History of University College London

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
University College's main building in the late 1820s, with its classical portico and dome

University College London (UCL) was founded on 11 February 1826,[1] under the name London University, as a secular alternative to the strictly religious universities of Oxford and Cambridge. It was founded from the beginning as a university, not a college or institute. However its founders encountered strong opposition from the Church of England, among others, which prevented them from securing the Royal Charter under the title of "university" that was necessary for the award of degrees, and it was not until 1836, when the latter-day University of London was established, that the college was legally recognised and granted the authority to submit students for the degree examinations of the University of London.[2]

Early years[edit]

The UCL Main Building, just off Gower Street is the centre of the UCL campus


Whether or not UCL is actually the third oldest university in England is questionable: UCL makes this claim on its website,[3] but so do the Universities of London[4] and Durham.[5] Other higher education institutions in England have institutional ancestry preceding their formation as "universities": for example what is now the University of Nottingham can trace some elements back to 1798 but only received its first charter (as University College Nottingham) in 1903 and did not gain University status (via a new royal charter) until 1948.[6] Conversely, King's College London (KCL) was founded after UCL, but received its Royal Charter in 1829, before UCL, so arguably is older, leading King's College students to claim the title of third oldest university in England for their institute.[7][8] The situation is further confounded by the fact that neither UCL nor KCL are de jure universities in their own right (though they are now de facto universities[9]), but constituent colleges of the University of London. It is a fact, however, that UCL was an early member of a rapid expansion of university institutions in the UK in the 19th century.


The proposal for foundation of what became UCL arose from an open letter, published in The Times in February 1825, from the poet Thomas Campbell to the MP and follower of Jeremy Bentham, Henry Brougham.[10] Campbell had visited the university at Bonn in today's Germany, which (unlike Oxbridge at that time) allowed religious toleration. Brougham was a supporter of spreading education and a founder (in 1826) of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge.[11] Isaac Lyon Goldsmid, a leader of London's Jewish community, convinced Brougham and Campbell to work together on the proposed 'London University'. They were supported by representatives of a number of religious, philosophical and political groups, including Roman Catholics, Baptists, Utilitarians, and abolitionists. Others represented included James Mill and the Congregationalist benefactor Thomas Wilson. A 1923 mural in the UCL Main Library depicts as "The Four Founders of UCL" Bentham, Brougham, Campbell and Henry Crabb Robinson (although Bentham, while an inspiration to the other three, was not directly involved in the College's founding).[12]

The College formally came into existence as a Joint Stock Company on 11 February 1826 as 'The University of London', and was unique in Great Britain in being completely secular; in fact no minister of religion was allowed to sit on the College Council.[13] Thomas Arnold was to refer to it as "that Godless institution in Gower Street".[14]

The Council appointed in 1827 as Warden Leonard Horner, the founder of what is now Heriot-Watt University, but after internal disagreements he left in 1831 and the post was abolished.[15][16] During this period the College founded University College School, originally called the London University School (1830). In 1833 the foundation stone was laid for the hospital which had always been planned in association with the College, then known as the 'North London Hospital', but today University College Hospital.

The University College was founded based on practices at the University of Edinburgh and other Scottish universities.[17] "The strongest, single, intellectual influence was that of Edinburgh, and, from the example of the Scottish Universities, London drew many of its most distinctive features. The extended range of the subjects of university study, the lecture system, the non-residence of students, their admission to single courses, the absence of religious tests, the dependence of the professors upon fees and the democratic character of the institutions, were all deliberate imitations of Scottish practice"[18]

The Council sought to arrange a formal incorporation of the institution under the name of the 'University of London' via a royal charter, which would have officially granted them the title of "university" and thus degree awarding powers.[19] This was first applied for in 1830, under the Whig government of Earl Grey, with Brougham as Lord Chancellor, another London University council member, Sir Thomas Denman as Attorney General (until his appointment as Lord Chief Justice of England in 1832) and two former councillors Lord Lansdowne (1826 - 1830) and Lord John Russell (1826 - 1828) in the cabinet as Lord President of the Council and Paymaster of the Forces respectively.[20]

However, the attempt to win a charter was blocked by Oxford and Cambridge Universities. The application was renewed in 1833, but found formidable opposition in Parliament, from the Church of England, from Oxford and Cambridge Universities and from the medical profession.[16][21] Opposition also came from abroad; Count Metternich instructed his ambassador to Britain in 1825 to 'tell His Majesty of my absolute conviction that the implementation of this plan would bring about England's ruin'. Macaulay however predicted 'that it is destined to a long, a glorious and a beneficent existence'.[22]

In April and May 1834, the renewed application for a charter was discussed by the Privy Council, with petitions against the application being heard from Oxford and Cambridge, the Royal College of Physicians, and the medical schools in London. The hearings were inconclusive and no recommendation was made before the Whig government, by then led by Lord Melbourne after Grey's retirement, fell in November 1834.[16]

In March 1835, another London University council member, William Tooke, proposed an address in the House of Commons praying the King to grant a charter to London University allowing it to grant degrees in all faculties except theology. This was carried 246 - 136 despite the opposition of the government. The response was that the Privy Council would be called upon to report on the matter. Then the Tory government fell and Melbourne returned as Prime Minister.[16]

Russell and Lansdowne returned to government with Melbourne, Russell being promoted to Home Secretary. But Brougham was out, with Melbourne telling Russell, "it can never be safe to place him … in an important executive or administrative office".[23] On 30 July, in response to a question from Tooke, the Attorney General Sir John Campbell announced that two charters would be granted, one to the (then) London University (i.e. UCL) "not as a University but as a College", with "no power … of granting academical degrees", the second "for the purpose of establishing a Metropolitan University" - what was to become the University of London.[24] This was condemned as a "barren collegiate charter" by Tooke, who called on the London University (UCL) "to consider whether, His Majesty in his most gracious answer to the Address of the House of Commons recognised by name, and in explicit terms, the University of London, it is not by this royal and official sanction of its style as a University, entitled, without further pageantry or form, to confer all manner of degrees except in Theology and Medicine" (emphasis in original).[25] However, the London University council chose to accept the charter offered "without hesitation", and the charter of incorporation under the name of University College, London was issued on 28 November 1836, with the charter establishing the University of London being issued later on the same day.[16]

Jeremy Bentham and UCL[edit]

A fictional painting of Jeremy Bentham overseeing the construction of UCL in the Flaxman gallery inside the 'main library'

The philosopher and jurist Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), advocate of Utilitarianism, is often credited with being one of the founders of the original 'University of London'. This is not the case, although the myth of his direct participation has been perpetuated in a mural by Henry Tonks, in the dome above the Flaxman gallery (named after artist John Flaxman in the UCL Main Building). This shows William Wilkins, the architect of the main building, submitting the plans to Bentham for his approval while the portico is under construction in the background. The scene is however apocryphal. Bentham was eighty years of age when the new University opened its doors in 1828, and took no formal part in the direct campaign to bring it into being.[26]

Although Bentham played no direct part in the establishment of UCL, he can still be considered as its spiritual father. Many of the founders held him in high esteem, and their project embodied many of his ideas on education and society. Jeremy Bentham was a strong advocate for making higher education more widely available, and is often linked with the University's early adoption of a policy of making all courses available to people regardless of sex, religion or political beliefs. When the College's Upper Refectory was refurbished in 2003, it was renamed the Jeremy Bentham Room (sometimes abbreviated JBR) in tribute.

The Jeremy Bentham auto-icon, on display in the cloisters of the UCL Main Building

Bentham's body is on public display at UCL in a wooden cabinet, at the end of the South Cloisters of the UCL Main Building; he had directed in his will that he wanted his body to be preserved as a lasting memorial to the university.[27] This 'Auto-Icon' has become famous. Unfortunately, when it came to his head, the preservation process went disastrously wrong and left it badly disfigured. A wax head was made to replace it; the actual head is now kept in the college vaults. [n 1]

Construction of the Main Building[edit]

In 1827, a year after the founding of UCL, construction of the Main Building began on the site of the proposed Carmarthen Square (at the time wasteland, used occasionally for duelling or dumping). Eight acres of ground were purchased for £30,000 by Goldsmid and other benefactors.[29] The Octagon Building is a term used for the whole of the Main Building, but more appropriately for a central part of it. At the centerpiece of the building is an ornate dome, which is visible throughout the immediate area. The Octagon was designed by the Architect William Wilkins, who also designed the National Gallery. The original plans by Wilkins called for a U shaped enclosure around the Quad (square). These plans however were stymied for want of funding, and work on the main building was not completed until the 20th century, (after the building itself had suffered damage during World War II). The Main Building was finally finished in 1985, 158 years after the foundations were laid, with a formal opening ceremony by Queen Elizabeth II.[30]


UCL claims to be the first higher education institution in England to accept students of any race, class or religion,[31] although there are records of at least one mixed-race student from Jamaica entering Oxford in 1799.[32] It was also possibly the first to accept women on equal terms with men (in 1878).[n 2][31] However, women were only admitted to Arts, Law and Science and remained barred from Engineering and Medicine.[33] Women were first allowed to enter the medical school in 1917, and admissions remained restricted until much later.[34]

UCL was a pioneer in teaching many topics at university level, establishing the first British professorships in, amongst other subjects, chemistry (1828), English (1828, Rev. Thomas Dale), German 1828, Ludwig von Mühlenfels), Italian (1828, Sir Antonio Panizzi), geography (1833), French (1834, P. F. Merlet), zoology (1874, Sir Ray Lankester), Egyptology (1892), and electrical engineering (1885, Sir Ambrose Fleming).[31][35]

The Slade School of Fine Art was founded at the College in 1871 following a bequest from Felix Slade.

UCL was, in 1893, the first University institution in England to establish a students' union.[31][36] However men and women had separate unions until 1945.[30]

20th century[edit]

In 1900 the University of London was reconstituted as a federal university with new statutes drawn up under the University of London Act 1898. UCL, along with a number of other colleges in London, became schools of the University of London. While most of the constituent institutions retained their autonomy, UCL was merged into the University in 1907 under the University College London (Transfer) Act 1905 and lost its legal independence. (KCL also lost its independence a few years later, in 1910.)[2] This necessitated the separation of University College Hospital and University College School as separate institutions (which they remain). A new charter in 1977 re-incorporated UCL and restored its independence in (although it remained a college of the University of London and was not able to award degrees in its own right until 2005).

Further pioneering professorships established in the 20th century included phonetics (1921, Daniel Jones), chemical engineering (1923), psychology (1928, Charles Spearman), and papyrology (1950, Sir Eric Gardner Turner).

In 1906, Sir Gregory Foster, who had been Secretary of the College, was appointed to the new post of Provost of UCL, which he occupied until 1929.

In 1973, UCL became the first international link to the ARPANET, the precursor of today's internet, sending the world's first electronic mail, or e-mail, in the same year. UCL was also one of the first universities in the world to conduct space research. It is the driving force of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, managed by UCL's Department of Space and Climate Physics.

In 1986 the Institute of Archaeology became a department of UCL, and in 1999 the School of Slavonic and East European Studies also joined the College.

In 1988 UCL merged with the Institute of Laryngology & Otology, the Institute of Orthopaedics, the Institute of Urology & Nephrology and Middlesex Hospital Medical School. In 1994 the University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust was established. UCL merged with the College of Speech Sciences and the Institute of Ophthalmology in 1995, the School of Podiatry in 1996 and the Institute of Neurology in 1997. In August 1998 the medical school at UCL joined with the Royal Free Hospital Medical School to create the Royal Free and University College Medical School, renamed in October 2008 to the UCL Medical School. In 1999 the Eastman Dental Institute joined the Medical School, which, resulting from the incorporation of these major postgraduate medical institutes, has made UCL one of the world's leading centres for biomedical research.

19 Nobel Laureates of the 20th century were based at UCL:[37] 1904 Chemistry: Sir William Ramsay • 1913 Literature: Rabindranath Tagore • 1915 Physics: Sir William Henry Bragg • 1921 Chemistry: Frederick Soddy • 1922 Physiology or Medicine: Archibald Vivian Hill • 1928 Physics: Owen Willans Richardson • 1929 Physiology or Medicine: Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins • 1936 Physiology or Medicine: Sir Henry Hallett Dale • 1944 Chemistry: Otto Hahn • 1947 Chemistry: Sir Robert Robinson • 1955 Chemistry: Vincent du Vigneaud • 1959 Chemistry: Jaroslav Heyrovský • 1960 Physiology or Medicine: Peter Brian Medawar • 1962 Physiology or Medicine: Francis Harry Compton Crick • 1963 Physiology or Medicine: Andrew Fielding Huxley • 1970 Physiology or Medicine: Bernard Katz • 1970 Physiology or Medicine: Ulf Svante von Euler • 1988 Physiology or Medicine: Sir James W. Black • 1991 Physiology or Medicine: Bert Sakmann

21st Century[edit]

In October 2002, a plan to merge UCL with Imperial College London was announced by both institutions. The merger was widely seen as a de facto takeover of UCL by Imperial College and was opposed by both staff and UCL Union, the students' union. After a vigorous campaign, which included a website organised by students which brought back Jeremy Bentham to defend the College, the merger was called off.

On 1 August 2003, Professor Malcolm Grant took the role of President and Provost (the principal of UCL), taking over from Sir Derek Roberts, who had been called out of retirement as a caretaker provost for the college, and had supported the plan for the failed merger. Shortly after Grant's inauguration, UCL began the 'Campaign for UCL' initiative, in 2004. It aimed to raise £300m from alumni and friends. This kind of explicit campaigning is traditionally unusual for UK universities, and is similar to US university funding. UCL had a financial endowment in the top ten among UK universities at £81m, according to the Sutton Trust (2002). Grant has also aimed to enhance UCL's global links, declaring UCL London's "Global University". Significant interactions with France's École Normale Supérieure, Columbia University, Caltech, New York University, University of Texas, Villanova University and universities in Osaka have developed during the first few years of his tenure as provost.

UCL's strengths in biomedicine will be significantly augmented with the move of the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) from Mill Hill to UCL as preferred partner which was announced in 2006. Founded in 1913 and the Medical Research Council's first and largest laboratory, its scientists have garnered five Nobel prizes. NIMR today employs over 700 scientists and has an annual budget of £27 million. Construction of the new premises, the Francis Crick Institute, commenced in 2011; King's College London and Imperial College also became partners of the Institute.[38]

The UCL Ear Institute was established, with the support of a grant from the Wellcome Foundation, on 1 January 2005.

UCL applied to the Privy Council for the power to award degrees in its own right. This was granted in September 2005, and the first degrees were awarded in 2008.

Notes and References[edit]

  1. ^ It is often claimed that King's College London students stole the head and played football with it. Although the head was indeed stolen, the football story is a myth.[28] Other myths associated with Bentham and the College include that the box containing his remains is wheeled into senior college meetings, and that he is then listed in minutes as 'present but not voting'; or that he has a vote on the College council, but only when the vote is split, and that he always votes in favour of the motion.
  2. ^ The University of Bristol also makes this claim — as both were admitting students to University of London degrees at the time, it is possible that this was a simultaneous action.
  1. ^ Americanized Encyclopædia Britannica 10. 1890. p. 6100. Retrieved 2011-02-09. 
  2. ^ a b University of London, the Historical Record: (1836-1912). University of London. 1912. pp. 7–24. 
  3. ^ http://www.ucl.ac.uk/prospective-students/accommodation/living-london/advantages
  4. ^ http://www.london.ac.uk/history.html
  5. ^ https://www.dur.ac.uk/international/
  6. ^ "University Calendar - Introduction". University of Nottingham. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  7. ^ "Why does KCL hate its own students?". The Tab Kings. Retrieved 25 September 2015. There are nearly 200 years of history and tradition embedded within our title - we are the third oldest university in England. 
  8. ^ "Conservative Society". KCL Conservative Society. As the third-oldest university in England, the College was founded by King George IV and the Duke of Wellington in 1829, receiving its royal charter the same year. 
  9. ^ "University College London". Breakthrough Information Technology Exchange, UCL. Retrieved 2015-09-25. Constitutionally part of the federal University of London, UCL is in practice an independent university 
  10. ^ Reprint of Mr. Campbell's Letter to Mr. Brougham, on the Subject of a London University, which appeared in "The Times" of Feb 9. Together with Suggestions which appeared in the April Number of the New Monthly Magazine. 1826. 
  11. ^ Harte (2004), 27
  12. ^ "The For Founders of UCL". UCL. Retrieved 22 November 2015. 
  13. ^ Harte (2004), 29-32
  14. ^ Crilly, Tony; Crilly, A J (2006). Arthur Cayley: Mathematician Laureate of the Victorian Age. JHU Press. p. 18. ISBN 0-8018-8011-4. 
  15. ^ Harte (2004) 62-3
  16. ^ a b c d e f "University College London". Penny Cyclopaedia (Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge): 23–28. 1843. 
  17. ^ Turner, A. Logan (1937). Story of a Great Hospital: The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh 1729-1929. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd. p. 360. 
  18. ^ Bellot, H. Hale (1929). University College, London 1826-1926. London: University of London Press. 
  19. ^ "It was considered that conferring on the new institution the title of University would Invest it with the privileges of granting degrees, as incidental to that title" (emphasis in original)[16]
  20. ^ The London University Calendar for the year 1832. London University (UCL). 1832. 
  21. ^ Harte (2004), 34
  22. ^ cited in Harte (2004), 26
  23. ^ Philip Ziegler (2013). Melbourne: A Biography of William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne. 
  24. ^ http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1835/jul/30/london-university#S3V0029P0_18350730_HOC_24
  25. ^ https://books.google.com.pr/books?id=wfUDAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA708&lpg=PA708#v=onepage&q&f=false,
  26. ^ Jeremy Bentham and UCL
  27. ^ UCL Bentham Project
  28. ^ http://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/right-column/ucl-views/bentham
  29. ^ Harte (2004), 39
  30. ^ a b Landmarks
  31. ^ a b c d "Interesting Facts". UCL. Archived from the original on 4 December 2007. 
  32. ^ Daniel Alan Livesey (2010). Children of Uncertain Fortune: Mixed Race Migration from the West Indies to Britain, 1750-1820 (PDF). University of Michigan. p. 232. 
  33. ^ Eleanor Mildred Sidgwick (1897). The Place of University Education in the Life of Women. pp. 37–38. 
  34. ^ Ina Zweigiger-Bargielowska (30 July 2014). Women in Twentieth-Century Britain: Social, Cultural and Political Change. Routledgeurl=https://books.google.com.pr/books?id=LcAeBAAAQBAJ&pg=PA120&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false. p. 120. 
  35. ^ Harte (2004)
  36. ^ Harte (2004), 152
  37. ^ UCL website, Nobel Prizewinners
  38. ^ NIMRC website, retrieved 24 March 2012

Sources and further reading[edit]

  • Harte, Negley and John North (2004). The World of UCL 1828-2004 by Negley Harte and John North. London: UCL ISBN 1-84472-025-X
  • The World of UCL Union 1893-1993 (1994) by James Bates and Carol Ibbetson.
  • The Godless Students of Gower Street (1968) by David Taylor.
  • The Admission of Women to University College London, a Centenary Lecture (1979) by Negley Harte.

External links[edit]