The history of mechanics’ institutes ‘is at once beautiful and terrible to read', Christopher Charles Cattell, the Birmingham radical republican, told the members of his Eclectic Institute in 1854. Contemporaries of the mechanics’ institute movement in the mid-nineteenth century were acutely aware of this terrible history. ‘The banquet was prepared for guests who did not come …,’ wrote Robert Elliott in 1861. J. W. Hudson referred to ‘The universal complaint that Mechanics’ Institutions are attended by persons of a higher rank than those for whom they were designed…’ The Westminster Review continued the lament, Samuel Smiles, Lloyd Jones and J. M. Ludlow joined the chorus, and later historians have followed the tune. E. P. Thompson, for example, writes: ‘After the mid-Twenties the tendency was general for the custom of artisans to give way to that of the lower middle class, and for orthodox political economy to come into the syllabus.