UCL logo




Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury Institutions


Working Men’s College

Also known as The College for Women and Men


It was founded in 1854 as an adult education institute

Though its teachers were mainly young lawyers and recent graduates of Oxford and Cambridge, and it was not a completely democratic institution, teachers and students did mix and it had working men on its board

One of the early teachers and Maurice’s successor as principal in 1873, Thomas Hughes (later the author of Tom Brown’s School Days, 1884), attracted few students to his law classes, but was a great success as a boxing coach and presided over popular coffee-room meetings with singing and poetry recitals (R. B. Litchfield, The Beginnings of the Working Men’s College, 1902)

It was the product of Maurice’s Christian Socialism, a movement founded immediately after the Chartist demonstration of 10 April 1848 and as a response to fears of a political uprising in London similar to those which took place in several European capitals in February–March 1848

Among those who met with Maurice at his home, 21 Queen Square, in 1848 to set up the college were Charles Kingsley, R. B. Litchfield, J. M. F. Ludlow, Frederick James Furnivall, and Thomas Hughes, all keen to improve the lot of working people by offering them access to education

Later, E. M. Forster taught Latin at the College every week whilst living in a hotel nearby in 1902 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

The College was enormously influential from its early years onwards: in 1864 an admirer of Maurice, Elizabeth Malleson, opened the Working Women’s College round the corner at 29 Queen Square

Malleson was keen for the two colleges to merge, but the council of the Working Men’s College resisted and instead in 1874 the Working Women’s College became co-educational, changing its name to the College for Men and Women; it remained at 29 Queen Square until it was dissolved in 1901

Meanwhile a breakaway group of teachers and board members from the Working Women’s College which wanted to keep a women-only college, led by Frances Martin, established the College for Working Women in Fitzroy Street, west of Bloomsbury, in 1874

Later renamed Frances Martin College, this institution merged with the Working Men’s College in 1966

The College continues to provide education and skills training to local adult learners, particularly those who have missed out on traditional educational opportunities, many of whom study part-time

What was reforming about it?

It differed from the Mechanics’ Institutions set up thirty years earlier (George Birkbeck had founded the London Mechanics’ Institution in Holborn in 1823) by being deliberately called a “College”

The title, insisted on by its founder Frederick Denison Maurice, was intended to characterise the co-operative and collaborative nature of the institution, which was to be a community of teachers and students (Frederick Maurice (jr) ed, The Life of Frederick Denison Maurice, 1884)

Where in Bloomsbury

It was founded at 31 Red Lion Square in 1854; Maurice had owned the lease on the building since 1851

In 1848 Maurice had started a night school for local working people in Little Ormond Yard, having been told by the rector of St George’s Bloomsbury that the area was so disorderly that even the police did not venture there at night (Frederick Maurice (jr) ed, The Life of Frederick Denison Maurice, 1884)

The College moved to 45 Great Ormond Street (the former home of the Lord Chancellor) in 1857, and later expanded into no. 44

It moved out of Bloomsbury to a purpose-built building at Crowndale Road in 1905

Website of current institution

www.wmcollege.ac.uk (opens in new window)

Books about it

J. Llewelyn Davies ed, The Working Men’s College, 1854–1904: Records of its History and its Work for Fifty Years, by Members of the College (1904)

J. F. C. Harrison, A History of the Working Men’s College (1954)

See also R. B. Litchfield, The Beginnings of the Working Men’s College (1902), a 12-page pamphlet written by one of its founders (H09/GY/LIB/094, London Metropolitan Archives)


Its extensive archive, including administrative papers, minutes of meetings, student records, correspondence, examination papers, prospectuses, and pamphlets, has been deposited in London Metropolitan Archives, ref. LMA/4535 (still being catalogued in 2011), along with other related material at LCC/EO/HFE/5/292; details are available online via the London Metropolitan Archives catalogue (opens in new window)

There is also relevant material in the Furnivall records at King’s College London: details are available online via AIM25 (opens in new window)

Senate House Library Special Collections (University of London) has a large collection of works by and about F. D. Maurice, many of them relating to the Working Men’s College

This page last modified 13 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


Bloomsbury Project - University College London - Gower Street - London - WC1E 6BT - Telephone: +44 (0)20 7679 3134 - Copyright © 1999-2005 UCL

Search by Google