The story of City; life, learning and legacy part 2

Our second exhibition coincides with the 125th anniversary of the laying of the Institute’s Foundation Stone. You can view a reproduction of the contents of the time capsule placed behind the stone on 9th July 1894, which gives us a snapshot of a time and place in history. The exhibition goes on to examine archival artefacts and documents relating to everyday academic life at the Institute, and the important role of the social side of student life and the local community.

The Northampton Institute was founded with the objective of promoting “the industrial skill, general knowledge, health and wellbeing of young men and women belonging to the poorer classes”. The Institute aimed to provide education in technological and trade subjects for the working classes in the Clerkenwell district. The Applied Physics and Engineering Department, under the direction of Dr. Charles Vickery Drysdale, soon became equipped “without any rival in the country”. The Institute quickly went on to pioneer world-class courses, particularly in Aeronautical Engineering and in Optics, with the latter becoming a separate department in 1903.

An important objective of the early Institute was to encourage the development of the whole person; entwined with the educational courses was the “social side.” 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.

A Social and Recreative Committee was set up to deal with such matters. The Committee managed the Large Hall, social rooms, library reading rooms, refreshment rooms, gymnasium and the swimming bath. The Lady Superintendent was responsible for all matters, educational and social, connected with women attending the Institute. Student-run clubs, societies and sports teams were another important part of Institute life and continue to this day. Photos, publications and programmes from all these social areas can all be seen in the exhibition.

The exhibition is located at the foot of the Grand Staircase, on the ground floor of 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.

If you have any questions about the exhibition, you can contact the CityLibrary Archives Team at


When the first courses at the Northampton Institute began in 1896, the range of subjects was primarily vocational. This is reflected in the way that many students attended; for roughly the first 50 years of the Institute, courses were primarily taught to evening students, with only around 5-10% of students attending courses during the day. The Institute’s courses covered a wide range of subjects. Many of these have contemporary counterparts at City – mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and applied physics were at the heart of the early curriculum. Students could also learn trades that are still associated with the local Clerkenwell area, such as horology and goldsmithing. There was significant overlap between courses; for example, students from many different trades attended introductory classes in workshop drawing or applied electricity. There was also a ‘Domestic Economy and Women’s Trades Department’. While the concept may seem dated, these courses enabled women to learn skilled jobs such as tailor cutting and millinery, as well as valuable skills like household management and healthcare. Pioneering female doctors also taught courses in first aid and disease prevention.



The “social and recreative” side of the Institute was vigorously developed during its early years, providing “club facilities for the young of Clerkenwell.” Locals aged between 16 and 25 could join as members or associates of the Institute and participate in sporting activities such as cricket, cycling, physical development, swimming and water polo. Gymnastics was a particular strength of the Institute, with some of the world’s first opportunities for women to participate. Debating and chess were also offered, as well as “Saturday recreation.” Public entertainments were put on in the Great Hall. In the early years, these included Gilbert and Sullivan, Handel's Messiah and the Royal Handbell Ringers. Christmas entertainment for children was an annual event. Entertainment began to decline after the Great War; however, sports facilities such as the swimming pool remained open to the public for significantly longer. Student clubs and societies were an important early part of the Institute. The Engineering Society was formed in 1905 and by 1908 they were running an annual dinner, comedic “smoking” concerts and a football team. The official Union Society was founded in 1912, adopting the Carrot as their mascot that same year. The Carrot remains the official mascot of the University; you can find out some of the story behind “King Carrot” in the exhibition.



The Foundation Stone was laid at the main entrance on 9th July 1894 by Sir Charles Dorman, the Chairman of the Governing Body. A time capsule was placed behind the stone, which included the following artefacts: “a half-sovereign, a half-crown, a florin, a shilling, a sixpenny piece, a penny, a halfpenny, a copy of "The Times" for Monday 9th July 1894, an artist's drawing of the anticipated front elevation of the Mountford Building and a hand written scroll detailing the provenance of the building.” In 1956 the bronze plaque commemorating the laying of the original Foundation Stone was replaced. Articles recovered from behind that stone were replaced together with current Treasury notes for £1 and ten shillings and a twelve-sided threepenny piece, a copy of the Minutes of the Governing Body meeting of 20th September 1954, a current copy of The Times, current prospectuses and details of the rebuilding and extensions scheme. What would you include in a time capsule to help people in the next century understand City in 2019?