IT was on a biting February morning that the PRACTICAL TEACHER'S interviewer set out to explore the Northampton Institute, one of the three branches of the City Polytechnic, the other two constituent parts of which are the Birkbeck Institution and the City of London College.
Who does not know Clerkenwell? What thoughts of prisons, prisoners, and explosions, of clocks, watches, and jewellery come jumbling into one's mind at the bare mention of the name! And then what teacher does not remember that one of London's finest Board Schools - the Hugh Myddelton - has ousted the gloomy prison, and now stands a living monument to the efficacy of education as a crime preventive and a prison destroyer. Surely it would be difficult to find a more interesting locality than that in which this latest Industrial University has been so sagaciously located. To the workmen and workwomen of this busy community the Northampton Institute, catering most bountifully as it does for their betterment in their hours of work and of leisure, must be a veritable Palace of Delight, an alma mater in the truest and best sense of that much-abused term.
With a courtesy for which we tender thanks sincere and hearty, we were received by the genial principal, Dr. Walmsley: F. R..S. E., in whose hands we opine the future of this great Institute is more than safe. Before starting round the huge building, we had a conversation with the Principal, in the course of which we learnt what the Governors and well-wishers of the Northampton Polytechnic wish to achieve, which, put briefly, is nothing less than the salvation, both industrial nnd social, of the hive of busy workers who inhabit classic Clerkenwell. In the Workshops and Laboratories of the Institute there is,' said the Doctor, 'no place for the dilettante or, indeed. for anybody except the apprentice, the workman, the foreman, or the master man who wishes to become up-to-date in all that appertains to his art or craft.' Here are no South Kensington Classes, no Matriculation or Degree Courses, but on all sides is to he found ample provision for the acquirement of the most approved technology of the trades of Clerkenwell. This is well set out in the Institute's book of announcements: 'The educational aim of the Northampton Institute is to provide classes in Technological and Trade subjects, a branch of educational work scarcely touched by the sister Institutes. To this end attention is first paid to the immediate requirements of Clerkenwell, the district in which the Institute stands. This district, as is well known, is thronged with small workshops engaged in a variety of trades, amongst which Watch and Clock Making stand out as the most prominent, though by no means the only important trade of the district. Mechanical and Electrical Engineering Workshops (including in the latter Electroplating and Electrotyping) and Art Metal Workers in great variety also abound.
'As many of the workshops are small, the need of an all-round training for the workmen in the principles and practice of the different sections of their trade is more urgent than in huge workshops, where the work of production is subdivided very minutely. It is hoped therefore, that both employers and workmen will co-operate with the Governing Body in their endeavour to meet the educational necessities of the district, and to provide sound technical education adapted to the different classes of workers.'
Herein is contained the indication and justification of the policy of the Institute. Dr. Walmsley informs us that the work is divided into three sections :-
I. Mechanical Engineering, Metal and Building Trades.
II. Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics.
III, Artistic. He also makes it dear why there is no connection between his Institute and the Department of Science and Art. It is not because of any ill-feeling on either side; indeed, the Science and Art Department has rendered very neighbourly help in loaning to the Institute a case of artistic goldsmith's work, for which Mr. Walmsley is duly grateful. It is because science, as expressed in the South Kensington Syllabuses, is of no use to the craftsman, whose weal is the Doctor's first care.
Now, as the Northampton Institute could do very well with the large grants that must come from a connection with the Science and Art Department, it struck us as somewhat anomalous that such a connection should be regarded as undesirable; we remember that a similar state of affairs prevails at the Finsbury Technical College. Surely it is the duty of the Science and Art Department to have part and lot in this matter of the proper technical equipment of Clerkenwell, and surely the authorities are not so blindly wedded to their examinational system as to refuse to lee excellenceexcept through these examinational spectacles. In an, other country a large grant would be forthcoming without examination, and it should certainly be forthcoming here. In talking about the equipment of his Institute, Dr. Walmsley made one or two statements that did not fall welcome upon the ear of your representative, who is a firm believer in the supremacy of the British Workman and of the Trades Union. How unpleasant then was it to bear from this enthusiastic purveyor of technology, that in striving to fit up his workshops and his laboratories in the most efficient manner, he had perforce to get a good proportion of his tools, not from Germany, but from America, 'for,' said Dr. Walmsley, the Englishman, formerly facile princeps in the manufacture of tools, has allowed himself to be outstripped in this respect by his American cousin, who makes tools better and cheaper than his English compeer.' Knowing how well Dr. Walmsley is qualified to judge, and also firmly persuaded that he would fain yield the palm to his countrymen if he could do so honestly, this came upon our ear very unpleasantly. Asked to explain, Dr. Walmsley did so by quoting a case. A friend of his desired to have some radiators, and to this end he issued tenders. Now it chanced that the town in which the radiators were to be used had a foundry where radiators were turned out. Naturally the friend hoped that the local firm would get the contract. What then was his surprise that an American firm quoted prices fifty per cent. lower than those of the local foundry. Remonstrance elicited the following explanation: The American radiators were lighter by one half than those of the local man, and on this account they were cheaper. The local man could not, however, make radiators of this lighter stamp, because the men, who were paid by weight, were forbidden by their Union to make lighter radiators. We print the story for the edification of our readers who, granting the truth thereof, can see why foreigners secure contracts where Englishmen fail to do so.
Dr. Walmsley is most anxious to secure the co-operation of the employers of labour, to whom be looks for support in his attempts to overcome the apathy of the worker in the matter of making himself skilled in modem methods. For, strange as it may seem, there is much reluctance to be combated before even a fair proportion of the Clerkenwell operatives participate in the good things offered to them by the Northampton Institute.
This must not be thought to mean that students have not been forthcoming in this the first session of the Institute's work. So far from this being the case, there have been not less than seven hundred of them enrolled, who between them have taken no less than fourteen hundred class tickets, and the cry is, Still they come; so that compared with other institutions, the send-off of the Clerkenwell Polytechnic has been very gratifying. But before long it is hoped that the studious artisan -intent upon the maximum of skill and information as to his metier - will haunt the Institute in his thousands, for which ample provision has been made, there being upwards of one hundred and fifty large and commodious rooms, some of which are still awaiting the behest of the artisan as to how they shall minister to his improvement.
Bidding good-bye to the worthy Doctor, with every good wish for the ultimate and complete success of his University, we started on our tour of inspection. Fain would we take our readers with us, but a whole number of the PRACTICAL TEACHER would be required to say all we would. We must then perforce draw attention to the most important of the sights that we saw in the course of our two hours' march round the establishment.
The Engines - For providing the various Workshops and Laboratories with power there are two 100 h. p. engines, the one an ordinary boiler made by Adamson, of Dukinfield, the other a Scotch furnace by Babcock and Wilson. It is needless to say that with so much power the Institute drives its own dynamos (and beauties they are too, one by Holmes, the other by Willans), and so generates its own electricity. In addition, they may on occasion switch on to the mains of the Clerkenwell Company, so that a double installation is available.
Thence we passed in succession through a series of Workshops and Laboratories, which for equipment, for airiness, and for convenience of planning could hardly be surpassed. Many specimens of the work of the students were en evidence. In the carpenter's shop was noticeable a staircase beautifully executed. In the material-testing shop was a piece of cement, the breaking strain of which had overnight been ascertained by a patent cement testing machine. In the brick cutting shop again were to be seen many of the bricks, upon which the more or less prentice hands of the students had set their mark. Everywhere was conspicuous the intelligent striving towards higher things, and dull indeed would be the mind that could not realise clearly how direct and how potent must be the bearing of these industrial classes upon the output of English workshops.
Practical Teacher, 1898