From History of Preston and its Environs, by Charles Hardwick, 1857.
INSTITUTION FOR THE DIFFUSION OF KNOWLEDGE.
Preston possesses no Mechanics' Institute, at least none which is so styled.
There are, however, several libraries and mutual improvement classes, in connection with some of
the leading establishments, which might, perhaps, with greater justice, claim the title, than
many of the so styled " Mechanics' Institutions."
'The Penny Magazine' of the Society for the Diffusion of
Useful Knowledge, London. An 8-page national publication, this is
part iv, 7-14 July, 1832. Click on the image to view this copy as a
Preston was not, however, backward in the cause of popular education, for as
early as October, 1828, the "Institution for the Diffusion of Knowledge" was opened in
Cannon-street, avowedly with the same objects as Mechanics' Institutes. From six hundred to
eight hundred members joined during the first twelve months of its existence, a large proportion
of whom were operatives.
At the end of the first year the library contained about 1,500 volumes, and the
museum above 800 interesting specimens, chiefly in the departments pertaining to natural
history. The institution was, however, too far advanced in its character to meet the then state
of the education of the masses, and, like many other Mechanics' Institutes, soon ceased to be
much patronised by that class.
The number of subscribers, in the course of two or three years, fell to between
three and four hundred. Previously to August, 1837, works of fiction, including Shakspeare and
dramatic literature generally, were excluded.
The committee of the institution originally rented the upper room in a building
on the east side of Cannon-street, which served as both library, museum, and lecture room. The
lower room was afterwards added, but still the accommodation was very limited. The first effort
towards the raising of a fund for the erection of a suitable building was made in 1840, when an
exhibition of works of art, scientific apparatus, machinery, etc., was held in the
It proved very successful, and realised a profit of £280. This sum was
afterwards increased by a legacy of £100, bequeathed by Mr. Hamer Hargreaves, of Manchester, a
talented and enthusiastic amateur musician, This gentleman formerly resided in Preston ; and was
for many years the conductor of the choral society, and chief patron of musical talent in the
town. Considerable exertions were afterwards made, and liberal subscriptions resulted. The
corporation voted £250 in aid of the building, fund.
In 1844, it was resolved to erect a suitable edifice in Cross-street. This site
was, however, afterwards abandoned. The foundation stone of the present handsome building, at
Avenham, was laid in June, 1846, by the then mayor, the late Thomas German, esq.
A bazaar was held in the Corn-exchange during the spring of 1849, in aid of the
funds. This proved one of the most successful enterprises of the kind ever undertaken in
Preston. The total proceeds amounted to about £1,800.
In order to raise the necessary funds to complete the building, Thomas Birchall,
esq. advanced the sum of £600. This was entirely repaid in the year 1854. The total cost,
including fitting, was about £6,000. The building was opened in October, 1849. In architectural
character it partakes of the Greek composite order, combined with modern. Italian. It was
erected from designs by the late Mr. Welch. The portico is, to some extent, imitated from an
antique edifice at Athens, known as the "Temple of the Winds."
contains several good offices and class rooms. The principal story includes a large library
and a reading room of similar dimensions, committe room, ante-rooms, and large lecture hall.
The latter including the gallery, will contain about six hundred persons.
The platform is spacious, and is tastefully ornamented by an architectural
proscenium. A fine oil picture, representing Eve pleading to Adam, decorates the hall. This
picture was presented through Thomas Birchall, esq., by the artist, H. O'Neil, Esq. In the sides
of the building are other class rooms.
The upper story consists of two large exhibition rooms, lighted from the roof,
and united by corridors. One of these has been set apart for Dr. Shepherd's library, the
trustees of which pay a rent of £40. a year to the council of the institution. From the top of
the building, an excellent view is obtained of the town and surrounding country. The approach,
or entrance terrace, was not added till 1849. It is in the Italian villa style, and was designed
by Mr. George Latham. The cost of this work, about £350, was defrayed by James German, esq., and
a few of his friends.
The number of members at the present time, about one half of which may be
included in the operative class, is nearly six hundred,` and the number of volumes in the
library upwards of 6,000. Lectures, gratuitous and otherwise, are regularly given in the theatre
of the institution ; and exhibitions and soirees, are occasionally held in connection with it.
The museum has not yet been fitted up within the present building.
The actual numbers on the books in April last, were as follows :-
Out of business, professional, and tradesmen
Females and minors
Its contents have been greatly neglected, and portions irretrievably injured.
The project for the establishment of a free library and museum in Preston has met with some
favour. Several meetings have been held, at one of which Lord Stanley and Sir Robert Peel,
bart., and at another the Bishop of Manchester, and Sir J. Kay Shuttleworth, bart. Advocated the
cause with great and much commended eloquence. The subscription list, however, does not exhibit
yet, an equal proof of practical zeal in the undertaking. The total amount promised (April,
1857), is £2,274., of which £476. 4s. 6d. is contributed by Preston operatives.
Doubtless, the recent praiseworthy example and munificence of William Browne,
esq., M.P., will stimulate the local patriotism of the inhabitants of Preston, and, in a short
time, the ancient borough will occupy a position in this respect commensurate with its wealth
and population. The numerous and attentive audiences, which have frequented the Corn-exchange,
during the past season, to listen to a course of lectures, gratuitously provided by the mayor,
bears testimony to the increasing desire of the operative population for the acquisition of
From History of Preston and its Environs, by Charles Hardwick,