The library was founded in 1837 by William Read of Epworth, who whilst on business in London had joined the New London Mechanics’ Institute. He had already a member of the “Zetetic” in Epworth, which was a debating society. Supported by gifts from the 2 local MP’s and books from the Rector, The new Mechanics’ Institute met in a room at the back of Read’s shop on Albion Hill, where a small lending library was formed. Eventually, Read tired of this arrangement and the Library led a nomadic existence, even meeting for a time under the archway of Read’s premises, using a barrel for a desk, a candle in a bottle for light and a coffin shaped box to keep the books in.
As the Institute grew, they began a series of lectures on Science and related topics. The members started to perform small dramatic performances and held an annual tea, usually accompanied by the singing of glees. The Institute purchased newspapers and periodicals, which the members bid for the right to be first, second etc to read them. Gradually the Library grew until it became the main feature of the Institute. After a spell in the Temperance Hall, the Library moved into the Manor Court House, where it was able to offer the members a games/reading room. This eventually closed because of the rowdy behaviour of some of the younger members.
Today, the Epworth Mechanics’ Institute occupies the upper floor of the grade ii listed Manor Court House and is run by volunteers. With over 12000 books and The Houghton Archive, containing the Epworth Bells archive from 1872 and local history books, maps and photos; the Epworth Mechanics’ Institute is one of the few remaining Institutes, which existed before the advent of Public Libraries.