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Former Mechanics Institute and Municipal Technical School

A Grade II Listed Building in Banbury, Oxfordshire

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Latitude: 52.06 / 52°3'35"N

Longitude: -1.3371 / 1°20'13"W

OS Eastings: 445546

OS Northings: 240383

OS Grid: SP455403

Mapcode National: GBR 7ST.YK0

Mapcode Global: VHCW7.SH05

Entry Name: Former Mechanics Institute and Municipal Technical School

Listing Date: 16 February 2009

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1393132

English Heritage Legacy ID: 504565

Location: Banbury, Cherwell, Oxfordshire, OX16

County: Oxfordshire

Civil Parish: Banbury

Built-Up Area: Banbury

Traditional County: Oxfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Oxfordshire

Church of England Parish: Banbury St Mary

Church of England Diocese: Oxford

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Listing Text


16-FEB-09 Former Mechanics' Institute and Munici
pal Technical School

Former Mechanics' Institute, 1884 by WE Mills, and Municipal Technical School, 1893 architect unknown. Red brick with ironstone dressings and slate roofs. Currently used as a library and offices/shops respectively.

PLAN: The Mechanics' Institute and Municipal Technical School are two separate buildings joined at the west end, and unified by the main elevation. Both are of three stories; the Mechanics' Institute is square in plan with pitched two-span roof. The Technical School is more irregular, with front range with pitched roof and rear wing with a triple-span roof with gables facing east, and full height canted bay at the north end of the elevation.

EXTERIOR: In the main south elevation the later Technical School followed the Jacobean style of the Mechanics' Institute to create a single design, which appears as a gabled central section with side wings with small central gables, each section symmetrical. The central section has a rose window with quatrefoil tracery under the gable, below which, in the second storey, are two shallow-arched windows with stone tracery. There are similar windows under the small central gables of the wings to either side, which are flanked by stone mullioned and transomed windows with trefoil heads; all other windows have mullions and transoms. The gable to the Mechanics' Institute is shaped, with a finial, while that to the Technical School is plain. Both have centrally placed shields and swags, bearing respectively an inscription and the emblem of Banbury Cross and the date of each building. Both wings have a central oriel window with crenellated and decorated parapet, below which is the main entrance to each building, recessed within a moulded Tudor arch. The central ground and first floor windows of the central section are set forward slightly, the first floor window with a pediment with decorated tympanum. On the first and second floors the upper sections of all windows contain a chequered pattern of stained glass.

The rear elevations are plain in relation to the front. In the three part elevation to the Technical School the canted bay has tall chimneys to either side. To the rear of the Mechanics' institute is a modern single storey extension; this is not of special interest.

INTERIOR: Inside the entrance to both buildings is a wooden screen with double doors, semi-glazed under Tudor arches, and trefoil glazing above and to the side panels. Beyond the screens are halls and staircases. The rest of the Technical School was not inspected. In the former Mechanics' Institute the entrance hall leads into the lending library, which now opens to the flat roofed single storey extension to the rear. The staircase rises from the hall and has cast iron newel post and balusters, and a moulded wooden handrail with unusual hand clasps at regular intervals along the spine. From the first to second floor the handrail becomes plainer, with wooden stick balusters (although the hand clasps remain).

Each of the upper floors contains two main lecture rooms or classrooms, one to the front and one to the back. The entrance to the first floor room (now reading room and reference library) is through a semi-glazed double door with arched overlight. Here the two rooms are connected by wide arches. The east room is subdivided by a full height panelled folding wooden partition, one side of which is partially concealed behind a more recent partition. The walls are panelled to dado height, and the frieze and cornice survive.

The second floor rooms have vaulted planked timber ceilings with trusses supported on stone corbels. The west room has skylights in the east slope of the roof. The west room also contains a boarded up fireplace with panelled surrounds, and there is also a boarded up fireplace in the office connecting the two large rooms. Surviving joinery includes most doors, moulded architraves and deep moulded skirting boards to the ground floor.

HISTORY: The former Mechanics' Institute and Municipal Technical School were built in 1884 and 1893 respectively. The Institute now houses the County Library and the Technical School contains offices, with shops to the ground floor. The building of the Mechanics' Institute was largely funded by Sir Bernhard Samuelson, a local industrialist and philanthropist whose agricultural machinery industry had been instrumental in transforming Banbury from a market town into an industrial centre. Samuelson's wealth also derived from his ironworks in Cleveland and Middlesborough, but his social and political commitments were to Banbury, where he held the parliamentary seat between 1865 and 1895. As an MP he took a keen interest in education, particularly in scientific and technical training both nationally and locally, and the announcement of his elevation to a baronetcy for services to education was made at the opening of the Mechanics' Institute; he is commemorated by an Oxfordshire Blue Plaque on the front elevation.

Samuelson was also instrumental in establishing the Municipal Technical School, the first public secondary school in Banbury; this extended the building to the north and was opened in 1893. In 1930 the school moved to new premises, and the building was later used as the administrative headquarters of the Borough Council, while the Mechanics' Institute became a museum and library. Although the front elevation of both buildings remains unchanged, there have been some alterations: a single storey flat roofed extension has been added to the ground floor at the back of the library (Mechanics' Institute), enlarging the area available for the lending library, and the Technical School building has been converted for multiple occupancy.

WE Mills was a Banbury architect whose practice was mainly local to Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire. Grade II-listed buildings to his credit include: the Church of St Mary, Holwell, Oxfordshire; Church Hall, Banbury; and Banbury Museum, 8 Horse Fair. Mills died in 1910.

SOURCES: Barry Trinder, Victorian Banbury (1982)
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
www.british-history.ac.uk A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 10: Banbury hundred (1972), pp. 120-124.
www.halarose.co.uk/blue/p (Oxfordshire Blue Plaques)

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: Borough House and the Oxfordshire County Council Library, formerly the Municipal Technical School and Mechanics' Institute, are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Of special architectural interest for the strong and coherent composition, which remains substantially unaltered;
* Despite its conversion to office use, the entrance of the Technical School remains unaltered, and the plan and much of the detail of the interior of the Mechanics' Institute survives;
* The building demonstrates the growth of Banbury's cultural and economic aspirations. It is associated with a prominent Victorian industrialist and philanthropist, Bernhard Samuelson, and was designed by a noted local architect, WE Mills, who has several other listed buildings to his credit.

This text is from the original listing, and may not necessarily reflect the current setting of the building.

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