From the Archives: City and the local community

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.

You can also view photographs and information from the exhibition on the City125 microsite. If you have any questions about the exhibition, you can contact the CityLibrary Archives team.

 

Behind the scenes of The Story of City: The Financial Ledger

One of the more challenging objects in City’s 125th anniversary exhibition was a mysterious ledger found in the archives. The leather-bound book, simply labelled ‘Private’, was fastened with a brass lock, for which the key has long been lost.

Keen to discover the ledger’s secrets, we contacted several locksmiths and book conservators. They identified a number of issues with opening the lock – given the tiny size of the key, reproducing it would be very fine and detailed work. The brass construction of the lock also posed problems for conventional lock-picking, as there was a risk of damaging the fairly soft metal.

Ultimately, our conservator recommended a locksmith who specialises in historical locks. The book was taken off-site, and a new key was produced. Unfortunately, due to the age of the item, the reproduction key became jammed in the lock. The ledger was ultimately opened, although with some damage to the locking mechanism; this is sometimes an unavoidable consequence of working with fragile and complex archival objects.

What we found inside the ledger justified the unfortunate damage to the object. Dating back to 1891, the financial records cover almost every aspect of the first years of City, from its conception, to its building, and through to the early activities of the first Principal, Dr Robert Mullineux Walmsley. Our conservator felt the pages were in such good condition, it was likely that the ledger had not been opened for at least a hundred years.

Financial records like this often contain information that is otherwise lost to history. For example, while we knew that the Great Hall was used for public ‘entertainments’, we had very few records of what these involved. From the pages below, we can see that the Hall was used for boxing and gymnastics competitions, band performances, and public lectures. Of course, sometimes these records prompt more questions than they answer – what were the ‘police entertainments’ mentioned in 1903? Who were Miss White and Miss James?

Despite these mysteries, these records form an invaluable link to City’s past. They provide avenues for further investigation in other archives around London, as well as adding colour and richness to City’s story. Bringing these records together in our exhibition illustrates our history as a place of learning, a social enterprise, and a proud contributor to our vibrant Islington community. You can browse selected pages from the ledger below – what will you discover?

  • Financial ledger cover brown tooled suede with brass clasp.
    Financial ledger cover

 

You can see this ledger, along with many other treasures from City’s archive, in our exhibition The Story of City: life, learning and legacy. The first part is in the Pavilion until the end of June 2019; a second part of the exhibition will follow in July, and run until the end of the year.