Friday, 17 June 2011

Narre Warren Mechanics' Institute

The first township of Narre Warren was surveyed in 1860, and is now known as Narre Warren North and the township which developed around the Railway Station, which opened in 1882, became Narre Warren Railway Station and later just Narre Warren.

The man responsible for the growth of this town was Sidney Webb. Webb agitated for a Railway Station at Narre Warren and he collected money to purchase land for a road to connect the town to the Station. He built the early shops in the township which further consolidated when Sidney Webb donated land for the School which opened in 1889 and Mechanics' Institute which opened in November 9, 1891 (or the birthday of the Prince of Wales as the invitation, reproduced below, says)

The building was used for lectures, concerts, Balls, billiards, and meetings. It also housed a subscription lending library which initially was open 3.00pm to 4.00pm on Saturdays and 4.00pm to 5.00pm on Tuesdays. In 1898 there were 990 books in the Library and this had grown to over 2,000 in 1905. The Library ceased operation in 1941, when the books and the shelving were sold. Library services at Narre Warren later operated from a building in Malcolm Court.

The Mechanics' Institutes of Victoria have an ongoing scanning project to scan the existing records of all Victoria's Mechanics' Institutes. Over 1,000 Mechanics Institutes were built and 562 remain, including the Narre Warren one.

The records of the Narre Warren Mechanics' Institute have been scanned. The first Minutes we have are from the meeting of March 14, 1892, they are shown above. Given the role that Sidney Webb played in the development of the Narre Warren township it is not surprising to find that he chaired the meeting. The meeting appointed 'Messrs S.Webb and McDonnell as ' joint Librarians honorary.' S.Webb was Sidney Webb's son, also called Sidney. However, we have earlier Ledger records that date from August 1890, which list donations made for the establishment of the building and, later on, subscriptions. These scanned records provide us not only with a full picture of the workings and activities of the Mechanics' Institute but also a snapshot of who lived in the township at the time. They are an amazing resource.

Subscriptions collected in 1895, click on the image to enlarge it.