Mechanics' institutes in Northumberland and Durham 1824-1902
Except for Hudson's major work which explored developments in the first half of the nineteenth century, and more recently the research undertaken by Tylecote and Kelly, most surveys of the Mechanics' Institute Movement in England have been confined t6 local studies of individual institutes, unpublished theses and collected essays on the subject. Kelly acknowledged that the limitations characteristic of his publication George. Birkbeck. which attempted a nationwide review of the subject, were due to a lack of detailed regional investigation upon which he could have drawn. A stimulus is therefore provided for further regionally based research. The purpose of this work is to trace the origins and metamorphosis of the Movement in the North East of England during; the last century, until its final state of change in the early 1900s.Within the region, several factors featured prominently in creating the environment in which the institutes were to function. These included economic and political reform, together with the broad spectrum of educational, social and cultural activities made available to the working-classes. Thus, the interaction between representatives from the various sections of society was inevitably brought into focus in voluntary bodies such as the mechanics' institutes, where it was hoped that mutually beneficial ambitions might be fulfilled. The Mechanics' Institute Movement in the North East reflected experiences which were typical of many other regions, yet much was exceptional. To illustrate this point, certain issues have been subjected to detailed analysis - in particular the identity of promoters, their motives, and how they brought their schemes to fruition. The effect of the powerful and often conflicting demands for the various services which together constituted both adult education and recreation has been assessed against a background determined by the promoters of institutes and by increasing Government legislation which provided for the introduction of public libraries and technical instruction. Consequently, the survival of the institutes was secured within a climate of progressive external and internal pressures. In the past, the full significance of the Movement's contribution to working-class educational, social and cultural development has lacked the appreciation it deserves. This regional analysis has shown that after existing for almost one hundred years its legacy remains encapsulated within our national system of public libraries, technical colleges, social centres, and not least in our heritage of mechanics' institute buildings. The task of providing insights into the complexity of the Movement's role in the North East has not been achieved without confronting difficulties similar to those experienced by Kelly and others. If any questions, therefore, remain unanswered, they do so because of the elusiveness of source material. At best, much was of a scattered, fragmentary and sometimes contradictory nature. Despite diligently pursued enquiry at repositories both locally and in other parts of the country, it has had to be accepted that the location of many relevant items is unknown.