Ipswich Institute and Library, Tavern Street IP1 3AA 

The Mechanic’s Institution was founded in 1824 by Dr George Birkbeck, a British physician, academic, philanthropist, a pioneer in adult education as well as the founder of Birkbeck University, now part of the University of London. In founding the Mechanic’s Institution, Dr Birkbeck was responding to the need for artisans, craftsmen and skilled manual workers rising from the industrial revolution. 

On 23rd of November, the same year, a decision was taken in Ipswich to establish such an institution in the town. A lending library and lectures were to be made available with the object to provide “the instruction of the members in the principles of the arts they practice … and in the various branches of science and useful knowledge”. 

The new Institute moved into the former chemist shop at 15 Tavern Street in 1834 and was extended in 1848. Although now hemmed in by taller more recent buildings, this hidden jewel of cultural and architectural heritage now houses a popular independent library and reading room in a light airy barrel-vaulted hall which dates from 1876.

In the modern era, membership is open to everyone. The library is well-stocked, and newspapers and magazines are available for members to read. CDs and videos can be borrowed. The institute offers many and varied activities to members, talks, clubs, such as the chess club which has been running since 1880. Behind the library is a café for the use of members.

The large, open Birkbeck Room upstairs is used for a variety of members’ activities. There are talks on a wide variety of subjects – historical/current, local/worldwide, various genres of music: courses from one off tasters to weekly courses in arts, crafts, music, photography; quizzes and physical activities such as yoga.

All photographs by Celia Waters.

Links: Ipswich Institute website; Mechanics Institutes