Detailed History

From ‘Funding the Ladder’ by Dean Evans, 2011

The Hayle Institute (Pages 98-100)

Edwards had been involved with the Hayle Institute even before it was formed. The employees of Harvey’s foundry established a Mechanics’ Institute in 1840 but they could not persuade their employer to provide them with premises. In May 1846 Edwards gave a series of lectures, under the banner of the ‘Pleasures and advantages of knowledge’, in aid of establishing a literary and scientific institute in the town.’ The lectures covered the whole gamut of Edwards beliefs, the first being on ‘Human Progression’, the second on the ‘Principles of Permanent and Universal Peace’; the third on the ‘Inefficiency and wrongfulness of capital Punishment’; the fourth on the `Truths and Tendencies of the principal Moral Movements of the age’; the fifth on `Knowledge’ and the sixth on ‘Moral Greatness of the Temperance Reformation’. The lectures were given at the Mount Pleasant chapel, where his brother, Richard, was Sunday School Superinten¬dent and ‘resulted in a healthy toned excitement in the district as never existed before and which must contribute to the moral and mental elevation of the people’.

Eventually an institute was opened in Foundry Square, in the old railway station, and this provided a billiard room, reading room and library, to which Edwards donated a hundred books.

The new technical institute was the first of several commissions for Edwards by the Cornish architect, Silvanus Trevail and was built by John and Frank Symons. The site chosen was on made up ground and this, together with the ambitious design prepared by Trevail brought the cost of the institute to £3,000, rather more than Edwards was expecting to pay. The institute at Blackwater had cost him only £250.

The day chosen to lay the foundation stone, 23 September 1893, was declared a holiday and streets and premises were gaily decorated, the festivities going on throughout the day and with an evening tea, a promenade concert and finishing with fireworks.

A procession nearly a mile long made its way from Copperhouse to the site, under evergreen decorated triumphal arches, bearing banners — ‘Be Just and Fear Not’ — the motto of the Echo, ‘Welcome’, ‘Success to the Institute’, ‘Long life and happiness’, and the names of Edwards four publications — the Echo, Building News, the English Mechanic and the Weekly Times & Echo.’
Before laying the foundation stone Edwards was presented with an illuminated address, thanking him, on behalf of the town, for the gift of the Institute, and after the proceedings were complete they all retired to the Public Hall for lunch. Both Eleanor Edwards and their son, Harry, attended but their daughter, Ada, was not amongst the party.

During the customary speeches Passmore Edwards said that he was no stranger to Hayle having for some years visited his mother and father who then lived nearby at Phillack, where his father superintended a farm and flourmill on behalf of Messrs. Sandys, Carn & Vivian. It was to the memory of his father that he dedicated the Institute. His three brothers also lived in Copperhouse for some time and, although Edwards did not mention the fact, James had emigrated to Australia more than 15 years previously, but his wife’s family still ran a butcher’s shop in Hayle.

It was to be another three years before Eleanor officially opened the Institute although it was Passmore Edwards who responded to the vote of thanks, on his wife’s behalf.

The Institute was erected to provide education and technical training for local men at a time when Hayle was suffering from a decline in the mining industry, a decline from which Hayle has yet to recover. Trevail’s building, sombre and dignified” lacks the elegance of many of his later designs for Passmore Edwards, though what it lacked in looks it made up for in functionality. Edwards said that he was glad to see that it was constructed of Cornish granite, which was one guarantee that it would last for many years and probably for ages. The science laboratories, classrooms and library have long since gone but the Institute still retains a pivotal position within the community. On-going maintenance by an enthusiastic management committee will ensure that Edwards’ guarantee is upheld.

© Dean Evans, 2011. Reprinted with kind permission of the author.

The building and the dream
Patricia Adams, 1995

Between the banks of the Hayle Pool and the old A30 trunk road, consolidating the former settlements of Foundry and Copperhouse, stands the Hayle Institute, now more often called the Passmore Edwards’ Institute. A century after it was built the Institute still plays an active part in the life of the town. Opposite, at the foot of Chapel Hill, is the memorial to the dead of two world wars, an Egyptian style obelisk in dark granite. The Hayle Institute is a granite memorial, too, older by some twenty years, built by a philanthropist to celebrate the life of his father who lived in the town.

The building is sombre and dignified, faced in rock-faced granite, with close-chiselled dressings; the sides are elvan filling with granite dressings (1). The windows on all sides are large and uncluttered, classical and expansive in style, contrasting with the formidable Norman-arched porch with its heavily panelled outer doors and the granite balcony above. The leaded coloured-glass panels in the top third of the inner doors, and those in the arch above, let in a warm, comforting light, though their simple geometric designs are for decoration only. It is a more striking than attractive building, quietly fulfilling its function, and the car parking and tarmacked driveway all round make it accessible to users in the late twentieth century.

The Institute at Hayle, built in 1893, could not have been built at a more sorry time in the economic history of Hayle. Rapidly growing industries during the nineteenth century, both at Copperhouse and Foundry, and the coming of the railway, gas and water, had led to previously unheard of prosperity which affected all sections of society. The boom lasted for several decades across the middle of the century, with regular upheavals in the fortunes of individuals and their companies as the various industries expanded and declined and new ones took their place. The demand for copper and tin fell away and miners and smelters found themselves short of work. Harvey’s foundry, which earlier had made pipes and pumping gear for the local mining industry, met new challenges by developing their products, from pipes and equipment for the railways to heavy pumping gear for the colonies, to iron shipbuilding.

The trowel used to lay the foundation

But by the time the Hayle Institute had been built to provide training for local men, both for those already working in local industries and to enable those who were unemployed to seek work abroad, Harvey’s was a much smaller company and indeed, just three months before the Institute was ready to open its doors, The Cornish Telegraph of 21 June 1894 carried the headline:

A serious crisis at Hayle.
Probable closing of Messrs. Harvey and Co’s. foundry.

One of the chief reasons given for the company’s difficulties was the ‘distance of the works from the coal and iron fields whence the raw material employed is procured,’ and the growing stringency of the terms of contracts, points familiar to contemporary Cornwall. The Institute was built primarily as a place for technical instruction. However, Passmore Edwards also wished ordinary people to have the benefit of a library and the opportunity for leisure activities. This would require large rooms with plenty of natural daylight, to accommodate science laboratories and billiard tables, an efficient kitchen to provide nourishing refreshment, and ducted heating to shelter them. The overall structure was large, solid, grand; as much a statement of confidence in the future for the people of Hayle as a memorial to Passmore Edwards’ father.

John Passmore Edwards had grown up in impoverished circumstances in Blackwater. He had had little opportunity for reading and learning and records in his autobiography (2) that he often longed for books and a comfortable room to read them in. He had been taught by a disabled miner and was aware of the limited opportunities for advancement that ordinary people had. As a young man he had produced pamphlets, newspaper articles and lectures and gained a reputation as an advocate of political and social reform. He co-operated with William Ewart, MP for Liverpool, in promoting the Free Libraries Act, desiring ‘to encourage a growing love of learning among the working-classes’. At the same time the upper and middle classes were setting up polytechnics, and literary and philosophical societies.

There was a growing awareness in the country that technical education was important to the nation’s prosperity (3). Passmore Edwards also believed this:

The strong and well equipped nation will win in industrial competitions, and its strength and fitness will mainly depend on the quantity and quality of the education received and utilised…We must now improve our ways and quicken our pace, or lose national vantage-ground (4).

During the nineteenth century, mechanics institutes had been organised by local workmen. But the success of these ran parallel to the strength of the economy and in poor times of employment the popularity of the institutes waned. Cyril Noall, in his Book of Hayle, mentions that a Mechanics’ Institute was founded by employees of Harvey’s in 1840. Over the years its members had tried to get Harvey’s to provide premises for them. Most technical classes in Cornwall were organised for miners by the Miners’ Association of Cornwall and Devon. They awarded certificates on completion of some courses and were the first organisation in the county to get a government grant after these were introduced in 1853. The Association developed mining schools in Cornwall, which later developed into the Camborne School of Mines. Then, in the 1890s the new County Council adopted a penny rate to provide technical education through its Technical Instruction Committee (5). Lawrence Piper records that ‘important grants were made by Cornwall County Council between 1891 and 1902 for building and equipping Premises for Technical Instruction (6’). This coincided with John Passmore Edwards’ philanthropic programme to provide institutes, libraries and health care in his native Cornwall as well as in London and Surrey.

Having made his fortune as proprietor of a number of London newspapers, he provided in Cornwall science and art schools at Helston, Launceton and Truro. The Institute at Hayle was to be mainly devoted to technology (7). Passmore Edwards was willing to donate £1000 (later increased to £2000 and then to £3000 (8) after he had ascertained the needs of local people) to build an Institute as a memorial to his father. Harvey’s provided the land which was drained and embanked from the river with refuse from their works (9). Technical classes already existed in the area. The County Council’s Technical Instruction Committee minutes for 18 October 1892 contain financial estimates of the sums they were distributing to the Cornish Technical Education Districts. Hayle was given £169.19s.2p to provide classes at Foundry, Copperhouse, St Erth and Marazion. These classes were merged and held at the new Institute once it was built. On 20 July 1894 the minutes of the Technical Instruction Committee record a grant of £100 for Hayle district, for the purpose of furnishing and equipping a chemical laboratory and classrooms at the Passmore Edwards’ Institute.
The townspeople welcomed the Institute enthusiastically (10). The committee organised events such as concerts and billiards matches to raise funds for furniture and fittings (11). Before the building was finished they had agreed on a membership policy: All persons of the age of fourteen years and upwards are eligible for membership, ladies being specially invited (12). By mid-October they were able to hold the inaugural meeting of the Institute in its own Lecture Hall (13 and14).

The building was to be the first of many collaborations between Passmore Edwards and Silvanus Trevail of Truro, a talented and astute architect whose works were appreciated beyond Cornwall, even as far as Australia. Records, though, of collaborative discussions by Edwards and Trevail about the form of the Hayle Institute appear not to have survived. Trevail first produced a sketch of a pretty, two-storey, double-fronted building in the Gothic style, with small pointed-arched windows and much carved stone detail (15). This design bears no relation to the eventual building; the Institute is altogether more grand and severe. There is speculation about why this should be. Generally there is a view that the building was always too large for Hayle’s needs (16).

Passmore Edwards could have commemorated his father with the smaller, prettier building which Silvanus Trevail first drew. However, the grand scale must have reflected Passmore Edwards’ compassion and concern for the educational and employment opportunities of the people and his belief in the economic importance, both for the nation and for individuals, of technical education and instruction He wanted a proper Institute and would have commissioned his architect accordingly. The people at the time appeared to like it; The Cornish Telegraph of 19 July 1894 commented: ‘The beautifully designed granite front presents a bold and massive appearance as, indeed, does the whole building’, and on 20 September 1894 reported on the completion of the building:

A large number of people have visited the building during the past few days, and are loud in their praises of all that is to be seen. The whole work has been completed in splendid style, and the builders, Messrs. J. Symons and Son, Blackwater, are to be highly congratulated. Mr. Trevail, the architect, has been especially happy in his work.

At the official opening of the Institute on 29 April 1896, Passmore Edwards described it as ‘such a useful and ornamental building’ (17) suggesting that he was very satisfied with its design. The report added that he said that it was really a better building than he expected to see, and if it answered the purpose of its intention he should be more than satisfied. However, Peter Laws, the present [1995] President of the Silvanus Trevail Society says: ‘Hayle was described in 1890 as a “dump”, so presumably all the locals got was a very plain building without any real architectural finesse’ (18).

Does this suggest a conflict between the design of the Hayle Institute and the usual work of Silvanus Trevail? Why does it possess, or lack, features which make an academic and serious admirer of Trevail despise it? The original decorative design might have been more acceptable to critics of this building. Certainly his later technical school and library in Truro, though it shares the same solidity, is much more decorative than the one at Hayle, and was described at the time as ‘English Renaissance of the late Tudor period’. In it he used limestone with Bath stone dressings on a rough granite plinth (19). In later buildings, his bank at St Austell for instance, he made much use of red terracotta. That the Truro building was designed after Hayle cannot imply that Trevail progressed to this style: the original drawing for Hayle shows that he was already interested in a more decorative style. This drawing for a pretty Gothic building alluded to the elegant Victorian dwellings opposite its site. So why did he adopt instead a more severe, classical design, then later revert to the decorative style, using additional materials for ornament, for the Truro library? It cannot have been the cost; no expense was spared at Hayle where first-class materials and workmanship are evident.

There are two possibilities: much more likely was the influence of the benefactor, Passmore Edwards, in ensuring that his memorial to his father was suitable. Edwards senior had been a staunch Calvinist and had criticised cruelly the sermons delivered at the Wesleyan chapel. He was upright and strong and tolerated no nonsense (20). Perhaps the combination of these factors, plus Passmore Edwards’ belief in the importance of scientific and technical education, led to the upright and strong appearance of the building, a paternal symbol providing for the needs of the people. Another factor is important. During the nineteenth century certain historic styles became standard for particular types of buildings (21) and Trevail seems to have followed this pattern fairly faithfully; early Greek was used for banks and certainly the Devon and Cornwall Bank at Truro, now Barclays, was designed by Trevail in this style. Early Renaissance was used for libraries and something of this style can be seen in the library at Truro. The use of Palladian for institutions partly explains the formal, mostly undecorated style of the Institute at Hayle, though in many ways it is a modern, rationally planned building; the formal appearance is facade. The use of granite would have imposed restrictions and influenced the exterior design of the building; only later, when he began to use non-local stone did Trevail add significant decoration to his buildings, as in the Truro library. Inside, the Institute is immensely functional, very much along the principles of Pugin who wrote in Of Ornament that ‘… there should be no feature about a building which is not necessary or useful.’ The Institute was designed in every part for its purpose from the ‘very easy tread and rise’ of the stairs (22), and the light windows, to the fitting of ‘one of the finest, if not the finest, Cornish range in the county, one of the few of a commercial catering size’ (23).

Trevail prepared a drawing for a substantial and impressive institute and produced detailed plans for its building. He already had a reputation as an innovator, having travelled abroad and picked up new ideas. In the collection of his architectural practice drawings (24) there are detailed plans for the Institute for a ducted ventilation system, hot-water central heating, and lavatories (25). This is strikingly modern for the times, reflecting the importance of the Institute to both its founder and architect. There is a drawing detailing the internal woodwork which remains the same today – stairs, panelling and carved newel-tops, fittings and gable structures; two more show full-size joiner’s details and mason’s details. These details conflict with the severe externals of the building; rather a public statement outside and a humanised interior. Further very detailed drawings show Trevail’s fascination with, and commitment to, the provision of technical facilities. There are two drawings for science laboratories. The one for a metallurgical laboratory includes a wind furnace and a muffle furnace. He planned a run of workbenches with gas and water supplies in the centre and waste drainage below; ‘sink to be enclosed with movable wood casing and to be supported on brackets’. There were also to be lead-lined drawers on long slides, and the gas would burn with a horizontal flame. He added copious advice on the drawing numbered 2169,3,91 (26). There was initially a serious intention that the Institute should function thoroughly as a science and technical institute.

There is no written or visual evidence that the laboratory was ever fitted, though the size of the upstairs room designated for the laboratory is smaller in the second version of the floor plans, in August 1893, suggesting that efforts were still being made to incorporate a laboratory just a month before the laying of the foundation stone. Certainly some sort of facility for science and technology was actually created. Some of the equipment was sent, possibly sold, to the Physics department at Penzance Grammar School in 1904/5 (27). So we do not know whether or how far the science laboratory, as designed, was installed and used as no written records seem to have survived; but it looks as though there was little or no technical education at the Institute within a decade of its being built. This was the experience of most institutes in the country; ‘in order to survive they had to offer interesting and entertaining things. The serious stuff went out of the window except for the very keen and ambitious, though the middle-class institutions fared better (28).

The interior of the Institute is much lighter and brighter than the outside, even on a winter’s day. Though the ‘rich brown’ oak for the staircase and panelling up the stairs did not materialise, there is good pine panelling, set off by plain, plaster walls painted a pale colour. Trevail achieved the remarkable lightness by having large windows, with few bars to break up the surface of the glass, on all sides of the building. Every public room, except for the small one above the porch, has windows on two sides. When the screen between classrooms three and four is opened the resulting lecture hall has windows on three sides. The first floor landing and staircase ceiling is raised about three feet with a gallery of windows on all four sides Trevail valued natural light in his buildings; when he was planning to build the luxurious Headland Hotel at Newquay he said it would have ‘a huge and noble window admitting a pretty sea view and plenty of light’ (29). Perhaps, after all, it was Trevail who decided against using the original design with its small, fussily decorated, light-excluding windows.

The staircase and newels still have today exactly the carving and decoration that Trevail first proposed for the building, strongly made and finely finished (30). The internal space is still broadly laid out as Trevail planned. On the ground floor the two social rooms are placed in a welcoming position either side of the entrance hall, one for recreation and the other for smoking and billiards. They both measure about twenty feet by twenty-five feet, slightly larger than the original library at the back which overlooks the river. Also on the ground floor are a lavatory and cloakroom, caretaker’s office, and refreshment room. Upstairs, the science laboratory which Trevail designed is gone and the room is used now as a billiards room by the British Legion. The classroom at the rear of the eastern side is now used part-time as the Superintendent Registrar’s office and the classroom over the entrance is now the Town Clerk’s office.

The people of Hayle and the rest of Penwith still live in a precarious economy, though the emphasis on training for the twenty-first century lies not so much with engineering as with the leisure industry that Trevail and his colleagues foresaw. The Institute has been able to fulfil much of its intended role over the last hundred years. The library was eventually taken over and administered at the Institute by Cornwall County Library, until it was transferred to the new purpose-built Hayle County Library in the 1960s. For much of this century the Institute has served as an unofficial town hall and council chamber (31). The present Hayle Town Council meets in what was once the library and the part-time town clerk’s office is in the room above the porch.

Leisure and education remain important; the British Legion meets there as does the Youth Club and the Old Cornwall Society, Girl Guides, Alcoholics Anonymous and Slimming World; there are weekly Art and Cornish Language classes and a whist club. Billiards and snooker are still important activities which, over the years, have provided the bulk of the income for the place and helped to keep the building going. As well as the Town Clerk and the Superintendent Registrar the building houses the part- time office of the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.

The Institute is still needed as much as when it was built. Passmore Edwards said, ‘it would be built of Cornish granite, which was one guarantee that it would last for many years and probably for ages.’ (32). It is now run by the Passmore Edwards Institute Trust, known as the Village Hall Management Committee. In 1992 parts of the building, the old library included, were renovated. If the committee and the people of Hayle are able to ensure that the rest of the building is repaired to the same very high standard it will last – ‘probably for ages’

© Patricia Adams, Lelant, 1995


  1. Cornish Telegraph 28 September 1893
  2. John Passmore Edwards, A Few Footprints
  3. ‘The Great Exhibition of 1851, which was in many ways a triumph for British industry and craftsmanship, gave indications that in certain aspects we were falling behind our continental competitors. This led to a demand for the provision of scientific and technical instruction for workpeople.’ S.J.Curtis History of Education in Great Britain, 1948/1967
  4. John Passmore Edwards, A Few Footprints
  5. Private correspondence with F.L.Harris, 3 February 1995
  6. Lawrence P.S. Piper, 1977, The Development of Technical Education in Cornwall from the Early Nineteenth Century until 1902
  7. ‘Knowledge without tools, or tools without knowledge were, for industrial purposes, of little use. Owing to the decay of Cornish mining, men were emigrating, and wherever they may go they should carry with them scientific knowledge of metallurgy, engineering, mechanics and agriculture. It would he the mission of this Institute to diffuse practical knowledge by practical means.’ John Passmore Edwards, A Few Footprints
  8. Cornish Telegraph 28 September 1893
  9. Cornish Telegraph 28 September 1893
  10. ‘After the laying of the foundation stone, there was a grand promenade concert, a huge bonfire in the evening and fireworks.’ Cornish Telegraph 22 November 1894
  11. Cornish Telegraph, 23 April 1896
  12. Cornish Telegraph, 5 April 1894
  13. ‘The furnishing of the Institute was let by tender to Messrs. I. & A. Fuzzey, Penzance.’ Cornish Telegraph, 4 October 1894
  14. Cornish Telegraph, 18 October 1894
  15. Cornwall County Records Office, Roll No. AD396/ 501
  16. ‘There is no doubt that if Passmore Edwards’ family had not lived in Hayle such an ambitious building would not have been planned: it really exceeds the needs of a town the size of Hayle, although making a very grand memorial.’ Virginia Bliss (ed.), The History of Hayle
  17. Royal Cornwall Gazette 30 April 1896
  18. Private correspondence with Peter Laws, 26 January, 2 February 1995
  19. Private correspondence with Dr James Whetter, 24 January 1995
  20. ‘My father was Calvinist in belief…prone to criticise, in a hostile spirit, the sermons delivered at the Wesleyan chapel. He abjured Wesley as much as he admired Toplady, and balanced his depreciation of Armenianism by his appreciation of Calvinism’. John Passmore Edwards, A Few Footprints
  21. Lawrence B Anderson, Architecture, Encarta, Microsoft
  22. West Briton, 21 September 1893
  23. Private correspondence with Brian Sullivan, 27 January 1995
  24. Cornwall County Records Office, Roll No. AD396/ 501 and 599
  25. West Briton, 21 September 1893
  26. ‘Teak or some other hardwood is best for the top but good yellow deal will do. The rest may be of deal. The space for each student should be at least 3’6″ long by 2’3” wide. The height of each bench should be 3’3″ for adults but less for children. Gas should be laid on to each place and there should be a water tap and sink for every two students. The water taps should have long tapered nozzles, spaces for four students are shown on this drawing’. Cornwall County Records Office, Roll No. AD396/ 501
  27. ‘The late Mr. T. Fetters, B.Sc., a member of a long-standing Hayle family, who was in charge of the Physics Department at Penzance Grammar School (later Humphry Davy Grammar School) told me that when that school first opened as Penzance County School under Cornwall County Council (c. 1904/5?) all the scientific instruments and balances etc. were sent from Hayle Passmore Edwards Institute to equip that school (sold by the trustees?)’ Private correspondence with Brian Sullivan, 27 January 1995
  28. Private correspondence with F.L.Harris, 3 February 1995
  29. Dr James Whetter, ‘Silvanus Trevail, Architect’, The Cornish Banner No. 74, November 1993
  30. Cornwall County Records Office, Roll No. AD396/ 501
  31. Private correspondence with Brian Sullivan, 27 January 1995
  32. J.J.Macdonald, Passmore Edwards Institutions: Founding and Opening Ceremonies


BAUMGART, Fritz, 1969, A History of Architectural Styles, pub. Pall Mall Press.
BAYNES, Peter, 1994, John Passmore Edwards: an Account of his Life and Works.
BEST, R.S., 1981, ‘John Passmore Edwards’, pub. Dyllansow Truran.
BLISS, Virginia, (ed.), 1978, The History of Hayle, pub. Penwith District Council.
CLARK, Kenneth, 1962, The Gothic Revival, pub. John Murray.
EDWARDS, John Passmore, 1900, A Few Footprints.
HOBSBAWM, E.J., 1989, The Age of Imperialism, pub. Penguin.
MACDONALD, J.J., 1900, Passmore Edwards’ Institutions: Founding and Opening Ceremonies.
MARSDEN, G. (ed.), 1990, Victorian Values
NOALL, Cyril, 1985, The Book of Hayle, pub. Barracuda Books.
Penzance Teachers’ Centre, 1978, The Tale of Hayle.
PIPER, Lawrence P.S., 1977, The Development of Technical Education in Cornwall From the Early Nineteenth Century Until 1902.
WILLIAMS, Raymond, 1958, Culture and Society, pub. The Hogarth Press.

Cornwall County Records Office
The Courtney Library, Royal Institution of Cornwall
County Local Studies Library, Redruth
The Cornishman
The Cornish Telegraph
The Royal Cornwall Gazette
The St Ives Weekly Summary
The West Briton
John Burrow, Clerk to Hayle Town Council
F.L. Harris, retired Adult Education Lecturer, Exeter University
Peter Laws, FRICS, FRTPI, President, Silvanus Trevail Society
Brian Sullivan, local historian, Hayle
Dr James Whetter, Silvanus Trevail Society

© Patricia Adams 1995