Celebrating 160 Years of the Society of Arts (SA) and Royal Society of Arts (RSA) Examinations


(First published in the Royal Society of Arts  William Shipley Group Bulletin 49 March 2016).


2016 marks the 160th anniversary of the beginning of the Society examinations.

A Short History:

The history of examinations provides a fascinating insight into how the education system developed in Britain.  Various assessment methods had been introduced by universities, the College of Preceptors and a number of independent self-help institutions in earlier times but public examinations were only started after the mid-18th century. Examinations and certificates had been awarded by Trinity College Dublin, Edinburgh College of Art both of whom pioneered testing before the 1850s.

In this article I will focus on the key role the Society of Arts (SA ) played in these developments particularly emphasising those in the early stages. I cannot hope to do justice to this vast topic in a short piece but the history will highlight many similar issues associated with the development of technical, commercial and vocational subjects in colleges and schools over the past two centuries. Inevitably their respective histories identify a number of factors that contributed to the slow and at times ad hoc development of a public system of examinations that included:

  • The minimal support and involvement of successive governments in the early 19th century which reflected an attitude that government should not intervene directly in the development of education.
  • The laissez-faire attitude that existed particularly in Victorian times – the view that individuals should be free to develop themselves and not be dependent on or expect intervention from the government. This approach established voluntarism across the field of technical education and training.
  • The preoccupation with educational elitism which always valued the academic over practical/technical subjects and which is an attitude that sadly continues today.
  • An education provision structured on a hierarchical and socially differentiated system reflecting class divisions which basically meant different classes experienced different provision.
  • The urge to promote and subsume practical/technical subjects into an academic subject culture often referred to as ‘academic drift’.
  • The lack of interest from employers both in the development of technical education and its examinations. They were reluctant in appointing people who have attended school/other providers and/or those who had gained qualifications arguing that would have to pay them more!

The Society was founded in 1754 by William Shipley with the title the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. It was granted a Royal Charter in 1847 and granted the right to use the title Royal in 1907. William Shipley was aware of the Dublin Society for Improving Husbandry, Manufactures and Other Useful Arts which awarded premiums for inventions. An excellent account of the Dublin Society is provided by Allan (1).

One of its first activities of the Society of Arts was to award prizes called premiums and financial rewards to inventors. These premiums were granted for a wide range of inventions and developments including improving machines in manufacturing and techniques used in industrial and agricultural processes. This clearly laid the foundations for developing a more comprehensive system of examinations particularly in association with the Mechanics’ Institutions movement (1). The development of the Society of Arts (SA) examinations was clearly linked to the Mechanics’ Institution and the Union that represented them.

The key person in the creation of the Union between the Society of Arts and the Mechanics’ Institutions was Henry/Harry Chester (1806-1868) who first proposed in 1853 a system of examinations for the Institutions and its members. The proposals advocated a scheme for examining and awarding certificates to the students attending the affiliated Institutes of the Union of Mechanics’ Institutions. Other influential individual involved in the development of the examinations were James Booth (1906?-1879) and James Hole (1820-1895) who were both heavily involved with the Society and the Mechanics’ Institutions movement. A number of writers have commented that Harry Chester (1806-1868) and James Hole (1820-1895) first instigated the debate about creating examinations whilst James Booth was largely responsible for bringing them into existence. (See website www.technicaleducation matters.org for biographies of these individuals).These three individuals were representative of the few who made significant contributions to the development of technical and commercial education and their associated examinations.  One interesting and recurring aspect in the development of technical and commercial education and training was the role that a few far sighted individuals played in introducing various initiatives. In spite of resistance they persevered and remained committed to establishing a national system for technical education.

The first examinations for artisans were held in 1855 but proved unsuccessful because of the associated bureaucracy, complexity and an over-ambitious schedule of subjects and syllabuses. Only one candidate enrolled for a mathematics paper namely William Medcraft a chimney sweep who studied at the Belmont Mutual Improvement Society but was informed that no examinations would be staged that year. The examinations were remodelled and offered again in 1856 and 42 candidates enrolled. William Medcraft entered again and gained pass certificates in arithmetic, algebra and geometry. Papers were set in Agriculture, Book-keeping, Botany, Chemistry, English Literature and Composition/ History, Freehand Drawing, Geography, German, Latin and Roman History, Mechanics, and Physiology. Candidates had to sit at least three subjects and a preliminary/qualifying examination in handwriting and spelling. Interesting to note that the Belmont Mutual Improvement Society which William Medcraft attended was an example of a few self-help organisations that existed along with the Mechanics’ Institutions, commercial and trade schools. These institutions did much to develop technical and commercial education and training but at the time did not possess the required critical mass to create a national system. It was not until the late 18th century that the technical education sector began to take shape in a way that we would recognise today following a number of major government sponsored Royal Commissions, Education Acts, increased government support and focussed funding. A good example of this was the use of ‘Whiskey Money’ following the Customs and Excise Act of 1890. It must be noted that the 1850s was a very important decade in the development of technical and commercial education largely influenced by the Great Exhibition and its consequences in which the Society was a major player. There were also a  few strong advocates for technical education including George Birkbeck (1776-1841) , Henry Brougham (1778-1868) , Harry Chester (1806-1868), Henry Cole (1808-1882),James Hole (1820-1895), Thomas Huxley (1825-1895), Philip Magnus (1842-1933) , Lyon Playfair (1818-1898), Bernhard Samuelson (1820-1905) and Henry Solly (1813-1903) many of whom were associated with the work of the SA and its evolving examinations. (See a series of biographies on website referenced below).

A number of conditions were introduced on entry requirements to the examinations e.g. university graduates, undergraduates, students from learned societies, certificated schoolteachers and pupil teachers were not allowed to enter along with children under the age of 15. Also only three subjects could be taken. Boys attending classical schools were also barred from enrolling for the examinations.

Although the 1856 examinations enrolled very few candidates it highlighted the need to continue and cascade and in 1857 the Society’s examinations were extended to provincial centres when four centres were identified but only two of which were agreed by the Society as a start with examinations taking place in London and Huddersfield. After the 1857 examinations the initiative was deemed a success and fifty centres were designated but ultimately forty centres were actually active in thirty-two cities and towns across the country. The 1857 examinations enrolled approximately 1,100 candidates but only 50% passed the local preliminary/qualifying examinations which resulted in 288 candidates sitting the final examinations with 197 being successful. The pass rate for successful students was approximately 78%. The extension of centres across the country by the Society eventually hosted and administered the examinations offered by the government’s Department Science and Art (DSA) after 1859. With the advent of the DSA examination the Society had to review and reform some subjects e.g. freehand drawing was withdrawn in 1860 and a recasting of its schedules resulted in 1870 when 17 of 36 subjects were removed from the list of examination titles.

In spite of the shaky start the original members of the Board of Examiners included a number of influential individuals including Thomas Huxley who continued to stress the importance of the examinations.  The Board of Examiners was replaced in 1857 by the Council of the Society of Arts which then established a system of paid examiners.

Subsequently the examination centres were extended geographically and the constraints on the institutions that could take the examinations were removed which resulted in increased numbers of candidates. Initially the examinations were limited to members of Mechanics’ Institutions and specifically to ‘artisan class’ which included   clerks, farmers, labourers,  mechanics, tradesmen and apprentices and the sons and daughters of tradesmen and farmers, assistants in shops and others who were not graduates. In addition the examinations were aimed at people who had left school and were in employment meaning the minimum age for entry was 16. The school leaving age was 12.

In 1859 the Society transferred the responsibility for examining the sciences to the Department of Science and Arts (DSA) whose aim was to introduce and encourage the teaching of science in schools.

The examinations quickly developed a commercial emphasis which has continued today. Shorthand was introduced in 1876 and typewriting in 1891 which proved successful enrolling clerical and professional workers. The Society did not receive any monetary assistance from the State but depended on subscriptions and benefactions of its supporters. It had also established such a good reputation in promoting the arts, science and manufacturing that it attracted many noticeable individuals as examiners and lecturers. The subjects were chosen and kept under review to represent the skills that were emerging during and after the Industrial Revolution.

The examinations were finally opened to everybody in 1882 and the Union of Institutions dissolved as the number of Mechanics’ Institutions declined with many transmuting into technical colleges which we recognise today. Other technical education and training providers were established by the government and local authorities so the Mechanics’ Institutions began to close. They achieved a great deal and provided the basis for the later development of technical and commercial institutions.  As a result the examinations had to be self-supporting and fees were introduced in that year with one concession granted to adult students in evening classes. In addition the option of taking single subjects was introduced.

As a result of these reforms candidate numbers increased rapidly from 288 in 1858 to 2,325 in 1880. The numbers dipped dramatically to 695 in 1882 but then increased significantly to 2,474 in 1890 and 9,808 in 1900. Following the governments Technical Instruction Act of 1889 technical and commercial education gained even more impetus. Numbers had risen to 23,803 in 1905 after new regulations were introduced recognising examination success in three stages with two classes of pass being obtainable in the higher stages. Also a number of elementary tests were discontinued. 1911 witnessed approximately 30,000 candidates and by 1953 150,000 candidates presented themselves in 800 examining centres in Britain and Ireland the majority of them under the control of Local Education Authorities (LEAs). In 1974/75 session approximately 500,000 candidates sat the examinations.

Not only did the Society of Arts  pioneer public examinations but the work done by Booth and colleagues provided a blue print for the examinations system that developed subsequently particularly in the school sector of education. The timing of examinations during the year, the production of syllabuses, the appointment of examiners and the subject profile were all later adopted by other examination bodies. Much of Booth’s work was shaped by his experience at Trinity College Dublin which possessed a first rate reputation in setting examinations long before its English counter parts.

The Technological Examinations:

The involvement of the Society of Arts in the development of technological examinations was very short lived but again laid the foundations for these strategically important subjects to be developed by other examining bodies particularly the City and Guilds Institute of London and later by the National Awards. The key figure in this development was John Donelly (1834-1902) who proposed the introduction of the technological examinations to the Council of the Society 1871. Donelly again proposed the examinations in 1873 arguing strongly that knowledge of techniques/skills in particular industries should be examined. The technological examinations were to be introduced alongside the existing examinations. Initially five subjects were to be offered namely carriage building, cotton manufacture, paper, silk and steel manufacture. The Council of the Society of which Booth was a member defined the structure and nature of the examinations. Their main purpose was to admit students from mechanics’ Institutions, commercial and trade schools. Identical techniques were used by the Department of Science and Art (DSA) comprising three grades: elementary, ordinary and honours. The new examinations enrolled very few candidates only 6 entered for three of the subjects. The number of subjects was increased in 1877 to 14 but still only attracted 68 candidates in 8 subjects. In 1878 167 candidates presented themselves for 10 subjects. The failure was due to the lack of support from employers and inadequate class facilities and qualified instructors. In 1879 the technological examinations were transferred to the newly established City and Guilds Institute of London (CGLI). However the Society of Arts technological examinations provided a strong foundation for CGLI to adopt and further develop the examinations e.g. syllabuses in a number of key industries.

The Society was then able to focus its attention and resources on further developing its examinations in the commercial subjects for which it is now renowned.

One classic example of the influence and impact of the Society of Arts examinations was on the creation of the Oxford and Cambridge Locals. The Society examinations represented the catalyst for the Locals which in turn established other school examinations managed from other universities and led to school examinations becoming a preserve of the universities.

Summary and Final Words:

Over the 160 years the Society has become a major domestic and international examining body and has continued throughout its long history to make significant contributions to commercial examinations, office skills, languages especially English as a foreign language (EFL), adult and work based education and training. The awards are now granted from foundation to post-graduate level. The number of entries have grown so significantly over the period that the Society in 1987 created a separate examinations board and subsequently in 1997 merged with the Oxford and Cambridge Boards to form OCR. The Society can be justifiably proud of its contributions to the examination system in this country. It pioneered examinations and produced templates and guide lines for how they were managed and delivered.


Foden. F. ‘The Examiner, Henry Booth and the Origins of Common Examinations’. ISBN 0 907644 06 6.  Leeds Studies in Adult and Continuing Education. 1989.

Hudson, D and Luckhurst. K. W. ‘The Royal Society of Arts’. ISBN 10 1135151040. London. Murray.

Journal of Society of Arts – various from 1853. An excellent publication.

Montgomery. R. J. ‘Examinations: An account of the evolution as administrative devices in England’. ASIN B000502D3E.  Longmans. 1965.

Walker. M. A. ‘Examinations for the ‘Underprivileged’ in Victoria times; the Huddersfield Mechanics’ Institution and the Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.’ WSG Research Paper 1. William Shipley Group. 2008.

Wood. H. T. ‘History of Society of Arts’. ASIN B013TCXUDO.  London Murray. 1909.

  1. Allan. Royal Society of Arts Journal. November 1990.
  2. Website www.technicaleducationmatters.org provides a detailed set of histories, biographies and articles on technical and commercial education and training and examinations.



Hands on Vocational Training

(I am very grateful to Charles Beamish for sending me this fascinating letter. Charles attended a Secondary Technical School (STS) (see biography on this site). Charles provides a great insight into the structure and curriculum of STSs. Little has been written about Secondary Technical Schools so this valuable contribution adds greatly to this site and to or knowledge. The letter highlights the focus on the teaching of practical and manual skills in the Secondary Technical Sschool curriculum something that sadly has vanished today with its increasing emphasis on the academic subjects. Charles also identifies current problems with the lack of qualified teachers and continuing cuts to school and college budgets).

Mr Evans,


Continuing to be interested in all things technical, even though it is some while since I retired, I was very interested in your website. This is as well as reading at the views of vocational teachers venting their frustrations on the TES site. So I wondered if I could be indulged by recounting my own experience and views on the subject.
I failed my 11+ and so attended a Technical Secondary School 1952-56. A rare beast then and now totally extinct. We were taught the basic subjects of course, with maths based on Ordinary National Certificate, Geometry O Level as was English, and technical drawing. And we had a choice of woodwork or metalwork. As a Meccano enthusiast I chose metalwork. For four years I was taught by a fully qualified fitter and turner; often with a roll-up cigarette in his mouth whilst operating the lathe. No safety glasses, just overalls or dad’s cut down dungarees for the boys. Before I arrived he and his boys had constructed a fully working steam train with wagons and track, which ran around the school carrying boys as passengers. The engine and tender was proudly displayed in the main corridor.
There I was taught the use of numerous hand tools besides forging, brazing, soldering, grinding, turning both metal and wood on the lathes, case hardening, tempering, the use of micrometers and Vernier gauges, screw cutting and the different types of screw threads, drilling and riveting. I made a junior hacksaw, a tin tray, a cold chisel, a soldering iron, a screwdriver, a flower pot stand made from strip steel, a bullnose plane from a block of mild steel, a brass toasting fork (which I still have), a gate latch, a poker, a pin vice, and a tri-square. All paid for with a nominal sum to cover the cost of materials. Sixpence for the flowerpot stand as I remember. Those with the ability made a drill brace – all save the cast frame – as made by Stanley the tool maker. At fifteen I went to the local technical college for a year before joining the RAF to become a radar fitter, so learned electronics.
It still rankles to some extent even now that only the grammar school students were allowed to take O Levels at that time, so that even having been top of the class in the top stream for four years I left with no qualifications whatsoever. Night school rectified that, academically if not in the hands-on skills.
However I have continued to use those skills learned at school and am grateful for the opportunity to have learned so much of what is denied to today’s students. As one of a certain generation it dismays me that a younger generation cannot carry out what to us oldies are simple DIY tasks. My own children attended a school which demolished its workshops and then spent several thousands of pounds on new sports facilities. My grandchildren enjoyed learning in my workshop, just as I learned in my grandfather’s workshop – he was a carpenter. Children are fascinated by tools and are eager to learn. Their intent faces whilst sawing or hammering were a joy. Now they are home-schooled and taught by ex-teachers and experts disillusioned by state education. Yet still bound by state examinations, which regrettably are all theory.
My point therefore in writing this is to emphasise what I believe is the vital importance of actual hands-on experience in working with tools and materials, and the satisfaction of producing something useful. Also experiencing the touch and smell of woods and metals, the oils and paints. Running one’s fingers along a well-planed length of wood is almost sensuous. And smelling the various scents from different woods is perfume to a woodworker. In the same way that the smell of cutting oil still recalls for me so many pleasant memories. And the smell of flux when soldering, the acrid smells of cut Paxolin or Ebonite or a burnt out resistor in a circuit. They can however forego the experience of the tingle of a finger touching a 400v terminal on a large capacitor and the subsequent hole burned in the skin… My radar days.
It is essential in my view that students get to feel tools and materials they are using or learning about. And I do mean feel in the sense of touch. To take an example: screw cutting with a die. Use a square to ensure the piece of work is vertical; use a file to lightly create a bevel around the edge where the die is to start cutting; keep the die horizontal; turn gently but firmly with a slight initial pressure; turn back at intervals to release waste material; apply a drop of oil to aid cutting. All this requires touch, the feel of too much or too little torque. As does using a vertical drill require a certain feel to judge and observe the drill as it cuts, so that it doesn’t burn or indeed snap. None of this can possibly be learned from books.
You are more qualified than me, so please excuse me if I’m teaching granny to suck eggs, but the above example is meant as an illustration of what I mean.
Your contributors, and those to TES, are naturally concerned with qualifications and careers. Coming from my angle I see these skills as life-enhancing in themselves. However I despair at the ignorance of politicians in cutting costs where investment should be made, and constantly interfering in things they know absolutely nothing about, since there is not one scientist or engineer amongst the whole bunch of them.
Thank you for reading thus far.
Charles Beamish

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Definitions of “Technical Education” and “Industrial Workers”.

 (An interesting definition of technical education given in the Technical Instruction Act 1889).

“The expression ‘technical education’ 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 employments. It shall not include teaching the practice of any trade or industry or employment, but, save as foresaid, shall include instruction in the branches of science and art with respect to which grants are for them time being made by the Department of Science and Art (DoSA), and any other form of instruction (including modern languages and commercial and agricultural subjects), which may for the time being be sanctioned by that Department by a minute laid before Parliament and made on the representation of a local authority that such a form of instruction is required by the circumstances of its district.”


Reference: Extract from the Technical instruction Act 1889.

Samuelson stated in 1890 technical education was “everything which prepares a man and woman for then walk of life which he or she intends to pursue”.

These definitions even accepting their limitations was used extensively into the 20th century.

For example Millis stated in 1925 “that the objectives of technical education were to provide instruction in the principles of art and science applicable to industry and in the application of special branches of art and science to specific industries and employment”.

These definitions did not identify the relationship between theory and practice within technical education. In addition the dividing line between technical and vocational remained unclear. Clearly the teaching of technical education is equally applicable to the teaching for the professions and services. These definitions did not identify the problems and challenges of the appropriate learning environment and the differences between education and training.

As this history highlights the balance between the teaching of the general principles and practical and specific skills continues to be a problem and at times a very contentious issue across all the educational sectors.

An early definition of  recognised categories of  Industrial Workers.

The Department of Science and Art (DoSA) defined in its 1870 Science and Art Directory categories of persons who could be regarded as industrial students as follows:

  1. Artisans or operatives in receipt of weekly wages.
  2. Coast-guards, policemen, and others, who, though in receipt of weekly wages, do not support themselves by manual labour.
  3. Teachers in elementary schools in connection with the Education Department.
  4. Persons in receipt of salaries not large enough to render them liable to income tax, as some descriptions of clerks, shopmen, etc.
  5. Small shopkeepers employing no one but members of their own family, and not assessed to income tax.
  6. Tradesmen and manufacturers on their own account, supporting themselves by their own manual labour, not employing apprentices, journeymen, etc., and not assessed to income tax.
  7. The children (not earning their own livelihood) of all such persons above mentioned.

Further definitions:

Technology: the scientific study of the practical or industrial arts.

Craft: skill, art, ability in planning or construction; a calling requiring special skill and knowledge; especially a manual art, a handicraft.

We can, somewhat simplistically, identify two kinds of education and training namely technological and technical to the broad classes of occupations e.g.

  1. Unskilled occupations
  2. Semi-skilled occupations
  3. Skilled craftsmen and technicians
  4. Professional and managerial occupations – scientists, technologists, managers and executives.

“Technical” education and training is largely concerned with (c) and with (b) whilst “Technological education and training” is concerned with group (d). Clearly these are very crude mappings and distinctions as ultimately demand depends critically on the advancing nature of science and technology and its impact on industry and working practices in the future.

The increasing introduction of robotics and information communication technologies into the workplace will fundamentally change the nature of work in the future. These changes will in turn significantly impact on the technical and technological education and training systems.



Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes Examinations Papers

 These examination papers were kindly sent to me by Pam Cruise and were taken by her Uncle Alfred Edward Audas. The certificates gained by Alfred are shown in another biography on this web site. After graduating he worked as a draughtsman at ICI in Warrington (NW England). I am very grateful to Pam for her generosity.

An uncle to be proud of.

Below are examples of ULCI examination papers taken by Alfred for 1939, and 1940 for English, Practical Drawing, Practical Mathematics and Science. It is interesting and fascinating to note the content, the standard, the wording and the practical bias of the papers.

(A recent report in England showed the dramatic decline in standards in mathematics over the past decades e.g. a grade B currently awarded for GCE ‘A’ level in Mathematics would have gained an E grade 50 years ago.)

Left click to see the image more clearly.

Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes: Preparatory Senior Technical Course 1st Year in 1939 for English, Practical Drawing and Science:


Exam E1ExamE2ExamE3 ExamE4


Practical Drawing: 

Exam5 Exam6Exam7Exam8












Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes: Preparatory Senior Technical Course 2nd Year in 1940 for Science, Practical Drawing and Practical Mathematics:


Exam11 Exam12   Exam13   Exam17

Practical Drawing:

Exam14Exam15    Exam16    Exam17



Exam18           Exam19        Exam20

Practical Mathematics:

 Exam21         Exam22        Exam23

 Remember to left click to view papers clearly.

A Perspective on the Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution was a significant characteristic of life in Britain during the 18th century. Major rapid changes occurred across many areas e.g. machine-labour in factories took the place of hand-labour in people’s homes and large-scale agriculture based on scientific principles replaced the medieval system of tillage on small plots of land.

This Revolution was a process and not a single event, it had no sharply defined stages, and nevertheless we can say that it had taken hold by 1783 when it was being generally introduced and applied in most leading industries at the time. In 1784 the invention of the power-loom marked the application of water-power to weaving which was the last main process of the textile industry to be power-driven. In 1785 the application of steam for driving spinning machines foreshadowed the wider development of factories using steam-power which subsequently changes the face of Britain.

This revolution in industry had results that continued into the 19th century. The introduction of machinery which replaced hand-labour caused unemployment and the consequent distress. Unemployment coupled with low wages paid to the factory workers, because of the oversupply of labour enabled the employers to pay low wages. In addition child labour formed a significant proportion of the labour force the children working to supplement family incomes. Later with the expansion of international trade made Britain became very wealthy although this wealth was concentrated in few hands. The money was very often used to fund wars and subsidise her allies.

The rapid development of manufacturing produced dreadful and dangerous working conditions in the factories. In addition large numbers of people moved into the cities and towns in order to be close to their work place which created insanitary, overcrowded houses and slums. These slums continued to exist well into the 20th century in many cities and towns,

As a result of the creation of the manufacturing base for the country agriculture experienced major changes and challenges. For example to be profitable farming had to be a much larger scale. Consequently the yeoman-farmer i.e. the farmer who was neither a large land-owner nor a tenant of a farm owner and worked his own land was in most instances forced to give up his farm. He would then become a labourer for a more prosperous person who had been able to buy his farm or move to a town to become a factory worker or to join the ranks of the unemployed in the towns.

The disappearance of the yeoman was but one of the significant changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution.


Source: Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes Examination paper for English in March 1939.

Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes Examination Certificates.

These were kindly sent to me by Pam Cruise and gained by her Uncle Alfred Edward Audas. After graduating he worked as a draughtsman at ICI in Warrington. I am very grateful to Pam for her generosity. An uncle to be proud of.

Below are copies of certificates :

They provide a fascinating insight to how the examination board recognised achievement.

Institution of Mechanical Engineering Higher Grade awarded in September 1952:

Alfred studied for this award at Birkenhead Technical College.

(Click the thumbnails to view full-size image)

Certificate      Certificate2

Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes. Preparatory Technical Certificate 1st and 2nd Years

1939 and 1940:

(Click the thumbnails to view full-size image)

Certificate4      Certificate5

Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes.

Mechanical Engineering Course Certificates 1st and 2nd Year 1941 and 1942:

(Click the thumbnails to view full-size image)

Certificate6      Certifiate7

Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes.

Mechanical Engineering Course Advanced 1st Year 1950:

(Click the thumbnail to view full-size image)



Richard Trevithick (1771-1833).

Richard TrevithickRichard Trevithick, (image shown opposite), deserves a place alongside the other pioneers of steam engine developments like Thomas Newcomen and James Watt. He is credited with inventing the first high-pressured steam engine and the first operational steam locomotive (1803). He was born in Carn Brea in Cornwall which was at the centre of the then thriving mining industry in the county. His father was a mine captain and whilst attending Camborne School Richard became fascinated by the industry. In 1786 there were 21 Boulton and Watt steam engines operating in Cornwall and he learnt how they were designed and worked. He was a very confident and enthusiastic individual and because of his height became known as the Cornish giant. He started work at the age of 19 at the East Stray mine near Camborne under the supervision of William Bull who manufactured steam engines which were different from Watts’. In order to avoid the inventor’s patent Boulton and Watt sued Bull over violation of the patent and Richard Trevithick appeared as an expert witness in opposition to Watt which increased the hostility between Trevithick and Watt.

During the late 18th century many engineers were trying to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of steam engines. Watt was very sceptical stating that they ‘were all on the wrong track’. Trevithick struggled financially but was supported by his cousin Andrew Vivian and gained a great deal of scientific guidance from Davies Gilbert the MP for Penzance and Bodmin. Gilbert offered advice of how the steam pressures could be best operated in regard to the pistons and the cylinders. Gilbert went on to be elected president of the Royal Society succeeding Humphry Davy – note again the Cornish connections.

In 1796 Trevithick constructed two steam engines, one to drive a locomotive, the second a free standing/static engine. These were much simpler than the Boulton and Watt engines and delivered greater levels of power. He further developed these engines to drive winding wheels at Wheal Hope mine and quickly realised their potential because of their relatively small size, lightness and power capability to drive vehicles. On 24th December 1801 he drove a single-cylinder steam engine called the ‘the Puffing Billy’ in Camborne for a distance of one kilometre. In-spite of the short distance the event proved a great success which heralded a new age of faster travel. Initially the distance travelled was limited by the great consumption of water but further improvements with his partner Vivian overcame this and other problems. A picture of ‘the Puffing Billy’ is shown below.Puffing Billy

In 1803 he decided to demonstrate his steam carriage in London when trials were staged at Lord’s cricket ground and then down New road and Gray’s Inn Lane. However these ambitious demonstrations had limited success which caused some of his financial supporters to doubt the engines true potential. Four fatalities occurred when one of his pumping engines exploded and this caused further reservations prompted by Boulton and Watt’s heavy criticism of Trevithick and his inventions – such was their hostility to him! A picture of the London Steam Carriage locomotive by Trevithick and Vivian that was demonstrated in 1803 is shown below.

Vivian and Trevithick locomotive 1803However again help was on hand when Samuel Homfray owner of the Pen-y-darren ironworks in Wales bought the rights to some of the patents. In 1804 a new more powerful engine was used to win Samuel Homfrays bet that the engine could pull ten tons of iron along ten miles of tramway. This and other successes allowed Trevithick to continue his work on improving the steam engines both static and for locomotion. These steam locomotives would ultimately transform steam engines and allow a faster and safer mode of travel. In addition he developed a wide range of static steam engines used in boring, crushing, dredger (1806), iron rolling and milling (1805), pumping, threshing machine (1812) etc. He also developed a marine engine to drive paddle steamers as well as telescopic masts, buoy and floating docks.

Successful as he was with his inventions he possessed poor business sense and financial skills and experienced a number of bankruptcies. Three years after bankruptcy in 1811 an order for his engines was made by a silver mine in Peru and he decided in 1816 to seek his future and fortune in South America. In South America he again showed his extraordinary ability and enthusiasm being prepared to throw himself into all sorts of challenges and projects. He was appointed as an engineer in Lima but then the war of independence broke out. He served in Simon Bolivar’s army and then travelled extensively in Colombia, Costa Rica and Ecuador hoping to develop mining machinery and identify routes to transport ore and equipment but the independence wars that were sweeping the continent greatly curtailed his ambitions and he returned to England in 1827 penniless only to find other engineers had profited from his inventions including George Stephenson. George Stephenson however recognised Trevithick’s achievements and petitioned Parliament to give him a pension but this request was refused – another example of the commitment by politicians’ to technical and industrial development! He died in poverty in Dartford on 22nd April 1833 and buried in an unmarked grave.

A truly remarkable individual who has not received the recognition he deserves. Having lived and worked near Carn Brea and Camborne in Cornwall I know how much he is revered.

There is a Richard Trevithick Society which publishes newsletters and journals on him and the mining industry.


Burton. A. ‘Richard Trevithick: Giant of Steam ISBN 1-85410-878-6. London. Aurum Press. 2000.

Dickinson. H. W. and Titley. A. ‘Richard Trevithick.’ CUP. 1934.

Dickinson. H. W. and Titley. A. A Short History of the Steam Engine.’ CUP. 1938.

Osborne. R. ‘Iron, Steam and Money: The Making of the Industrial Revolution.’ Pimlico. 2014



Eleanor Marx (1855-1898)

E MarxEleanor Marx was a remarkable individual who contributed to a number of causes and influenced not only her own generation but later ones. She was the youngest daughter of Karl Marx, born in London on 16th January 1855. By the time Eleanor was sixteen she acted as her father’s secretary, accompanying him to international conferences on socialism. She contributed to many movements during her relatively short life in many campaigns including those associated with the creation of trade unions, workers education, working conditions in factories and female equality. Many of these campaigns were associated with the education of workers. She was a rare example of someone who was able to combine theory and practice. Below I will try and record some of her campaigns and achievements.

She was an exceptional researcher and translator spending long periods in the British Museum Reading Room but was not afraid to initiate and get directly involved and lead from the front in campaigns e.g. she was an active strike organiser and union administrator e.g. secretary of the National Union of Gas Workers and General Labourers of Great Britain and Ireland which later merged to form the General and Municipal Workers Union, and then became the GMB. Eleanor was very committed to the formation of trade unions seeing them as a positive mass movement representing skilled and non-skilled workers. Initially the trade union movement and membership was exclusively for skilled workers who were resistant and hostile to membership of non-skilled workers. In 1889-90 she supported and mentored the head of the National Union of Gas Workers and General Labourers during a crucial strike and established the first women’s branch of that union.

Her very detailed research led to many seminal lectures and pamphlets e.g. drawing attention to the ineffectiveness of the Factory Acts (1) which were supposed to improve the working and employment conditions in factories and provide basic education to young workers.

In 1884, Eleanor joined the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) and was elected on to its executive. Her involvement in the SDF played a key part in advocating and supporting workers’ education.

In 1876 Eleanor Marx became an active campaigner for female equality when she helped a female candidate win a seat on a London School Board. In 1886 Eleanor got involved with the Women’s Trade Union League. She also got directly involved in the Bryant and May match-girl strike and in 1889 she became involved in the Dock workers’ strike.

She served as an administrator and fundraiser for the Amalgamated Society of Engineers (ASE) and helped carry out the ASE’s campaign for the eight-hour day.

Her range of activities was remarkable she was a gifted speaker, writer and knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects particularly economics through her major editorial role for her father Karl Marx’s works. She was an internationalist, translator and interpreter in French, German, Russian and English, interested in literature as well as politics. Hers was the first translation into English of Gustave Flaubert’s French novel Madame Bovary and she taught herself Danish so that she could translate Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.

What made her particularly a special and effective campaigner and activist was that she instigated and remained committed to the causes that she fought for.

She published a large number of books, articles and pamphlets covering a wide range of social topics including:

“The Woman Question: From a Socialist Point of View.” (1886).

“The Factory Hell” (1885).

“The Working Class Movements in America.” (1888).

“The Working Class Movement in England. (1896).

Before his death, Karl Marx had given Eleanor the task of preparing his unfinished manuscripts for publication. Eleanor also had the task of dealing with the English publication of Das Kapital . Eleanor was involved in translating and editing volumes of Kapital as well as editing Marx’s lectures   “Value, Price and Profit” and “Wage Labour and Capital”. She also contributed many articles for Justice a political journal. 1898.

  1. Factory Acts. See Biographies on this website.


Excellent biographies of her life and accomplishments –

Holmes. R. ‘Eleanor Marx’. ISBN 9780747583844. Bloomsbury Publications Plc. 2014.

Tsuzuki. C. ‘The Life of Eleanor Marx 1855-1898. A Socialist Tragedy.’ Oxford Clarendon Press. 1967.

Kapp. Y. ‘Eleanor Marx.’ Two volumes. Lawrence and Wishart. 1972 and 1976.


I intend to expand this biography later.

The Factory Acts


The period of the Industrial Revolution witnessed unprecedented changes and transitions in society. Massive numbers of people moved from the country to the emerging industrial cities and towns. People who previously worked on the land or in cottage industries (e.g. hand spinning and weaving) became workers in factories undertaking largely non-skilled manual jobs. The Revolution brought about both positive and negative consequences including massive pollution and overcrowded and wretched living conditions for these workers. The phrase “dark Satanic Mills” is often used to describe the early Industrial Revolution and its destruction of nature and human relationships (although this interpretation is often disputed). As a result of these negative consequences a series of Factory Acts were campaigned for by workers themselves and their radical supporters and established during the 19th century. These Acts were passed by the UK Parliament and addressed the conditions that workers routinely endured in factories and other workplaces e.g. coal gas production, office, typists, India rubber processing. The working conditions during the Industrial Revolution were hideous because the main aim of employers was to maximise profits. Workers were exploited through very low wages, long working hours, dangerous working environments. The wide spread disregard for workers’ health and safety included conditions associated with poor ventilation, lack of accident prevention, medical facilities and sanitation.

Employment regulation, conditions, working hours and related laws were non-existent particularly for women and children and trade unions were still to become active and effective. In fact employers were very hostile to the creation of trade unions or any form of workers’ movements. Initially the membership of the first Trade Unions was exclusively for skilled workers and these were resistant indeed hostile to membership by non-union workers. Conditions of service were also unknown in regard to length of working hours, medical care and holidays. Analysing the impact of the successive Acts shows that they were largely ineffective and the legislative content took a long time to be fully enacted. The topics and themes addressed were very relevant and appropriate but as so often the major problems were in their implementation and arose largely because of indifference and hostility by employers

Reasons given for the slow implementation of the legislation were that the pace of the Industrial Revolution was so great that employers were able to ignore or circumvent any regulations and inspection regimes. Other commentators characterised it as a typical example of English practical empiricism. However in retrospect whatever the reasons any analysis highlights that the impact of the successive Acts were largely ineffective and the eventual legislative enactment did take a long time.

One of the first and articulate critics of the Factory Acts was Eleanor Marx in a series of seminal lectures and publications (1). She analysed in great detail the content and subsequent impact of successive Acts and starkly showed that the legislation was ineffective and mostly unenforced. She was a voice alone in highlighting and bringing these facts to the attention of the wider public. Eleanor was a leading figure in the creation of trade unions and advocate for the working classes including their education.

A Factory Inspectorate was finally established in 1833 but again had little impact until much later. It was only after the 1860s onwards that more industries were brought within the orbit of the Factory Act. In 1910 Sidney Webb, an influential economist, reformer and co-founder of the London School of Economics and active member of the Fabian Society stated that the Factory Act and its associated legislation had been ineffective and were only then becoming effective.

A list of some of the Factory Acts is given below with the remit:

Note: The early Acts mainly concentrated on regulating the hours of work and moral welfare of young children employed in cotton mills. Later Acts extended their remits to other industries and issues associated with factories and the workers including women and apprentices.

1802: Health and Morals of Apprentices Act. This limited the workday for apprentices to 12 hours.

1819: Cotton Mills and Factories Act. Cotton mills could not employ young people under the age of 9 and limited workdays for 9 to 16 year olds to 12 hours. Key figure Robert Peel.

1825: Cotton Mills Regulation Act.

1829: Act to Amend the Laws relating to the employment of Children in Cotton Mills & Manufactories.

1832: The first ‘Ten Hour Bill’ – Sadler’s Bill (1832).

1833: Labour of Children, etc., in Factories Act – Althorp’s Act. This extended the 1819 Act to all textile mills except silk and lace. No child worker under 9 years of age. Workdays for children 9-16 years old limited to 8 hours and for 13-18 limited to 12 hours. In addition children could not work at night. Interested to note young people under 13 had to receive education for 2 hours per workday, paid for by the worker. Employers were also required to have an age certificate for young workers and four factory inspectors had to be appointed to oversee the regulations and law.

1842: The Mines Act. Women and young people under the age of 10 prohibited from working underground.

1843/44: Graham’s Factory Education Bill. Act limited to textile mills. Workday for women and young people aged 8 to 13 limited to 6.5 hours a day. Young people had to receive a minimum of 3 hours education each day. Women prohibited to undertake night work and limited to 12 hours of work Women forbidden to do night work and limited to 12 hours of work.

1847: Factory Act. Workday for women and young people aged 13 to 18 limited to 10 hours a day or 58 hours per week.

1850: Factory Act – the ‘Compromise’ Act.

1853: Employment of Children in Factories Act. Young people aged 8 to 13 could not before 6 am or after 6 pm, or 2 pm on Saturday.

1856: Factory Act. National Association of Factory Occupiers to enforce adherence of the regulations and laws.

1867: Factories Act Extension Act and Hours of Labour Regulation Act: Extended earlier factory legislation to include non-textile factories and workshops. The Act prohibited the employment of young people less than 8 years of age. Young people aged between 8 and 13 had to receive a minimum of 10 hours of education per week.

1867: Agricultural Gangs Act. Prohibited the employment of young people under 8 and the employment of women and young people in a field gang that included men.

1871: Factory and Workshop Act.

1878: Factory and Workshop Act. Factory code applied to all trades. Compulsory education for young workers up to 10 years of age. 10 to 14 year olds could only be employed for half days. Maximum hours for women limited to 56 hours per week

1891: Factory Act. Raised working age from 10 to 11and introduced working conditions on women who were pregnant

1895: Factory and Workshop Act. Review the impact and effectiveness of the previous Acts.

As can be seen from the above detail successive Acts dealt with the same issues and in some cases reviewed the enforcement or lack of the legislation in earlier Acts. For example the various Acts often advocated education for children workers BUT did not say how this was to be operated or inspected.

  1. See biography on website .

I intend to expand this topic later.



The City and Guilds TechBac


The City and Guilds Institute of London (CGLI) has developed a new qualification namely a TechBac. Everyone interested in education knows that the current education and training system is failing to deliver the skills needed for employment and the workplace. There is now a consensus amongst educationists, employers, parents and students that the curriculum is too narrow and academic. In addition the curriculum is dominated by over assessment and examinations regimes which further deflect the teaching and learning process from its true purpose. A great deal of time is spent preparing for assessments and examinations and an obsession with national league tables. The curriculum is very much prescribed and allows teachers and students little freedom to explore wider issues. Little attention is given to the soft skills like, communication, managing one’s own learning, mentoring, numerical and financial literacy, problem solving, and working in teams. Also little opportunity exists for meaningful work experience programmes and hence the gaining of knowledge and the necessary skills required for the workplace. A recent survey of employers showed that 77% of them thought that a work experience prepared the learners to be more work ready. Previous attempts to introduce vocational elements into the curriculum have largely failed e.g. CPVE, GNVQs, vocational diplomas and the TVEI because they did not find favour with one government or another.

The development of a Baccalaureate type qualification in this country has had a chequered history. The proposed British Baccalaureate in 1990 promised much being sponsored by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) and a number of Labour politicians including Tessa Blackstone but was quickly dropped when the Labour party was subsequently elected in 1997. The debates after the publication of the British Baccalaureate centred on the sanctity of ‘A’ levels and as usual their supposed gold standards, and indeed those of the GCSEs which continued to reign supreme. The curriculum maintains its academic bias still today. Other attempts to introduce a baccalaureate failed (see article ‘The TechBacc- What Chance of Success’? (1)).

So it is with great interest that the City and Guilds (CGLI) are developing a new qualification for 14 to 19 year olds called the ‘TechBac’ and have argued that the award will create the technical and professional skills needed for the modern workplace. In addition the award will offer progression to apprenticeship programmes and to further and higher education and training. The Institute has worked closely with industry to gain endorsement of the award as well as helping to develop the specification to create the skills that employers want from their employees. Employer involvement has been significant at the design, recognition, and assessment stages which will engender credibility with employers, parents and the learners themselves. The award is available at level 2 and 3 with different sizes of units to fit the learner’s study programme and can be delivered in one or two years. The award has been approved by the Department for Education (DfE) and will attract UCAS points and will be published on national performance tables. The TechBac comprises two main elements: technical skills; and transferable skills and workplace behaviours. The technical skills have been designed to meet the latest industry needs and standards and to be rigorous and delivering high quality practical learning. The professional transferrable/workplace skills aim to develop, accredit workplace skills and help the learners to be more confident, competent and ready for employment in the world of work.

The award has also introduced a reduced assessment burden with an interesting grading profile namely grade 1: outstanding, grade2: good, grade 3: requires improvement and grade 4: inadequate. The Technical Certificate (TC) will consist of 360/450 Guided Learning Hours (GLHs) made up of 30/60 GLH units. A pass of the Technical Certificate (TC) will allow progression to an apprenticeship programme or onto a level 3 Technical Level Qualification (TLQ). The award comprises a set of mandatory content which must make up at least 40% of the qualification. A proportion of the awards will be assessed externally with a minimum of 25% for the Technical Certificate (TC) and 30% for Technical Level Qualification (TLQ).

The award will include a practical work experience programme which will allow the learners to monitor, evaluate their work placement and encourage the placement providers to improve the quality of future placements. In addition an assessed project qualification which will help to develop the learners’ independent study skills. Soft skills will also be assessed which are not currently accredited by other qualifications. The award will be available to schools and colleges and will offer provision for 14 to 18 yea rolds.
Clearly there are many challenges in introducing the award. It will face the same issues that have dogged previous attempts to introduce vocational elements in the curriculum. It must be strongly promoted and endorsed by the government, employers, customers and educationalists. Education and training providers must provide clear, honest brokership and open information, advice and guidance to prospective student’s i.e. articulate ambassadors to champion the new award. Hopefully it will succeed and realise parity of esteem with existing awards. It will be introduced in 2017.

For more information of the TechBac visit the CGLI website http:/techbac.com


(1)   www.techedarchive.org


Summary of Progression Routes:

Possible choices:

Up to 16 >CORE +EBacc GCEs+3Technical Awards or non-core GCSEs +Additional GCSEs or Other qualifications.

16 to 18 >‘A´ levels/Applied Generals/Tech Levels/TechBac/Technical Certificates/Apprentices/Traineeships. Mixed programmes can also be taken i.e. blend of Applied Generals, ‘A’ levels and Technical Qualifications.

18+> Higher Education or Apprenticeship or Employment.

The above is a classic example of a clustered and confusing qualification landscape so typical of this country.