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Cockermouth Post Article September 2012 – The Mechanics’ Institute and Band

The Mechanics’ Institute movement was a national one, the first Mechanics’ Institute having been set up in 1821 by George Birkbeck. The Institutes were seen as a means of stimulating the mind and furthering the education of working-class people – initially for men but increasingly for women too. The Cockermouth Mechanics’ Institute was founded in 1845 by Robert Benson, a solicitor in Cockermouth, who remained its President until his death in 1858. The Cockermouth Mechanics’ Institute, situated to the rear of the Savings Bank (to the right of the Police Station on Main Street), had a Library which members subscribed to. In 1886 subscribers paid 2s. 6d per half-year for the use of the Reading Room and Library. Another benefactor was Major General Richard Benson, who bequeathed the whole of his considerable library, together with £100 when he died.

A large committee ran the Mechanics’ Institute and their 1892 Report notes a membership of 209 people, with nearly 4,400 books and magazines having been borrowed during the year. A further 100 books had been bought, including ‘Recollections of Tennyson, Ruskin, and Browning’ and the intriguing ‘Condemned as a Nihilist’. The 1893 Report mentions that the Reading Room, well-stocked with a range of newspapers, had been re-papered and painted, and the floors of both rooms re-covered for the comfort of users.

Associated with the Mechanics’ Institute was the Mechanics’ Band. It is difficult to know the precise year the Band was established; it may have been as early as 1825, but possibly not until 1845. It is certainly one of the oldest bands in the country. It has played an important part in virtually every community event in Cockermouth for a very long time and, indeed, continues to do so. The Mechanics’ Band is part of Cockermouth’s rich history.

Gloria Edwards

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