural History. Engineering was instituted in 1868. Owens ultimately became Manchester University in 1903 and was the first of the civic universities.

The Royal School of Mines and the Royal College of Science- London. 1853.

The Government School of Mines and Science as Applied to the Arts was founded in1851 and was originally the Museum of Economic (later named Practical) Geology which was founded in 1839. The Royal College of Science grew out of the Royal College of Chemistry founded in 1845. The two institutions were merged to create the leading scientific and technogical teaching institution in the country. The Royal College of Chemistry technically became the chemistry department of the Royal School of Mines. Both institutions had already well established teaching posts in such disciplines as Applied Mechanics (1851), Biology (1851),Chemistry (1845), Geology (1851), Mathematics (1851), Metallurgy (1851), Mining (1851), Physics (1853) and Practical Chemistry (1851). To affirm its pre-eminence lecturers included some of the greatest scientists and technologists of the time including Thomas Huxley [see biography], John Percy (Metallurgist), Lyon Playfair {see biography] and John Tyndall (physics).

During the last four decades of the 19th century a number of other university colleges were established which are now referred to as the civic universities. Examples of some of these were:

  • Hartley Institution founded 1862→Southampton University (1952).
  • Yorkshire College of Science founded 1874→Leeds University (1904).
  • College of the West of England founded 1874→Bristol University (1909).
  • Frith College Sheffield founded 1879→Sheffield University (1905).
  • Joseph Mason’s Science College founded in 1880→University of Birmingham (1900).
  • University College Liverpool founded 1881 → University of Liverpool (1903).
  • University College of Nottingham founded in 1881→University of Nottingham (1948).

I will consider the development of the Higher Education Sector in later chapters and the creation of the Red Brick, Plate Glass and New Universities as well as the Colleges of Advanced Technology and the Polytechnics particularly in relation to their commitment to technical education.

Other Developments in the 1860’s and 70’s

Following the Great Exhibition science was gradually introduced into schools across the country. The Royal Commission, established in 1864, inquired into the ‘Revenues and Management of certain Colleges and Schools and the studies pursued and instruction given herein’ (Clarendon Report). The report recommended that the nine so-called public schools should introduce science into the curriculum for an hour a week. The Clarendon Report was focussed on the upper classes and in 1868 another Royal Commission (Taunton Report) was established and became known as ‘The Schools Inquiry Commission.’ The Taunton Report advocated the adoption of the Prussian school system: a classical Gymnasium for those able to progress to Oxbridge, and a Realgymnasium, together with the trade schools, for the middle and lower middle classes, with science as an essential part of the curriculum. It is interesting and somewhat depressing to see the obsession yet again with the class structure. Class structure still dominated and determined so much of the English way of life. Sadly even after the promising start following the Great Exhibition politicians and teaching professionals e.g. head teachers still failed to accept that the teaching of science and technology was equally important and relevant for all ages. An interesting statistic that reinforces the hold that the classics still had on the public schools is illustrated by the fact that Eton employed 24 classicists, 8 mathematicians and only 3 teachers for all the other subjects.
The Science and Art Department continued to be responsible for providing grant aid to art schools from 1856 and to design schools and technical schools from1868. This funding regime was known collectively as the South Kensington Grants and this also supported the teaching of science albeit in the evenings.

The Paris Exhibition of 1867 was a resounding wake up call for this country. Whereas in 1851 Britain had won most of the awards across the majority of the manufacturing categories the 1867 Exhibition was a disaster producing only twelve awards. This poor result had been predicted by a number of commentators including Lyon Playfair.As a result Lyon Playfair who had been an assessor at both exhibitions wrote a passionate letter published in the Journal of the Society of Arts (2) reflecting his observations at the Paris Exhibition and wrote:
“- – – opinion prevailed that our country had shown little inventiveness and made little progress in the peaceful arts of industry – – -. The one cause upon which there was unanimity of conviction is that France, Prussia, Austria, Belgium and Switzerland possess good systems of industrial education for the masters and managers of factories and workshops, and that England possesses none”.
This letter and the concerns of others was supported by another conference convened by the Society of Arts which forced the government to establish a select committee in1867 to inquire into the state of scientific education. It was chaired by Bernhard Samuelson [see biographies] and involved a number of visits abroad to compare other countries’ systems. The select committee was tasked to ‘inquire into the Provisions for giving Instruction in Theoretical and Applied Science to the Industrial Classes.’ Samuelson was a successful and well regarded businessman who brought a refreshing and enlightened perspective to the inquiry. His leadership was energetic and he sought evidence from a variety of sources especially from industrialists. He was ably supported by a number of influential people who gave evidence including Thomas Huxley [see biography], Edwin Abbot (a very progressive head teacher of the City of London School who had introduced the teaching of science into his school) and Joseph Whitworth. The committee made a number of strongly worded recommendations particularly associated with the inadequacy of primary and secondary education and the shortage of science teachers. As a result the Select Committee made a very strong plea for the development of a comprehensive and sound system for secondary education, a significant reform of primary education and vastly improved facilities for science teaching. The report from the select committee was a crucial document or the future development of technical education.

The Select Committee on Scientific Instruction met from 1867 to 1868 and reported in July 1868. It concluded with a series of conclusions including:
·         Effecicient elementary instruction should be available to every child to enable the working class to benefit from scientific instruction.
·         In order for this to be effective, regular attendance of the child for a sufficient period must be obtained.
·         Elementary schools should teach drawing, physical geography and the “phenomena of nature”.
·         All those who are not obliged to leave school before the age of 14 should be taught science.
·         Parliament and the nation should consider immediately the reorganisation of secondary education and the introduction of more scientific teaching.
·         Certain endowed schools in the relevant districts should be reconstituted as science schools. Exhibitions open to public competition would enable children of every grade to rise from the lowest to the highest school.
·         Fees alone cannot adequately fund colleges and schools of scientific education: the State, the localities, endowments or other benefactors could contribute.
·         Centres of industry are ideal locations for such colleges and schools due to the possibilities of combining science with practice, and also because some pupils would not be able to live far away from home.
·         The agricultural districts in particular of England in general do not enjoy sufficient State grants for scientific instruction.
·         These provinces of England are entitled to increased funding.
·         Increased pay for science teachers would probably ensure the establishment and permanence of elementary science classes.
·         The Public Libraries and Museums Act should be amended to enable public bodies to charge slightly more for scientific purposes.
·         The managers of teacher training colleges should devote more time to instructing elementary teachers in theoretical and applied science.
·         Teachers in elementary day schools should be paid on the basis of the results for teaching science to older scholars. The universities of Oxford and Cambridge should grant degrees in science.
·         A closer relationship between government institutions for scientific in London would increase the efficiency of each institution.


Bernhard Samuelson continued to be a significant figure in the development of scientific and technical education. He was a member of the Royal Commission on Scientific Instruction and the Advancement of Science (the Devonshire Commission -1872 to75) and chaired the Royal Commission on Technical Instruction – 1882 to 84 that will be described later.

The terms of reference of the Devonshire Report were as follows: ‘An inquiry with regard to Scientific Instruction and the Advancement of Science, and to inquire what aid thereto is desired from grants voted by Parliament or from Endowments belonging to the several universities in Great Britain and Ireland and the Colleges thereof and whether such aid could be rendered in a manner more effective for the purpose.’ Members included Thomas Huxley, Bernhard Samuelson and James Kay-Shuttleworth. The resulting report provided a comprehensive survey of scientific education at universities, and other institutions and organisations e.g. the British Museum involved in higher education. It also considered science in the public, endowed secondary schools, elementary schools and training colleges. It recommended the science teaching should be introduced for older children in elementary schools. It also urged improved training for science teachers and made a wide ranging set of recommendations to improve training, salaries for qualified science teachers and more investment on buildings and equipment.

Another influential industrialist and engineer Joseph Whitworth (1803-1887) wrote to the Prime Minister Disraeli in March 1868 offering thirty scholarships valued at £100 each to promote science and technology and to bring science and industry into closer relation with each other.
Also in1868 the British Association for the Advancement of Science established a high powered committee to review the provision of research and education of science. This Committee’s Report along with the select committee’s findings and recommendations eventually forced the government to establish, in 1872, the Royal Commission chaired by William Devonshire .

The Elementary Education Act of 1870 (the Forster Act) went some way in responding to the recommendations of the Select Committee but progress was still painfully slow – as usual positive actions on the development of technical education were secondary to lots of rhetoric over the next few years and no real progress was witnessed until the 1880s following the Samuelson Report (1882-84) and the Technical Instruction Act.

City and Guilds Institute of London (CGLI).

By the late 1870s it was becoming clear that the country urgently needed a number of initiatives to establish a national framework for technical education and to capitalise on the inherent interest of workers in science and technology but one not based exclusively on State funding. The poor results of the Paris Exhibition (1867) and the awareness that the country was continuing to lose its competitive edge to overseas countries precipitated a meeting of a number of Livery Companies on 3rd July 1876 at the Mansion House that resulted in the following key resolution being proposed:
“That it is desirable that the attention of the Livery Companies be directed to the promotion of Education not only in the Metropolis but throughout the country, and especially to technical education, with the view of educating young artisans and others in the scientific and artistic branches of their trades”
A provisional committee was established in1877 to consider and advance this recommendation and this ultimately led to the founding of CGLI in 1878 which subsequently made a significant contribution to the creation of a national system for technical education. The main purpose of the CGLI was to improve the training of craftspeople and the Institute was finally incorporated in 1880 to promote and advance technical education. Philip Magnus [see biography] was appointed its first director and secretary in 1880. One crucial driving force behind the creation of the CGLI was that the Livery Companies felt there needed to be a general and national scheme for technical education and that they needed to work together collectively to maximise and capitalise on their individual strengths and promote the interests of several trades. The Livery Companies and their various committees continued to develop ideas on how to realise their ambitious agenda for a national system for technical education and in January 1879 established a set of objectives namely:

  • The transference of the Society of Arts Technological Examinations to the Association of Livery Companies which had now been constituted as the CGLI for the Advancement of Technical Education.
  • The establishment of a Trade School at Finsbury and a Trade School of Applied Art at Kennington.
  • The establishment of a Central School which should serve as a training school for teachers, and which should afford technical instruction of a high character.
  • Grants for assisting certain technical classes already established at King’s College and, elsewhere, and grants for the proposed Chairs of Chemical Technology and Mechanical Technology at University College, London.

Below I provide some brief details of how these four recommendations were actioned.

(First objective) -Technological examinations.

This was an incredibly important initiative, which predates the creation of CGLI and required annual examinations to be held after technical instruction had been given to students and teachers of handicrafts through Britain and in the colonies. The prime mover in this development was the Society of Arts [see history of technical and commercial examinations]. Remember the Society of Arts had pioneered technical and commercial examinations in 1873 under the stewardship of James Booth [see biography]. The first examinations were staged in 1873 when 6 candidates presented themselves. This number gradually increased to 184 in 1878 following financial assistance from the Clothworkers Company for payment to teachers for registering the candidates. Following the establishment of CGLI and the subsequent transfer of responsibility of the technical examinations to the Institute from the Society of Arts more rapid progress was witnessed. CGLI offered the examinations for the first time in 1879 when 202 candidates from 23 centres were entered with 151 passes. The subjects offered in 1879 included; Cotton manufacture, Gas manufacture, Steel manufacture, Telegraphy and Wool Dyeing. Subjects offered but did not enrol any candidates included: Paper manufacture, Photography, Pottery and Porcelain and Silk manufacture. The table below shows the situation between 1879 and 1900 which reflects the beginning of a national examination system for technical subjects. (Readers may have their own interpretations for the relatively poor pass rate!). For example the pass rate for the 1884 examinations was 50.3% and the examiners’ report stated that the candidates “are already familiar with the practice of their trades, but possess a very imperfect knowledge of the application thereto of the principles of science” – interesting to compare with a similar situation today where lack of scientific and mathematical capability causes concern to teachers and employers.
However for those candidates who passed the examinations the universities regarded them and the technological examinations very highly e.g. King’s, University College, Nottingham and Firth College, Sheffield. Another indication of their reputation was that in 1887 Australia applied to enter candidates.

Year Number of subjects Number of centres Number of candidates Number of passes
1879 7 23 202 151
1880 24 85 816 515
1885 42 167 3,968 2,168
1890 49 219 6,781  3,507
1900 64 390 14,551 8,114

The CGLI organised the examinations in line with the approaches used by the Science and Art Department, namely staging examinations and issuing certificates to successful candidates. In a similar fashion to the Department and using the additional funding made available from the City Livery Companies allowed the Institute to award grants on the results of examinations. CGLI continued to pay these grants until the enactment of the Technical Instruction Act in 1889 and the Local Taxation (Custom and Excise) Act of 1890 that empowered county councils to raise funds from other sources to assist the development of technical education.
The City and Guilds was and continues to be one of the few jewels in the crown of technical and vocational education. As well as being the premier awarding body for trade, craft, vocational and technical qualifications it has played a significant role in other developments such as establishing the Finsbury Technical College. In 2008 the Institute awarded approximately 2 million certificates in over 70 nations. The recent census showed that over 20 million people in Britain hold CGLI qualifications. Throughout its history it has maintained close working relationships with the Livery Companies, technical colleges, training providers and employers. The Institute has remained true to its founding principles and has not succumbed to academic drift (an expression first coined by Tyrrell Burgess).
Other awarding bodies complemented the work of CGLI but were associated with predominantly non-scientific and technological subjects and included the Royal Society of Arts, College of Preceptors and a number of Regional Union Institutions. An excellent history of examinations including those offered in technical subjects can be found in Montgomery (3). The history of examinations is a fascinating and complex topic in its own right [see history of technical and commercial examinations].
Excellent histories of the two premier vocational awarding bodies have been written namely: for the Royal Society of Arts (4) and for the CGLI (5).

(Second objective)-The City and Guilds Technical Art School at Kennington.

Established in 1878 in Kennington it was an extension and further development of the South London Art School. The South London Art School had been founded by The Rev Gregory in 1854 and had already established a high reputation in art and design. The CGLI were able to provide money to make the necessary extensions to the school based in Kennington Park Road. The new institution was an example of a trade school for applied art enrolling students engaged in art and the industries in the locality including such subjects as: house decoration, illustration, pottery and sculpture. This institute by focussing on the applied aspects of art very much mirrored the vocational mission of the Finsbury Technical College and went on to produce many notable people in the world of applied art. In 1932 the school was renamed the City and Guilds of London Institute – Kennington and Lambeth Art School and is now known as the City and Guilds of London Art School.

(Third objective)-Central Institution at South Kensington.

The Central Institution, later to become the City and Guilds College, was founded by the City Livery Companies under the auspices of the CGLI. One of the objectives of the CGLI was to found a Central Institution in London. However initially it proved difficult to find a site within the City so the Finsbury Technical College was established in 1878, [see later]. This college was intended to act as a feeder for the Central Institution. Eventually a site was found for the Central Institution at South Kensington that had been purchased from the surpluses generated by the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Central Institution

The institution see picture opposite) focussed on the instruction and the awarding of qualifications in the practical aspects of scientific and artistic subjects necessary for entry to such professions as: technical teachers, architects, mechanical, civil and electrical engineers and senior people in the chemical and other manufacturing industries. Formally opened in June 1884 by the Prince of Wales, then President of the CGLI, it adopted a very different approach in its instruction from the existing universities focussing on the practical applications of science to industrial methods. It very much mirrored the approach adopted by the Finsbury Technical College and the CGLI Institution of Technical Art focussing as it did on applied science and art as opposed to the theoretical and pure aspects of these subjects. In addition the Institution offered opportunities for progression to HE to students completing their studies at Finsbury Technical College and the Technical Art School. These two institutions today could be equated with Colleges of Further Education (CFEs). Philip Magnus [see biography] with his knowledge of developments in mainland Europe and direct involvement with CGLI was a key figure in configuring the Central Institution and technical education owes a great deal to this visionary individual. Subsequently the Goldsmiths’ Company provided very generous funding to extend the buildings and facilities of the College which eventually became the Central Technical College and finally in 1909 the Engineering Section of the Imperial College of Science and Technology under the title of the CGLI (Engineering) College.
It became known as the City and Guilds College after its full incorporation into Imperial College.

(Fourth objective)-Grants to Technical Institutions in London and Beyond

The Livery Companies and the CGLI continued to provide grants to existing technical institutions both within London and a number of provincial towns throughout England. Grants, subsidies and scholarships from these two organisations included:

  • The London Polytechnic and the Artizans’ Institutes [more about these institutions later].
  • Subsidy to the British Horological Society.
  • Annual grant to the Society for Promoting Employment of Women.
  • The Leicester, Manchester and Sheffield Schools.
  • Engineering Departments at University College, Nottingham, Mechanical and Chemical Engineering Departments and for the study of Metallurgy at King’s College, London and the School of Practical Fine Art in London.
  • Extensive grants for textiles to a number of colleges including Bradford, Stroud, Trowbridge and Halifax.

This list is by no means exhaustive but indicates that from around 1881 additional external funding began to establish a wide range of technical institutions that reflected and aided the industrial bases at the end of the 19thand beginning of the 20th centuries. Various writers have estimated the total amount of money given by the Livery Companies and the CGLI was of the order of £ 2,000,000 over a period of forty years which was an immense sum at that time. However it ultimately proved impossible to sustain this level of financial support and it was becoming clear that State funding was essential in order to create a more secure and long term basis for the consolidation and further expansion of technical education and its constitute institutions.

Artizans’ Institute and the People’s Palace.

These two important and influential movements merit mentioning. The Artizans’ Institute although it predated the formation of the Finsbury Technical College was a significant establishment. The Institute was founded in 1874 by the Rev Solley following a number of meetings and conferences held during 1873 some of which were held at Society of Arts. They were supported by a number of key figures representing various trades, which led to the creation of the Trades Guild of Learning, which in turn established the Artizans’ Institute. The following resolution of a meeting held in March 1873 indicates the intentions of the Trades Guild of Learning:

“ That in the opinion of this meeting it is desirable to form a Trades Guild of Learning with the view of promoting the delivery of lectures, and the formation of classes, to assist members of trade societies and other skilled workmen in acquiring a knowledge of history, political economy, and technical education, as well as of literature, science and art generally.”

The Trades Guild of Learning quickly led to the development of the Artizans’ Institute and true to its founding principles focussed on a wide range of trades. Interesting to note the creation of the Guild and the Institute was triggered by a growing disillusionment with the weakness of technical education and the demise at the time of many apprenticeship programmes. The purpose of the Institution was to:

“Offer systematic instruction of workmen and apprentices in the principles of art and science forming the basis of various handicrafts and in the technical applications of those principles to actual work. In other words the object may be stated as that of affording combined instruction in principles and practice, the one illustrating the other”.

This set of objectives is as relevant today as it was then. Another interesting aspect of the Institute was that its instruction would complement the training in the workshop or factory and not attempt to subvert it. The Institute was housed in relatively small premises in St. Martin’s Lane and the range of trades and other subjects was remarkable for the time including: Bricklaying, Carpentry, Pattern Making, Plumbing and Sheet Metal Working. In addition classes were offered in science and mathematics with such subjects as Applied Mechanics, Building Construction and Geometry as well as in the Arts. To further enhance the curriculum lectures were given in Economics, Industrial History and Politics although sadly these subjects failed to recruit many students. A series of problems with funding, premises and weak management eventually brought about the incorporation in 1883 of the Artizans’ Institute into the newly created Finsbury Technical College becoming the Trades Class Department. Throughout its relatively short life the Artizans’ Institute received considerable support from the Livery Companies and CGLI as well as having a strong advocate in Philip Magnus then Director and Secretary of the CGLI. Notable teachers were employed included Professors Armitage and Ayrton who were to become pioneers in the teaching of science education. Equally important were a number of successful former students who went on to become influential figures in industry and technical education.

People’s Palace

The People’s Place is an excellent example of how an isolated initiative developed successively into a technical college and finally a university.The People’s Palace was established by a generous benefactor, the Palace then received significant and on-going financial support from a City Livery Company namely the Drapers. It began following a bequest by John Beaumont upon his death in 1841 to establish a home for education and amusement/creation in the East End of London. John Beaumont as well as being a gifted artist had been a successful businessman who made his fortune in insurance. The People’s Palace was formally opened by Queen Victoria in 1887 the name being taken from a successful novel at the time by Walter Besant entitled ‘All Sorts and Conditions of Men’.

The Drapers’ Company provided £20,000 for the construction of permanent technical schools as well as a significant sum of money including endowments totalling £7,000 a year for ten years. The People’s Palace received other donations from other trust organisations and as a result was able to offer courses in trades and industrial disciplines to young workers. The whole complex was completed in 1892. The technical schools operated both day and evening classes with an average attendance of about 400 and of these about 300 were on free scholarships. In 1896 the Palace became the East London Technical College being divided into three departments: a day school for boys that were closed in 1906, day classes and evening classes both preparing students for university and the civil service.

People's College 1891

The College (see opposite) offered an amazing range of courses with an emphasis on chemistry and engineering but equally important was the teaching of the trade and commercial subjects including carpentry, tailoring, needlework and photography. The College amalgamated with the Bow and Bromley Institute in 1898 and continued to 1911 when this branch was closed. By 1900 five professors at the college were recognised as University of London teachers. The College by now had become an institution of higher education promoting HE in East London. In1907 the Technical College made a successful application to become a school of the University of London and eventually in 1934 the College became Queen Mary College part of the University of London.


One striking impression during this time is the rapid growth of different kinds of technical institutions many of which were short lived whilst others thrived and ultimately transmogrified into major institutions. The period 1850-90 witnessed in London and beyond a rapid development of technical education with widely differing purposes, operating at different levels and managed in a variety of ways. As has been seen new institutions were created whilst existing ones like some of the Mechanics’ Institutions were assimilated into others. The hands off approach adopted by successive governments of the time had produced an array of largely unregulated technical institutions – the inevitable consequence of the laissez faire philosophy (interesting to compare the situation TODAY where the free market is still encouraged!). The concern about the unregulated growth of technical education and it’s constitute institutions was one of the factors that led to the establishment of two important Royal Commissions which published the Devonshire and Samuelson Reports in 1872/75 and 1882/84 respectively both of which will be described in chapter 8.
As one can see the momentum, at last, was now being generated and the basic framework for a national system for technical education was emerging in colleges, industry and other training providers and the next chapter will continue to map the developments at the end of the19th century including the founding of the first technical college in England namely the Finsbury Technical College.


  1. Hole. J. ‘An Essay on the History and Management of Literary, Scientific and Mechanics’ Institutions.’ London. 1853.
  2. Playfair.L. Letter to Journal Society of Arts. 15.p 477. 1867.
  3. Montgomery. R.J. ‘Examinations.’ Longmans. 1965.
  4. Hudson. D. and Luckhurst. K. W. ‘The Royal Society of Arts 1754 – 1954.’ J. Murray.1954.
  5. Lang. J. ‘City and Guilds of London Institute Centenary 1878 – 1978.’ ISBN.0 85193 007 7. 1978.
  6. ‘City and Guilds: A Short History 1878 -1992.’ ISBN 085193 010 7. 1993. Both volumes published by CGLI.

Please note a very comprehensive book list , chronology and glossary are present on separate sections of this website.


Skills for the Future – Is the current agenda valid?

Skills still seem to be a top priority for the government, but are the strategies and policies being developed correct? Lots of resources e.g. human, time, and  financial, (this last is now affected by the constraints of the financial crisis) seem to be expended on developing a number of frameworks and models to address the current problems associated with skills shortages and gaps among people already in employment and those wishing to enter employment. But will the current efforts to create flexible enough frameworks and models resolve today’s challenges and those in the future, particularly in the volatile global financial scenario?  Such turbulent times require radical decisions, strategies and policies. However reading the multitude of policy statements, research papers and reports from innumerable task groups the lessons from past attempts to resolve skill shortages and gaps seem to have been overlooked and forgotten to a large extent. It’s the classic case of political and historical amnesia with lots of people and organisations rushing to jump on the band wagon without any real depth of understanding or resultant analysis of the complex factors in play. At present the fallout from the global financial crisis will demand a fundamental rethink of the skills agenda.  One of the first budgets cuts in difficult financial times is the funding of training both at government and company levels. The country is bankrupt with personal and corporate debt standing at 300% of GDP so little chance of sufficient funding for post-16 education and training – what money is available will go of schools. In spite of a favourable exchange rate manufacturing declined by 12.8% in January 2009  adding a  £1 billion deficit to our exports. As unemployment rises during the current recession/depression companies can be even more selective in their limited recruitment campaigns having a pool of qualified unemployed people to draw from.

Recent developments have also highlighted the dangers of building a skills strategy based on a supply of qualified workers from overseas. Interesting to note that many qualified Polish workers e.g. plumbers are returning to Poland having reckoned that their own country offers a more stable economy than that of the UK including taking into account the poor exchange rate between the pound and euro – a matter which also indicates that an urgent rethink about Britain’s entry into the Euro is long overdue!

This last factor shows the fragility of depending on immigrant workers to fill skills shortages and gaps. The issue of using overseas workers either through immigration or by directly poaching qualified workers, particularly from the developing world, raises fundamental ethical questions. This is especially so when recruiting medical and paramedical personnel from countries who educated and trained these people from their very limited budgets only to see the UK and other countries poach them. Britain should not be saving money through short-sighted cuts in its education and training budgets. Australia has already decided to grow its own timber by reviewing and reforming its vocational programmes.

A number of possible key questions arise that include:

  • Are the emerging skills strategies and models in this country sufficiently flexible and sufficient in scope to cope with the rapidly changing global labour markets and all the required skills?
  • Are the very complex issues associated with the rapidly developing technologies, innovation and technology transfers being properly addressed in the current skills agendas? How can education and training programmes keep abreast with these rapid changes? * (An important aside -obviously there will be a need to produce skilled workers in traditional crafts and skills associated with such areas such as restoration and heritage activities).  BUT there is an ongoing, urgent and essential requirement for responding to the future needs arising from technological advances?   
  • Are the current developments sufficiently sensitive to the subtle dynamics associated with skills e.g.  rapidly emerging new technologies and applications of science?
  • Are the consequences of demographic changes fully appreciated and planned?
  • Is sufficient attention being focussed on up-skilling and cross-skilling the existing workforce? With a declining young population older workers are even more important and must receive equal attention in training and CPD programmes.
  • Is sufficient attention being given to the involvement by informed employers,  workers and their representatives in developing a flexible model for the skills agenda or are the current policies for representation mere tokenism?
  • Is sufficient attention being given to global competitiveness and the challenges of market advantage that will require flexibility, rapid innovation and a high degree of diversification when developing  policies, strategies and tactics for skills?
  • Is sufficient attention being given to the higher levels of skills i.e. > level 3 or will the focus continue on the lower levels of skills i.e. level 2? After all many countries particularly in the Far East are addressing the need for the higher levels as well as giving equal attention to the essential lower skills.
  • Is there sufficient urgency about current skills development? Leitch time lines 2020 – perfect vision but this is far too leisurely compared with many of our major competitors. 

The list is by no means complete but attempts to illustrate the many complex interacting factors that most certainly require an urgent rethink and their impact on the skills agenda. As an earlier article in the ‘t’ magazine (1) so excellently stated Skill is a slippery, complex and dynamic concept. Any national skills strategy MUST recognise these facts and it must not be driven by accountants, bureaucrats and questionable political myopia. To resolve the long standing problems radical solutions are urgently required!

I hope this article will trigger a debate in the magazine.


  1. “Skill-a slippery concept” ‘t’ magazine. August 2008.

March 2009.

Science Teaching – the continuing crisis?

The long running concerns about science and mathematics teaching and the number of students studying these subjects in this country continues but show little evidence of being resolved at all stages of education. Constant reforms and government interference further exacerbate the situation. Concerns have been expressed over a number of decades but the quantity and quality of graduates and undergraduates continues to decline and is now seriously threatening our ability to compete globally and our future prosperity as a result Having just returned from the Far East I am even more convinced that this country is not producing sufficient numbers of people qualified in the physical sciences, mathematics, statistics and engineering.  In Asia science and mathematics education are highly valued and  flourishing with students leaving schools, colleges and universities  in ever greater numbers qualified in scientific and mathematical subjects. These subjects not only underpin scientific and technological research, and innovation but equally importantly create a scientific and technologically literate society essential to life in a world that is increasingly influenced by these key strategic subjects. A scientific way of thinking is essential now and in the future.

One of the concerns about these subjects particularly in the West is: the sequencing in terms of time, specific topics and structure; how the curriculum is delivered; and how effective and lasting learning is realised. Accepting a possible cultural and historical resistance and hostility to these subjects other key factors are in play. One factor is the wide choice available in the National Curriculum where sadly too many students opt to study the subjects that involve little mathematics and science particularly the physical sciences and mathematical concepts. As has been previously reported many students perceive these subjects as difficult and see ultimately more attractive better paid occupations in law, accountancy, media etc. As a result universities and colleges continue to close or downsize departments in science, mathematics and engineering. The numbers of students studying these subjects post-16 continues to decline and at least remain relatively static. The consequences are manifest in that there is a growing mismatch between demand and supply into occupations that require qualified people in scientific and mathematical professions and craftspeople, technicians, technologists in engineering, manufacturing occupations and other areas that require these disciplines. Equally important is the fact that science is becoming multidisciplinary requiring knowledge and understanding of the physical and life sciences so an effective comprehensive science curriculum is even more essential.  Examples of these overlapping combinations can be readily seen in such disciplines as astronomy, forensic science, geology, metrology, and neuroscience.

In the US one of the current issues is the sequencing of the subjects to be taught in High Schools. At present Biology figures significantly in the first three years and only in the later stages are physics and chemistry introduced.  Many US scientists and educationalists argue that this is a damaging “upside down” approach and seriously weakens the basis of effective science teaching particularly in the physical sciences and mathematics. They argue that mathematics and physics are the foundations for all science and need to be introduced earlier in the curriculum and continue to state that the science curriculum should begin with physics and basic mathematical concepts then progress to the other sciences. Reform in the US should in the future involve the sequence P-C-B and not the current B-C-P.

In England the issues are different although many feel greater emphasis should be placed on introducing the foundations of mathematics and physics in primary and secondary education. Continual dilution of the science and mathematics syllabuses particularly at GCSE level cause additional concerns to post-school and universities who offer scientific and mathematical related subjects. Very low pass rates for grade C in mathematics GCSE (< 20%) cause great concern about the mathematical ability for students progressing onto further and higher education. Sterile debates about the depth, breath and balance of the science and maths curriculum continue at a pace and further raise concern and frustration among teachers. Arguments about single, double and separate science awards along with debates about the value of single and double awards in mathematics further undermine any real, tangible and long lasting solution to this important issue. Other issues include the lack of sufficiently qualified teachers and the relatively small numbers of newly qualified teachers entering the State system that will not be sufficient to compensate for a large number of experienced and qualified teachers who will soon retire. Whilst this issue is unresolved the country continues to fall behind its counterparts in other countries in these strategically important subjects. I rest my case.

March 2009   

Chapter 6 – The Mid 19th Century

This entry is part 6 of 20 in the series A Short History of Technical Education

The Mid 19th Century – The Great Exhibition and its Consequences


Up to 1851 the existing schools and the Mechanics’ Institutions had made little impression on technology and technical education in Britain. The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge had contributed even less being mired in their medieval statutes. However the situation was about to change as the mid-19th century witnessed a particularly fascinating period economically, educationally, industrially and socially for Britain. It was the period of the Great Exhibitions and the emergence of other industrial countries which began to rival Britain’s supremacy in manufacturing. Up to the mid-19th century Britain was seen as the workshop of the world with unrivalled financial and industrial power but the situation was soon to change as the century moved on. In the 1850’s and 1860’s most European countries were engaged in a series of debilitating wars and fortunately for Britain none of these were on British soil. Picture below is an artists impression of the Crystal Palace where the Great Exhibition was staged.

Great Exhibition 1851

This gave Britain an advantage and opportunity to continue to sell its products and services where ever she chose to do so. Between 1855 and 1875 the value of British exports per head of the population, which itself was growing rapidly, rose by 50% i.e. from £4 to £6. The country remained the world leader in the export of textiles and the advantages of its natural resources particularly coal continued to give it some distinct benefits over its competitors. Total iron production in Britain in 1802 was approximately 100,000 tons and this had risen to over 2 million tons by 1850 and as a result most products were fabricated from iron and other metals by the mid 19th century. Most manufacturing units continued to employ relatively small numbers compared with our European competitors. The majority of workshops in the manufacturing centres making secondary metal products in Birmingham, Sheffield and across Lancashire still employed fewer than ten people. The average mining enterprises in Cornwall and the coal mines around Britain employed around 150 workers. However factories associated with railways, shipbuilding were big employers e.g. the naval dockyards employed over 5,000 workers during various wars. Overall the size of companies remained small until the 1870’s/80’s when mass production techniques and processing units associated with the manufacture of steel were introduced and as a result became more prominent.

One real advantage for Britain was the guaranteed and given markets in the empire for its products and services irrespective of their quality. The existence of the empire greatly assisted the access to cheap resources across the world, the so-called ‘imperial bonus’, but nevertheless even accepting this highly questionable advantage the magnitude of Britain’s achievements were remarkable.

The Great Exhibition of 1851.

The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations was organised by the Prince Consort (Prince Albert), Henry Cole, Francis Fuller and other key members of Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (Society of Arts) to celebrate industrial technology and design. The Executive Committee membership also included some notable individuals namely Robert Stephenson, Isambad Kingdom Brunel and was chaired by William Cubitt. The Great Exhibition and its consequences provide a useful opportunity to assess Britain’s position as the leading industrial nation and the state of its educational system particularly technical education. The Great Exhibition had both positive and negative consequences as we will see later and the positive ones gave a boost to the development to technical education. One of the positive outcomes of the Great Exhibition was it re-ignited the debate about the continuing deficiencies in the countries educational system both at school level and particularly the urgent need to develop a technical education system.

Many commentators say that the success of British Industry at the Great Exhibition was a resounding endorsement of its scientific, technological and industrial know- how. Whilst others commented that it highlighted for the first time that Britain was beginning to lose its manufacturing prowess and supremacy compared with its competitors and identified the beginning of its decline as the leading industrial power. However the exhibition provided a unique opportunity for proclaiming and broadcasting national pride and self congratulation felt by the country and its people.

The exhibition attracted over six million people from around Britain and beyond and with a minimum entrance fee of one shilling, (equivalent to 5p decimal currency), it highlighted the pride that the workers took in their achievements. The majority travelled to the Crystal Palace by train which by that time was the most popular form of transport. As a result of its success and large attendance the Great Exhibition made a surplus of £186,000 and this was used to purchase 86 acres of land in South Kensington that became know as ‘Albertopolois’ in recognition of the essential role played by the Prince Consort. The prime movers in this initiative and subsequent investment of the surpluses were the Prince Consort, Lyon Playfair and Henry Cole who later were to become secretaries of the Department of Science and Art. In retrospect the exhibition was more of a social success than an economic one. Britain took most of the medals for manufactured and industrial products whilst other nations took the prizes for foodstuffs, handicrafts and raw materials. America was just emerging as an industrial nation and was already beginning to show its ingenuity and innovation in some products.

One fascinating consequence of the success of the Great Exhibition was the realisation by British manufacturers of the importance of product trademarks or brands. As mentioned in earlier chapters Britain was slow to develop this technique to improve sales and marketing strategies – Wedgwood being one of the few exceptions – following the success at the exhibition and with so many medals won companies quickly introduced branding for their products in both national and international markets. Even though Britain won most of the medals at the exhibition and continued to be the work shop of the world throughout the 1850’s and 1860’s the exhibition had for the first time identified and reinforced the growing confidence of this countries competitors. The exhibition had also revealed the increasing degree of inventiveness, innovation and in many cases higher quality products being manufactured by our overseas competitors. By the time the Paris exhibition was staged sixteen years later the picture was very different and Britain only won a few medals and was eclipsed in most categories by other countries in Europe and America. In many ways the Great Exhibition of 1851 represented the apogee of Britain’s industrial age. I will now focus on the positive outcomes on the developments on technical education following the Great Exhibition.

The Benefits to Technical Education after the Great Exhibitions

One important, beneficial and relevant consequence of the Great Exhibition was the resulting attention given by a number of individuals and organisations to the issues associated with the health of technical education in the country. As mentioned above in spite of its success the Exhibition had highlighted growing concerns about the future health of British industry and its ability to compete internationally. A number of observers argued that the country was going to lose its easy supremacy, (the imperial bonus), in commerce, industry and trade to the emerging competitors and this could most certainly be linked to the inadequate state of education in Britain both at elementary and technical level.

These concerns alerted a number of key individuals and the Society of Arts to the urgent need to identify and address the lessons learnt from the Great Exhibition. Informed observers identified evidence that showed that those countries that were beginning to challenge our industrial supremacy made significant investments in their national education systems and most certainly the education of the workers. These countries were also heavily investing in scientific and technological research and development to support their emerging industries. These concerns and the resultant reviews started a chain of events that would lead to some positive, significant and lasting contributions in the development of technical education. The Great Exhibition had in some ways acted as a crucial focus and catalyst in galvanising action by triggering a number of initiatives that would begin to transform the landscape of technical education both in terms of national policy, its management and provision. These developments again showed the crucial part played by the Society of Arts and a few visionaries. The Society of Arts like the City and Guilds Institute of London which was created in 1878 [see chapter 7] have been and continue to be key organisations in the history of technical and commercial education particularly in the examination of these disciplines.

Following the Great Exhibition the Society of Arts organised a series of lectures focusing on the lessons learnt from the event. Lyon Playfair (1818-1898) [see biography] delivered a powerful plea for technical instruction and industrial research (1). He said “Raw material, formerly our capital advantage over other nations, is gradually being equalised in price, and made available to all by improvements in locomotion, and industry must in future be supported, not by competition of local advantages, but by a competition of intellects” and he continued ‘the cultivators of abstract science- – – -are – – – the horses of the chariot of industry- – -‘. In the establishment of institutions of industrial instruction you, at the same time, create the wanting means for the advantage of science in this country.”

Fortunately these timely and worthy statements were picked up and supported by such key people as the Prince Consort and in 1853 the government, following a statement in parliament, made a commitment to begin to provide systematic support for industry by way of scientific and technological instruction. As a result of this commitment in 1854 the Department of Science and Art was created which would have a profound influence on the subsequent development of education including the teaching of scientific and technical subjects. The new Department merged with an earlier more niche Department namely the Department of Practical Art that had been established in 1840 to create the new Department of Science and Art. As a result the new Department assumed the control of art and design in addition to its responsibility for science. The Department was initially part of the Board of Trade and its primary purpose was to promote and encourage scientific and technical education. In 1854 the new Department assumed responsibility for the management of the Government School of Mines that had been in existence since 1852. The Department then merged the School of Mines with the Royal College of Chemistry – a private institution since 1845. These developments can be seen as the beginning of directly state supported technological higher education in England. Scotland and Ireland already had professorial chairs endowed/subsidised by the government in science and engineering.

The Board of Trade had limited experience in education even though since 1837 it had administered grants for the Schools of Design but as evidence from the Great Exhibition had shown our product design had been fairly weak and marginal when compared with our competitors. The new Department, although a long overdue development, was ill equipped to motivate and elicit industrial instruction. England’s national system of elementary/primary education was still twenty years away, and there was no semblance of a system for technical education. Another negative force was that politicians and industrial leaders continued to be wedded to the philosophy of free enterprise. This approach was opposite to that on the Continent where State funding was readily available. The approach in England was still driven by voluntarism and free enterprise i.e. a laissez faire philosophy that reinforced a characteristic that has dominated many critical developments in our history e.g. private investment, the free market and individual endeavour. Many of these are not bad in themselves but when operated in unchecked forms can create all sorts of negative consequences – just look at the current (2009) recession when non-existent regulation and the free markets practice ran riot.

The Departmental structures gradually evolved in the light of experience and in 1857 the Education Department was created which assumed control of the Department of Science and Art. Two Departments were then established one for elementary education based at Whitehall and the other for Science and Art based at South Kensington. The Department attempted to establish a science school in London but this did not succeed and in 1859 a payment-by-results scheme was created for improving science teaching in a variety of institutions offering instruction at the time. This programme provide financial assistance to create classes in chemistry, geology, mathematics and physics as well as paying teachers who had passed the Department’s examination according to the number of their pupils who passed examinations. Rewards took a number of forms – pupils could be given exhibitions, prizes and scholarships whilst institutions were given grants towards purchasing books and scientific equipment. In spite of some drawbacks that would become evident later overall the payment by results scheme was a success. It did stimulate and incentivise teachers and pupils to study science and technical subjects. For example in 1862 the scheme dealt with 2,543 in 70 schools/teaching institutions and in 1872 the numbers had risen to 36,783 pupils in 948 schools/institutions (2). The scheme was expanded over the years following its introduction to embrace 25 subjects. One perplexing aspect of the scheme was that there was still no state control over institutions where science was taught. Even though Thomas Huxley recognised the short comings of the payment by results scheme he said it was an ‘engine for forcing science into ordinary education.’

In retrospect the creation of the Department of Science and Art can be seen as a significant contribution to the development of the education system for this country particularly for technical education. Its formation was most certainly a positive consequence of the 1851 Great Exhibition highlighting the importance of science, design and art in manufacturing and the need to improve our competitiveness with other European countries and America. The Department initially provided grants for arts and design helping to create the Royal College of Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Therefore at last the government and state began to get directly involved in education. As a result a national system began to slowly evolve with government support but the view still persisted that it was not a direct function of the State to support technical education as the role of the Science and Art Department was to encourage and seek voluntary funding from the Livery Companies of London. From 1853 the Department began to support the creation of experimental schools and as a result Science Schools often in conjunction with Schools of Navigation were established across the country including Leeds, Newcastle, Wigan and Truro. Unfortunately many of these schools failed and by 1859 only Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bristol and Wigan survived only enrolling only 395 students in all.

In addition to the Department of Science and Art providing support for the development of technical education the Society of Arts also continued to be a significant player in its development. For example it continued to actively support the Mechanics’ Institution movement and in 1852 convened a conference of the Unions* of the Mechanics’ Institutions to discuss ways of further promoting and enhancing the movement. One very important consequence of the conference was the development of an examination system for technical and commercial subjects [see the history of technical and commercial examinations]. The diplomas so awarded for the first time recognised the efforts of the students and most certainly acted as an incentive particularly for students studying in the evenings. However this important development was received by many employers with suspicion as they were still not convinced that industry needed technically and scientifically trained personnel.

*The Unions were groups of Institutions and a good example of one was founded in Yorkshire that comprised 100 affiliated branches and 20,000 members. In 1853 the secretary of the Yorkshire Union James Hole suggested in a seminal essay (3) that the Mechanics’ Institutions should further develop and become constituent colleges of a national industrial university. As a result of this very far-sighted suggestion James Hole was awarded a prize by the Society of Arts but sadly the idea was too radical and did not progress further.

The Great Exhibition had provided a long overdue stimulation and added impetus to the development of technical education. The Society of Arts and the Department of Science and Art continued for a few years after the Great Exhibition to promote technical education each from different perspectives; the Society representing private enterprise and the Department representing the first faltering steps of state intervention and parliamentary responsibility.

Additional Information on Art Schools

So far the state had played little or no part in the development of education however one exception was in art and design. The first tangible example of state intervention was in 1835 with the creation of Schools of Design and the granting of money for elementary education. This development was supported by a number of manufacturers who argued that the state had a duty to make grants to improve their trade. Later in 1837 the Board of Trade established a Council of the Government School of Design and in 1841 granted a sum of £10,000 to create a number of Schools of Design in key manufacturing areas. Interestingly the Council tried to encourage the towns in receipt of the grants to link the Schools of Design to the local Mechanics’ Institutions but many towns refused and kept the institutions separate. This is one of the reasons that since the mid-19th century many towns and cities have maintained separate Schools of Art many of which evolved from the Schools of Design. However many did subsequently merge with technical colleges and universities but the art and design disciplines have played a significant part in the development of technical and vocational education. Many Colleges of Technology/Further Education had and still have excellent departments /Faculties of Art and Design that complement the Colleges of Art. The Great Exhibition also stimulated the government to appoint a select committee in the operation of Schools of Design and in 1852 it was established under the auspices of the Board of Trade which lead the merger that created the new Department of Science and ultimately the Department of Science and Art mentioned above.

Reflections of the barriers and resistances to the development of a national system of technical education to this point in time.

It will be helpful at this stage of the history to pause and reflect on some of the issues that have already been identified in the first few chapters. Up to the mid 19th century central government had shown little interest in developing a national system of education at any level – elementary/primary, secondary level or most emphatically not technical education/instruction – preferring to adopt a laissez faire approach. Most of the developments particularly in technical education were as a result of initiatives and contributions from a few far-sighted individuals that were not consistently recognised or acknowledged by politicians. People like Lyon Playfair, Bernhard Samuelson, and Thomas Huxley continued to face prejudice, inertia and complacency. But thankfully they continued their efforts and were joined later by other visionaries like Philip Magnus [see biography]. Many of these individuals were concerned about increasing overseas competition and the commitment of other countries to technical and commercial education. These early attempts to create a sustainable system of technical education failed because of a number of negative forces that included:

  • A non-existent national system of elementary education and a totally inadequate basic/elementary education of the workers/artisans
  • The limited influence that such a small number of existing schools and education institutions could have to make an effective and sustained impact across the country i.e. the lack of the necessary critical mass.
  • The continued equivocation by government to get directly involved in developing a national education system
  • The continued suspicion and resistance by the majority of employers to accept the value of accessing the opportunities afforded of technical education for their workers
  • The almost total neglect of provision for females. One depressing feature and fact is the absence of references to women and their education and training at this time in the historical source materials. Little or nothing can be readily identified promoting education for females. It obviously reflected the male dominated society and hostile culture at the time towards women and their emancipation. Clearly highly questionable attitudes and perceptions about the role and place of women in society existed and created massive barriers for women to get involved in educational reform. What limited provision existed in schools and institutions was associated reinforced the ludicrous belief that the women’s place was in the home or in domestic service. The belief of the stereotypical roles of women has most certainly held back the equality issues that continue to be discussed even today.

A portrait of Bernhard Samuelson is shown opposite he was supported by many people who were omitted to the development of technical education on his enquiry.

Bernard Samuelson

The influence of the Dissenting Academies, Mechanics’ Institutions, and the Working Men’s Colleges and other initiatives linked with the technical education for the workers also helped to lay the foundations of the national system of technical education that was gradually created in the late 19th century and beyond. Although the dissenting academies were a relatively short lived movement it attracted some luminaries such as Joseph Priestley (chemist/ researcher into gases) and John Dalton (chemist/ thermodynamics) and produced a number of influential former pupils who went on to make significant contributions to a wide range of disciplines including science and technology. The Mechanics’ Institutions and Working Men’s Colleges that survived formed the basis for technical colleges and universities established in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

A Word About the Individuals Who Helped Create The Industrial Revolution.

Although the focus of this history is technical education the pioneers of and prime players in the first Industrial Revolution merit a mention. One of the most interesting if not surprising aspects of the first Industrial Revolution was the fact that the pioneers had no opportunities for formal education or training but gained their basic skills from craft apprenticeships, or were self-taught or were naturally gifted innovators and entrepreneurs. James Brindley (1716-1772) (canals), Thomas Telford (1757-1834) (roads), George Stephenson (1781-1848) (engines) and other great engineers began their careers as mechanics and learnt by direct experience in the workshop and on site. Scotland produced many of the most outstanding people some of whom were educated at the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh which excelled in medicine, science and engineering and were far more enlightened than their English counterparts of Oxford and Cambridge. It is interesting to note that the Scottish Primary School movement in the 19th century was the foremost in Europe. 

Although it must be said that at certain times science and the more practical subjects were taught in the English ancient universities and in a number of public and grammar schools, this was an exception rather than the general rule and was not sustained over a period of time for it to achieve the required critical mass and subsequent impact. The achievements of such brilliant engineers as James Brindley (1716-1772) (canals), John Smeaton (1724-1792) (lighthouses and steam engine design), James Hargreaves (1753-1827) and Samuel Crompton (1753-1827) (both involved with cotton and spinning technologies) did not owe much to formal education or state influence as none had seen the inside of any of the universities that existed at the time while other pioneers had attended institutions that were in mainland Europe, or if in England, studied at dissenting institutions [see chapter 5 of this history].

Thomas Telford 1757 - 1834

A portrait of Thomas Telford is shown opposite surrounded by some of his constructions and plans. In addition groups of like-minded engineers and scientists formed societies across the country such as the Lunar Society in Birmingham founded around 1766 that met regularly to discuss the latest ideas and developments in science and technology and included such people as Josiah Wedgwood, Matthew Boulton, John Murdock, Erasmus Darwin and James Watt [see biographies]. One recurring theme from these meetings was criticism of the traditional educational system and its institutions which were dominated by law and theological studies and an almost total neglect of technical and scientific instruction. This oasis that they created in the otherwise technical and science desert is a tribute to these great individuals who contributed so much to eventually gathering the momentum of the Industrial Revolution. In spite of the absence of any formal technical education the achievements of these and other individuals is truly remarkable. They greatly contributed to Britain becoming the first industrial nation and for its size unique in history for its achievements and industrial performance. Outstanding engineering triumphs were manifest throughout the country and beyond its shores whether in shipbuilding, railways, bridges, mining etc. The existence of the empire greatly assisted access to cheap resources, the so called ‘imperial bonus,’ but again even accepting this highly questionable advantage the magnitude of the achievements of these pioneers was truly remarkable. A portrait of James Brindley is shown opposite.


Chapter 7 will continue to describe the progress in the development of technical education including the continuing positive consequences of the Great Exhibition, the beginning of improvements in higher education, the various Royal Commissions and the creation of the City and Guilds Institute of London.


(1)  Playfair. L. ‘Lectures on the Results of the Great Exhibition of 1851.’ Journal SoA. 1852. (2) Balfour. G. ‘The Educational Systems of Great Britain and Ireland. Clarendon Press. 1903.

(3)  Hole. J. ‘An Essay on the History and Management of Literary, Scientific and Mechanics Institutes.’ Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans. 1853.

A more comprehensive book list is provided on this sitea long with a comprehensive chronology and glossary.

George Birkbeck (1776 – 1841)

Educator, Physician, Philanthropist and Innovator of education for workers and artisans

Even though Birmingham may claim to have had the first Mechanics’ Institute in Britain the initial idea emanated from Scotland and Birkbeck was the instigator and driving force behind their creation [see history of technical education]. Born to a Quaker family in Settle, Yorkshire in 1776 he was educated at Sedbergh school and Edinburgh University. He qualified as a doctor of Medicine in 1799 and was appointed Professor of Natural Philosophy at the Anderson’s Institute in Glasgow at the age of 23. The Anderson’s Institute had been founded following a bequest by John Anderson Professor of Physics at Glasgow University. John Anderson left most of his money to provide education for the “working and unacademic classes” and this led to the creation of the Anderson’s College (see biography of the Anderson’s College and to John Anderson on this website). Birkbeck required equipment for his lectures and research e.g. a centrifugal pump, and commissioned work from a Glasgow workshop. He found to his surprise and delight that the workers wanted to know the principles of the apparatus.

To capture the commitment and foresight possessed by George Birkbeck it is worth quoting him: “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? It was impossible not to determine that obstacle should be removed”. As a result he invited them to attend his classes and subsequently opened a mechanics’ class especially for them on Saturday evenings. They readily accepted his invitation and the attendances steadily grew – 75 at the first, rising to 500 for the fourth. The course lasted three months. The course was repeated each year until Birkbeck left Glasgow in 1804 and continued to lecture on science in Birmingham, Liverpool and Hull, finally settling in London. Whilst in London he involved himself in a wide range of scientific and philanthropic causes and societies ranging from the abolition of the employment of child chimney sweeps to meteorology. He also continued his interest in the education of the working classes and in 1809 he was instrumental with others in creating the London Institute located in King’s Arm Yard and later at Finsbury Circus. The Institute encouraged the pursuit of scientific and literary topics to the more educated populous.

However in 1823 he wrote an essay on the need for scientific education of the working classes similar to the model he had developed in Glasgow. Also in London a number of individuals namely J. Robertson and T. Hodgskin were interested in establishing educational establishments that would promulgate economic, political and social emancipation. George Birkbeck with the help of his friend Francis Place offered assistance to these individuals and got involved in fund raising and developing wider interest in the initiative. During this development period the emanatory mission was significantly reduced. A meeting was held at the Crown and Anchor Tavern on the Strand on the 11th November 1823 with an attendance of 2,000 and this led to the establishment of the London Mechanics’ Institution. Following a number of relocations and reorganisations the Institution was renamed the Birkbeck Literary and Scientific Institution in 1866 and in 1907 became known as Birkbeck College. This pioneering institution ultimately became part of the University of London and has remained true to his values and is a fitting tribute to this great man. George Birkbeck passionately believed that the Mechanics’ Institutions were a vehicle for self improvement of the workers and as a result a means of liberating their minds. Very few of the Mechanics’ Institutions realised his worthy and high minded beliefs but they did lay the foundations of technical education [See the history of technical education]. A man of great vision, he realised the danger of excluding the vast majority of society from any form of education and its negative impact on the motivation and productivity of the workforce.


  1. Kelly, T. ‘George Birkbeck, Pioneer of Adult Education.’ Liverpool University Press. 1957.

Godard. J. G. ‘George Birkbeck the Pioneer of Popular Education’. Bemrose and Sons London/Derby. 1884.

Henry Brougham (1778 – 1868)

Journalist, Politician – Lord Chancellor 1830 to 1834), Scientist, Writer, one of the founders of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, the London Mechanics’ Institution and University of London and a great supporter of the Mechanics’ Institution Movement.Born in Edinburgh and entered Edinburgh University at the age of 14 to study mathematics and natural science. Interested in optics he wrote and published a number of scientific papers through the Royal Society including a seminal paper entitled ‘Experiments and Observations of the Infection, Reflection and Colours of Light’ and delivered whilst he was still a student. At the age of 25 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. He also studied law and decided to become a practising lawyer but practised mainly in London having entering Lincoln’s Inn in 1803 and in 1808 was called to the bar. To supplement his income he also became a journalist and subsequently was involved with others in the founding of the Edinburgh Review in 1802 for which he wrote 35 articles in the first two years. The Edinburgh Review quickly established itself as one of the most influential political publications of the 19th century. A portrait of Brougham is shown below.

Henry Brougham

Brougham was a prolific writer covering a very wide range of topics ranging through the arts, mathematics, politics and science reflecting his interests and remarkable ability and commitment to education and social issues. Elected as an MP in Winchelsea he became very active in Parliament where he was often perceived as being too radical and as a result many of his ideas and attempts at reform were defeated. In 1830 he was appointed Lord Chancellor and was influential in getting the Great Reform Act of 1832 through parliament and also involved in instigating significant reforms to the legal system in England and Wales. Brougham campaigned on specific issues rather than toeing the party line and this eventually brought his ministerial career as a Whig to an end in 1834 and after 1840 he aligned himself with the Tories and remained active in the House of Lords. A portrait of Henry Brougham is shown opposite.

Throughout his political career he was a strong advocate of mass state education and educational reform particularly in regard to technical education. It was his commitment and support of technical education and the Mechanics’ Institutions that made him such a remarkable and farsighted individual. Throughout his life he supported the Ragged Schools Union and the Mechanics’ Institutions movement. Unfortunately his ideas on educational reform were ahead of his time and unpopular. Educational bills that he attempted to introduce were systematically defeated between 1820 and 1839. He was a key figure in the creation of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (SDUK) [see history of technical education]. He actively promoted technical education and the Mechanics’ Institutions through a series of inexpensive publications produced for the SDUK having appointed a well respected publisher Charles Knight [see biographies] to oversee these publications. He was very directly involved in the production of many of these publications e.g. the Library of Useful Knowledge (started in 1827) and other fascinating sets of publications issued by the SDUK including titles such as the Penny Cyclopedia 1833-1844), Penny Magazine (1832-1845) and the Quarterly Journal of Education (1831-1836). A typical scene at a Ragged School Instutution is shown opposite.

Ragged School Youth's Institute

He was instrumental in creating with others the London Mechanics’ Institute in 1823 In 1825 he wrote a seminal pamphlet ‘ Practical Observations upon the Education of People’ that helped to popularise Mechanics’ Institutions. He became President of the Club and Institute Union (created in 1862) which was closely associated with the Working Men’s Clubs and Institutes. He was Vice-President of the British and Foreign School Society. Brougham sat on the Senate of the newly established University of London with Michael Faraday. He was a strong advocate for the rights of women and against slavery. Henry Brougham was a remarkable individual and reformer in many aspects of education and social affairs and a key figure in the development of technical education.

He also has the distinction of making the longest speech in the House of Commons lasting six hours!


  1. Cavenagh. F.A. ‘Lord Brougham.’ Journal of Adult Education. Vol. IV. 1929.


Sir Lyon Playfair (1818 – 1898)

Chemist, Liberal Politician – Committed Advocate for Technical Education

Born in Bengal India where his father was the Chief Inspector-General of Hospitals. He returned to Scotland to live with his uncle and received his school education in St Andrew’s. He enrolled at the University of St Andrews at the age of 14 but found the courses uninspiring and after leaving the university entered his uncle’s commercial business but again found this unfulfilling. In 1835 he studied medicine at the Andersons/Andersonian College in Glasgow but quickly became very interested in chemistry being greatly influenced by one of his tutors namely Thomas Graham (1805-1869) and as a result devoted more time to chemistry than medicine. After Graham left Glasgow to go to University College London Playfair moved from Glasgow to Edinburgh University to continue his medical studies. Unfortunately ill health caused him to discontinue his studies and he returned to India to help in his fathers business but he soon became bored and returned to London to work with Thomas Graham.

It was at this time he decided to make a career in science and following Graham’s advice went to Germany to study at Giessen in Justus von Liebig’s (1803-1873) laboratory. He received a PhD in Chemistry and returned to Britain in 1840 very fluent in German and a great supporter of the Germany system of science and technical education and this would continue to be a great influence in his subsequent career. He worked briefly at the Primrose calico works at Clitheroe and after its closure undertook unpaid lecturing at the short-lived Manchester Royal Institution. He was offered a chair in chemistry at Toronto but was talked out of accepting it be the then Prime Minister Robert Peel. After another lecturing stint at Manchester he was then involved in some research into the composition of gases from blast furnaces and carried out this in conjunction with the famous German chemist Robert Bunsen (1811-1899). It was at this time that the government asked him to become involved in a series of Royal Commissions something which occupied him throughout his remaining life. The Royal Commissions included ones studying the potato famine in Ireland and the state of the toilets at Buckingham Palace. Whilst working at the Geological Survey Playfair carried out some fundamental chemical research into a group of salts that subsequently were used to help vascular disorders.

One of his most significant government appointments was made in 1850 as Special Commissioner as well as the honorary secretary to the Commission for the Great Exhibition that was to be housed in the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park [see chapter history regarding the Great Exhibition]. Following the success of the Great Exhibition held in 1851 Playfair became great friends with the Prince Consort (1819-1861) who himself as a German citizen and educated in Germany shared a commitment to technical education and provided significant support to advocates of technical education during his life. The profits made from the Great Exhibition were used to purchase the grounds on which the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Albert Hall and Imperial College were subsequently built.

In 1852 Playfair was appointed joint secretary of the newly created Department of Science and Art (DSA) that was part of then Board of Trade where he very actively promoted the development of technical education. But his political work achieved little and he left his part-time government role in 1858 and took a chair in chemistry at the University of Edinburgh. He carried out little chemistry research but focused his energies on reforming the teaching of chemistry and the university’s administration. He was president of the Chemical Society (now the Royal Society of Chemistry) between 1857 and 1859 and as his involvement in chemistry declined he resigned his chair at Edinburgh in 1868 and decided to enter politics full-time. He was eventually elected as a Liberal member of parliament for the Universities of Edinburgh and St. Andrews. Lyon Playfair held a number of senior positions in government including Postmaster General, Vice-President of the Council of Education and Deputy Speaker of the House and continued to speak on issues associated with education and public health. He was knighted in 1883 and then represented Leeds South from 1885 to 1892. After his peerage he took his seat in the Lords in 1892.

In 1864 he proposed to the Senate of Edinburgh University the introduction of Science degrees. The Senate agreed and degrees were offered in five areas namely; Mental Science, Philology, Natural Science, Mathematical Science and Physical Science.

One fascinating aspect of Playfair was that he was a noted and practicing scientist, a rare figure in politics, most certainly then and sadly still a rarity. In 1885 he was President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Playfair travelled extensively in Europe and America where what he witnessed showed how poorly the performance of the English technical education system compared. He wrote a letter to the Schools Inquiry Commission (1867) chaired by Lord Taunton highlighting the weaknesses in manufacturing and mechanical industry and instruction in this country and made a strong plea for this to be considered by the Commission. Unsurprisingly as with many other visionaries his pronouncements went largely unheeded and little progress was made in the development of technical education.

On his return from the Paris Exhibition in 1867 where Britain had performed relatively poorly he stated: “ The one cause of this inferiority upon which there was most unanimity”, he said, “is that France, Prussia, Austria, Belgium and Switzerland possess good systems of industrial education for the masters and managers of factories and that England possesses none” This decline could be seen by comparing the number of palms of excellence awarded to Britain at the Great Exhibition (1851) and that in Paris (1867). In 1851 Britain exhibited in 100 different departments and was awarded the palm in the majority whilst in 1867 only 10 were awarded out of 90 department entries. Even though the Great Exhibition was a significant stimulus to the promotion of science and technology in Britain it failed to be sustained being let down by a weak system of technical education. Playfair continued to sound the alarm bells about the future of Britain’s international industrial competitiveness and performance and predicted the emergence of America and Germany as the major competitors to Britain.

He wrote and lectured extensively on science, education, public health and social welfare issues. One fascinating and recurring theme he raised was that although Britain initially possessed an advantage because of cheap and readily available resources, ultimately the final victory in industrial power and performance would be with nations that commanded the greatest scientific skills. He continued to have a great ally in Prince Albert, who had studied in Germany and maintained a strong lasting interest and support for science and technology. Indeed it was Albert who requested that Playfair tour Europe to study first hand technical education. One of his greatest supporters and someone who continued to lobby for science and technology was the great scientist Thomas Huxley (1825-1895) (see biography on this website). In spite of all the efforts of these visionaries little progress or improvement was made in the quality of technical and scientific education. Playfair spent most of his life as an advisor for the government extolling the importance of scientific and technical education and actively promoting industry to adopt the advances in science and technology. Playfair was a remarkable individual not only as a scientist, politician but also one of the first who correctly advocated the crucial role that technical education would play in the future wealth of any country – a prophet, and a man well before his time.


Reid. W. ‘Memoirs and Correspondence of Lyon Playfair.’ Cassell. 1899.

Armytage. W.H.G. ‘Lyon Playfair and Technical Education in Britain.’ Nature. 161. Pages 752-753. May 1948.

Jones. R. V. Nature. Pages 105-111. 1963

The Spitalfields Mathematical Society 1717 to 1846.

A fascinating example of a working men’s club was a small but influential movement founded in 1717 by Joseph Middleton. Initially called the “Mathematical Society” it later became known as the “Spitalfields Mathematical Society.” Middleton was a marine engineer who taught the mathematical elements of the skills associated with navigation for sailors. A rare portrait of Joseph Middleton is shown below.


Joseph Middleton, British mathematician

Membership was initially fixed at 64 i.e. the square of eight but initially this was revised down to the square of 7. However throughout its existence the membership fluctuated between 19 (not a squared number) in (1845) to a maximum of the square of 9 in (1804). I presume the use of the square for the number for the membership was to emphasis the mathematical nature of the Society? The membership comprised tradesmen and artisans that including bakers, braziers, brewers and bricklayers but the largest majority were weavers. The Spitalfields area was one of the centres for Huguenot craftspeople many involved in weaving and the weavers were interested and required to apply mathematics in their craft e.g. the importance of angles in thread design. The membership eventually included a number of noted mathematicians and senior individuals from industry such as Johm Canton, John Dolland, Thomas Simpson and Crossley. A portrait of John Dollard is shown below


Unfortunately at present I cannot trace the first names of the other individuals. Another emember was Benjamin Gompertz (law of mortality). There were no entry requirements except an interest and love of mathematics and the Society met weekly for three hours in local pubs in the Spitalfields area.

The three hour sessions comprised talks on mathematics, solving mathematical problems and the third hour members performed experiments on pieces of scientific equipment existing at that time including electrical devices, pneumatic pumps, reflecting microscopes and telescopes. The middle hour was conducted in silence whilst solving problems and a regime of fines was introduced if members broke the silence, used bad language, gambled or behaved riotously. The venue changed a number of times during its existence and in 1793 eventually was permanently located in a room in Crispin Street but all the venues were based in Spitalfields.

The records make fascinating reading and indicate dynamic yet at times quite turbulent meetings. At times during its existence the Society experienced problem with a gang of informers who accused the Society for charging for unlicensed lectures. As a result the Society was involved in a court case which they eventual won. The Society had to raise money in order to cover the legal costs associated with the case. The records indicate the degree of bad feeling this incident caused. The minutes record : “- – produce of lectures delivered in 1799-1800 had been materially diminished by the effect of the information lodged against several of the members by a Gang of Informers, who have occasioned so much trouble and expense to the Society during the pat year.” At other times there were arguments about the fees charged for the sessions and the fines that were imposed for a misdemeanours mentioned above. The Society created an extensive library with over 3000 volumes from which members could borrow books and pieces of equipment for a small fee. The membership grow to the square of 9 and in 1804 the Society introduced a constitution with a president, secretary, treasurer and six trustees. As more professional mathematicians joined the lecture programmes became more specialised and focussed including the following topics: 3 on astronomy 6 on chemistry 2 on electricity 1 on galvanism 2 on hydrostatics 1 on magnetism 2 on optics 1 on pneumatics. Interesting to note the high profile of chemistry. A fee of 1 shilling per lecture and 15 shillings for the complete lecture programme was charged.

(Source: The University of St. Andrews History of Mathematics Centre).

A number of the members such as John Dollond went on to establish the famous optical instruments company of that name and Thomas Simpson a famous mathematician became best known for the Simpson Rule and probability theory. One of the reasons for the increase in membership was as a result of taking over other mathematical and historical societies. But by 1845 the membership had declined to 19 due to the rise of mechanics institutes in London, the decline of handloom weaving and trade recessions of the 1840s and the Society agreed to be absorbed/amalgamated with the Royal Astronomical Society in 1846. All 19 of the remaining members were made fellows of the Royal Astronomical Society. The dissolution and amalgamation was steered through by Captain Smyth who later became an Admiral in he Royal Navy – note the marine connection with the founder Joseph Middleton. The legacy of the Spitalfields Mathematical Society was significant and influenced the establishment of other Mathematical Societies e.g. the London Mathematical Society (LMS) that was created in 1865. Other similar societies existed in Lancashire and Yorkshire and again the membership largely comprised of weavers emphasising the importance placed on mathematics by this craft.

Cawthorne. H.H. ‘The Spitalfields Mathematical Society’. (1717 – 1845). Journal of Adult Education. Vol. 111. No. 2. (April 1929). Cassels. J.W.S. ‘The Spitalfield Mathematical Society’ Bulletin of LMS. 11 p. 241 – 258. 1979.