06 October 2006
Home > The History of Birkbeck
Since 1823, Birkbeck has forged its own path in higher education, reaching out to people traditionally excluded by other universities. Today, Birkbeck is one of the UK’s leading centres of excellence in teaching and research.
This brief history traces Birkbeck’s evolution from its first meeting on the Strand to the completion of the current £18.5 million campus consolidation project.
Click here to find out what happened in the:
Founder George Birkbeck born in Settle, Yorkshire.
|1800||George Birkbeck joins the Andersonian Institute in Glasgow – over 500 people attend his first lecture on the ‘mechanical arts’.|
|2 December 1823||Around 2000 people flocked to the Crown and Anchor Tavern on the Strand to witness Dr George Birkbeck and his supporters launch London’s first ever Mechanics’ Institution dedicated to the education of working people.|
|1825||The Institution moves to the Southampton Buildings, Chancery Lane.|
|1830||The first women students are admitted to the Institution.|
|1841||Dr George Birkbeck dies. His horse-drawn funeral cortège attracts thousands of mourners.|
|1858||The ratification of the University of London’s Charter means that any student can sit degree examinations. The Institution soon emerges as the main provider of university education for people who cannot afford to study full-time.|
|1866||The Mechanics’ Institution changes its name to the Birkbeck Literary and Scientific Institution.|
Membership is now up to 3000, including a significant number of students studying for University of London degrees.
Notable students include the co-founder of the LSE, Sidney Webb, future
playwright, Arthur Wing Pinero, and Annie Besant, whose involvement with
atheists and birth controllers so alarmed the Institution’s Governors
that they tried to avoid publishing her exam results.
A generous donation from Francis Ravenscroft, of the robe-making firm Ede and Ravenscroft, helps pay for the move to the Breams Building, on Fetter Lane.
Ramsay MacDonald enrolls, forging a lifelong passion for the arts. He
goes on to lead the Labour party to their first election victory in 1923.
|1885||The Prince of Wales officially opens the Breams Building, which would be home to Birkbeck for the next 65 years.|
|1892||Millicent Fawcett lectures on the problems of poverty.|
|1896||Dr George Armitage-Smith begins a distinguished term of leadership, serving as Principal from 1896 until 1918.|
|1904||Birkbeck’s first official Students’ Union is formed. Sidney Webb describes Birkbeck as delivering ‘the kind of evening instruction for the intelligent workman that is unique in the world. No other city has anything to equal it’.|
|1907||The Institution changes its name to Birkbeck College.|
|1913||Lord Haldane recommends that Birkbeck be made a constituent college of the University of London.|
the Great War lectures are introduced on military subjects. One in four
of the staff and students who enlist are killed during the conflict.
Birkbeck offers free education to Belgian refugees. Increasingly women students seek training in medical, dental and pharmaceutical subjects.
|1915||TS Eliot teaches English at Birkbeck.|
|1917||Birkbeck’s first woman professor, Helen Gwynne-Vaughan, is appointed Chief Controller of the British Army’s Women’s Auxiliary Corps. Lieutenant Commander Milner-Barry, a lecturer in German, works on detecting spy plots, illegal immigrants and contraband.|
|1918||Principal Dr George Senter guides Birkbeck successfully into its new role in the University of London, continuing his leadership until 1939.|
|1920||Birkbeck becomes a School of the University of London dedicated to the teaching of evening and part-time students. Both past and present students are represented on the governing body.|
|1922||Helen Gwynne-Vaughan is made a Dame of the British Empire.|
|1925||Daytime classes phased out.|
|1926||The College receives the Royal Charter.|
|1930||Cyril (CEM) Joad becomes Head of Philosophy. Through the BBC’s ‘Brains Trust’ radio broadcasts he successfully brings philosophy to the general public.|
|1937||JD Bernal joins Birkbeck as Professor of Physics. The 1950 founding father of Birkbeck’s Crystallography department, Bernal would become known as the ‘world’s wisest man’ during the Second World War. His intellectual force resonated beyond the world of science through his works for peace as President of the World Peace Council (1958– 1965).|
|1940||The Battle of Britain delays the start of term by two weeks.|
|1941||Birkbeck is the only university in London to stay open during the Blitz. Despite ferocious bombings and a direct hit on the library, classes continue.|
|1942||Nikolaus Pevsner becomes one of the College firefighters. A German émigré, he travelled the length and breadth of England creating a unique record of the country’s most significant buildings and monuments. He published his classic, Outline of European Architecture, in 1942. Pevsner became Birkbeck’s first Professor of History of Art in 1959.|
|1947||Eric Hobsbawm CH, joins the College as a lecturer in 1947. He has been Emeritus Professor of Economic and Social History at the University of London since 1982.|
|1950|| Britain’s third computer
is developed at Birkbeck by Professor Donald Booth, who later founds the
College’s computer science department, to help research in Bernal’s
Pablo Picasso attends a party in Bernal’s flat above the lab. The meeting results in the only mural drawn by Picasso in the UK. The Bernal Picasso is now on public view in the Clore Management Centre.
moves to Malet Street, which is officially opened by the
late Queen Mother.
Franklin – widely thought to have been deprived of the Nobel Prize
for the solution of the most potent problem of the
twentieth century, the structure of DNA – works on virus structures at Birkbeck alongside Aaron Klug.
|1964||Bernal’s biomolecular research laboratory is granted departmental status.|
Eric (later Lord) Ashby recommends that Birkbeck continues to provide education
for mature students in full-time mployment.
The Ashby Report also recommends the teaching of social sciences and greater provision for postgraduate students. Today, over half of all Birkbeck students are postgraduate.
|1971|| JD Bernal dies.
Birkbeck obtains buildings on Gresse Street to accommodate Geography, Geology and the new Social Sciences departments.
The Department of Economics is established in response to the Ashby Report.
|1972||The Departments of Applied Linguistics and Politics and Sociology are formed.|
|1987||The Hayhoe Report recommends major restructuring. Birkbeck acts upon the recommendation, and departments are grouped into seven resource centres (later reduced to five) allowing more effective use of resources.|
|1988||The University of London’s Department of Extra-Mural Studies joins Birkbeck, becoming the Centre for Extra-Mural Studies and later the Faculty of Continuing Education.|
|1991||The Master, Baroness Tessa Blackstone, launches the Birkbeck Appeal to supplement funding and provide for the expansion of College activities. The Birkbeck Appeal raises over £8 million from companies, trusts and foundations and contributes to the formation of the Departments of Law, and Management and Business Studies.|
|1993||The new Charter provides Birkbeck with up-to-date powers but remains true to its original purpose ‘to provide for persons who are engaged in earning their livelihood during the daytime’.|
|1997||The Secretary of State for Education and Employment opens the new Clore Management Centre. Funded by a grant from the Clore Foundation, it provides purpose built teaching and research facilities for the School of Management and Organizational Psychology.|
|1998|| The ‘Bernal Picasso’ returns
to Birkbeck for the 175th anniversary celebrations thanks to the generosity
of the Institute of Contemporary Arts.
Birkbeck appoints five new Anniversary Chairs.
Spanish student Spencer Chipperfield becomes the youngest Briton to conquer Everest.
Birkbeck and the Institute of Education establish the first ever research centre funded by the DfEE examining the wider benefits of learning.
|1999||The resource centres are replaced with the current four faculties – Arts, Science, Social Science and Continuing Education.|
|2001|| Over 91 per cent of academic
staff have papers reviewed in the Research Assessment Exercise – the
highest rate for any multi-faculty institution in London and the fifth
highest in the UK.
Over 85 per cent of Birkbeck research is ranked as being of international importance.
Biology receives top marks in the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) subject review. The Department is now ranked alongside Oxford, University College London, Kent and Sunderland for the quality of its teaching in organismal biosciences.
Work begins on the £18.5 million campus consolidation project at Malet Street. Birkbeck’s Faculty of Continuing Education celebrates 125 years of university adult education in London.
team is crowned University Challenge champions.
The major refurbishment of Birkbeck’s Gordon Square Buildings is completed.
Three Schools in the Faculty of Arts – History, Classics and Archaeology, Spanish and English and Humanities – are eligible for the proposed new 6* ranking for their outstanding research.
|April 2003||The Master, Professor David Latchman, marks the completion to roof phase of the campus consolidation project with a milestone ceremony.|
|November 2003|| The
Chancellor of the University of London, HRH The Princess Royal opens the
redeveloped Malet Street building, consolidating Birkbeck’s position
as the country’s leading provider of face-to-face part-time higher
education. Moreover, the College continues to prove that it is possible
to recruit students from under-represented groups, maintain high academic
standards and deliver world-class research.
Around one in four students come from an ethnic minority; 14 per cent of all first degree students have no formal qualifications on entry and over 90 per cent of all Birkbeck students are aged 25 or over.
In addition to 1000 continuing education certificate and diploma courses, undergraduate and foundation degree programmes, Birkbeck currently offer over 90 postgraduate programmes and research opportunities.
Top | About Birkbeck | BBK Home
|Last updated: 7 April 2004|