This splendid building in Boroughgate was a Mechanics Institute. Appleby, like hundreds of other towns wanted to encourage its workers to "better themselves". The new industries wanted better educated, more skilled workers, and employers were willing to finance such institutions.
According to an article in the Westmorland Gazette it was established in 1848 by some local tradesmen. It was instantly popular. Nearly 100 members were enrolled and the "gentry and others connected with the town came forward in the most liberal way". By the end of the first year. £112 5s 3d had been raised and 274 books donated. Soon they had 900 books, occasional lectures were given and two daily and several weekly newspapers* were available.
The article does not tell us where they met originally but by 1850 the committee were looking for a permanent home. Twelve Trustees were elected including John Bell and Matthias Parkin. Sir Richard Tufton leased them a piece of land in Boroughgate at a nominal rent and George Robinson was commissioned to design the building. It was to cost £300, but as they only had £243 fund raising started in earnest, a number of concerts were held and a grand tea party presided over by local ladies of note welcomed 140 guests.
The speech by a visiting clergyman made it plain that not everyone was happy about educating the working classes. "I dare say these institutions are, in many minds, and amongst many well-meaning people, associated with discontent in social matters, radicalism in politics, infidelity in religion." He went on, "When we are told that Thomas Jones or John Jones , whose daily work is to beat leather on a lapstone, is a free thinker, we may conclude that Thomas Jones or John Jones has, in the strict sense of the term, never thought at all. "they may have picked up strange opinions - they did not form them. they may wear them and exhibit them as evidences of intellect - they are only proofs of self conceit."
Newspaper reports tell of lectures being given from time to time, more fund raising, and the regular use of the building for auctions and on at least one occasion an inquest. In 1874 the Institute was presented with two framed engravings of local worthies; one was John Robinson, the politician who built the White House and the other was Admiral Sir Richard Pearson who fought against John Paul Jones at Flamborough Head.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century the Institute had fallen on hard times and when there was a proposal to establish a free library in the town the committee offered the premises and books as a foundation. The thought of an extra rate to pay for the library was too much for the town and the offer was refused. Since the Institute continued to function until 1951 presumably things picked up.
The same gentleman who worried about possible adverse effects of more education admitted that at least going to the Institute might keep men out of public houses. Perhaps he hadn't noticed that it was next to the A'board !*
*in 1854 the following newspapers were held: The Times, Express, Illustrated News, The Press, Punch, Liverpool Albion, Carlisle Patriot
1851 Kendal Mercury
1852 Carlisle Patriot
"So excellent has been the conduct of the body of Militia-men now 'on duty' in this town that the Appleby Mechanics Institute have made the whole Corps honorary members of that Institute as a mark of esteem and appreciation from their fellow citizens"
In August 1779 Jones took command of the Bonhomme Richard and, accompanied by four small ships, sailed around the British Isles. In September the little squadron intercepted the Baltic merchant fleet under convoy of the British ships Serapis and Countess of Scarborough. What followed was one of the most famous naval engagements in American history. During the early stages of a gruelling 3 1/2-hour gun battle, Jones answered an enemy challenge to surrender with the memorable words, “I have not yet begun to fight!” He won a stunning victory, though with a heavy loss of life, when the Serapis surrendered and was boarded by Jones and his crew. The Bonhomme Richard sank soon afterward from damage received in the engagement, and Jones sailed both the Serapis and the captured Countess of Scarborough to the Netherlands. In France Louis XVI rewarded him with a gold-hilted sword and made him a chevalier of France.
John Paul Jones was an American naval hero in the American Revolution. He was renowned for his victory over British ships of war off the east coast of England.
When the American Revolution broke out, John Paul Jones went to Philadelphia and was commissioned a senior lieutenant in the new Continental Navy. In 1779 he took command of the Bonhomme Richard. In September he intercepted the Baltic merchant fleet under convoy of the British ships Serapis and Countess of Scarborough. What followed was one of the most famous naval engagements in U.S. history.