Education and Albert Mansbridge go hand-in-hand like bricks and mortar. His work in the world of education has had a lasting impact and reminds us of the struggles fought to better educate Britain. However, as founder of the Workers Education Association, people often focus on his achievements in furthering the educational accessibility for the working classes and tend to miss the early moments of academic youth which inspired and created the man he would become.
Mansbridge’s family moved around the country a lot in his youth which led to him attending more schools than most other young boys. In 1879 Mansbridge attended a Dame School and St James’ Church of England Infant School (Gloucester). After his family moved to London in 1880 he attended Jessop Road Board School and in the following year attended Bolingbroke Road Board school (Battersea). His family remained in Battersea for the rest of his young education and, in 1884 he attended Surrey Lane Board school. In 1885 he was awarded a scholarship to Sir Walter St John’s Middle School along with a scholarship in 1887 to Battersea Grammar School. This was the official end of his education: ‘Thomas Mansbridge [his father] could have allowed Albert to stay at school and try for a university scholarship, but at the age of fourteen he became an office boy’ and sought other routes into higher education (Jennings, 2004, n.pag).
The education of the working class in the 19th century was a difficult task as families would often struggle to afford their children’s education. When reflecting on his education, Mansbridge explains that
The grammar school period was valuable in the extreme. I did my lessons passably well. No doubt I showed ability, because I was urged once again to strive for a university career, but in those days there were no aids of any sort. The only possible way was to get an open scholarship at Westminster school, but I could not compete at the time, and even if I had been successful my father was not able to support me longer at school. […] Anything a boy does happily at school he tends to persist in all his days (1940, 20-21).
This lack of funding for his education and his burning passion to attend higher education may have been his inspiration to found the WEA and pursue equal academic opportunities for the working classes. We can see from this passage that Mansbridge was always aware of his unfortunate circumstances that held him back, however, he endeavoured to overcome his misfortunes ‘in all his days’. His struggle for education evidently lit a flame inside him which would burn and fuel his passion to create equal academic opportunity amongst the social classes of Britain.
In a chapter titled: ‘Strenuous years, 1897-1903’ we see how Mansbridge pursued university, and in particular, Oxford (1940, 38). In his late teens we see that he was already devoted to he academic world and had set his eyes on a life of educational occupation: ‘Ever since my schooldays I had thought of the university as a promised land which some day I might by a miracle enter’ (Mansbridge, 1940, 38). Education had very clearly made a massive impact on Mansbridge and shaped his desire to pursue a life of academia.
However, Mansbridge’s education was not focused solely on his academic prowess. In his memoirs he explains the activities in which he found joy and escape from study. Albert enjoyed acting in his spare time:
My great ambition was to act in a Speech Day play, and I worked hard to qualify as Antonio in The Merchant of Venice, but my cockney accent (it wasn’t, it was Gloucestershire) was said to be too marked. Like Antonio himself, I was “certainly undone”[.] A year later I was a charming servant maid in the French play (1940, 19).
Mansbridge evidently strived to improve and better himself and his knowledge in every task he undertook, and it is clear that his youth was more than just studying and work. He took great pride and joy in participating in sports and sociable activities which would give him the self-discipline needed to create and operate the WEA. Mansbridge clearly looks back at his youth and education with much joy and nostalgia in his memoir and we can see from these passages that his hard-working attitude in his boyhood created the successful man that he would be forever known as.
Jennings, Bernard. ‘Mansbridge, Albert (1876–1952)’. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 2004. Web. Accessed 20/12/2015.
Mansbridge, Albert. The Trodden Road. London: Temple, 1940.
Yorke, Bryan. ‘Haslingden St. James C of E Photos, including School and Student photos’. . 2012. Web. Accessed 1/1/2016.