Before The Fire Of 1867

The now-prosperous Institution suffered a disastrous fire on 14th March 1867. Much delay occurred in getting the fire engine to work, owing to the difficulty experienced in finding the water plug among the frozen snow and ice which covered the ground, and also to the lack of co-operation from the bystanders in manning the pumps.

The following report appeared next day in the local press:

About five minutes to four 0/clock yesterday morning (Thursday), a fire of very considerable magnitude broke out at the Nottingham Mechanics Hall. From enquiries we have made, we learn that at the above time, as PC. Baguley was going his rounds, he saw indications of the fire, and arousing the porter (Mr. Pepper) they obtained an entrance to the building, which was filled with smoke and flames.

The fire brigade was instantly sent for, and an engine was, in the course of a few minutes, on the spot. Their endeavours were, however, not of much use for some time, as the people who had assembled would not aid at the pumps, assigning as their reason that they did not get paid for the help they bestowed in extinguishing the conflagration at Messrs Lee and Gees, some weeks before.

Be this as it may, the fire at the Mechanics made rapid progress and soon nearly all the policemen in the Town quitted their beats and lent a helping hand in the pumping department. The Library was saved, and the greater part of the extensive museum was also got away from the reach of the flames, which progressed rapidly in the large hall, burning all the windows and the doors. The splendid organ met the fate of the hall, being entirely consumed.At nine 0/clock the fire was not completely subdued and the flames were still to be seen. The exertions of the police, under the control of their chief Mr. Freeman, and the fire brigade, under the superintendence of Mr. Jenkins, were extremely praiseworthy, and it is mainly owing to them that the books and curiosities of the museum were rescued from the flames.

It is said that the fire originated in the library either by an escape of gas or the catching of the ceiling above a chandelier. We believe some of the apparatus of Mr. Stodare, who occupied the hall, was destroyed. The building is insured in the Notts. and Derbyshire offices, but we are afraid that the great amount of damage done will not be covered by the insurance.It may be added that Mr. Stodare was a conjurer who had engaged the large hall, the loss he sustained amounted to £200. The books from the library were stored in Trinity Schoolrooms, and at the Shakespeare Inn, Milton Street. The organ which was destroyed cost £700, and was erected in 1847.

The sum of £3,950 was received from the insurance on the building, and £2,200 of this was used to redeem the existing mortgage. Restoration and additions to the old building were planned and, with an appeal to the public bringing in £2,579 155. 6d., work proceeded rapidly. The new large hall, having double the seating
capacity of the old one, was opened on 19th January 1869, with two concerts to celebrate the event, one in the morning and the other in the evening.

The Institutions programme of events was soon resumed on an even-larger scale, including concerts, lectures, classes and many other activities. In 1871 the chess class was visited by Mr. J. H. Blackburn, the celebrated blindfold player, who, without sight of the board, engaged ten players simultaneously.

Also in 1892 was formed a camera club, a cycling club, a rambling, archaeological and natural history club, a travellers club and a reading circle. In October 1892 a small choir of male voices was formed to assist at one of the lecture recitals, and this led in January of the following year to the formation of the Operatic Society, one of the most popular groups in the Mechanics.

In 1893 the committee established a gymnasium in Stanley Place, Talbot Street, and it had a membership of 87 in its first year. Unfortunately the enthusiasm of the members who had initiated it rapidly waned, and it was closed two years later.

Events At The Nottingham Mechanics Click Below

The Main Hall 1883
The main hall was 110 feet long, 59 feet wide and 40 feet high; it had a floor-space of 8,400 square feet, and was more than double the size of the previous one. It was lit by five clusters of 81 gas jets.

The balcony was fitted with easy cushioned stalls, and the ground floor with chairs.

A specification of the Pipe organ can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register
The issue of the Nottingham magazine City Sketches for January 1899 contained a reference to a Christmas dinner for the elderly, held at the Mechanics Hall

Xmas is pre-eminently the feast of charity.

The rich help to feed their poorer neighbours, the inmates of public institutions have every proof that the season has again come round, and if universal peace is yet far from being assured, once a year we have a general outburst of goodwill not experienced at any other time.

Whether from want of means or a defective will, the feeding of the masses of a great city and surrounding populous district by individuals is almost unknown, and here the part has been so far reserved for themselves by Mr. & Mrs. John Robinson.

For over twenty years, Mr. Robinson has filled the Mechanics Hall with good things, and somewhere about 8oo aged men, to do ample justice to them, and Mrs. Robinson has been equally kind to the old women.

The men have a substantial dinner in the old English style which obtained before either there were so many conscientious objectors to meats and drinks, or they did not make their scruples so prominent, and the old women have a knife and fork tea with embellishments, like the men, of stimulants and tobacco or snuff.

The creature comforts are accompanied and followed by excellent variety entertainments. The ages of the guests range from 6o years and upwards, and occasionally closely approach the century. The host and hostess have not always been present to receive the thanks of their guests and their recent great bereavement kept them away this year, but that it has not soured the milk of human kindness, for which they are conspicuous, close upon two thousand residents in this district can bear grateful testimony.

To have cheered the declining years of those who have seen better days but have been unsuccessful in the race, is verily a great gift to the donor as well as to the recipient.

The Development Of The Nottingham Mechanics Taken From The Reminiscences Of The Nottingham Mechanics By Mr James Granger.

1837. October 30th. Inaugural Meeting in the Exchange Hall. November 6th. First meeting of members held in the Exchange . Subscription of Ordinary Members fixed at 1s. 0d, per quarter Honorary Members l0s. 0d. per annum; Life Honorary £5 5s. 0d. November 14th. First Meeting of the Committee.

1838. January 1st. Institution opened in St. James Street.
Inaugural address to members in the Exchange by Dr. Long staffe Chairman, Rev. J. Gilbert. Lectures begun with a course on Chemistry. Educational classes commenced.

1840. June 8th. Exhibition in Exchange Hall opened by the Mayor, accompanied by members of Town Council. It was visited
by 224,000 persons before closure on November 4th. The profits £ 802, went towards the purchase fund for new premises. Subscription of Ordinary Members raised to 1s. 6d. per quarter, at which it remained till 1903.

1842. Site of the Large Hall, Burton Leys (Burton Street and Mansfield Road) presented to the Institution by the President,
Mr. John Smith Wright. An Adjoining plot of 400 square yards purchased by the Institution.

1843. March 27th. Public subscription, which produced a sum exceeding £ 1,500, opened for the erection of new premises.

1845. January 28th. Opening of the new premises, comprising Hall, Library, Class Rooms and Natural History Museum, in
Burton Leys. The ceremony was performed by the President, who was supported by Mr. E. F. Denison, M.P., two other members of Parliament, the Rev. (afterwards Dean) Alford, and many prominent citizens. The Mayor and Corporation attended in state. August 11th. Original Trust Deed executed.

1846. Class for Vocal Music (from which sprang the Nottingham Sacred Harmonic Society) founded by Mr. Alfred Lowe.

1847. Chess Class formed.

1848. Additional land acquired on the north and west sides of the buildings. March 25th. Death of the first President, Mr. John Smith Wright, a generous benefactor to the Institution. He was succeeded by Mr. John Evelyn Denison, M.P., afterwards Speaker of the House of Commons.

1850. August 5th. Exhibition of works of art, machinery in motion, etc., in the Institutions premises, and a wooden annexe. It
remained open till 11th

January and was visited by 62,656 persons. October 23rd. Opening of the Baptist Chapel in Mansfield Road, acquired by the Institution in 1912.

1852. January 27th. Mr. John Walter, SIP., (of The Times 93) lectures on Socrates. August 23rd. Visit of Charles Dickens, and the Company of the Guild of Literature and Art.

1854. February 7th. Sir Robert Peel lectures on 91 The Progress of Society.

1857. The system of free access to the bookshelves by members initiated.

1862. October 27th .A course of Science and Art Lectures (the first to he introduced into Nottingham) established. They
were continued until the opening of the University College in 1881.

1866. November 22nd. Lecture by Sir Samuel White Baker the Discovery of the Sources of the Nile Chairman, Mr. Speaker Denison.

1867. March 14th. Destruction of the whole of the buildings by fire. Most of the hooks and other contents of the library
portion of the premises were saved with the exception of the pictures. An appeal for funds for the re-building of the premises was signed by Mr. Speaker Denison, and headed by him with a contribution of £ 200.
A like sum was given by Mr. Samuel Morley. During the re-building of the old premises, the Institution occupied rooms in
Lincoln Street.
The Natural History Collection saved from the fire, was given to the Corporation to form the nucleus of the towns Natural History Museum.

1869. January 19th. Opening of the new Large Hall after re-building, with a performance of Elijah, conducted by Sir. Henry Farmer.
February 8th. New Lecture Hall opened. The class rooms and remainder of the premises were completed two months later.

1870. An annual grant for free memberships begun by Mr. Charles Paget, M.P. It was continued after his death by his son, Mr. Joseph Paget.

1873. Memorial from the members in Annual Meeting assembled to the Vice-Chancellor, Council and Senate of the University of Cambridge, asking for the establishment of University Extension Lectures. As a result the lectures were begun in the Institutions premises and gave a great impulse to the proposals for the foundation of a University College.
Death of the President, Viscount Ossington (John Evelyn Denison). He was succeeded by the Duke of St. Albans.

1875. A branch of the institution established in Arkwright Street. It was discontinued two years later.

1877. A reference library formed, following a gift of £ 240 from the Trustees of the Artizans Library.

Clock and set of bells for the large Hall presented by Sir. William Hodgson. The Lecture Hall used as own Council Chamber for the greater part of the year during alterations to the Exchange.

1881. Transfer of the Science and Art Classes to the new University College. Classes for French, German, Shorthand,
Dressmaking, Cookery, Singing, etc., were continued for some years.

1884. Opening of new Reading room,

1887. The Jubilee of the Institution was celebrated in November, , with a series of functions which began with a Ball on November 1st.

On the following day a Banquet was held, at which the Duke of St. Albans occupied the chair and the principal guests of the evening were the American Ambassador (the Hon. E. S. Phelps), Earl Manvers, Mr. Henry Smith Wright, M.P. Mr. Arnold Morley, M. P., the Mayor (Alderman Turney), and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Alderman Dennett. In the course of a brilliant speech Mr. Phelps made allusion to the constant and conspicuous usefulness of the Institution as an educator of the general intelligence of the City.

A Dance and Conversazione occupied the two following nights. At the latter a very interesting exhibition of local literature and antiquities attracted much attention. It was the first of its kind organised in Nottingham.

In 1887 the formation of a Reference Library of Local Literature was begun.

1888. A resolution having been passed at the Annual Meeting in January, , calling on the Committee to establish a Smoke Room, part of the basement room under the long Newspaper Room was adapted for this purpose. The first Billiard Table was not, however, placed in the room until March, 1891. An extra fee of one shilling a quarter which had been charged to members using the room was discontinued in 1893.

1890. The Organ was repaired and enlarged. A series of Saturday Afternoon Organ Recitals, given by Mr. E. H. Lemare, proved very successful.

1892. The institution purchased a portrait of Viscount Ossington (John Evelyn Denison) by Sir George Hayter, and Mr. James Ward, who had previously given to the Institution a portrait of its first Librarian (Mr.

John Potchett), presented a portrait of Mr. Charles Paget, for twelve years one of the Vice-Presidents of the Institution. At the same time a large number of local views and portraits were framed and hung in the Newspaper Room. The nucleus was thus formed of the present valuable art collection possessed by the Institution.

In the same year, taking the practice at the London Polytechnic as a guide, the Committee arranged for the formation of a Camera Club, a Cycling Club, a Rambling, Archaeological and Natural History Club, a Travellers Club, and a Reading Circle. The last-named had an existence of one year only, but the others proved more popular.

The Rambling Club did not die until 1901, and the Cycling Club flourished till 1903. The Camera Club had a strong and successful Society, and its Annual Exhibition became one of the most important in the Kingdom. It began its first year with 33 members; at the end of 1911 the Club had a membership of 138. Lectures and demonstrations held regularly throughout the winter, and the Club produced a monthly Journal.

1892. In October, a small Choir of Male Voices was formed to assist at one of the Lecture Recitals, and this led in January of the following year to the formation of the Operatic Society, which has become one of the most flourishing adjuncts of the Institution.

1894. At Easter, , the Travellers Club visited Venice, the party, which numbered , visiting Brussels, Lucerne and Milan on the outward journey, and Verona and Lugano in returning, and at Whitsuntide in the following year it made a tour up the Rhine to Heidelberg, Nuremberg and Munich. In 1896 twenty-five members made a visit to Norway, and in 1897 a party visited the Bernese Oberlaud. The Club was disbanded in 1898.

1893. the Committee established a Gymnasium, which was located in Stanley Place, Talbot Street, and had a membership of 87 in its first year. Unfortunately,however, the enthusiasm of the members who had initiated it rapidly waned, and the class came to an end two years later.

1894. Luncheons were for the first time supplied in the Refreshment Room, which hitherto had not opened until the late afternoon.

1895. In May the Electric Light was first introduced into the Institution, being installed in the Reading and Smoke Rooms.

During the first forty years of its existence, the educational work of the Institution was one of its most important features. The opening of the Nottingham University College in 1881, the foundation of which was due in no small measure to the success of the classes held at the Institution, gradually affected their popularity.

1887. The Dress-making Class had a total membership for the year of 66, and there were a French Class with 41 members, and a Tonic-Sol-Fa Singing Class with 70 members, the public being admitted to the classes at a fee slightly higher than that paid by the members of the Institution.

1888. A German Class was commenced, and in its first year had 34 members. In 1893 the numbers in attendance had so dwindled down that the class was abandoned. In 1889 a Shorthand Class was established, but in 1894 only the French and Singing Classes were left. The Committee finally terminated their connection with the classes in 1895, but though the Institution was no longer responsible for them some of the classes were continued by their teachers to a later date. The teacher of the French Class throughout this period was Mdlle. Durand, whose father had established the class about the year 1855.

1896. One of the most important extensions undertaken by the Institution was carried out . Up to this year the Library and Magazine Rooms occupied the space at present given up to the Lending Library and Refreshment Rooms. Entrance was from a door at the end of the corridor, the books being arranged round the walls, with two long tables for magazines down the centre of the room. The present Refreshment Room was at this period partitioned into two, the southern portion being used as a coffee room and the other for quiet reading, the walls of both rooms being covered with racks, which carried part of the Lending Library books. Under these circumstances access to the hooks was generally attended by much inconvenience both to readers and those members who were taking refreshments. The Reference Library was in Room 76, and was approached from the room below by a spiral staircase, which had been erected in 1891.

In the alteration the Lecture Hall, which occupied the site of the present Magazine Room, was raised one storey, the roof being lifted bodily in the process, the old Magazine Room became the Lending Library, a portion at one corner being partitioned off to form a Reference Room, and the two side rooms were again thrown into one to form a Refreshment Room, with an entrance from the Magazine Room. The cost of the alterations was 1863. Before the alteration members had unrestricted access to the hooks, which they brought to the counter, where their numbers were entered in a register. The system was a very unsatisfactory one, and the Committee noted in their report in 1895 that it had resulted in the Library losing since its foundation over 20,000 books! After the re-arrangement of the rooms members were supplied with a hook-ticket and required to enter the Library through a turnstile, and to surrender the ticket in exchange for the book which they had selected before leaving. In 1896 also the Smoke Room was enlarged to twice its original size.

1899. April 1st, the subscription for new members was raised from 6s. to 8s. per annum. From January 1st, 1903, all ordinary members began to pay the higher amount.

1899. the Chess and Draughts Club celebrated its Jubilee by a dinner, at which Mr. James Granger, the only survivor of its original members, was present.

1906. A Literary and Debating Society was established , and had a successful career for five years. At the same time a Dramatic Society came into existence, and gave several public performances in succeeding years. At the end of 1911 French and German Circles were established, and show signs of meeting a want long felt by members.

1909. The Rules and Bye-Laws of the Institution were revised during and, after approval by the members and Trustees, came into force from January 1st of the following year. For the most part the revisions were not of great importance, but the subscription of honorary members was increased from 10s. 6d. to 12s. 6d. per annum, and a new rule was introduced allowing ordinary members to obtain a second book from the Library on payment of an additional fee of 2s. 6d. per annum.

In November, 1909, Sir Ernest Shackleton gave a lecture descriptive of the journey which had brought him within 100 miles of the South Pole. Very great interest was taken in the lecture, and the receipts totalled £194 6s. 10d., a. sum unprecedented in the history of the Institution. The Duke of Portland paid his first visit to the Institution in his capacity as its President to take the chair at this lecture, and was accompanied by the Lady Victoria Bentinck and by Lord and Lady Henry Bentinck.

1912. In February, Mr. Henry Fielding Dickens, K.C., the last surviving son of the great author, gave a reading of the Christmas Carol on behalf of the building fund of the Institution. On the following day Mr. James Granger opened a Dickens Centenary Exhibition in the Long Reading Room, which attracted many visitors) and on the birth date a branch of the Dickens Fellowship was established in connection with the Institution, with Mr. R. Ivens (Nottingham Guardian) as its first President.

For several years past the large membership of the Institution, and the increasing use made of its accommodation by the various Clubs and Societies, has made evident the necessity for the enlargement of the premises. At the Annual Meeting in 1909 an extension scheme was submitted to the members, after much deliberation by the Committee, and unanimously approved. Under this proposal the floor above the present Refreshment Room, occupied by the Class Rooms would have been re-built as a Refreshment Room, with access from the Magazine Room by a wide and open staircase. Above this the Class Rooms would have been re-constructed, while a Billiard and Smoke Room would have been placed above the Lecture Hall, thus raising the whole of the building by one storey. Before preparations for the new scheme could he completed it came to the knowledge of the Committee that the adjoining Chapel and School Room premises would shortly be offered for sale. After prolonged negotiations the Committee felt justified in asking the members at a Special Meeting, summoned for July 6th, 1910, to authorise them to enter into the purchase of the buildings. A contract for the sum of £15,600 was signed in May, 1911, but the Institution did not formally become the owners of the premises until January 1st, 1912. Meantime a Bill, incorporating the Institution and amending the Trust Deed in such a manner as would enable the sum necessary for the acquirement of the premises to be borrowed on mortgage, was presented to Parliament, and after undergoing some modification in its passage through the Committee stage, received the Royal Assent on August 7th, 1912.

The Institution made its first official use of the new premises at the Conversazione held on November 1st, 1912, which celebrated the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Institution, the inaugural meeting having been held on October 30th, 1837.

1913. June 13th. New Lecture Hall (former Chapel building) opened August 22nd. Former Lecture Hail opened as a Billiard and Smoke Room.

1914. July 8th. Amending Act passed. August. Large Hall occupied by Territorials on the outbreak of the Great War.

1915. February 5th. Lecture by Miss Marie Corelli and Byron Exhibition.

1916. Small strip of land at the corner of Mansfield Road and Burton Street ceded to the Nottingham Corporation.
December. Refreshment Room transferred to former Newspaper Room, and old Refreshment Room fitted as Newspaper

1917. March 13th. The Large hall, having been leased for a period of years is opened as a picture house.
April 1st.
Subscription for ordinary members increased to l0s. 0d. per annum.

1920. Nottingham Corporation Bill, by which they sought compulsory powers to acquire the premises of the Institution and
to provide a site for new buildings in King Edward Street, opposed in Parliament.

1925. Expiration of the option to acquire the premises of the Institution which had been given to the Corporation by the Act
of 1920. New Supper Room opened.

1927. November 4th. Conversazione in celebration of the 90th Anniversary of the foundation of the institution.