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Our Origins

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Walt Whitman

The great American poet Walt Whitman was studied here in the late nineteenth century.

Samuel Crompton

Samuel Crompton: for more on his life visit the Bolton Museum website|

The University of Bolton came into being in January 2005 when the Privy Council gave approval for its title choice. Bolton Institute of Higher Education had become Britain's newest university the previous April when the Privy Council approved University Title for the higher education institution. Between those two dates an extensive consultation process had taken place with the university's partners and stakeholders over what that title should be.

Bolton Institute of Higher Education came into being in 1982, but its origins can be traced back over a century and a half to the early nineteenth century when the town of Bolton became involved in a continuous programme of vocational and educational training.

The thirst for knowledge in the individual and the need for knowledge in society were recognised in the early 1800s by Dr Birkbeck who created educational opportunities for working people in Glasgow, the London Mechanics Institute in 1823 and inspired the Bolton Mechanics Institute in 1824 - the third in the country. There was something special about an organisation designed for working people that drew together the needs of the textile economy - through learning drawing, weaving, pattern design and the various branches of the sciences. Art classes were offered in 1825, a School of Art established in 1857 and a new Crompton Literary and Scientific Institute built in 1868. This was opened by the great novelist Anthony Trollope - a symbol of the many associations between writers and artists and the industrial heart of Bolton. Thomas Hardy's novels were printed here. The great American poet Walt Whitman was studied here in the late nineteenth century. The textile industry brought together learners who already had enormous knowledge and experience. They needed knowledge of technology and design, understanding of the society in which they lived and awareness of the language and imagination to help them describe their lives

When a new generation of social scientists and artists came to study life in Bolton in the 1930s as part of the Mass Observation movement the thirst for knowledge was still present. A typical mill worker, recording the events of his day with bobbins and thread, concludes: 'After tea I completed my notes on this subject and then finished a book I was reading, The Evolution of Love, by Emil Luka. He treats the subject in a sort of historical-philosophical manner.' (Mass Observation Day Survey, p. 357).

The thirst for knowledge also included University Extension lectures - an early example of the close association between Bolton and the University of Manchester. Again, the Mass Observers note an interesting example of the workers eager to learn that was written up in the Bolton Evening news: 'Over and above this, it has become especially evident in recent years that no democracy can hope to survive unless, in regard to subjects with a close bearing on human affairs, its people are given full opportunity, with fair guidance, under conditions of free enquiry, to learn and think for themselves'. (The Pub and the People, p. 344).

The Post War period saw a massive expansion in further and higher education in Bolton. As well as the College of Art and the Technical College the Ministry of Education in 1946 approved the foundation of Bolton Training College for teachers of technical and commercial subjects. At first, the Training College shared the Technical College site but it became independent in 1950 and moved to the Chadwick Street site in 1959 with its academic status approved by the University of Manchester. The Technical College also started Bolton Institute of Technology - again within the same site - in 1963. BIT moved to the Deane Road site in 1967 and 1968.

Here we should remember the enormous achievements of A J Jenkinson. He was Principal of the Technical College, Bolton College of Education (Technical) and then the first Principal of Bolton Institute of Technology. He was a man of great energy and vision in the development of education in the Bolton community as well as being an educationist of national reputation. As well as developing our first Degree programmes to be validated by CNAA in Civil Engineering he encouraged the development of a true University environment - languages and business, philosophy and sociology, mechanical engineering and the visual arts, psychology and literature (his own subject). He believed in the involvement of practitioners, whether as the scientists who taught on the basis of their industrial experience or the poets who taught English but who had also worked in the mills. A J Jenkinson was a true revolutionary and it is worth remembering that the first book of poems to be published by Oxford University Press, written by Tony Connor, the Salford poet who taught liberal studies here, was dedicated to him as a 'friend and patron'. Tony Connor was totally self-taught and had no paper qualifications (except for the poems he had published!) until he went straight to Manchester University to take an MA after years of teaching in Bolton.

The Art College merged again, first with the Technical College and then with BIT. In 1982 BIT and the College of Education (Technical) merged to form Bolton Institute. The Institute was incorporated in 1989 and received its own taught degree awarding powers in 1992 and research degree awarding powers in 1995. Through the process of modularisation which started in 1989 the number of degree subjects expanded enormously but always allowing for the special emphasis on theory and practice, developed in the nineteenth century, and enhanced in the twentieth century, which has now made the university unique.  

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