West Ham Technical Institute & Library Opening.

Opening of West Ham's Technical Institute and Library by John Passmore Edwards in 1898.

Opening of a Unique Municipal Building in West Ham this Afternoon,Costing £60,000, but Nothing to the Rates.

As a result of a saving-up policy, West Ham this afternoon enters into possession of a rare municipal building, which, although it has cost nearly £60,000 to build and equip, will not need a penny from the rates.

The fact is, West Ham as a county borough begins its first work as a technical education authority today. Like the London County Council, it saved up the technical grants until it could prepare a sound scheme. How thorough its scheme in the end has turned out to be is sufficiently shown by the institution opened by Mr. Passmore Edwards this afternoon.

The West Ham Municipal Technical Institute, as it is called, is a much bigger thing than the name would suggest. Adjoining it on the one side is a magnificent central library, and on the other a museum is now being built. The institute and library has cost £45,000 in the building, and £15,000 on equipment and fittings. The Corporation had to obtain permission from Parliament to build the library out of the technical funds. Although it has power to raise a penny rate for the purposes of technical instruction, the Corporation has neither need nor desire to make a call on the rates. The accumulated grants, together with a small loan, cover the cost of building and equipping, and the annual grant leaves more than sufficient to maintain the institute and repay the loan.

The building, which was designed by Messrs. Gibson and Russell, looks much better inside than out. The exterior is somewhat plain, executed in Portland stone and red brick. A little carving has been introduced under the supervision of Mr. W. B. Rhind. The frontage towards Romford Road shows figures representing Fine art and science; towards Water Lane are figures symbolical of Literature, Engineering, and Music; two female figures adorn the main entrance, and there are four figures in the niches of the square tower representing Perseverance and Industry.

You are much better impressed with the building inside. Everything has been done to provide a pleasant and artistic interior. Rooms, stairways, columns, windows and corridors have all been designed and furnished with consummate taste. Too much credit cannot be given to the Town Council for having allowed the decoration and furnishing of the institute to be carried out without stint or conventionality. Nearly all the furniture has been designed by the chief members of the staff. In the workrooms also everything is of the best.

For instance, in the engineers' workshop the machine tools alone cost £600, while in the engine and dynamo testing workshop over £1,200 has been spent on equipment.

The institute will be under the direction of the Technical Instruction Committee of the Town Council. They have appointed as Principal Mr. Albert E. Briscoe, and Miss Maud J. Foster, of the L.C.C. Training School, as head of the women's department. The classes commenced last Monday. They are open to students of both sexes, no matter what may be their place of residence or employment, but preference of course is given to those living or working in West Ham. The principal work of the institute is the provision of evening classes for both sexes in all subjects of technology, pure and applied science, art, commerce and domestic economy. The institute is provided with well-equipped workshops for engineers, smiths, carpenters and joiners, pattern makers, cabinet makers, plumbers, bricklayers, plasterers, painters and house decorators, with laboratories for mechanical and electrical engineering, physics, chemistry and photography, and with a well-fitted cookery school, laundry, and needlework room, together with properly-fitted lecture and class rooms. Common rooms for both men and women students and a refreshment room are also provided.

The library occupies the west wing of the building, and is approached from Water Lane. It forms a magnificent central library for the borough, and will also serve the convenience of students at the institute. Special tables are set apart for them in the reference library, and the chief librarian (Mr. A. Cotgreave) will always be glad to advise students as to helpful books.

Here, in the library building also, decorative work is a feature of the rooms. The reading room is not only the largest, but certainly the handsomest, in or near London. In the skylight are two artistic panels in colour representing Literature. Various mottoes in coloured tiles have been let into the walls telling the readers, among other nice things, that "Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body," and that "Knowledge comes from experience alone." A portion of the room is screened off for the use of women. The mottoes here are not at all well chosen. Some of them will not be understood aright - quite the contrary.

There are over 30,000 volumes in the lending library, with shelving accommodation for another 30,000. Three counters have been provided, one especially for children. Of the two for adults one will be reserved for handing in the books and the other for giving them out.

Before Mr. Passmore Edwards quits the building this afternoon he will be asked to lay the foundation-stone of the museum. This is being built on the east of the Technical Institute, and will also be maintained by the Corporation. The proposal to provide a museum was an afterthought. The Essex Field Club is largely responsible for it. They have for some time been anxious to find a suitable home for their own collection of things. They went to Mr. Passmore Edwards and he promised to erect a building if the Corporation would maintain it. West Ham undertook to maintain the collection as part of a larger collection to belong to the borough. The new building has also been designed by Messrs. Gibson and Russell and will be in keeping with the architecture of the institute and library. The three institutions occupy a site of over two acres, and form quite a striking feature of the Romford Road, the main highway from London to the Eastern Counties.

Extract from London, 6th October 1898

(Originally from local studies notes No 35, published by Newham library service)

Footnote: Passmore Edwards Museum opened in 1900