Adult Education and the Public Library
in 19th Century Wolverhampton

The Wolverhampton Free Library Classes 1873 to 1902 (Part 6)

The Developments of the 1880s

The 1880s saw great changes in the organisation and nature of the Free Library classes and there are numerous local and national reasons for this. Firstly, there was a change in the management personnel of the library classes. In late 1883 James Walker, the Free Library Chairman, died [J. Jones op cit p.142] but, more importantly for the Library classes, on 5 September 1884, Alfred Pratt passed away [Wolverhampton Chronicle 6th Sept.1884]. With the demise of the Free Library's

leading light the Library and its classes came under the sway of the new Chairman, Joseph Jones. Jones, a wealthy iron manufacturer, adopted a more businesslike attitude towards the classes than had been evident before and his influence replaced the amateur eagerness of the original Library managers. Joseph Jones, together with his brother John, became benefactors of the Library classes. In this they were following the example of their elder brother, William, who had started a student prize fund in 1873. John and Joseph Jones purchased land at the back of the Garrick Street building for the erection of a laboratory in 1884. [FLC Minutes 25 Aug 1884].

In the middle of the 1880s Jones improved the organisation of the classes and a new range of subjects was introduced. These were commercial courses but later technical courses were added to the Library's curriculum. In 1885 the Library was able to organise its commercial education courses under the guidance and approval of the Royal Society of Arts [FLC Reports 1885]. According to Montgomery, Shorthand had only been included in the Royal Society's approves list of subjects in 1879 [Montgomery op cit p. 78] but was available to the Library classes in 1885. Along with English, and later Domestic Economy, the availability of this subject led to an increase in the number of women enrolling at the Library classes. The success of these "commercial" courses allowed the Committee to boast proudly in 1890 that the Wolverhampton Free Library was the only Public Library in the United Kingdom where students were presented for Society of Arts examinations [FLC Report 1890].

"Technical" subjects were introduced into the Library classes in response to both national and local concern during this period. As early as 1855 Lord Playfair, having examined technical education on the continent at the request of the Prince Consort, warned that "as surely as darkness follows the setting of the sun, so surely will England recede as a manufacturing nation, unless the industrial population become more conversant with science and technical matters than they are now" [L. Playfair "British Eloquence: Lectures and Addresses [1855] p.1]. This warning was echoed in 1876 when the Devonshire Commission reported that development was needed in the field of technical education "to minimise the danger of our decline" [Report of the Royal Commission on Technical Instruction [The Devonshire Commission] [1876] p. 45]. By 1882 the warnings of national decline contained a note of urgency. "There is uneasiness at present respecting our ability to maintain our position in the race of progress .... By neglect of scientific and technical investigation we are sacrificing our welfare as a nation" [G. Gore "The Scientific Basis of National Progress" [1882] p.31]. By 1885 this concern was being felt in Wolverhampton itself, with the Free Library Committee stating that it was "science and technical instruction from which the future industrial well-being of the country so much depends" [FLC Minutes 25 Aug 1885].

It was at this time that Germany was seen as the embodiment of Britain's scientific and technical rival. Germany's alleged technical superiority was accredited to her technical educational system, compared with which "anything in the nature of technical education to be found in England, is an electric lamp to a rushlight" [S. T. Mander, Report on the Education work of the Town Council" [1896] p.6]. Sanderson [1983] saw the root of this anxiety lying in the lack of technical education development in Britain during the 1850s and 1860s [M. Sanderson "Education, Economic change and Society in England 1780 – 1870" Studies in Economic and Social History [1983] pp. 25 – 32] but, irrespective of the reasons, the potential threat from Germany was being felt in Wolverhampton. "Germany competes with Wolverhampton, and Wolverhampton is not asleep in the matter" [Gordon op cit] wrote one contemporary commentator.

In response to these concerns the Library established so-called "technical classes" which were examined and financed [until 1889] by the City and Guilds of London Institute. These courses included "Electric Lighting" and "Iron and Steel Production" [FLC Report 1890]. How these subjects were determined to be "technical" and not "scientific" is hard to see. This is only made a little clearer by reference to the Technical Instruction Act of 1889 which defined technical education as "instruction in the principles of science as applied to industries or employment, but not to the teaching or practice of any trade or industry" [Roderick and Stephens op cit]. This being the case "Iron and Steel Production", so important to Wolverhampton, clearly failed to come into the category of technical education as defined by this Act. The vagueness surrounding this matter is best summed up by Cardwell [1972], who commented that: "It seems to have been the case that many enthusiastic advocates proclaimed 'we cannot say what technical education is, but we must have it'" [[D. S. L. Cardwell "The Organisation of Science in England" [1972] p.37].

Nevertheless, under Jones' administration the Library could claim to offer the Wolverhampton public scientific, technical and commercial education on an organised basis by 1891. Classes in each of these categories were approved by national bodies, such as the Royal Society of Arts, which could award prizes and certificates to students who passed their examinations.

The Library's finances constituted another area where changes took place during the 1880s and early 1890s. Having struggled for over a decade on the penny rate, grants from bodies such as the Science and Art Department and a prize scheme made up of a few monetary donations, the Library and its classes became financially stronger in 1887. In that year a Local Improvement Act was passed, which permitted the Wolverhampton Council to raise extra rates for communal projects, such as the laying of sewers. Part of the provisions of this Act permitted an extra penny rate to be raised to provide more funding for museums and public libraries. The original penny rate which had been set under the terms of Ewart's 1855 Public Libraries Act had been unaltered by subsequent minor Library Acts in 1866, 1871 and 1877 [B. Phillips, T. Beck & M. Maltby "Public Libraries Legislation, Administration and Finance" [1977]]. By the 1880s the Wolverhampton Library, like public libraries all over the country, was suffering from the "cramping effect" [W. A. Mumford "Penny Rate Aspects of British Public Library History 1851 – 1951]" [1951] p.34] of this restricted funding. The extra money made available under the terms of the Local Improvement Act increased the Library's income from the Council from £830 to £1,200 per year [J. J. Olle "The Free Library; Its History and Present Condition" [1971] pp. 224 – 5].

How much of this extra money was spent on the classes is unclear but they certainly benefited from money which became available under the terms of the Technical Instruction Act of 1889. This legislation permitted the Borough to raise yet another penny rate but this one would be devoted purely to the funding of technical education. Much of the £1,215 raised under this Act was allocated to the Library Classes, much to the chagrin of the Wolverhampton School Board [FLC Minutes 13th Nov. 1889]. The following year, 1890, saw even more money become available to the Library when the Local Taxation [Customs and Excise] Act was placed on the Statute books. This Act raised £1,320 for disposal in Wolverhampton [Mander op cit p.13]. It was commonly called "whiskey money", since it was originally intended to compensate publicans who were forced to close their premises, but was redirected towards education when some Members of Parliament objected to its original purpose [P. R. Sharp "Whiskey Money and the Development of Technical and Secondary Education" J. of Educational Administration and History [IV 1971]]. Most of this cash went towards the establishment of a Municipal School of Art, which was to incorporate Charles Mander's Art School. But the general increase in finances prompted John Elliot to devise and promote a bold and imaginative educational scheme. [J. Elliot "Librarian’s Report on Technical Education in Wolverhampton" [1892] p.2].

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