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This chapter focusses on the early years of the first Mechanics’ classes, instituted at the beginning of the nineteenth century. These classes were formed out of well-meaning paternalism, aimed at educating, and reforming, disenfranchised labouring class people. Institutional leadership quickly dictated what was suitable, or not, for the men and women who became members of these institutes. Denied agency in what they read and discussed, members agitated for more say. Some split to form their own institutes, as in Glasgow in 1823 and Manchester in 1829. These new institutions, led by members, enabled the concerns of working-class communities on industrial pollution, breadth of education, and aspirations for goods, to emerge as subjects for discussion. Mechanics’ institutions therefore became places where political engagement, denied by an unreformed parliament and the Six Acts, took place. This is evidenced in the content of the new unstamped Mechanics’ magazines that were closely tied to Mechanics’ Institutes. These institutes were faced with much conservative opposition, particularly from the established church, fearing radicalism. Indeed, some mechanics were involved in publishing details on how to make bombs and bullets on the eve of the Reform Bill in 1831.
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