Recent visitor to the TUC Library, Dr Gary Heywood-Everett, has contributed a blog post on the subject of his research into WEA’s first tutorial classes:
The First WEA Tutorial Class : Rochdale 1908
Dr Gary Heywood-Everett
My interest in the history of the Workers Education Association (the WEA) and specifically the first of its tutorial classes in Rochdale, Lancashire in 1908, stemmed from me finding a photograph in the library of Lancaster University where I was doing my doctorate in the Department of Educational Research. It was a photograph of that first tutorial cohort posing rather grandly outside my old secondary school in Rochdale. This discovery was made in the mid 1980’s and at the time I tried to apply for funding to research this class but was unsuccessful even though the North West Regional Studies Group at Lancaster gave me a great deal of support.
During my subsequent years of teaching in primary schools and lecturing in Education Studies at the University of Central Lancashire, my interest in the subject of adult education though the WEA persisted although I did not have the opportunity to conduct research. However, on retirement in July of 2013, I decided that I would revive my initial curiosity and trace the genesis of this first tutorial group, find out who the 40 or so students were and what they went on to be.
My interest is from both an educational and a social inclusion point of view. These working men and women, often factory hands during the day, managed to summon up the energy and intellectual curiosity to attend classes in Economic History and Politics in their free time and (in an organised class) at the weekend. The WEA responded to this enthusiasm by appointing R H Tawney, the radical Labour theorist, to be their tutor. The tutorial class marks the first of thousands of such classes throughout the UK and worldwide.
The TUC Library at London Metropolitan University holds many of the initial letters discussing the setting up of tutorial classes as an alternative to University Extension programmes, many coming from Albert Mansbridge, the founder of the WEA in 1903 to the Rochdale Guild which acted to recruit and materially organise the first class. Tawney’s letters to the WEA and to Mansbridge are also in the TUC archive and provide an insight into the political tensions in setting up worker education in this innovative way. Furthermore, student essays from the time can be found in the archive as are (quite critical) evaluations of the teaching styles and the experience in the classes from the students themselves.
Given the breadth and depth of material in the TUC Library, I intend to use it to answer questions such as: what motivated the working people of Rochdale in 1908 to undertake study? Why did they choose Economic History as their subject? Did the students use this study to further their own professional and/or political ends? How political was the WEA as set against the Central Labour College, the Plebs League etc? I would also want to draw comparisons between educational and political motivations then, in 1908, and now.
I have visited the TUC library at London Metropolitan University on two occasions to date and feel to have only skimmed the surface of the available material. It is my intention to write a series of articles about the first tutorial group, present to interested groups in Rochdale and elsewhere, and to offer both as a contribution to the town’s – and the WEA’s – heritage.
For those with an interest in contributing to or making contact about the first tutorial class, please do so at email@example.com