manchester modernist society

The Mechanics Institute

In background on May 9, 2012 at 11:46 am

Today, the old UMIST campus is simply part of the University of Manchester, eaten up by the merger in 2004, but before then it was a fully functioning university in its own right, The University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology.

Its history is closely linked to Manchester’s emergence as the world’s first industrial city, formed by local industrialists and businessmen to ensure their workers could learn the basic principles of science –  the Mechanics’ Institute, funded entirely by private means, provided part time study in mechanics and chemistry, set up on Princess St where the labour history museum is now. Appropriately enough, the so-called father of atomic theory, the chemist John Dalton, was Vice President.

By 1879 JH Reynolds made it part of a growing movement for technical education and linked it with the new city and guilds examinations, successfully enlisting industrial support at a time when UK manufacturers were increasingly worried about foreign competition. This relationship between education and business, research and industrial application was the institution’s driving force, mutually beneficial to the city’s growth and dominance in the new industrial age, and providing much needed education to its working citizenry. It became the new Technical School, eventually taken over by the city in 1892.

Eventually a new building opened in 1902 on Sackville St, which would teach science for industrial application whilst the nearby Owens College concentrated on educating ‘professional’ men. This marked a change in the Manchester story – up to now the capital for new builds and chairs of departments had come mainly from industry rather than the local authority. And as befits its roots in the early chemical industry of the region, the Tech (as it was commonly called) pioneered Chemical Engineering as an academic subject in Britain, with lectures by George E. Davis (1888) highly influential in defining the discipline.

But perhaps a more significant advance was the foundation in 1905 of a Faculty of Technology, answerable academically to its ‘younger sister’ the Victoria University of Manchester (formerly Owens College) and awarding BSc and MSc degrees, the beginnings of UMIST as a University and the first technology faculty in the country….


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