Listing: Mechanic's Institute, Free Library from
1869, Athenaeum from 1877. The building was important as a forum
for discussion for townspeople who were responsible for the C19
development of Wolverhampton.
Literature: John S. Roper, Historic Buildings
of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, 1957, pp. 61-63
For a detailed account of the development of library
and adult education services in 19th century Wolverhampton, see
Patrick Quirke's article on this website.
Comment: This building is of
considerable significance in Wolverhampton's social history.
The Mechanics' Institute started in King Street about 1827 and in
early 1835 a committee was formed to build new premises. They
bought this site. The plans were prepared by one of the
trustees, William Walford. In the conveyance he is described
as "architect" but Roper knew of no other building by him and
points out that he operated as a timber merchant, with saw mills in
Commercial Road. He was thus an amateur architect. The
building was completed in 1836 and contained a library, a lecture
room, a reading room and a house for the caretaker and librarian.
Roper suggests that Walford's design was influenced
by Lewis Vulliamy's design for the Assembly Rooms, just along the
road. He rates it a success but "it is unfortunate that the
ironwork of the balconette had disappeared and the lower part
of the main front altered so that the pilasters and architrave now
scarcely appear as the chief feature of the original design.
The pediment has also been hideously rebuilt". The pediment
once bore the legend "Mechanics Institution".
At some time after 1872 the building was taken over
by the Workmen's Conservative Club and, according to Roper, was
little altered at the end of the 19th century. Roper, who
wrote in 1957, attributed the changes to "the last forty or fifty
years". As it was a recruiting office in his time it is very
likely that, if it had been the Army who altered the building, he
would have said so. As it is the building now presents a very
satisfactory degree of spit and polish.