"The Late Victorian Age, G.M.Young has written, became an age of technical instruction. The men who understood their time best, now put their benevolence less into charity than into education, and especially scientific education, or research,(1)
Sir William Mather was a philanthropist in the widest possible sense of the word, but he gave educational problems priority. He was interested in the theory of education as well as in the practical evolution of educational institutions, and in encouraging technical instruction at the Salford Iron Works; he was expressing a philosophy as well as pursuing a business need.
It was not only individual pioneers who saw the need for an educated population on the speedy provision of elementary education, Forster warned the: House of Commons in 1870, depends our industrial prosperity, the safe working of our constitutional system. and our national power". (2) From 1870 onwards, a body of enlightened and far-sighted men of different walks of life faced the implications of this challenge, and although religious issues cut across national necessities, the framework of a system was set up as a result of large scale exercises in national legislation, and persistent efforts of individual pioneers. The towns too, bustling centres of industrial populations played their part. Karl Froebel, the educational pioneer, in contra-distinction to many social critics called towns like Manchester and Liverpool the best and worthiest representatives of modern civilisation and culture in the world.(3)
Certainly Manchester and Salford ware among the first towns to adopt the Elementary Education Act of 1870, which set up Board Schools where other educational facilities were lacking. The first School Board for Manchester was elected on the 24th November, and that for Salford on the 30th November 1870. The policy of the two Boards was framed on similar lines and except for one short period of three years, they shared the same Chairman. They had plenty of work to do, for although Manchester had been traditionally interested in education, and. a great deal of voluntary organisation had bean evolved in 1870, while there was 58,557 children for whom public elementary school accommodation was needed. there was only 45,209 places available.(4) William Mather became one of the first members of the Salford School Board and was a keen worker in the exciting pioneer days of the new educational system.
The first services offered by the new schools were circumscribed by the prevailing concept of elementary education and the over-riding need to fight illiteracy by teaching the three Rs as a form of educational discipline. Business men like the Mathers were interested from the start in other forms of education, particularly in technical education which seemed as essential to the maintenance of industrial prosperity as did the three Rs to the safeguarding of the constitutional system. The production of high-class machinery needed special skill and training, and a literacy test could at best be considered a prelude to the acquisition of specialised knowledge.
The first agencies of technical instruction were the mechanics institutes, which grew up in most of the new industrial centres between 1823 and 1850. We find that one of the subscribers to the new building of the Salford Mechanics Institute in 1852 was the firm of Mather and Platt. William Wilkinson Platt and Colin Mather were both active in the committee of the organisation, and Colin was a Vice-President. (1) Unfortunately the Institutes ceased to satisfy the technical interests of artisans who lacked basic elementary education, and in many towns passed into the hands of the middle classes. It was clear that without a national system of education, the acquisition of specialised knowledge on the part of the working man demanded. considerable individual effort and a good deal of self-sacrifice. The artisan, who taught himself the rudiments of reading, writing and science, could take legitimate pride in his own individual advancement, in raising himself, if only a little, from the masses of the uneducated and the unskilled. If he could persuade a few others to follow the same course, he could sometimes transform individual self-help into corporate self-help.
In the late 60s there was an interesting local venture of this type inside the Salford Iron Works, when William Mather started a Mutual Improvement Society for the apprentices. The Minute Book of the society is still in existence, and both the rules and. the descriptions of meetings reflect the social values of the times. The object of this Society, Rule 1 states shall be to assist its Members in becoming steady, well informed and intelligent workmen; which object shall be pursued by means of Lectures, Readings, Classes, and Entertainments also by a free use to its Members of a Library of Books. Each member had to be between 12 and 21 years of age, and had to promise neither to smoke nor to partake of intoxicating liquors until reaching the age of 21 furthermore each member on joining the society shall agree to avoid swearing and the use of all bad. language. There was a committee of 7, an arrangement for weekly meetings, and a weekly subscription of one penny. The first meeting, held in November 1866, discussed the cultivation of the mind." and the speaker told in much the same style as Samuel Smiles, of George Stephenson, how he rose from a poor collier boy to the greatest engineer that ever lived.(1) At the second meeting, there was more stress on self-help. The Minute Book tells us tantalisingly how the streets of London are paved with gold; the way to get there by attention to business and good workmanship. (2)
Just over 20 apprentices attended the meetings of the Society and although the had a considerable share in formulating their own programme, they obviously felt that it did not satisfy their practical interests sufficiently. Although they scrapped the penny readings in order to concentrate on the more scientific side of the business(3), the Society was short-lived and had disappeared by 1870. The Smiles era in the development of education was already drawing to a close and it is interesting to note that there were complaints at the same time that the Mechanics Institutes was becoming too literary. While there was a malaise in England about technical institutions, shrewd observers were beginning to look overseas for new ideas concerning technical and indeed general education. The dream of a national technical educational system which some of the Commissioners of the Exhibition of 1851 had indulged in, began to captivate a new generation which was less afraid of centralisation than its fathers had been. In place of the patchwork of uncoordinated enterprises, men like Lyon Playfair wanted to see a good system of industrial education for the masters and managers of factories and workshops as well as for their employees.
When at the Paris Exhibition of 1867 British products frequently seemed to be outclassed by those of other countries - a complete contrast with the Exhibition of 1851 - it was generally believed that the fundamental cause was the disparity between educational systems.
William Mather, as an enthusiastic traveller, had had special opportunities for investigation and comparing different forms of educational institutions. It was German institutions, which stood out among the rest. His early education in Germany left a deep impression on him and he claimed that it was there where he received the best part of his education.(1) At the early age of 18, strongly influenced by German models, be wrote that it is seen plainly that there must be a good and pure system of National Education every child in existence ought to be able to receive an education which if taken advantage of would be the means of raising him to a higher position both moral and physical(2). Later on in life he told the Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes that he was almost cradled in Germany; and that it was through his early life in Germany that he derived his devotion for education. (3)
The Education Act of 1870 marked the beginning of a national system of education in England, but Mather went on to supplement the public elementary education it afforded by providing technical education for apprentices in the Salford Iron Works along more formal lines than that attempted earlier by the Mutual Improvement Society. Mr. Thomas Jonas, who entered the service of Mather and Platt in the drawing office in 1872, was asked in 1873 to form evening classes in applied arithmetic at Mathers Queen Street Institute which was also used for working mens social and religious activities. The educational scheme was so successful that it became known as the Salford Ironworks Evening School of Science and covered, practical geometry and machine drawing, and later on steam and the steam engine, building construction and drawing, and mechanical engineering and tools.
As the number of subjects taught and the number of students increased, more teachers were engaged (all of them employees of the firm) and the pupils began to compete for the certificates issued from 1859 onwards by the Science and Art Department at South Kensington and later on, by the City and Guilds of London Institute, founded in 1880, and the Lancashire and Cheshire Union of Institutes. Salford Iron Works Certificates were also awarded by the firm and prizes were given as rewards for punctuality, systematic industry, and smartness both in the classes and in the workshops. Those pupils who devised an improvement to any part of a machine made at the Works or to any tool used in the Works were also offered a special prize of £5.
In these ways it was hoped to encourage not only a higher general level of technical education, but also outstanding ability among the gifted few. The early register and. records of the school give some idea of its evolution. It had a committee, which according to the rules of the Science and Art Department of the Committee of the Council of Education, had to include responsible local figures Benjamin Armitage, M.P, and Robert Leake, M.P, were both members. Later on, foremen were included from the various departments - engine-fitting pattern making, turning; millwright; boiler making; brass finishing; and smithy - to make sure those special trades were taught. The bright boys were recruited mainly from the Salford area, and, between 1874 and 1884, no less than 578 certificates were gained by students sitting for externally conducted examinations. In all, about 1,200 boys passed through the School between 1873 and 1903. The prizes they chose to receive were mainly technical books like Horners Principles of Fitting or Cracknells Practical Mathematics, but at least one boy chose The Midsummer Nights Dream and The Merry Wives of Windsor. (1)
Between 1902 and. 1916, when the firm was pre-occupied with the task of transferring its premises from Salford to Newton Heath, few educational records were kept, and it appears that the major responsibility for educating young apprentices was handed over to outside institutions, at this time being set up by the municipalities.
It is at this point that it is necessary to go back in time to trace Sir William Mather's personal interest in technical education as a whole. After the appointment of a Royal Commission on Technical Education in 1881, fourteen years after the Paris Exhibition had shocked enlightened opinion; William Mather accepted an invitation to act as special commissioner to make investigations into educational methods in the United States and Russia. In 1883 he toured the United States and Canada at his own expense, and produced a report on scientific and technical training there, which related the growth of the education system to the advancement and improvement of the industrial population. Six years later he played an important part in securing the passage of the Technical Instruction Act of 1889, which allowed local councils to levy a penny rate for work in technical education. He had just been returned to Parliament for the second time and although he shared in the general disapproval of the Bill he was determined to do something for technical education and thought that with all its weaknesses the governments measure might be made into a fairly good start in legislation on the subject, with alterations and amendments of a drastic character(3).
Alterations and amendments were made, and the Bill did go through, not without trouble; Mather hoped that it would fore-shadow a more rational and natural method of instruction in elementary schools, a more efficient system of secondary training, and other and more complete measures for extending the scope of technical instruction.
Manchester was the second city in the kingdom to adopt the Technical Instruction Act and to levy the penny rate allowed and within three years of the passing of the Act, the foundation stone of a Royal Technical Institute in Salford had been laid, with the aim of providing systematic instruction in those branches of knowledge which have a direct bearing upon the leading industries of the district. (1)
A vital part of the scheme was the provision of thorough secondary education as a necessary first phase. This was the main objective also of the Education Bill of 1902, which Mather supported as a great and comprehensive measure. He was more interested in its long term effects than in the atmosphere of religious rivalry which characterised its passing and (when political feeling was most bitter) he went so far as to propose to the President of the Board of Education, the Duke of Devonshire, that it should be discussed outside party lines. (2) His own approach was revealed, in the important amendment to the Bill which he proposed and had carried, making it compulsory, instead of optional on the part of the local education authority, to apply grants to educational services other than elementary. As a result of his initiative the Government accepted after the word elementary the phrase including the training of teachers and the general co-ordination of all forms of education.
In the year of the passing of the new Education Act, a landmark in English Education, the School of Technology was opened in Manchester by Arthur Balfour the Prime Minister. The site was provided by the trustees of Joseph Whitworth, one of the great pioneers of English production engineering, who had left his large fortune to be used for the promotion of industrial and artistic training. Mather was intimately associated both with the use of Whitworths benefaction and with the Royal Jubilee Exhibition at Old Trafford in 1879 which set out to secure additional gifts for the same purpose. After 1902 the municipality took over from existing voluntary bodies, and in opening the large new school Balfour said that the building was perhaps "the greatest fruit of this kind of municipal enterprise in this country ... Nobody can go over this building, observe its equipment, study even in the most cursory manner the care which has been devoted to it, without feeling that the Corporation of this great City have set a great example worthy of the place they hold in Lancashire, worthy of the place they hold in Great Britain.(3)
Already before 1902 selected apprentices had gone on from the Queen Street Institute to the Manchester Technical School and between 1905 and 1916 all apprentices from the works of Mather & Platt Ltd. went to the new city institutions for their training. The First World War created new problems, particularly in 1916 when there was an urgent necessity for training apprentices quickly and efficiently. As a result day classes for apprentices were started at Park Works, with instructors drawn from the office and works staffs. The results were encouraging. So much so that Loris Emerson Mather, the new Chairman of the Company, drew up a plan for a new Works School thus anticipating the Fisher Education Act of 1918.
Herbert Fisher the war time President of the Board of Education, in a letter addressed to Sir William Mather acknowledged the lead given, saying You have been one of the pioneers of true industrial education in this country and if I should be fortunate enough to succeed in doing something effectual to raise the level of education in the country it will be largely due to the load which you and a small handful of intelligent men of business have given to the more thoughtful and energetic part of the business community."(1)
In 1918 when the Manchester Education Committee agreed to take over the Park Works School its official title became the Mather &Platt Ltd. Works Day Continuation School. The agreement reached between the Local Education Authority and the Company was a happy example of co-operation between education and industry. It certainly set the pattern for the Butler Act of later years. Roughly, the arrangement was this: the Company undertook to provide and maintain suitable school premises and pay their apprentices whilst in attendance, and the Local Education Authority for its part assumed the responsibility of providing a trained teaching staff, the necessary school furniture and stationery. The arrangement worked admirably. At first, when numbers were small, the post of Headmaster was combined with that of Apprentice Supervisor to the Company, and the first two Head-masters and two large airy classrooms were added at the end of the research building at Park Works while the too-crowded curriculum of early years was steadily whittled down until it conformed to the Pro-Senior and Senior Mechanical Engineering Courses of the Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes, except that provision was made for additional English studies and for two periods per week in a well equipped gymnasium built in 1921.
The Chairman of the Company took a keen interest in these developments and he displayed an equal interest in the outdoor activities of the School. He gave the fullest support to the organisation of cricket and football teams, which played on land adjoining the works until the development of a new housing estate and the erection of a new foundry swallowed up the ground on which football was played; but his greatest enthusiasm was reserved for Scouting, and this was understandable. Himself a Gilwell-trained Scouter, and holding the highest Scout award, the Silver Wolf, for exceptional services rendered to the Movement in the early days of its formation (he was for many years District Commissioner of the Manchester Boy Scouts Association), Loris Mather believed in nothing so ardently as in the character-building potentialities of real Scouting. He saw that the Scout Law was equally the Law of Good Workmanship, the paramount need of the age for young people, and he was eager to bring its quickening influence to bear on their industrial lives. As has been well said:
Scouting solves the antinomy of work and play, of labour and leisure, at the stage where such antinomies are apt to be most pernicious - in the life of the young. Playing the man is substituted for playing the fool, and mutual loyalty promoted by common participation in that splendid game. The ideal of services translated- from the moral generality into a skilful occupation, is present throughout, and wisdom is taught by working contact with elemental things. Dark days, wet weather, obstructions, difficulties, and contradictions are freely encountered, the manful confronting of them being an essential part of the game. The sportsmanlike spirit, under a businesslike discipline, has here been brought into the service of a moral ideal, and the spirit of youth rejoices in the combination.
Mr. Mathers faith in Scouting has been shared by enthusiastic members of the Works School Staff and ever since 1919, when the 2/16th M/C (Park Works) Troop was formed. the link with Scouting has remained unbroken.
It is difficult to estimate the effect which Mr. Mather's friendly association with his own apprentices through Scouting has had on human relations generally at Park Works. It must have been considerable. Here was one answer, at least, to those who deplored the rise of Joint Stock companies and the consequent decline of the old paternalism. The charge of soullessness could scarcely apply when, as in this case a leader of industry met his young charges on the equal footing of Scouting, inspecting them, living with them under canvas, and providing ideal campsites in the clearings of a wooded estate in Cheshire. To a few privileged observers it was possible frequently to see the Chairman of a vast industrial enterprise sitting on a log in the open, with a plate on his knees, enduring with a smile and with the brave appearance of relish, the trials of camp cooking watery stew or charred bacon. Inevitably such a scene recalled the words of T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) à propos the Arabs:
They taught me that no man could be their leader except he ate the ranks food - wore their clothes - lived level with them - and yet appeared better in himself.
It was not the least of Squire Mathers gifts of tact and understanding with boys that he could mix with them on terms of the utmost frankness and freedom, yet never forfeit their proper respect.
The appointment of a new Head master in 1936 coincided with a rapid increase in the number of apprentices requiring further education and led to a new outbreak of activity in the Works School. A large new mechanical drawing room was added, shower baths were installed in the existing gymnasium and among other staff changes, a full time college-trained physical training instructor was appointed to the School staff for the first time. This latter innovation was to prove especially valuable during the subsequent war years when the spare time activities of youths, and Keep Fit movements generally, became a matter of governmental concern. The outbreak of World War II in 1939 acted as a spur, rather than a brake, to the School. Although the War dislocated many peace-time activities, so that evening classes were cancelled because of the blitz and the new drawing classroom was requisitioned for A.R.P. lectures and later on for the manufacture of radar equipment, other class rooms were improvised in underground shelters and considerable progress was made in various directions. Distinguished visitors came to the works. Pep talks were given to apprentices by staff officers and leaders of foreign resistance movements, and education in its wider sense was never neglected.
It appears paradoxical at first sight that the mass wars of our twentieth century age of violence have seen marked advantages in public health. In 1941, a year of tension, an interesting physical training test was carried out by the firm at the suggestion of the Board of Education and with the assistance of the Manchester Education Committee. A three months test was made with two groups of boys of 16 years of age, the one being given physical training for six hours a week whilst boys in the other group remained at work. The firm believed that the experiment, which showed the value of healthy physique, pointed the way to more co-operation between education and industry after the war for the benefit of the rising generation. (1) Another feature initiated by the Chairman in association with Colonel H. B. Campbell of Edinburgh University was the development of a series of Dexterity Exercises designed to reduce accidents in work caused by the clumsy handling of awkward and bulky objects, and suitable for inclusion in normal physical training programmes. Altogether this was a period of no small creative activity.
Nor did this surge of new ideas cease with the end of the war. In 1947, valuable extensions were made to the existing school promises. These included the provision of a large Lecture Hall with cinema equipment. The new facilities thus provided made possible not only the organisation of the girls classes, for the education and training of young girls employed at Park Works, but also a series of Adult Training Courses along the recognised lines of Training within Industry.
There should be mentioned here another training scheme which falls between the Trade Apprentice Works School and the Adult Training Courses, namely, the training scheme for Special Apprentices.
Early in this century one or two young men were accepted from the public schools and universities for a period of workshop training varying from three to five years according to age. In those early days it was common for the parents of a young man to have to pay a fee before he was accepted into what was known as a premium apprenticeship. A small weekly wage was then paid on a similar scale to the Trade Apprentice. Sir William Mather did not approve of the 'premium' system and University students and other young men who were accepted for special apprenticeship received the weekly wage without any financial obligation. This system of a special apprenticeship has since those days increased in importance and. today some fifty young men drawn from grammar schools, public schools, technical colleges and universities - some of them from overseas - are given facilities for a varied and practical training at Park Works. In order to encourage them to continue their theoretical training, some of them spend one day a week - without loss of pay at local technical schools and at the Technical Colleges of Manchester and Salford.
If it is conceded that a balanced training should embrace vocational, cultural, and social activities, then the Company of Mather & Platt Ltd. has every reason to be satisfied with the arrangements it has made for the welfare of its young employees since the year 1873 when the aforementioned Salford Ironworks Evening School of Science - the forerunner of the present Works School - was founded. In good times and in bad, the fullest opportunities for self-development have been provided, for in addition to the Companys own training schemes steady support has been given to such character-forming institutions as the Outward Bound Sea and Mountain Schools and the residential courses at Cheshunt College, Cambridge.
This unique eighty years record in Further Education is not solely a family tradition, strong as this is in the Mather family, or of current educational ideals. It must be grounded also on the firm belief shared by all who are affected by it, and in whatsoever capacity, that the possession of a Works School is eminently worth while. As a former Head-master of the school has said:-
From the point of view of the teacher, a post in the Works School has this advantage, that he can measure the effect of his work as reflected in the careers of boys when they leave school. From the employer's point of view, such a school provides an easy means of recognising conspicuous ability early. For the boy, it provides variety during the working week: it keeps him subject to a wholesome influence at an impressionable stage of his working career, and it enables him to measure his powers and progress against those of his fellows. It affords too, an excellent medium whereby experts and specialists in the works can come along and demonstrate to the boys vivid and up to date applications of the general principles learnt in school.
Attendance at the School is made a condition of employment, and pupils come from many surrounding districts, no longer only from the immediate vicinity of the works. The School has been running long enough to establish a sound tradition and to be accepted by all, officials and apprentices alike, as a necessary and valuable part of the works organisation. If the head of a department has any vacancies he is able to turn to the School for possible candidates, and since each boy has a card with his school record on one side and his works record on the other, there is an efficient scheme of registration. The Supervisor of Apprentices arranges future transfers.
Perhaps no stronger claim can be made for the Mather & Platt Works School than that it enjoys the confidence and support of the Works superintendents and foremen who, under the sympathetic direction of the Works Manager, and other members of the Board give it their constant backing and support.
In addition to benefactions and personal service, gifts of tools and appliances have been made to numerous universities and technical colleges in different parts of the world.
Apart from gifts of equipment made to Manchester Institutions and some prominent ones in other parts of the United Kingdom, support has been given further afield. One of the most interesting gifts was made in 1902 when Sir William Mather presented to the Gordon College at Khartoum, a first rate manual-training school, with all appliances for wood and metal working. In a letter to Lord Cromer, Sir William Mather stated his characteristic philosophy of education and of the place of manual training in it. In dealing with real things and actual processes, and in using tools, machines and materials responsive to their will and applied to purposes which they can see and appreciate, they unconsciously acquire habits of observation, carefulness, precision, and logical thought, and a sense of reality, proportion, form and strength. This was "practical education" and this was what Sir William wanted the boys of the Sudan to learn.
A century ago it was the Great Exhibition which first focussed attention on the need for technical education on a national scale, and gave rise to the colony of useful institutions in South Kensington, which has survived in increasing glory to this day. The links with 1851 still persist in the educational side of the firm's work. Sir William Mather, who went to the Exhibition as a small boy, went on to become a member of the governing body of the Imperial College of Science and Technology, South Kensington, appointed by the Royal Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851 to manage the surplus fund left over from a successful season of festival. A hundred years later, the School provided a large and enthusiastic contingent on the occasion of the firms visit to a second great exhibition, the Festival of Britain of 1951. The world has changed much during the century following the first Great Exhibition, and not the least sign of the change is that whereas in 1851 Young William went to the Exhibition alone, in 1951 all the employees of the firm had the opportunity of going to London as guests of the Company. Exactly half way between the two dates, Sir William pointed the way to the future when he said, In education, happily, after all, only the democracy rules. There is no rank; the only question is that the ability all possess shall be used to the uttermost, and all shall work for one common end.