Sunday 19 May 2013

'Pennyworths of Science' - Popular science communication - Museum of Practical Geology 1857

Professor Richard Owen lecturing at the Museum of Practical Geology 1857. Image from Illustrated London News. 

The tiered lecture room at the Jermyn Street Museum was a popular venue in Victorian London and was considered to hold an audience of 600 for a series of 'penny lectures' - evening Lectures to Working Men. The 'penny lectures' lasted from 1851 to at least the end of the century. The Daily Mail of 1897 described them as' popular' - 'six lectures for sixpence' and called them 'pennyworths of science'. A typical enrollment in a year was over eighteen hundred. Some enrollment lists still exist and show the audience being numerous tailors, carmen, gilders, carvers, bag makers etc.

Syllabus for 1851-1852

Why fossils are collected by Professor J.W. Jukes
The utility of geological maps by A.C. Ramsay
Mode of occurrence of metals in nature by W.W. Smyth
On iron by J. Percy
Photography by Professor R. Hunt 

The lecture room was also used for the Metropolitan School of Science Applied to Mining and the Arts (later Royal School of Mines) which was an integral part of the Geological Survey. All Geological Survey staff were involved in lecturing e.g. in 1856 Thomas Huxley gave 50 lectures on natural history, Warrington Smyth gave 60 lectures on mining and 40 on mineralogy and Ramsay lectured on geology. In that year, the whole of the 600 tickets were sold within two days indicating their popularity.

Bob McIntosh

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