Victorian London - Education - Professional / Technical Colleges / Institutions - Mechanics' Institute

 The Mechanics' Institution, in Southampton Buildings, Chancery Lane, is intended, as its name implies, for the diffusion of information connected with the arts and sciences amongst the mechanics of the metropolis; it possesses a theatre and a library. 

Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844

MECHANICS' INSTITUTE, SOUTHAMPTON BUILDINGS, HOLBORN. Founded Dec. 2nd, 1823, by Dr. Birkbeck, for the dissemination of useful knowledge among the industrious classes of the community, by means of lectures, classes and a library. Dr. Birkbeck advanced out of his own pocket 3700l.for the purpose. Entrance fee 2s 6d. Annual subscription 1l. 4s. Sons and apprentices of members have the privilege of attending either the evening classes or the lectures, at 3s. per quarter.

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850

The LONDON MECHANICS' INSTITUTION, 29 Southampton Buildings, Chancery Lane, is the oldest, and, in fact, may be considered the originator of all the Mechanics' or Popular Institutes for education, literature, and science, in England. The late excellent philanthropist, Dr. Birkbeck, founded it in 1823, deriving much assistance from the support of Lord Brougham and many other public spirited men. Its library contains 4000 volumes. There are reading-rooms, class-rooms, a capacious "theatre" or lecture-room, in which for thirty-five years the lectures have been given weekly, and the usual appurtenances of a literary institute.
    Of a similar class are: The London Institution, Finsbury Circus, Moorfields, established in 1806,- the present building erected in 1814,-the library containing 60,000 volumes; the Crosby Hall Institute, Bishopgate Street; the Southwark Institution. Southwark Bridge Road; the Pimlico and Belgravia Institute, near St. George's Road, Pimlico; the Russell Institution, 55 Great Coram Street, Russell Square, has a large and excellent library, and caters for a superior class of subscribers (in the library is a fine picture of the first sight of the sea by Xenophon and his army, in the retreat of the ten thousand, painted by Haydon, and presented by the Duke of Bedford, the patron of the institution, in 1836); the Marylebone Institution, 17 Edward Street, Portman Square; and the Working Men's College, Great Ormond Street, established by the Rev.F. D. Maurice, and providing first. class instruction for artisans, mechanics, and others, in arithmetic, pure and mixed mathematics, mechanics, English composition, drawing, bookkeeping, English history, &c., at a cost of from 2s. 6d. to 5s. per term of eight weeks.

Cruchley's London in 1865 : A Handbook for Strangers, 1865

I joined the Birkbeck Institution in Southampton Buildings, because I ascertained that abridged education in the country had not sufficiently furnished me for City life. The Birkbeck had earlier been called a Mechanics Institute, and it was in opening it that Lord Brougham made use of the phrase, 'The schoolmaster is abroad!' In course of time a certain view was taken of these words; Brougham simply meant that teachers were prepared to give their services to the evening pupils. Birkbeck, who became Master of Downing, was, in my youthful years, the President; the principal was Mr. George M. Norris, by day a first-class clerk in the Education Office. The entrance to the warren of rooms went through the old Birkbeck Bank, near the western gateway of Staple Inn; beyond, and on the same floor, as the theatre, and here on Wednesday nights were lectures and entertainments with such men as George Grossmith, Samuel Brandram, Fred Villiers (the war correspondent), Sir Robert Ball, Max O'Rell, Boyd Carpenter. Many of the lecturers were orators, and behaved accordingly; nowadays those of us who go on public platforms use few gestures, and talk composedly. In the elocution class, taughter by a Mr. Ohlson - the teachers were called professors, but they had no right to the title - I heard of a clever former student named Arthur Wing Pinero, who in the current year produced three plays: The Money Spinner at the St. James's; Impudence at the Folly in King William Street, Strand; and The Squire at the St. James's. In the class-rooms I met William Bull, afterwards member for Hammersmith; Clement K. Shorter, preparing to become a distinguished editor; Sidney Webb and Miss Beatrice Potter (they  married in '92), and Arthur Shirley, a dear good fellow, and a resolute dramatist. All the students were engaged in business during the hours of the day, and we invariably arrived in desperate haste on the very edge of time. A former school-fellow of mine at Marden and I were made honorary secretaries of the debating society; we carried out our task with great seriousness. In one winter, the members decided:
    (a) That entail and primogeniture as established by the law should be abolished
    (b) That Mr. Gladstone's Government continued to merit the support and confidence of the people
    (c) That it was unjust women should be excluded from the Parliamentary Franchise
    (d) That it was desirable to give further facilities for the recreation and instruction of the people by the opening, for some hours on Sundays, of the National Museums and Galleries. (This portentous resolution seems to have been in my name.)
    We were a reforming lot, with a few cross-bench youths, and one or two who always begged to be allowed 'to express complete disagreement with the previous speaker.' The trouble was to make an audience. Once, Sir Charles Dilke spoke for half an huor to fifteen members, but this was after the case with which he was connected, and his popularity had waned; music-hall comedians alone took special notice of him.

W. Pett Ridge, A Story Teller : Forty Years in London, 1923