Adult Education and the Public Library
in 19th Century Wolverhampto

The Adoption of the Public Library Act 1855 (Part 3)

The establishment of the library

The library was first established in the old Athenaeum building in Queen Street, and the Adoption Committee changed its function to the management of the new Free Library. The most important early action of the Committee was to appoint John Elliot to the post of librarian. 

Elliott's Indicator.

Elliot, a former compositor, later gained international fame for his invention of an "indicator" which told library users of the availability of books. In relation to the development of the Free Library classes, Elliot had both experience in, and a sympathetic view towards, the education of the working classes. As a Congregationalist, Elliot had organised reading classes in a local chapel [W.M.Jones "Congregational Churches of Wolverhampton from the year 1662 to 1894" [1894]pp.117 – 121] and, although he would never actually teach in the Library classes, he was to be an efficient and very hard working secretary, administrator and educational innovator during the ensuing three decades.

There are numerous reasons why Pratt and his colleagues succeeded in establishing a Free Library in 1869 when the previous attempt had failed. The "pioneers" of 1869 were far more organised in their approach than Mander had been. They read the situation well and gained working class respect and support at a time when the political interest and awareness of this group was likely to have been high. It was only two years before, in 1867, that many of them would have become enfranchised. Pratt's genuine, albeit somewhat patronising, concern with the educational welfare of the working class, like Ewart's, stemmed from an almost missionary zeal to help his fellow men. In the potential of the Library Act he saw a way of fulfilling his ambition to offer education to the masses. It is possible, too, that some of his motivation was personal, for his dislike of C. B. Mander would make him want to succeed where Mander had failed. Pratt seemed particularly gifted in motivating others to support the concept of a Free Public Library. Finally, Pratt was skilled in understanding the power of publicity in bringing about changes in public opinion, and undoubtedly he was adept at using the articulateness he gained from his occupation in bringing this about.

Return to the
previous page
  Return to the
  Proceed to the
next page