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Mechanics Institutes

Historically, Mechanics Institutes were educational establishments formed to provide adult education, particularly in technical subjects, to working people. As such, they were often funded by local industrialists on the grounds that they would ultimately benefit from having more knowledgeable and skilled employees (such philanthropy was shown by, among others, Robert Stephenson, James Nasmyth and Joseph Whitworth).

The first institute was established in Glasgow in 1821, some 20 years after George Birkbeck had first instituted free lectures on arts, science and technical subjects.

The London Mechanics Institute (later Birkbeck College) followed in 1823. By the mid 19th century, there were over 700 institutes in towns and cities across the UK and overseas.