1859 - Mechanics' Institute
In an effort to remedy the poor teaching found in many elementary schools, benefactors such as industrialists or co-operative societies helped fund colleges offering part-time courses. Here adults who had a mind to 'improve themselves' — few of them were actually 'mechanics' — could learn about mathematics, science, literature and other academic pursuits. Why were the courses often tailored to the needs of local industry?
Opened on 30 May 1859, the Coalbrookdale Institute illustrates the further education facilities of a typical Victorian town. This part of Shropshire, around Abraham Darby's famous Iron Bridge, is often hailed as the cradle of the Industrial Revolution. The opening of the Institute provided the people of the Ironbridge area with the means of acquiring a 'useful knowledge in literary and scientific subjects'. For a subscription of six shillings a year members had access to a library containing some 3,000 volumes and a reading room that, for the convenience of shift-workers from the ironworks and potteries of the Ironbridge Gorge, was open until 10 o'clock at night. Besides the programme of classes and lectures the Institute, mindful of its duty to 'improve', regularly arranged concerts, exhibitions and poetry readings. The building also housed the Coalbrookdale School of Art, one of 90 such schools set up during the 1850s with the help of a Department of Science and Art grant to provide a practical education in the arts. It was greatly valued by local industry - the decorative ironwork produced at the Coalbrookdale Company's foundries was world famous, the Coalport China Works was one of the largest producers of porcelain in Europe and there were two major manufacturers of decorative tiles within walking distance of the school. Many of the students from the School of Art were (or became) employees of these companies and, indeed, the Coalbrookdale Company paid for the bricks, structural ironwork and building costs of the Institute; the works manager, Charles Crookes, is named as the Institute's architect. In 1980 - the Institute and School of Art being long closed - the building was converted by the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust into a hostel for students and other groups visiting the impressive network of industrial monuments and museums in the area. Thus, in a throroughly modern way, it maintains the educational ideals on which the Institute was originally founded.
|1848 - National School|