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Landmarks in UCL's History

1825 Thomas Campbell, the Scottish poet, wrote an open letter in the Times to Henry Brougham, MP, calling for the establishment of a university in London. At that time, the only universities in England were those at Oxford and Cambridge, which were restricted to members of the Church of England. Brougham became the driving force behind a campaign which was actively supported by those excluded from university education - non-conformists, Catholics and Jews. The campaign was inspired by the ideas of Jeremy Bentham, the philosopher of Utilitarianism, who at the age of 78 was a venerated figure, especially amongst the followers of his free-thinking ideas.
1826 The University of London (now UCL) was formally founded on 11th February. A fundamental principle was that not only would students of all beliefs be allowed entry, but that no religious subjects would be taught. The established interests of Oxbridge and the Church prevented the University of London receiving a royal charter, so it was set up as a joint stock company. The new University was vilified by the Church as `The Godless Institution of Gower Street', and by the Tory press as `The Cockney College', because of its aim to extend access to university education from the very rich to the growing new middle class. The new 24-member Council adopted the building design submitted by William Wilkins, who later designed the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.
1827 Building work began, even though not enough funds had yet been raised.
1828 In June, a meeting was held to set up King's College as a rival to the new University, supported by the Establishment and the Anglican Church. The first academic sessions of the University started in October. Chairs were established in several subjects which had not previously been taught in English universities, for instance modern foreign languages and English language and literature. The systematic university study of law began at UCL. Instruction at UCL was by primarily means of lectures and written examinations - reflection of practice in Scotland and Germany rather than Oxbridge.
1829 The building of the Portico and Dome were completed, but there were no more funds to build the North and South Wings according to Wilkins' design.
1831 King's College opened, having received a Royal Charter, which had been denied to the University.
1834 The North London Hospital was opened opposite the University.
1836 The University was renamed `University College' and received its Royal Charter on 28th November. On the same day, a new `University of London' was established with the power to award degrees in Medicine, Arts and Laws to students from both University College and King's College.
1837 The North London Hospital became University College Hospital.
1840s UCL constructed the first purpose-built laboratory for the teaching of chemistry and founded the first chairs of Civil Engineering and Architecture in the country.
1846 At University College Hospital Robert Lister performed the first ever operation under anaesthetic in Europe.
1863-65 The first Japanese to study in the West came to UCL - and eventually played leading parts in the creation of modern Japan.
1869 The first series of `lectures for ladies' was given, under the auspices of the London Ladies' Educational Association. The courses were given outside the College premises, by Carey Foster, Professor of Physics, and Henry Morley, Professor of English and the prime mover in the extension of university education to women. Later that year, women were allowed to attend classes within the College in the Physics and Chemistry labs.
1871 The first mixed classes for men and women were held. Until then, women were always taught separately from men, and used separate entrances to the College. In October, the Slade School of Fine Art was opened in the newly-built North Wing. Students at the Slade School of Fine Art influenced the course of British art for decades - including Wyndham Lewis, Stanley Spencer and Augustus John.
1878 Women were admitted for the first time as full degree students to the Faculties of Science and of Arts and Laws.
1890s Professor William Ramsay established the existence of the inert gases argon, neon, xenon and krypton.
1893 The UCL Union Society was formed, for male students only.
1892-1911 A E Housman wrote A Shropshire Lad while Professor of Latin at UCL.
1896 Professor Norman Collie took the first X-ray in Britain to be used for clinical purposes.
1897 The Women's Union Society was formed.
1904 Professor Ambrose Fleming invented the thermionic valve - which made radio possible and marked the birth of modern electronics.
1907 The College was incorporated into the University of London, and ceased to have a separate legal existence.
1917 Women were first admitted as full students to the Faculty of Medicine.
1940-41 The building was extensively damaged by war-time bombing, more than any other British university or college.
1945 The Union Society and Women's Union Society were merged.
1968 The Bloomsbury Theatre, first known as the Collegiate Theatre, was opened.
1977 A new Royal Charter restored the College's legal independence from the University of London.
1985 The Gower Street entrance to the front quad was finally completed, finishing a building whose first stone was laid 158 years before.

Further Reading

All of the following are available in UCL Library:

  • The World of UCL 1828-1990 (1991) by Negley Harte and John North. This is a detailed and well illustrated history of UCL and is available in hardback and paperback
  • 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.