Working Men's College

The Working Men's College- WMC, being among the earliest adult education institutions established in the United Kingdom, is Europe's oldest extant centre for adult education and perhaps one of its smallest. The name is now often abbreviated to WMC.

History and background

Founded in 1854 the College was established by Christian Socialists to provide a liberal education for Victorian skilled artisans to counter what its founders saw as the failings in practice of the social theory of Associationism. The founding of the College was also partially a response to concerns about the revolutionary potential of the Chartist Movement. Its early protagonists were also closely associated with the Co-operative Movement and labour organisations.

The College's founders – a view reached in 1904 – were Frederick Denison Maurice, (the first principal), Thomas Hughes (author of Tom Brown's Schooldays), John Malcolm Forbes Ludlow, Frederick James Furnivall, Lowes Cato Dickinson,John Westlake, Richard Buckley Litchfield and John Llewelyn Davies. Notable early promoters and supporters of the College and its foundation were, Edward Vansittart Neale, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Ruskin, Charles Blachford Mansfield,John Stuart Mill, and Charles Kingsley, (author of The Water-Babies), while later including G.M. Trevelyan, E. M. Forster, C.E.M. Joad and Seamus Heaney

Frederick Denison Maurice with Frances Martin helped to set up the Working Women's College in 1874, later to be called The Frances Martin College. This sister college, through financial and organisational difficulties, eventually ran its courses for women at The Working Men's College, and later this in name only as it, and its associated charity, had become unviable. The College's charitable funds were absorbed into those of The Working Men's College, and The Frances Martin College ceased to exist in 1967. Around this time, in 1965, The Working Men's College admitted female students for the first time.

The decision to admit women was an expression of what was seen by the College as its unique and progressive historic feature: educational and financial management through a democratically elected Council of teachers and students. Teachers, (who were unpaid volunteer professionals in their field,) and students were both considered as, and called, Members of College as a mark of equality and respect. This educational and management tradition, seen as being in the spirit of a liberal education that promotes values and responsible civic behaviour, and being a direct link to the founders' concern over the failure of Associationism, lasted until the mid–1990s. Sir Wilfred Griffin Eady, principal of the College from 1949 to 1955, defined Liberal Education, the raison d'etre of the College, as "something you can enjoy for its own sake, something which is a personal possession and an inward enrichment, and something which teaches a sense of values".

During the 1970s the College introduced and increased a number of certificated courses, and by the beginning of the 1980s there were successful moves to change the voluntary tradition by remunerating teachers. This led to a drain on the financial reserves of the College. Where previously it supported itself mostly from interest on donations as investments, by the late 1980s it felt obliged to seek government financial aid.

In 1996–97, the governance of the college was changed. Before the change, two bodies regulated college under Articles of Association and a Scheme of Management: a College Council of 12 teachers and 12 students elected by members of college, and a College Corporation of 16 members self-appointed. Council directed education and finance policy through its committees, and elected college officers: the Principal, Vice Principal, Dean of Studies, Bursar and Librarian. Corporation managed college charitable trust funds and provided for asset maintenance and part-finance for courses; it was composed largely of lawyers, bankers and businessmen thought capable of managing and extending charitable funding from the private sector. Both bodies and their officers were voluntary. Before 1996, an administrative staff of Warden, Deputy Warden, Financial Controller, and College Secretary ran the College day-to-day, managing a small number of part-time reception and maintenance staff. After legal advice, and representations to the Charity Commission, Corporation introduced a new Scheme of Management that dissolved Council, and created a self-appointed governing Board of 21 members to decide policy and oversee what became an enlarged paid management. Forceful argument on the change was made on both sides. Seeing Liberal Education’s civic values and democratic control as being relevant was a view opposed by one that saw different management method being needed for financial and educational viability.

College building and use

The College opened at 31 Red Lion Square, later moving to Great Ormond Streetin 1857, both in Central London. In 1905 it located to its new Crowndale Road building in the borough of St Pancras, London, now part of The London Borough of Camden. This new home had been designed by W. D. Caroe. Since 1964 the building has been Grade II listed.

Foundation stone of the Working Men's College, Camden. Inscription reads:

The Prince of Wales mentioned later became George V of the United Kingdom.

The idea of a new purpose-built College had been expressed in the late 1880s. By the 1890s, the demand for more space through increased student numbers, and competition from other institutions such as Evening Continuation Schools and Polytechnics, created a need for greater accommodation, and a desire for facilities such as a museum, gymnasium and chemistry laboratory. The College developed a new building at Crowndale Road on a site purchased from Lord Camden; begun in July 1904, and partly occupied in 1905, it was formally opened by Sir William Anson in January 1906.

The physical structure of the building at Crowndale Road was designed to reflect that found within university colleges. Large common spaces, Library, Common Room, Hall, Museum, and later The Charles Wright Common Room, promoted social and intellectual interaction between student, teacher and staff Members of College. There was no separate staff room. Specialist rooms such as science laboratories art and craft studios, lecture theatre, and a gymnasium were added in the 1930s, reflecting a desire to provide a broad educational experience.

Principal in providing this experience was The Common Room. During the 20th century this room, with a Servery for refreshment, provided a focus for College Members meet, read, discuss, prepare for class, eat, and occasionally hold impromptu public debates. It was used as a meeting place for College societies and clubs. Over the years, the College held societies covering activities and subjects such as boxing, cricket, debating, economics, football, geology, singing, chess, draughts, rowing, history, natural history, old students, modern languages, language interpretation, railways, walking, sketching, holidays, wireless, music, and science. Regular social events were organised by a Common Room Committee. The room was the venue for one of the College’s most important functions, The Furnivall Supper, provided by College founder F.J. Furnivall. The supper, a Christmas meal for old people of the district round the College, lasted as an event until the 1980s. Up to the late–1980s, a September Teachers’ Supper was held in The Common Room hosted by the Principal; there was a talk from a guest speaker followed by debate.

The Maurice Hall, with its stage and theatrical lighting, was used for College and outside-user social functions: dances, recitals by the College orchestra, conferences, outside speakers, theatrical performance, lectures, general College meetings, and for a yearly Lowes Dickinson Award art Exhibition.

The Museum has changed its use over the years, from schoolroom for private school tenants to art studio. The room features a pastel portrait of Lionel Jacob, (teacher, Vice Principal 1904–10.) It was re-designated in the early 1990s as the William Walker Room (William 'Paddy' Walker, student and Corporation member for 50 years).

The Gymnasium and The Charles Wright Room, were part of a 1936 building extension, through the demolition of two adjacent College-owned houses, funded by endowment funds, an Appeal Fund, and the Board of Education. The Gymnasium was an adjunct to new College playing fields at Canon’s Park, Edgware, that were already used for physical training and sports. The introduction of gymnastics followed a "national interest in physical training – stimulated by the efforts of the European dictatorships in this direction". The Charles Wright Room (Charles Wright, b.1855, College benefactor) was added as a second Common Room. Within this 1936 extension were two new science laboratories, one the Ellis Franklin Laboratory, (Ellis Franklin, teacher, Vice Principal 1922–29,) and new flats for the College Secretary and caretaker.

Post 2000

College building and use programmes reduced original common space and removed some specialist rooms. The Common Room, which ceased to be such in its original sense, was split, one half to house a Centre for Student Affairs for enrolment and other administration. The rear of the building was restructured, removing the original Servery, adding a new lift, and a cafeteria with new library on two levels. The Charles Wright Common Room became management space. The gymnasium was converted for general use. The old Library remained, being listed; it kept its original purpose, and use as an occasional location for film. The original Museum became a staff room.

In 2008, College provision was graded as "good" or "outstanding" by OFSTED, and in 2009 it was awarded Beacon Status.

The Working Men's College remains one of the smallest adult education providers in the area.

Notable associates
1854 - 1904
1905 - 1954
1955 - 2011
Vice Principals

A principal provided the intellectual driving force and public face of the College. In 1869 F.D. Maurice found his work beyond the College precluded taking as active a role as previously. He recommended an office of Vice Principal to oversee and direct administration. This office was supplemented by others: Dean of Studies, Bursar, and Librarian; all being taken by teachers or students through election. These offices ceased to exist in 1996/97.

Building Activity

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