The Previous Homes Of The Nottingham Mechanics

The Nottingham Mechanics' Institute, now called the 'Nottingham Mechanics', is one of the few left in the world which is still alive and flourishing . At one time there were more than 6oo stretching across the British Empire, but, with the changing pattern of education and entertainment, the numbers gradually dwindled. Many were demolished as times changed and the mainly Victorian buildings became outdated, some becoming working-men's clubs and social centres of various kinds.

The Mechanics' Institution movement was begun nationally by Dr. George Birkbeck in London early in the 19th century for artisans, or mechanics, as they were then called. Many of them were illiterate, and he wanted to provide them with a means of improving their knowledge by classes and lectures, by good libraries of both fiction and the best-available technical books, by music, drama and readings, and by social contacts with a good cross-section of the better-educated section of the community.

Many societies and organisations had their beginnings in the old Mechanics', including the University College, which later became the University of Nottingham, the Wollaton Hall Natural History Museum, the Operatic Society, the Photographic Society, and several other clubs for activities such as cycling, rambling, gymnastics and chess.

The first electric light in Nottingham was seen at the Mechanics', and the first phonograph was heard there. Famous people who came to the Mechanics include: from Literature: Charles Dickens (3 times), Oscar Wilde (twice), Anthony Trollope, Jerome K Jerome, Wilkie Collins, GK Chesterton and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Explorers: HM Stanley, Captain Scott, Sir Ernest Shackleton and Edward Whymper (1st man to climb the Matterhorn). From the theatre and silver screen: Dame Anna Neagle. Entertainment was provided by Madame Tussaud and her Waxworks, Tom Thumb the celebrated dwarf and the operatic diva Jenny Lind the famous 'Swedish Nightingale'. Whilst from Egyptology came Sir Flinders Petrie and Arthur Weigall (speaking on "Excavating at Luxor" in 1924.

In the early days Everything happened at the Mechanics. Today we take a smaller but important role within the Life of Nottingham, keeping alive the Mechanics Principles of both learning and leisure pursuits. We are Proud of our History.

The Original Home Of The Nottingham Mechanics Institute.

No. 17 ST. JAMES STREET. From 1837 to 1845

The rent in the rooms at ST. James Street was £ 30 per year, member subscription one shilling per quarter, which was found not sufficient for expenses and so was raised to one shilling and sixpence per quarter from 1840-1841 and kept at this level for sixty-five years, when it was raised to two shillings.
One of the 'attractions' of early membership was free admission to body dissections at the General Hospital school in the same building.

The Mechanics Before And After The Fire Of 1867


The Mechanics can be proud of its pivotal role in the cultural and scientific life of Victorian Nottingham.

As tastes changed, the Mechanics also adapted itself. The main hall was converted to a full-time cinema in 1916; moving with the times as one of the first picture-houses in Nottingham to go over to those new-fangled 'talkies' in 1928.

The Mechanics From 1964




In 1964 the Mechanics' Institution decided to redevelop the building on the same site. The stone façade of the 1845 building was exported by an American and re-erected as his Californian hunting lodge.

The new building was called Birkbeck House and cost around £750,000 (£11,327,921 as of 2010). The Mechanics' used the first floor and rented out the rest of the building to tennants.