Records of the Reading Mechanics Institution, and of the Reading Literary, Scientific and Mechanics Institution

This record is held by Berkshire Record Office

Details of D/EX 1431
Reference: D/EX 1431
Title: Records of the Reading Mechanics Institution, and of the Reading Literary, Scientific and Mechanics Institution
Date: 1827
Held by: Berkshire Record Office, not available at The National Archives
Language: English
Physical description: 3 vols
Immediate source of acquisition:

Transferred in January 1997 (acc. 5950)

Administrative / biographical background:

Reading Mechanics Institution was formed in c.1825. The first meetings were held in rented rooms in Bear Yard, near the Bear Inn, Bridge Street, Reading, until the end of 1827; in January 1828 the Institution moved to 55 St Mary's Butts. The principles of the Institution were "to open to the view of the Artisan the truths of Natural Philosophy and Science"; this was done by providing lectures on subjects including electricity, chemistry, geology, astronomy, practical mechanics and history, holding classes on specific subjects (the first being astronomy), and by providing a library for the use of members, with a paid librarian and printed catalogues. During its first year of life, the committee spent £230 on books, models and lectures. Its other possessions included two models of Stonehenge, presented in 1828 by lecturer Henry Browne. By October 1827, when surviving records begin, there were a hundred members. Expenditure unfortunately exceeded income from 1828, and by June 1830 the debts were so great that the committee was forced to recommend the dissolution of the Institution. The premises were given up, and the last official meeting was held, in September 1830, although the committee continued to meet to deal with the disposal of the Institution's property. The library and other stock were sold by public auction in 1831, but the records were retained by the secretary

 

Although in 1830 appeals for financial support were not answered, ten years later the Institution's time had come. Popular demand led to the Institution's re-formation in November 1840, with the object "to instruct the Working Classes in the principles of the Arts they practice, and in other branches of useful knowledge, excluding party politics and controversial theology". Like its predecessor, lectures and classes were run, together with a library; it also had a museum. Prince Albert agreed to become patron of the Institution in December 1840, and made a donation of £10. By 1843, the name was changed to the Reading Literary Scientific and Mechanics' Institution, its objects being the promotion of the study of literature and science; this change was due to the fact that only three genuine mechanics had joined, the majority of the members being respectable tradesmen. Permanent premises were acquired in London Street, Reading (meetings having previously taken place at the Town Hall and lectures in rented rooms in Vastern Street)

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