Mechanics’ Institute

“Reading Room. Subscription 3’6 Per Quarter.”

ReadingRoomThe simple notice in the window, still there today, speaks of both the beginning and the end of the Lambton Mechanics’ Institute.

Lambton in 1865 had a primary school for children, but for adults there were few avenues for further education. Out of this need the Lambton Mechanics’ Institute was founded. At the opening of their first building on Howe St in 1867, president of the Institute, Thomas Croudace, put a high priority on reading, expressing the intention of the committee to obtain copies of all the major English and local newspapers and to establish a lending library for the benefit of members.

Membership grew, and in 1885 the committee erected a second weatherboard hall on Howe St that was variously used as a reading room or a billiards room. In 1894 a new stone and brick building was erected in Elder St at a cost of £573, with a library and games rooms on the ground floor, and a large airy reading room on the upper floor.
The weatherboard hall in Howe St was then leased out to various groups until August 1903, when the 20 ton hall, with the aid of a team of bullocks was relocated to the rear of the Elder St building where it still sits today.

Although the Mechanics Institute had social and leisure aspects to it, its principal contribution was in providing to the townspeople quality reading materials, for a subscription cost. And it was cost that brought the end. When Newcastle Council opened their library across the road in 1950 and offered free lending, the Institute’s paid subscription model could not compete and their membership dwindled away.

The Mechanic’s Institute as an organisation has gone, but their building remains, now home to the Newcastle Family History Society and MG Car Club, and a beautiful adornment to the Lambton landscape.

Lambton Mechanics' Institute. 1894. Photo by Ralph Snowball. Newcastle Region Library, Local Studies.

Lambton Mechanics’ Institute. 1894. Photo by Ralph Snowball. Newcastle Region Library, Local Studies.

The Mechanics' Institute building in April 2016.

The Mechanics’ Institute building in April 2016.


The article above was first published in the May 2016 edition of the Lambton Local.

Further information

The etching below shows Lambton circa 1885, looking north from about the present position of Chilcott St. The long building in the centre of the picture with six windows across the front is the original Mechanics’ Institute building in Howe St, erected in 1867. After deteriorating badly, this building was sold off and demolished in July 1892.

Etching of Lambton, circa 1885. University of Newcastle Cultural Collections.

Etching of Lambton, circa 1885. University of Newcastle Cultural Collections.

The foundation stone.

The foundation stone of the 1894 Mechanics’ Institute building in Elder St.

This Foundation Stone
Was Laid
On the 3rd Day of February 1894
By The
Honorable The Minister For Education
F.B. Suttor
Thomas Croudace Esq JP
President
W.T. Dent Esq JP
Ald. S. Williams
Vice Presidents
Peter Bennett
Archt

The "Institute Hall", the old weatherboard building that was relocated from Howe St to Elder St in August 1903.

The “Institute Hall”, the old weatherboard building that was relocated from Howe St to the rear of the Elder St building in August 1903.

References

Timeline of events

Article Date Event DateNotes
25 Jul 1868
18 Jul 1868
First half yearly meeting of the Mechanics' Institutes
11 May 1892
9 May 1892
Decision to sell off the old Howe St building.
14 May 1892Advertisement inviting tenders for purchase and removal of Howe Street building. Applications close May 23.
7 Jul 1892Council offers half the block of land set aside for a town hall on Elder St, for the Mechanics' Institute to erect a new building.
22 Jul 1892The Mechanics' Institute building in Howe St was "pulled down a few weeks ago, and a billiard room is being used by the members temporarily."
30 Jul 1892Old Howe St building has been sold and removed.
24 Jan 1894Contract signed with Sanders Brothers for £573 for the erection of a new building in Elder St.
5 Feb 1894
3 Feb 1894
Foundation stone of Elder St building set.
2 Jun 1894
31 May 1894
Mechanics' Institute building in Elder St officially opened.
2 Sep 1903Howe St building has been moved with the aid of a team of bullocks.

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