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Heriot-Watt University Archive, Records Management and Museum Service

Records of School of Arts and the Watt Institution and School of Arts

Collection Summary

Reference Code

GB 0582 SA

Extent and medium of the unit of description

3 metres

(13 boxes)

Existence and Location of Originals

This material is original.

Name of creator

The School of Arts of Edinburgh | 1821-1852 | educational establishment | Edinburgh (Scotland)and The Watt Institution and School of Arts | 1852-1885 | educational establishment | Edinburgh (Scotland)

Biographical History

Administrative History

'The School of Arts of Edinburgh for the Education of Mechanics in such branches of Physical Science as are of Practical Application in their Several Trades', the first Mechanics Institute in Britain, was opened at the Freemasons' Hall, Niddry Street, on 16 October 1821. The first Secretary of the School was its main founder, Leonard Horner. He was responsible to a governing body of Directors. The first courses offered by the School of Arts were in Chemistry (Tuesday evenings), and Mechanics or Natural Philosophy (Friday evenings). In the first month courses in Architecture and Farriery were added. Mathematics, although not formally offered in the first year, was taught with the approval of the Directors by the students themselves. In the first Summer Session courses in Mechanical and Architectural Drawing were opened (Monday, Wednesday and Saturday evenings). In 1833 a three year course was established leading to the award of a Diploma of Life Membership of the School of Arts to every student who gained proficiency in the three classes of Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics. In 1837 the School of Arts moved to rented premises in Adam Square.

In 1852 funds raised by a public subscription in memory of James Watt enabled the School to buy its own premises in Adam Square. In honour of the illustrious inventor and engineer, the School changed its name to the Watt Institution and School of Arts. The Institution received its first government support in the form a scholarship of £50 per annum from the Department of Science and Art. Classes were introduced in Physiology (1863), German (1866), Botany (1870) Geology (1872) Latin (1874) Greek (1876) and Biology, Freehand Drawing, Theory of Music, History and Economic Science (1877).

The School initially accepted male pupils only; the first women students were enrolled in 1869.

The Adam Square building was demolished for city improvements in 1871 and the Institution rented premises in Roxburgh Place in 1872, before acquiring new buildings in Chambers Street in 1873.

In 1885, the Watt Institution and School of Arts joined forces with George Heriot's Trust to form Heriot-Watt College

Scope and Content

Scope and Content

Records of School of Arts & the Watt Institution and School of Arts consist of:

  • papers of the governing body including annual reports, financial agreements and minute books of the directors (1821-1885)
  • papers of the secretary including securities lodged in the Bank of Scotland, correspondence, scrapbooks and seal (1824-1885)
  • papers of the treasurer including statements of accounts, cash book and janitors salary receipts (1821-1885)
  • calendars (1875-1886)
  • addresses given by guests to the School of Arts and the Watt Institution (1840-1882)
  • records of student work and achievement (1863-1883)
  • papers relating to the library (1738-1800)
  • papers relating to staff and student bodies (1835-1870)
  • photographs and illustrations
  • promotional poster (1835-1836)
  • institutional publications (1854)
  • staff publications (1823-1868)
  • information from other sources regarding the School of Arts & Watt Institution (1822-1927)
  • biographical information about founders and directors, staff and students (c1799-1995)
  • artefacts

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Components of this collection