Educating the workers, even if the rector can’t see the point...

In Victorian times, a desire for self-improvement led to the establishment of Mechanics’ Institutes throughout the country.

Here the working men could try to better themselves, either gratis or for a small subscription, by reading the daily newspapers and attending classes and lectures.



The Berkhamsted Mechanics’ Institute was founded in 1845, but in the face of opposition from the clergy.

The Rector of the time considered it unnecessary to educate the working classes.

When the market house burned down, the Institute was given rooms in its replacement, the Town Hall. Earlier, private rooms in Castle Street and the High Street had sufficed.

In later years, the name ‘Mechanics’ was dropped from the title and although the reading room survived, the Institute came to an end. Its former rooms can be seen in the refurbished Town Hall.

The Workers’ Educational Association was founded in 1903 in order to support the educational needs of working men and women.

The WEA is committed to providing access to education and learning for adults from all backgrounds, and in particular those who have previously missed out on education.

The WEA is one of the UK’s biggest charities and operates at local, regional and national levels.

Nine regions in England, a Scottish Association and over 650 local branches, make up the WEA’s National Association.

Through these local and regional centres, the WEA runs over 10,000 courses each year, providing learning for more than 110,000 adults of all ages who are drawn from all walks of life. The Berkhamsted branch uses the Berkhamsted Library and the Friends’ (Quaker) Meeting House.

Did you take courses in the WEA? If you have any further information, please contact Dacorum Heritage Trust.

To share your memories with the Trust visit the website

The Trust’s heritage store in central BerkhamsteD is home to more than 100,000 objects relating to the history of the borough. open by appointment, 
Monday to Friday,10am - 4pm. Call 01442 879525 to find out more.