Educating Bradford

Educating Bradford

1. Mechanics’ Institutes

“The Mechanics’ Institute was the body best adapted and most likely to afford technical education so desirable in an industrial town like ours.”

Bradford Observer

The Industrial Revolution created working class ‘mechanics’ keen to learn about engineering and other subjects. An alternative to costly private library subscriptions was needed. Mechanics’ Institutes were created to provide adult education to ordinary workers for a small fee. Bradford’s Mechanics’ Institute was set up in 1832.

The UK’s first Mechanics’ Institute was established in Edinburgh in 1821. The first one in England opened in Liverpool in July 1823. By 1850, there were around 600 institutes with 600,000 members.

Many institutes were funded by wealthy industrialists who wanted skilled, educated workers. However, some think their involvement was to ensure that institutes did not become places for the working class to share radical political ideas.

Bradford’s Mechanics’ Institute was set up in 1832, becoming a leading provider of adult education in Bradford. With 19th century Bradford at the centre of the world’s worsted industry, it offered relevant subjects, such as chemistry, languages, and industrial art and design.

In 1840, it moved to a purpose-built home off Wells Street and Leeds Road. It had a lecture theatre, library, exhibition spaces, classrooms and a laboratory. Smaller mechanics’ institutes began to appear in Bradford villages, such as Thornton and Eccleshill.

By 1869, membership of Bradford Mechanics’ Institute reached 1,500 so a bigger building was erected on Bridge Street. It was opened in 1871 by Bradford Member of Parliament and Minister of Education, W. E. Forster. Membership grew to 2,000 after the First World War. Over the years, famous guest lecturers included art critic John Ruskin and the novelist W. M. Thackeray.