Welcome to Manchester Confidential
Reset Password
The Confidential websites will be undergoing routine updates. This may cause the sites to go offline. We apologise in advance for any inconvenience.

You are here: Manchester ConfidentialCultureArchitecture.

The Good, The Standard, The Ugly: Mechanics’ Institute

Jonathan Schofield, The End of History, Marxists, TUC and a quite splendid building

Written by . Published on December 22nd 2014.


The Good, The Standard, The Ugly: Mechanics’ Institute
 

Category: Excellent

What?
The Mechanics Institute, Princess Street, city centre. And here's their website.

When?
1856

Who?
John Edgar Gregan

Why’ve you picked this building?
Loads of reasons. But first because it’s an excellent building. It’s in the palazzo style (click here for an explanation of this), three storeys, brick with stone dressings and has the rhythmic close spacing of windows seen in the surrounding warehouses, but the detailing is crafted more carefully. It’s strong but not flashy; a classic and classy city structure. Round the back it’s plainer, with a wall of white tiles to provide extra light on what would have been a very narrow and dark street.

Palazzo style and a bus

Palazzo style and a bus

What did it have inside?
The Mechanics’ Institute had been created in 1824 with philanthropist money. The first president was Benjamin Heywood, a prominent banker. Gregan had already designed Heywood’s Bank in St Ann’s Street in 1846 which is maybe why he was chosen for this commission when the Institute moved to purpose built premises. Heywood’s Bank is the most exquisite ‘palazzo’ of them all and a triumph of Manchester architecture. It’s now a Royal Bank of Scotland branch.

Gregan's perfect 'palazzo'

Gregan's perfect 'palazzo'

So what did the Mechanics do?
The Institute promoted adult education in the sciences and the arts for those who may not have had access to a full education. The Princess Street building had a newspaper and reading room, classrooms, catering facilities and a ‘Great Hall’ for debates.

White tiles for extra light round the back

White tiles for extra light round the back

Any other gems of history?
Absolutely. It was in this building that the TUC was founded in 1868. By Tories.

Tories....eh?
It’s an irony that given the future links between the Labour Party and the Trades Unions that two prime movers and shakers behind the first ever Trades Union Congress, William Wood and Samuel Nicholson, were both Conservatives. They helped set up the Manchester Salford and Trades Council, a body, that in February 1868 called for a national congress aimed at addressing the ‘profound ignorance which prevails in the public mind’ about unions. This followed violent trade disputes in the Sheffield cutlery industry, amongst Manchester’s bricklayers and elsewhere. The first meeting called for annual congresses, for ensuring that unions are ‘an absolute necessity’, and debated the ‘inequality of law in regard to intimidation picketing, coercion’ and the need for government inspection into conditions of work. And then there’s Francis Fukuyama.

Mr Fukuyama getting it wrongMr Fukuyama gets it wrongWho he?
He’s the man who wrote a book called The End of History in 1989. He wrote, ‘What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such... That is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.’

That’s a big statement.
It is. I helped host his final meeting on his world tour promoting the book. We decided to host it in the main hall at the Mechanics. It seemed appropriate for the man who’d decided that socialism was dead. More than 200 people turned up. It looked like the entire population of one of the squats in a Hulme Crescent. They were all socialists, Marxists, communists - possibly there were some anarchists. Poor Fukuyama got metaphorically torn to shreds and trampled on. There wasn’t a single voice raised in support of his End of History idea.

Did he cry?
No, but later when we went to the Yang Sing for a dinner, he said, “I’ve been round the whole of the globe, through the former Eastern Bloc and everywhere, and never met such ideologues for the Left as I have in Manchester. I suppose that’s because you’ve never had a proper revolution nor been defeated in a war of occupation. You still look at Communism with rose tinted glasses.”

Anything else?Yes, in 2008 twenty four would be tour guides for Manchester, Green Badge Guides, sat exams in the main hall at the Mechanics. One of the questions was, ‘When was the TUC founded in Manchester?’ On a lectern at the front of the hall it said ‘TUC founded here in 1868’. Some of the guides missed it unfortunately: but they all passed. Despite the decor.

Brothel-chicBrothel-chicWhat do you mean?
The 1980s fit out (I think that is when it dates from) has left some shocking wallpapers and partitioning. The stuff on the lift, next to a wonderful grand staircase you could ride a horse up, looks like something from a 1980s brothel.

Last thing, what goes on there now?
Well firstly we should be thankful for a campaign by concerned left-wingers such as Dave Carter, boss of the Manchester Digital Development Agency, that led to the building’s survival. It nearly went in the seventies and eighties, part of a crazed inner-ring road scheme. It's a meeting space and conference centre with function rooms where you can get married or talk about the broad sweep of political history. But more than that the Mechanics’ Institute is a special component of what makes Manchester, both in spirit and design.

The Mechanics Institute

The Mechanics Institute

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter @JonathSchofield or connect via Google+ Jonathan Schofield, in part association with Manchester Confidential, has written a new guide to the city. Click here.

Like what you see? Enter your email to sign up for our newsletters which are chock-a-block with more great reviews, news, deals and savings.

SmittyDecember 22nd 2014.

What a great article. That Fukuyama vignette is a delight! He's still spouting the same old nonsense. I'm kind of hoping that I might find his new book in my stocking this week.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Jonathan Schofield - editorDecember 22nd 2014.

Thanks Smitty. I'd still rather receive a book from musty intellectual Fukuyama rather than dangerous demagogue Russell - 'I used to be a comedian' - Brand.

AnonymousDecember 22nd 2014.

'It nearly went in the seventies and eighties, part of a crazed inner-ring road scheme.'? Sounds like a Leese & Bernstein plan!

To post this comment, you need to login.Please complete your login information.
OR CREATE AN ACCOUNT HERE..
Or you can login using Facebook.

Latest Rants

Anonymous

I started work at Dial House in 1946, as a trainee telephonist . Did any body else work at the…

 Read more
Anonymous

I'm sure it will happen over time, the sprawling suburbs will start to creep back towards the city…

 Read more
Anonymous

To digress a little but in a similar mindset,why has nobody done anything about regenerating…

 Read more
James Smith

I'm basically saying that 2 peters square is set to be an equivalent North tower. But at least that…

 Read more

Explore The Site

© Mark Garner t/a Confidential Direct 2017

Privacy | Careers | Website by: Planet Code | SEO by The eWord