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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 2121 Woolwich Polytechnic
Held at: University of Greenwich
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Date(s): 1890-1989
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
View subfonds/series records
Extent: approximately 48 linear metres
Name of creator(s): Woolwich Polytechnic


Administrative/Biographical history:

Woolwich Polytechnic opened on 28 September 1891, at 47 William Street, London. It was the second Polytechnic in the country to be opened after Regent Street Polytechnic. Men and women were admitted to study 38 subjects, although women were prohibited from studying a few subjects, including engineering and English Language. Classes were held in the evenings, and after five weeks 504 students had attended.

Quintin Hogg, a central figure in the polytechnic movement, had founded the Young Men's Christian Institute (later Regent Street Polytechnic) in 1873. Francis (Frank) Dibben, a former student at the Institute, moved to Woolwich in 1884 to become a fitter at the Royal Arsenal, and began to work on founding a similar institution there. Dibben gained local support for his scheme, and in 1888 the Polytechnic Athletics Club was formed. After several failed attempts to raise money for the planned Polytechnic, T A Denny, an enthusiastic supporter, purchased a house and grounds in William Street in 1890. A gymnasium was built in the garden and several clubs formed, including a Cycling Club and Christian Workers' Union.

A Council was formed in 1891, comprising representatives from each of the sections of the Institute and trustees' representatives. Quintin Hogg was Chairman. An Education Committee was also established to choose subjects for study, and included Dibben, Hogg and those who were to become teachers at the Polytechnic. For the 1892-3 session classes were offered in 80 subjects, with music and dressmaking for women among the subjects added. In 1892-3 new chemistry laboratories were built, and the adjacent house purchased for the Polytechnic. A new hall was built and a library established. The City Parochial Foundation (CPF) and Technical Education Board (TEB) of the London County Council both gave Woolwich Polytechnic grants for the first time in 1893, but the Polytechnic closed in July 1894, having run out of money. The Technical Education Board took over the management of the institute and the Polytechnic re-opened in September.

The Polytechnic was given a new charter in 1895, stating that 'the object of this institution is the promotion of the industrial skill, general knowledge, health and well-being of young men and women belonging to the poorer classes'. Despite the financial and management difficulties of the Polytechnic, during the 1894-5 session 518 men and 199 women attended classes in science, technical and commercial subjects and in the Art department. Chronically short of space, the Polytechnic began to expand, with new chemical and physical laboratories, an engineering laboratory, art room and two large classrooms built by 1898, doubling the floor area. By 1899 subjects offered included book-keeping, typewriting and elocution, and 1,111 students attended the Polytechnic. The teaching of engineering was expanded under the principals of the Polytechnic, who believed that Woolwich should aim to excel in the subject as the Arsenal was the main employer in the district. Until 1904 Woolwich struggled to achieve Hogg's and Dibben's unified vision of Polytechnic education and combine the educational side, which dealt with students and the organisation of classes, and the social side, which organised social, sporting and religious activities. In 1904 the Head of the Social Side and pivotal figure in the founding of the Polytechnic, Frank Dibben, was dismissed and the Polytechnic concentrated on the provision of education, particularly in engineering and technical subjects.

In 1901 the Woolwich University Education Association was absorbed into the Polytechnic by forming classes to carry on the association's work, and members were granted equal privileges with Polytechnic students. In 1902-1903 compound courses were offered to encourage students to take three or four subjects, a trend which the Polytechnic fostered. From 1904 'trade lads' from the Arsenal were sent to the Polytechnic for an afternoon a week, as well as evenings. The scheme was the first 'day release' system in the country, and by 1912 the apprentices spend a day a week at Woolwich Polytechnic.

During the First World War the engineering workshops of the Polytechnic were kept open for the production of munitions, and war economy cooking classes and lectures in war time cookery were held by the Bread and Food Reform League. Major building works took place between 1914 and 1917, with older buildings demolished and a new school of Domestic Economy built, new rooms and workshops for the Engineering Department, School of Art, and Physics Department and rooms for clubs and societies of the Polytechnic. By 1919-20 numbers of students taking evening classes had risen to 2,032 and numbers were rising in the Polytechnic's three trade schools in engineering, dressmaking and ladies tailoring. By the 1920s there was a large increase in the number of students taking integrated courses, with 75% of all students by 1923.

The Academic Board was established in 1932 to advise on all aspects of the teaching of students taking internal degrees at the University of London, whilst the Technical Board acted in the same capacity for work at lower levels. In 1933 the Polytechnic gained full recognition by the University of London for the preparation of students for internal degrees. Part time day courses, some of which led to degrees, were offered for the first time in a variety of subjects and an electrical engineering department was established. In 1934 sandwich courses in engineering were launched, with local factories sponsoring employees to become students. The course lasted 2 years and students then sat the University of London BSc degree examinations. During the 1930s there were several extensions made to the Polytechnic, a new hall was opened in 1936, and new workshops, laboratories and lecture rooms built on newly purchased sites in 1936-1939. A new library was built in 1938-1939.

During the Second World War the technical schools and Junior Art School were evacuated to villages in Kent. When the expected bombing failed to materialise the schools were re-opened in London, but were then evacuated again to Gainsborough, Trowbridge and Northampton. At Woolwich officers and men of the Queen's Own Regiment were billeted in the gymnasium, and a barrage balloon unit established on the sports ground. Part-time day classes and sandwich courses continued, but the numbers of students dropped dramatically.

After the Second World War there was a rapid expansion of students, with a great demand for courses leading to degrees. New full-time courses were started for University of London general degrees and in physics, chemistry, mathematics, as well as the existing engineering courses. An Economics and Management Department was also established. By 1950 the majority of students were attending evening or part-time day courses, and of the full-time students the main studies were mathematics, the sciences and engineering. About a quarter of all students and two thirds of the full-time students were taking degree courses. Woolwich continued to develop its sandwich courses in the 1950s, offering the new Diploma of Technology in mechanical and electrical engineering, a four year course with at least one year of industrial training.

The Government's White Paper on advanced technological training was published in 1956, and proposed to nominate selected colleges as colleges of advanced technology, to receive funding to improve facilities. The large amount of lower level work at Woolwich meant that it was designated a regional college rather than a college of advanced technology. The governors had already started to remove some of the lower level work by discarding the Girls' Technical School and concentrate on science and technical subjects, and this policy was continued. The School of Art, which appeared in the prospectus in 1891, transferred to London County Council Evening Institute in 1962. Some courses of the School of Domestic Economy, which had opened in September 1894, were transferred to Woolwich College in 1957, and the school was closed in 1961. By 1962 lower-level courses (GCEs and ONC work) had been transferred to nearby colleges, and the Polytechnic had started postgraduate and external degree courses for the University of London. By 1965 all lower-level work had been transferred to other institutions. By the late 1960s the transformation of departments to having full-time students working for degrees or equivalent, and to part-time students working for Higher National Certificates or above, was completed. The establishment of the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA) in 1964 (replacing the National Council for Technological Awards) allowed the scope of degree subjects offered by Woolwich and similar institutions to be extended to include the social sciences and the arts.

After the publication of the Government's White Paper in 1966 on polytechnics and colleges Woolwich continued to work towards more degree courses, reshape its Governing Body and also considered sub-degree work, in line with Government policy on the new polytechnics. Woolwich decided to gradually reduce its University of London courses and concentrate on its four year CNAA courses, preferable to students because they were sandwich courses and could be industry-sponsored. Three faculties of Science, Engineering and Business Studies, Management and Humanities were established for the 1969-70 session. In 1968 three departments of Hammersmith College of Art and Building, Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Surveying amalgamated with Woolwich Polytechnic as part of the Ministry's policy for the expansion of most of the new polytechnics. Woolwich Polytechnic and the Hammersmith departments were designated Thames Polytechnic in 1970.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of Woolwich Polytechnic, comprising minutes of the Trustees, 1891-1895; minutes of the Governing Body, 1894-1970; minutes of Committees of the Governing Body, 1895-1970; minutes of the Education and Finance, General Purpose Committee, 1896-1941, including sub-committees, building, recreation, schools, equipment; minutes of the Polytechnic Council, 1891-1903; minutes of the Polytechnic Trustees and Friends, 1891-1895; minutes of the Young Man's Christian Institute Social and Recreative Committee, 1895-1901; minutes of the Woolwich Polytechnic Social and Recreative Committee, 1901-1903; minutes of the Technical Board of Studies, 1923-1934; minutes of the Technical and Trade Board, 1937-1945; minutes of the Board of Studies, 1932-1934; minutes of the Academic Board, 1935-1960; registers of members of the Governing Body, 1895-1961; Governors' attendance books, 1935-1989; Governing Body handbooks, 1898-1970;

Woolwich Polytechnic sundry reports, 1890-1902; Principal's reports, 1900-1903; Principal's Report on the Social Side, 1905; Principals' reports, 1905-1950; reports of the Governing Body, 1905-1970;

administrative records, comprising Secretary's files, 1907-1973, notably applications for recognition to the Board of Education, 1907-1913; letters to T A Denny concerning buildings for Woolwich Polytechnic, 1890; licences to erect buildings, 1898-1902; minutes of meetings of Secretaries of London Polytechnics, 1939-1960; minutes of Head's meetings, 1953-1963; papers relating to the refectory and Refectory Advisory Sub-committee, 1940-1961; technical education, 1956-1961; teaching staff, 1959-1964; administrative staff, 1962-1972; financial records, comprising report and financial statements, 1892-1969; block grant files, 1911-1971; City Parochial Reports, 1927-1937, on the work of London Polytechnics; papers relating to trusts and prizes, comprising declarations of trusts and trust deeds, 1901-1931, Charity Commissioners order, 1960;

annual reports, 1904-1925, 1967-1970; prospectuses, 1891-1971, including for schools associated with Woolwich Polytechnic; calendars of classes, 1895-1934; information leaflets, including calendars of dates, 1953-1971; Students' Handbook, 1904-1933; albums of press cuttings, 1894-1907, 1958-1968; photographs of student classes, 1899; photographs for prospectuses, 1901-1905; internal views of the Polytechnic, including cookery school, laundry, club rooms, engineering workshop, ladies tailoring, playing fields; albums of staff photographs, 1950s-1960s, presentations, staff cricket matches, coats of arms; photographs of Governors, 1891-1970; Chairmen of the Governing Body, 1891-1973; Principals, 1893-1970;

magazines of Woolwich Polytechnic and Day Schools, 1905-1970, comprising The Pom-Pom, 1905-1906; The Polytician; The Probationer; Secondary School magazine, 1923; The Polygon, 1933-1954; Polly, Cycling Club magazine, 1948-1952; Chanticleer, 1948-1959; Proceedings of Woolwich Polytechnic Engineering Society, 1908-1914; Broadsheet, 1965; Principal's newsletter, 1969; staff bulletins, 1934-1953; staff journal, 1970; minutes, 1952-1957, and correspondence, 1950-1957, of the Magazine Board;

student records, comprising student record cards, 1900-1910; registers of attendances, 1905-1912; students' schedules, 1932-1945; class attendance books, 1908-1912, 1932-1964; student record sheets, 1912-1932; teachers' class reports, 1912-1976; class reports, 1953-1954; course reports, 1957-1961; examination results and reports, 1948-1957; statistics relating to students and student hours, 1946-1967; School of Art student record sheets, 1914-1932; School of Arts and Crafts record sheets, 1941-1943;

minutes of Woolwich Polytechnic Union of Clubs and Societies, including Woolwich Polytechnic Association, 1891-1903, 1929-1933, 1943-1968; annual accounts, 1960-1970; correspondence, not dated; Woolwich Polytechnic Students' Union handbooks, 1960-1970;

student theses and dissertations, [1929-1970];

Woolwich Polytechnic Lodge Ladies Festival programme, 1978.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

The collection is unsorted.

Conditions governing access:

Researchers wishing to consult the archives should contact Ann Murphy, Head of Information Services, University of Greenwich

Conditions governing reproduction:

Photocopying is permitted at the discretion of the Librarian.

Finding aids:

A list is available at the University of Greenwich Archives.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Created in the course of business.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Records of Thames Polytechnic, 1971-1992, University of Greenwich, 1991-2001, and badges, trophies and uniforms relating to Woolwich Polytechnic are also held by the University of Greenwich Archive.

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: An Illustrated History of the University of Greenwich Thomas Hinde (University of Greenwich, 1996). Compiled by Julie Tancell as part of the RSLP AIM25 project.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal Place and Corporate Names 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
July 2002

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