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Solid and practical education within reach of the humblest means’: the growth and development of the Yorkshire Union of Mechanics’ Institutes 1838–1891

By Martyn Walker


This thesis questions the generally accepted view that mechanics’ institutes made little contribution to adult working-class education from their foundation in the 1820s to the last decade of the nineteenth century when, finally, government recognised the importance of adult and further education with the passing of the Technical Instructions Acts of 1889 and 1891. It addresses the issue of what impact the mechanics’ institutes exerted upon the adult working classes in a regional context. It has also questioned research previously carried out by a number of historians who hold the view that by 1850 the mechanics’ institutes’ movement was in decline.\ud \ud \ud This thesis argues that in Yorkshire the movement, through no small contribution made by the Yorkshire Union of Mechanics’ Institutes, went from strength to strength and responded to the need for relevant curricula throughout the period of study. It establishes that mechanics’ institutes of the Yorkshire Union (1838 – 1891) were not only to be found in the urban and industrialising towns, but many were also located in the rural and semi-rural areas of the Dales and Pennines. Across the Yorkshire Union as a whole there were similar patterns in growth and development. This thesis establishes that not only did mechanics' institutes support the working classes but they also provided a firm foundation for technical and further education, which was built on through the passing of the 1889 and 1891 Technical Instruction Acts. Several institutes either became technical schools or had established a tradition of adult education which was taken up by the new technical colleges of the early twentieth century. Many smaller institutes either became satellite centres for local colleges or became public libraries and museums. \ud The nineteenth century success of the mechanics’ institutes foreshadowed the later development of adult education

Topics: D1, H1, HN, HT, HX, L1, LA
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