Mechanics' Institute, Manchester

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Mechanics' Institute, Princess Street, Manchester Mechanics' Institute 2.JPG
Mechanics' Institute, Princess Street, Manchester

The Mechanics' Institute, 103 Princess Street, Manchester, is notable as the building in which three significant British institutions were founded: the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the Co-operative Insurance Society (CIS) and the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST). It has been a Grade II* listed building since 11 May 1972. [1]

Princess Street, Manchester street in Manchester, United Kingdom

Princess Street is one of the main streets in the city centre of Manchester, England. It begins at Cross Street and runs approximately eastwards across Mosley Street, Portland Street and Whitworth Street until the point where it continues as Brook Street and eventually joins the A34.

Trades Union Congress

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) is a national trade union centre, a federation of trade unions in England and Wales, representing the majority of trade unions. There are fifty affiliated unions, with a total of about 5.6 million members. The current General Secretary is Frances O'Grady.

University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology

The University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) was a university based in the centre of the city of Manchester in England. It specialised in technical and scientific subjects and was a major centre for research. On 1 October 2004, it amalgamated with the Victoria University of Manchester to form a new entity also called The University of Manchester.


Plaque commemorating the first meeting of the Trades Union Congress at the Mechanics' Institute in 1868 Mechanics' Institute 5.JPG
Plaque commemorating the first meeting of the Trades Union Congress at the Mechanics' Institute in 1868


Plaque commemorating the first meeting of the Co-operative Insurance Company at the Mechanics' Institute in 1867 Mechanics' Institute 3.JPG
Plaque commemorating the first meeting of the Co-operative Insurance Company at the Mechanics' Institute in 1867

Early years

The institute, which was one of many, was established in Manchester on 7 April 1824 at the Bridgewater Arms hotel. Its purpose was to provide facilities for working men to learn the principles of science through part-time study. The original prospectus of the institute stated

Mechanics Institutes educational establishment

Mechanics' Institutes are educational establishments, originally formed to provide adult education, particularly in technical subjects, to working men. Similar organisation are sometimes simply called Institutes. As such, they were often funded by local industrialists on the grounds that they would ultimately benefit from having more knowledgeable and skilled employees. The Mechanics' Institutes were used as 'libraries' for the adult working class, and provided them with an alternative pastime to gambling and drinking in pubs.

The Manchester Mechanics' Institution is formed for the purpose of enabling Mechanics and Artisans, of whatever trade they may be, to become acquainted with such branches of science as are of practical application in the exercise of that trade; that they may possess a more thorough knowledge of their business, acquire a greater degree of skill in the practice of it, and be qualified to make improvements and even new inventions in the Arts which they respectively profess. It is not intended to teach the trade of the Machine-maker, the Dyer, the Carpenter, the Mason, or any other particular business, but there is no art which does not depend, more or less, on scientific principles, and to teach what these are, and to point out their practical application, will form the chief object of this Institution. [2]

The most notable of the founders were William Fairbairn, Richard Roberts, George William Wood, George Philips, Joseph Brotherton and Benjamin Heywood. The last of these chaired the first meeting, became the leading patron and is often considered to be the founder. Many of these men shared similar interests, such as being Unitarians and members of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, aside from a desire to improve the commercial, industrial and technological life of Manchester. In this regard, Brotherton stood out as a deviation from the norm, for example in politics and religion. [3] Others among the founders were James Murray, Thomas Hopkins, J. C. Dyer and Phillip Novelli, all of whom were later significant figures in the Anti-Corn Law League. [4]

William Fairbairn Scottish civil engineer, structural engineer and shipbuilder

Sir William Fairbairn, 1st Baronet of Ardwick was a Scottish civil engineer, structural engineer and shipbuilder. In 1854 he succeeded George Stephenson and Robert Stephenson to become the third president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

Richard Roberts (engineer) welsh patternmaker and engineer

Richard Roberts was a Welsh patternmaker and engineer whose development of high-precision machine tools contributed to the birth of production engineering and mass production.

George William Wood was an English businessman, Member of Parliament and leading member of civil society in Manchester.

In 1825 the first building in England expressly designed for use as a mechanics' institute was erected for its use in Cooper Street, off Princess Street, in Manchester. [5] This was demolished in the early 1970s.[ citation needed ]

Although the original purpose of the institute was maintained, it was increasingly the case that emphasis was placed also on the wider social aspects of the organisation. Heywood's initial optimism regarding the moral upliftment of a significant number of working men through technical education was tempered by the realisation that tiredness and even employment status impeded its achievement. From around 1830, the scope of education was widened to include more elementary aspects, there were proposals to set up reading groups in surrounding areas that would be supplied with books from the institute's library, and also moves to encourage involvement in sports and in general social events. Mostly led from the top, although occasionally the result of explicit demands from its membership, the changes included the creation of a room for reading newspapers, a change in the type of lectures, which became less rigidly based on scientific topics, as also did the library stock, and events such as concerts, exhibitions and excursions played a more important role. Facilities for educating women and children were also introduced but, for example, a request to begin classes in history was rejected because of fears that it would lead to debates about politics. [6]

This institute organised the first City exhibition in 1837 and this led to a large number of similar exhibitions in English industrial towns and cities. [7] By the 1840s, the exhibitions included thousands of casts, busts and masks relating to the fashionable subject of phrenology and were attracting over 100,000 visitors. The Manchester Phrenological Society used its facilities. [8]

Phrenology study of human characteristics according to shape of the skull

Phrenology is a pseudoscience which involves the measurement of bumps on the skull to predict mental traits. It is based on the concept that the brain is the organ of the mind, and that certain brain areas have localized, specific functions or modules. Although both of those ideas have a basis in reality, phrenology extrapolated beyond empirical knowledge in a way that departed from science. The central phrenological notion that measuring the contour of the skull can predict personality traits is discredited by empirical research. Developed by German physician Franz Joseph Gall in 1796, the discipline was influential in the 19th century, especially from about 1810 until 1840. The principal British centre for phrenology was Edinburgh, where the Edinburgh Phrenological Society was established in 1820.


The institute moved to the current building in 1855. The building was designed by J. E. Gregan in an Italian palazzo style and was Gregan's last work. [9] It consists of three tall storeys with a basement and blind attic storey and is constructed of brick with stone dressings. "It set a standard for the scale of the commercial warehouses which were to follow, but the nobility and purity of the design sets it apart from its neighbours."[ citation needed ]

The inaugural meeting of the Trades Union Congress was held in the building, 2–6 June 1868. In 1882 it was decided to establish a technical school, the Technical School and Mechanics' Institution; it opened in September 1882. [5] This was the beginning of the institution later known as UMIST.

Present day

As of 2002 the building contained archives from the National Labour History Museum, [10] which were subsequently relocated with that museum.


See also

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  1. "103, Princess Street - Manchester - Manchester - England". 1972-05-11. Retrieved 2015-05-04.
  2. Tylecote, Mabel Phythian (1957). The Mechanics' Institutes of Lancashire and Yorkshire Before 1851. Manchester University Press. p. 131.
  3. Tylecote, Mabel Phythian (1957). The Mechanics' Institutes of Lancashire and Yorkshire Before 1851. Manchester University Press. pp. 129–130.
  4. Pickering, Paul; Tyrell, Alex (2000). The People's Bread: A History of the Anti-Corn Law League. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 226. ISBN   978-0-56720-497-4.
  5. 1 2 Frangopulo, N. J., ed. (1962) Rich Inheritance. Manchester: Education Committee; p. 85
  6. Tylecote, Mabel Phythian (1957). The Mechanics' Institutes of Lancashire and Yorkshire Before 1851. Manchester University Press. pp. 132–134.
  7. Kusamitsu, Toshia (1980). "Great Exhibitions before 1851". Hist Workshop J. 9 (1): 70–89. doi:10.1093/hwj/9.1.70.
  8. Cliff, Alice (Spring 2014). "Coming home - Bally's miniature phrenological specimens". Science Museum Group Journal (1). doi:10.15180/140102.
  9. Hartwell, Clare (2001). Pevsner Architectural Guides: Manchester. p. 219.
  10. Hartwell, Clare (2001). Pevsner Architectural Guides: Manchester. pp. 196–197.
  11. Eileen Jay, ‘Armitt, Mary Louisa (1851–1911)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 13 Nov 2015


Coordinates: 53°28′37″N2°14′21″W / 53.4769°N 2.2392°W / 53.4769; -2.2392