11/08/2022

1838, 1839, 1840 Various UK – Mechanics’ Institute exhibitions

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1838, Various UK

Name:Mechanics’ Institute exhibitions
Dates:
Days:
Venue:Birmingham, Bradford, Derby, Halifax, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Nottingham,
the Potteries, Sowerby Bridge, Sunderland, Todmorden
Theme:
Exhibitors:1839/Derby – 1,000;
Awards:
Visitors:1839/Derby – 96,000; 1840/Birmingham – 100,000; 1840/Leeds – 200,000; 1842/Sowerby Bridge – 19,000
Legacy:1839/Derby – Its success led to the city establishing a museum and library, the Derby Museum and Art Gallery still holds a number of the exhibits from the event.

The world’s first mechanics’ institute was established in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Leeds Mechanics’ Institute building

In England, following on from the success of the Manchester Institute, Leeds and Bradford Mechanics’ Institutes each ran exhibitions in 1839. The Bradford event raised around £800 and funded a new Institute building. A Leeds exhibition in 1840 attracted 200,000 visitors. In 1842 the Leeds Institute raised £1630 from its exhibition which cleared past debts and allowed it to purchase a building for its activities.

Sheffield Mechanics’ Institute building

The Sheffield 1839 event was reported as a ‘fashionable lounge […] where the leisure hours of the mechanic are spent in the company of his wife and family’ (Sheffield Iris, 2Apr1839).

The 1840 Birmingham exhibition was reported as a ‘great boom on the inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood’, and to have become a ‘favourite place of resort and recreation’ (Midland Counties Herald, 13Feb1840). Halifax too had an event but theirs was jointly organised by the Literary and Philosophical Society, the local Infirmary and its Mechanics’ Institute, this attracted 100,000 visitors.

Yorkshire, Todmorden and Sowerby Bridge institutes also ran events, the latter running for seven weeks attracting 29,000 visitors and making £142.

1839 Derby event in its Lecture Hall

Derby Mechanics’ Institute ran its own event at its premises, later named as the Albert Hall. It had run lectures, displays and concerts before but this was its first exhibition. Its goal was to help pay for a recent rather grand lecture hall facility that had been added to its premises. Some 1,000 exhibits were displayed at the Athenaeum Rooms, it attracted 96,000 paying visitors (6d each) and achieved its aim. Giving the town ‘more the appearance of a fair or a holiday time than its accustomed quiet’ (Derby Mercury, 3Jul1839). Its success led to the city establishing a museum and library, the Derby Museum and Art Gallery still holds a number of the exhibits from the 1839 event.

An early Nottingham Mechanics’ Institute building

The Thomas Cook temperance excursion to Loughborough in 1841 is much referenced as an early use of railways and the origin of the travel company. But a year earlier the Midland Counties Railway carried visitors to 1840 Institute exhibitions at Leicester and Nottingham.

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