Since its inception City has been committed to improving the lives of students, businesses and the local community. When the Northampton Institute was founded in 1894 it was done so with the intention of providing education in technological and trade subjects for the local community in the Clerkenwell district and the aim of promoting the “industrial skill, general knowledge, health and well-being of young men and women belonging to the poorer classes”.
The first courses taught at the Institute covered a wide range of vocational subjects, including trades that are still associated with the local Clerkenwell area, such as horology and goldsmithing. Courses were also offered to women, including ‘Domestic Economy’ and ‘Women’s Trades’ which enabled women to learn skilled jobs such as tailor cutting and millinery.
The Institute was keen to ensure that opportunities were available to everyone and for roughly the first 50 years, courses were primarily taught to evening students, with only around 5-10% of students attending courses during the day. Fees were to be ‘what may be reasonably expected to be paid by persons belonging to the poorer classes between the ages of 16 and 25, but admission thereto shall not be limited to persons between those ages” demonstrating the commitment the Institute had to widening educational opportunities as much as it could.
In the early days of the Institute, it was important, as it is now, to encourage the development of the whole person. This holistic approach meant that all members were to have access to recreational opportunities as well as educational ones. This ethos was influenced by the ‘People’s Palace’ in Mile End, which sought to ‘raise the moral tone and life style of poor workers of East London’. This motivation is explored in the City125 Exhibition.
Entertainments and recreations were provided by the Institute for students and members of the local community, who could join the Institute for a fee. Some activities, such as concerts, were open to the wider public.
The swimming baths are also worth a mention here. Described in a 1913 pamphlet as being ‘large and commodious’, it was the first swimming pool in Islington when it opened in. In 1908, it was used as a training pool for the London Olympics. The Great Hall was the venue for Boxing in the same games.
City may now be an institution with a global outlook, but it has never forgotten its original ethos to expand and widen educational opportunities for Londoners. The Department of Music continues to offer concerts, and the University still offers public lectures. In addition to this, members of City can still get involved in volunteering opportunities in the local community.
In July the second part of the exhibition ‘The Story of City: life, learning and legacy’ will be unveiled to the public. The exhibition focuses on student life at City and the role the Institute played in community life.
The exhibition is located at the foot of the Grand Staircase, on the ground floor of the Pavilion, University Building. Step-free access is available from the main entrance, on Northampton Square. Admission is free and you can visit whenever the University reception is open.