"Encouragement of sound education amongst the industrial classes": mechanics' institutes and working-class membership 1838-1881

Martyn Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Citations (Scopus)


Historians and educationalists have often assumed that working-class adult education emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century with the introduction of state-funded technical colleges. This was not the case. In 1823, the Glasgow Mechanics' Institute was opened and within a few years similar institutions were being established across the whole of Britain. This culminated in the formation of the mechanics' institute movement which provided a foundation on which further education was established. This paper questions the generally accepted view of historians that mechanics' institutes made little contribution to adult working-class education, instead offering scientific knowledge to the middling classes. It addresses the issue of what educational impact the mechanics' institutes exerted upon the adult working classes in relation to some North of England institutes, particularly those that were members of the Yorkshire Union of Mechanics' Institutes. The term working class only begins to emerge during the 1830s, the period when several institutes were being established, and for the purpose of this paper, the works of E.P. Thompson, E.J. Hobsbawm and R.S. Neale, with regard to class, and the lists of the occupations of those who attended mechanics' institutes, from the annual reports of the Yorkshire Union, form the basis of the debate, confirming that such institutions did indeed provide working-class adult education.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)142-155
Number of pages14
JournalEducational Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2013


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