Henry Brougham – Lawyer, Lord Chancellor and defender of London Mechanics’ Institute 

To commemorate the College’s bicentenary in 2023, we’re showcasing 200 ‘Birkbeck Effects’ which capture the incredible stories of our vibrant and diverse community, highlighting their achievements and impact on the world. 

Henry Brougham

Brougham was a British statesman and was the London Mechanics’ Institute’s leading orator, playing a significant role in its establishment and survival. In 1826, he founded the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge which published information to people who were unable to obtain formal teaching or who preferred self-education.   

His book on education became the ‘Bible’ for everyone involved in educating working people.  He argued that only “tyrants “and other “bad rulers” should be terrified by “the progress of knowledge among the mass of mankind”.  

In Parliament, Brougham was a tireless champion of workers’ education and believed that mass education was essential for political reform.  He also played a prominent role in passing the 1832 Reform Act, which introduced major changes to the electoral systems of England and Wales, and the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act. 

Brougham holds the House of Commons record for non-stop speaking in 1828 when he spoke for six hours on law reform. 


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