In 1836, on proposal from Jean-Baptiste Thorn, second governor of Hainaut in the independent Kingdom of Belgium, the Provincial council of Hainaut recognizes the need to promote the training of engineers ready to practice the various industrial trades of the time. Our coal mines, blast furnaces, rolling mills, glassworks, china and crockery factories, sugar refineries are developing at a sustained pace and the industrial areas of Hainaut are in full transformation.
In its meeting of October 21st, 1836, the Provincial Council makes the decision to create in Mons a “Provincial school of mining in Hainaut”. The royal statute of September 27th, 1837 placed it under the control of the Permanent Deputation and, on November 1st of the same year, courses started in a room provided by the City of Mons. The annual provisions are allocated by the Province of Hainaut and the City of Mons.
Mr Thorn had taken to the model of the Ecole Centrale, which trained versatile engineers, quite similar to the Belgian civil engineer of today. There were no Schools of Engeneering in Belgium back then: the École des Mines of Liège University was founded in 1837 and the School of Civil engineering at Ghent University came in 1838, both being specialization schools.
After ads in the press for various chairs, Theophilus Guibal and Barthélémi-Adolphe Devillez (see photo), two brilliant young engineers who graduated from Ecole Centrale in Paris, applied and were selected. They were jointly charged to set up the curriculum.
At the time Guibal was 23 years old and Devillez 24 : Mr. Thorn had very rightly placed his trust in youth. Devillez headed the school, a charge that he would keep for 51 years.
In 1845, the Provincial Council approves a reorganization project which increases the length of the studies and creates a commercial section. The institution then bears the name of “Business, Industry and Mining school of Hainaut”. It is officially recognized under this name by the State and is given governmental subsidies.
Increasing scientific and industrial progress and the speed of the economic advancement require further development of the engineer's education and greater specialization. In addition to the initial degrees of mining engineer and metallurgical engineer, the Mining school successively offers degrees in chemistry in 1853 and mechanical engineering in 1862. The railroad engineer degree follows in 1874 and the electrical engineering degree in 1887. In 1876, the constant extensions of training lead to an increase in the duration of the studies. The Mining school marks this evolution by replacing its name by that of “Faculté Polytechnique du Hainaut”. Its fame grows. A great number of foreign students carry out their studies in Mons.
The electrical engineering degree is a great success. Moreover, geology studies attract many students. The division of mineral sciences is directed by Jules CORNET, a scientist of international reputation. He visited Katanga in 1891-1892 as a member of the Bia-Francqui expedition and discovered the immense metal-bearing deposits of Katanga.
The Faculty of Engineering stops its training during the First World War. It reopens its doors in 1919. Owing to the fast paced evolution of sciences and technology, the Faculty started a thorough rethinking of its teaching, freeing it from purely descriptive or technological aspects of an encyclopaedic nature. In order not to disperse its means, it has the courage to remove several of its specialisation fields in order to preserve the fundamental degrees in mining engineering and metallurgical engineering, and the two other degrees in electrical engineering and geological engineering. The degree in Electromechanical Civil Engineer is brought back later on.
The Province of Hainaut, founder of the school, agrees in 1920 to grant the institution comprehensive autonomy, while guaranteeing that it would continue to receive subsidies. In its law of 7 July 1920, Parliament grants civil personality to the “École des Mines and of Métallurgie, Faculté Technique of Province de Hainaut”, as well as to the universities of Ghent and Liege. Until that time the Faculty had been a provincial institution, but now it would be managed sovereignly by an Administrative Board that would also be its running body. This generous gesture by the Province gives the Faculty great flexibility in its management and administration.
In 1935, the institution definitively adopts the current name of “Faculté Polytechnique de Mons” (Faculty of Engineering of Mons).
The Faculty pays a heavy tribute to the country during the Second World War. It nevertheless hosts students from the Polytechnic school at the Université libre de Bruxelles, which had to close its doors in 1942.
The Faculty goes through a reorganisation process, then fills its ranks and consequently resumes its boom
The degree in civil electromechanical engineering is cancelled and replaced by two degrees in civil electrical engineering and civil mechanical engineer. New degrees are successively created: in chemistry, architecture and operational techniques, which later becomes computer and management sciences.
During the Sixties, the Faculty starts building a student residence hall, the Institute of Chemistry and Metallurgy and the Institute of Mechanics and Architecture. These were in addition to the two historical buildings of rue de Houdain and boulevard Dolez, which had become too small for the ever-expanding number of its students, research projects and laboratories. It is appointed by the State to set up the Faculty of Sciences at the Faculté des Sciences du Centre Universitaire de l'Etat à Mons, which later became the Université de Mons-Hainaut, and with erecting the buildings on its campus. The Faculty will later add an auditorium of 720 seats, which was inaugurated in 1993.
Today, the Faculty awards Academic degrees in civil engineering in six disciplines: Architecture, Architecture, Chemistry and Materials Engineering, Electricity, Computer and Management Sciences, Mechanics and Mining, as well as the rank of doctor of applied sciences.
In the beginning this building forms the college of Houdain, a public school founded in 1545 by the Mons City Council. The current building is located in the middle of the former garden of the Houdain hospital and dates from the 1st third of the 18th century It was drafted by the architect Claude-J. de Bettignies – who also built the bell-tower of St-Elisabeth church – and rebuilt between 1735 and 1739 by the same architect. de Bettignies, also author of the bell-tower of St-Elisabeth church, and rebuilt between 1735 and 1739 by the same architect. The original wing is topped by an openwork bell-tower and ornamental attic windows. Integrated in 1781 into the Hôpital du Saint-Esprit and the Bureau de Bienfaisance, the public school received the name of Caserne de Saint-Esprit. After the public school was closed in 1794, it was occupied by workshops. The École des Mines recovered the building in 1878. At this point, the central body and the current right wing were erected by the architect Hector Puchot in 1900-1904.
The bronze monument installed in 1902 in the center of the main courtyard represents Guibal and Devillez, the founders of the École des Mines. It is the work of L. Devillez.
Today, the old Houdain public school is part of the buildings of the Faculty of Engineering. This homogeneous, vast and austere four-story high construction, has a beautiful gallery of nine arcades on its ground floor. The interior comprises a remarkable cast iron staircase also made of “small granite” from Soignies.
In addition to the historic site of the Faculty of Engineering, these buildings host the Earth and Materials Area.