Monday, February 16, 2009


Before public libraries as we know them were ever invented, they had predecessors in the form of the Mechanics' Institute libraries - places for the working man to get himself an education.

Of course, most Mechanics' Institutes have gone the way of all things, though their buildings often remain as Victorian brick edifices converted into banks or community centres. But there are still a few fully functioning Mechanics' Institute libraries still surviving in the UK, and one of these is in Epworth, South Yorkshire - a small town best known as the birthplace of John and Charles Wesley, the founders of Methodism.

The Epworth Mechanics' Institute Library was formed in 1837. It is located in a Grade II listed building, the Manor Court House, and still operates as a subscription library, open to the public, with a fiction library and local history resource.

This is an expensive facility for volunteers to keep running, so each year there is a fund-raising supper. And this week I will be one of the guest speakers. You can read an article about the event in the local newspaper, the Epworth Bells (yes, that really is its name).

I'll be appearing at St Andrew's Church (where the Wesleys were baptised) on Saturday, February 21st, at a buffet and wine event that gets under way at 7.30pm. The evening will include the auction of a specially hand bound copy of the 8th Cooper & Fry novel, DYING TO SIN.

If you're in the area, there might still be time to get a ticket. Phone either (01427) 873483, (01427) 872238 or (01427) 874670, or e-mail

** John Wesley travelled all over the country to preach, often arriving on horseback in some out of the way place. But he wasn't always in the best of moods. When he arrived in our neighbouring town of Worksop he didn't like the spot he'd been given to preach from, and said the locals were "as stupid people as I ever saw". But then, the comedian Les Dawson also allegedly said that the worst crowd he ever performed to was in Worksop.


  1. Delighted to meet Stephen at our Literary Supper this evening. It was a great success and Stephen was our second author of the evening. He was highly entertaining and thought provoking at the same time. The comments from guests were very complementary.
    If you missed hearing Stephen at the Mechanics, I do recommend catching up with him at his next event.

    Peter Frost-Head Librarian

  2. Thanks for your post, Stephen.

    I have been writing about Mechanics' Instit-utes myself at

    My problem is whether attendees at the var-ious Institutes' lectures actually improved their jobs and lives, or not. If the Institutes were set up simply for the moral improvement of the workers, I will be very disappointed.


  3. Thanks a lot, Peter. I'm glad people enjoyed it - they were a terrific audience. And what an amazing venue!