Back To: HOME | Search Collections | Feedback

School of Arts, Edinburgh

Corporate Biography



Location of main offices

Adam Square, Edinburgh

Main function

Mechanics Institute

Non-preferred terms

The School of Arts

Related authority entries

The Watt Institution and School of Arts


The School of Arts, Edinburgh was established in 1821 as the first Mechanics Institute in Britain. The creation of the School was due to the need for education for skilled workers in the scientific and technical aspects of their work. Its founder was Leonard Horner FRS. The School was officially opened on Tuesday 16 October 1821. Public subscription to a fund set up for a statue in memory of James Watt, the famous Scottish Engineer and Inventor, provided expansion of the school and the School of Arts of Edinburgh changed its name to the Watt Institution and School of Arts.

Details of premises

The School of Arts originally operated from accommodation in Freemason's Hall, Niddry Street. In 1837 a lease was acquired for several years on the central house in Adam Square. In 1846 The School of Arts purchased the Adam Square building with the help of money raised by the subscription fund for the statue in memory of James Watt.


Teaching first begun in October 1821 with courses offered in Chemistry (Tuesday Evenings), Mechanics and Natural Philosophy (Friday Evenings). Within the first month courses in Architecture and Farriery had been added. Mathematics was not formally offered but was taught, with the approval of the Directors of the School, by students for the first year of the School. The first Summer Session established courses in Mechanical and Architectural Drawing (Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday evenings). In 1833 a three year course leading to the award of a Diploma of Life Membership of the School of Arts to every student gaining proficiency in the three classes of Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics was established. Further summer classes included those in 1837 in Geology and Mineralogy, and English Language.

Administrative structure

The management of the School was undertaken by the Directors. The School of Arts was dependent on Public Subscription, and this was subsidised by charging students a fee of 15s on entry to a course.

Reference codes of collections created by the corporate body



List of sources for the administrative information:

Heriot-Watt University: From Mechanics Institute to Technological University 1821-1973. Heriot-Watt University.

GB 0582 HWUA SA top level description

Rules or Conventions

Authority record created according to the National Council on ArchivesRules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names (NCA Rules)1997 and International Council on Archives: Ad Hoc Committee on Descriptive StandardsInternational Standard Archival Authority Record for Corporate Bodies, Persons and Families (ISAAR)CPF 1995.

Date of Creation

Corporate name authority record compiled for the GASHE project by Rachel Hosker, GASHE project archivist, 25 September 2000