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the working men's college

A significant development in adult education in the 1850s.

The Working Men’s College, 44 Crowndale Road NW1. Founded in 1854, it was, in many respects, a significant break with earlier adult education efforts - and, in particular, the Mechanics Institutes. A small group of professional men that included the lawyer, Tom Hughes (who was later to write Tom Brown’s Schooldays), Frederick Denison Maurice (a theologian) and Charles Kingsley (the writer) were committed to the furtherance of co-operative ideals, Christian brotherhood and social justice. Describing themselves as Christian Socialists they wanted to make their beliefs concrete. Through conversations with various working class activists they decided to set up the College.

It was named as a ‘college’ because the founders wanted to create a community of teachers and students - a ‘society’ in which they ‘are equally members, a society in which men are not held together by the bond of buying and selling’ (from a circular of 1954 quoted by Harrison 1954: 21). These concerns sprang from a belief in the spirit of Christian brotherhood - and a belief in the humanist tradition of the older universities. The emphasis was to be on, as one student put it, ‘friends teaching friends’. The curricula, in contrast to the Mechanics Institutes, placed an emphasis on humane studies. Amongst the teaching ‘friends’ in art were Ruskin, Rossetti, and Burne-Jones! (The original College premises were just a few doors away from the Pre-Raphaelites lodgings at 17 Red Lion Square). The College moved to the Crowndale Road site in the 1905/6 academic year.


Harrison, J. F. C. (1954) A History of the Working Men's College 1954-1954, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.


© Mark K. Smith. First published August 7, 1997.