Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone

Albert Mansbridge founded The Workers Education Association in Battersea

Posted in Albert Mansbridge founder of The Workers Education Association by sheelanagigcomedienne on July 3, 2014

Albert Mansbridge founder of The Workers Education Association is my nomination for the Great One Hundred at Battersea Arts Centre and for the Good Neighbour.
Battersea arts centre

He is a very important example of another great and influential person associated with radical and progressive Battersea in the early 1900s.

Albert and  Frances, his wife, lived at 52 Winsham Grove, Battersea, London SW11.

52 Winsham Grove SW11

52 Winsham Grove SW11

Winsham Grove SWII

Winsham Grove SWII










ALBERT MANSBRIDGE who was so instrumental in the pursuit of education for working class people nationally and internationally with the Workers Education Association which he founded and all the other developments in access to training, education and resources for people, like himself, who had to leave school as soon as possible as his family couldn’t afford to let him continue his education  as they needed his earnings. He was fourteen when he left.

Albert Mansbridge founder of the Workers Education Association WEA when living in Battersea

Albert Mansbridge founder of the Workers Education Association WEA when living in Battersea

Albert Mansbridge born 0n the 10 January 1876 in Gloucester. His father was a carpenter and the family moved to Battersea when Albert was a child. He was an extraordinary educator who organised the Adult Education movement in Britain. He is best known for his part in founding the  Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) in England in 1903, serving as its first secretary until 1915.

This was founded in January 1903 by Albert and his wife Frances in their home 52 Winsham Grove, off Clapham Common. In this symbolic meeting at their terraced house, Frances famously contributed 2s.6d. from her housekeeping money as a working fund and voted Albert `hon. sec. pro tem’.

Albert and Frances Mansbridge

Albert and Frances Mansbridge










Mansbridge attended Bolingbroke Road and Surrey Lane schools before winning a scholarship in 1885 to Sir Walter St John’s and hence onward to Battersea Grammar School on St John’s Hill.

Battersea Grammar School

Battersea Grammar School

In 1890, aged fourteen, he went to work as a City clerk, while pursuing his studies via a university extension course at Munt’s Hall Clapham Junction which became The Imperial cinema later renamed The Ruby. This  closed in 1981. and that was the end for this 91 year old building as the Theatre was then demolished to make way for a branch of Barclays Bank.

The Imperial Cinema formerly Munts Hall and laterly The Ruby before demolition for the ugly Barclays Bank branch

The Imperial Cinema formerly Munts Hall and later  The Ruby before demolition for the ugly Barclays Bank branch

(In 1900 a consortium, led by the well loved Music Hall artiste Dan Leno, took over the former Munt’s Hall to see if their idea of a larger hall in the area was viable. Satisfied that it was they set about commissioning AE Woodrow to build a new Theatre in Clapham called The Grand.)

Mansbridge was an activist in the Battersea Co-operative Society and wrote Brick upon Brick a history of the first 50 years of the Coop Permanent Building Society.albert brick upon brick The Cooperative Movement and Communities in Britain, …







Founded in 1903, the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) is a charity and the UK’s largest voluntary sector provider of adult education. In 2012/13 we delivered 9,700 part-time courses for over 70,000 students in England and Scotland with classes in almost every local authority area and our work in England was assessed in 2014 as ‘Good’ by Ofsted.

With the support of over 400 local branches, 3,000 volunteers, 2,000 part-time tutors and our active membership, the WEA provides high quality, student-centred and tutor-led education for adults from all walks of life. We bring education into the heart of communities, helping people learn whatever they want – from maths and English to local history.

Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) – Adult Learning

This is from the WEA website.




The founder of the WEA was a man who had left school at the age of fourteen and started life as an office boy. Albert Mansbridge, while still in his fourteenth year, enrolled in a University Extension Course on “The Chemistry of Everyday Life” and won a certificate with distinction at the end of it. As a young man he continued to make considerable use of University Extension lectures and became very involved in the educational work of the Co-operative movement. His interest in these two spheres involved a realization that the University Extension movement was failing to attract working people despite their need for higher education and he felt that, though the Co-operative Movement was doing much good educational work and had itself made considerable use of Extension education, providing ready-made audiences for university lecturers, it was not enough to confine the initiative on the workers’ side to the Co-operative Movement.

He began to talk of an alliance between labour and learning, in which University authorities could be brought in touch with the workers through their various organisations. He believed that such an association would help to show that working people had the determination and ability to undertake serious, systematic study of a university standard and would represent their educational needs on a national scale. The “partnership between labour and learning” was not to be merely a convenient administrative arrangement; it would be a true partnership in which the workers would be helped in an objective search, in all branches of learning, to acquire knowledge which would enable them to decide for themselves what to think about the society in which they lived and worked.
Being a man of some action as well as of some dreams, Mansbridge took the first step towards founding such an association: though it was Mrs Mansbridge who provided the apple so that the fruits of the Tree of Knowledge might be savoured – she handed him 2s. 6d. from her housekeeping money as the first member’s fee and together they elected themselves honorary secretary and founder member of the “Association to Promote the Higher Education of Working Men”. The new Association was formally created at a conference in 1903 of representatives of the trade unions, the Co-operative movement and University Extension authorities. The sex discrimination expressed in its title was corrected two years later when the name Workers’ Educational Association was adopted.

Albert Mansbridge portrait is in  the National Portrait Gallery and was painted by his  John

Albert Mansbridge portrait is in the National Portrait Gallery and was painted by his son John

The portrait was painted by his son John Mansbridge who became an official war artist and taught at Goldsmith’s College  ISSUU – Artist Biography M by Goldmark Gallery

Albert attended university extension courses at Kings College London. He eventually taught evening classes himself in economics, industrial history, and typing, all while taking up clerical work.

Albert had growing concerns over the fact that the extension courses, started in 1873, were aimed at the upper and middle classes. Originally called An Association to Promote the Higher Education of Working Men, realising that women should equally be included, the name change took place in 1905. The association and its aims was quick to be recognized by universities, and Mansbridge left clerical work in 1905 to become its full-time general secretary.

Albert founded international branches of the WEA in Australia 1913, and later Canada and New Zealand. Mansbridge suffered from spinal meningitis but after recovering he would go on to form several other adult-education groups. These included the World Association for Adult Education in 1918, the Seafarers’ Educational Service in 1919 The Marine College of the SEA and the British Institute of Adult Education in 1921. In 1922 he delivered the Lowell Lectures in Boston, and for the Pacific School of Religion with the University of California. He also founded the National Central Library, a tutorial system and a scholarly library for working people who were not connected to an academic institution.

He was a member of numerous government committees of education, including the Consultative Committee of the Board of Education from 1906 to 1912, and from 1924 to 1939. From 1915 to 1918 Mansbridge was on the Prime Minister’s Committee on the Teaching of Modern Languages. He was a member of the Royal Commission on the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge from 1919 to 1922. He was also on the Statutory Commission on Oxford in 1923. He was a member of numerous church committees, including the Selborne Committee on Church and State from 1914 to 1916.

Albert Mansbridge : the life and work of the founder – Trove

Those who are only familiar with Mansbridge’s name as the founder of the WEA may be surprised to learn of the role he played in the setting up of many other organisations connected with the education of adults: the British Institute of Adult Education, for example, which still exists today as NIACE. Even more surprising is that today’s British Library Lending Division can trace its origins back to Mansbridge’s Central Library for Tutorial Classes. Proof, indeed, that he was a man of vision.

He was a fairly prolific author.

albert 7albert 8

albert 3










albert 5albert 1 albert 2








Battersea needs to commemorate him and his wife Frances as people we owe some debt to. I attended some WEA classes for women on Feminism in the 80s at Battersea Arts Centre with my youngest child in the crèche.

I believe Albert Mansbridge is deserving of a blue plaque on his home at 52 Winsham Grove SW11 for his role in the development of Adult education in Britain and beyond.

52 Winsham Grove SW11

52 Winsham Grove SW11





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