Ross-on-Wye Civic Society

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Ross-on-Wye & District Civic Society newsletter Autumn 2003 (number 81)

This year is the centenary of the Workers' Educational Association (WEA), still going strong today running courses for adults all over the country. There are four branches in Herefordshire, including one at Ross.

The WEA has this year put out some interesting literature about Albert Mansbridge, the chief instigator of the WEA, who had close connections with Hoarwithy - indeed he came close to being born there. His father was a carpenter and both his parents and grandparents lived in Hoarwithy, his three older brothers all being born in the grandparents' house. However, before Albert was born, his parents moved to Gloucester, where Albert started his schooling.

The family went on to live in Battersea, South London, where Albert attended university extension classes. He thought these classes were mainly a middle-class preserve, and, as an early member of the Co-operative movement, he advocated an adult education organization run by the workers for the workers. In 1903 together with his wife, Frances, he launched an "Association to Promote the Higher Education of Working Men". As a result of pressure from the Women's Co-operative Guild - and perhaps Frances - the reference to gender was dropped and the name was changed to the Workers' Educational Association. The chairman of the inaugural conference was none other than the Bishop of Hereford, Dr. John Percival.

Albert Mansbridge continued to promote the WEA and other educational ventures and received many honours in his lifetime, including being invested as a Companion of Honour, When he died in 1952 his ashes were interred in Gloucester Cathedral, and a memorial tablet placed in the nave.

The WEA's newsletters tell us that he did return to the Herefordshire of his roots, often visiting his family home as a child. He remembered being taken there in a pony-cart over Wilton Bridge, deep in snow. He later returned in 1940 when he addressed Felsted School, which had been evacuated to Goodrich Court, presented the prizes at Ross Grammar School.

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