The Mechanics’ Institution, Southampton Buildings

From: Mogg’s New Picture of London and Visitor’s Guide to its Sights (1844):

“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.”

From: Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London (1850):

“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.”

From: Cruchley’s London in 1865 : A Handbook for Strangers (1865):

“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.”


“The lecture theatre was probably built in 1825 to the design of Robert McWilliam, though not recorded in Colvin, 1995. The roof, which was an experimental design, failed in 1827 and McWilliam was not thereafter re-elected Vice President.”

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