of Commonwealth Studies
of Education, University of London
School of Economics
School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
Holloway, University of London
School of Oriental and African Studies
Senate House Library,
University of London
KING'S COLLEGE LONDON
Before the 1820s there was no university in
London. Londoners who did study, for example in Oxford or Cambridge,
had to be quite rich and also members of the Anglican Church.
The founding of King's College in 1829 was part of a movement
that wished both to address this unfairness for Londoners and
to modernise teaching. Industrial leaders, bankers and educationalists
alike believed England was losing out to countries like Germany
because our science teaching was poor or out of date. King's
recruited from the sons of a growing metropolitan middle class.
Its promoters combined a practical syllabus covering law, modern
languages, engineering and the natural sciences, with a commitment
to maintaining the principles of the established Church. This
was in contrast to King's rival, University College in Bloomsbury,
which grew out of the same movement but was resolutely secular.
The Prime Minister at the time, the Duke of Wellington, a key
supporter of King's College, even fought a duel on Battersea
Fields over the issue!
Cartoon by Thomas Jones, 'King's
College to Wit', depicting the Duke of Wellington's duel, 1829
Newspaper depicting King's main
Body snatchers tried to sell corpses
to King's anatomy classes, 1831.
One of the College's early strengths was the
teaching of chemistry and physics. Lecturers notably included
Sir Charles Wheatstone, the inventor of the telegraph and stereoscope,
and the physicist James Clerk Maxwell who developed the electromagnetic
theory, science that paved the way for the television viewing
of today. More recently, in the 1950s, King's teams led by Maurice
Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin carried out the crucial X-ray
diffraction experiments of DNA that helped decode the secret
of life and which are the basis for a global medical and biotechnology
The College also pioneered studies such as the
very first university degree course via evening classes, which
began in 1848 (Thomas Hardy was one prominent student), cutting
edge classes in oriental languages (these later formed the nucleus
of the School of Oriental and African Studies), or the very
first university photography course. A commercial training division
known as the Strand School, prepared students for Civil Service
entrance exams and women for employment in the Post Office.
A boy's school, King's College School, was located in the basement
of King's until the 1890s when it moved to Wimbledon and became
Prince Albert visited King's
in 1843 to witness a demonstration of Wheatstone's telegraph.
Drawing by the propaganda artist, Fougasse,
for a King's College Engineering Society dinner, 1941.
King's in Bloomsbury and Westminster
Work on building King's College began in 1829
on a narrow strip of land in the Strand adjacent to Somerset
House and overlooking the river Thames. The property had variously
been a timber yard, a royal residence and even the site of one
of the earliest herb gardens in England. The College was situated
behind a frontage of older buildings and accessible via a discreet
archway and a river gate that allowed bodies used in anatomical
dissections to be delivered at night without disturbance.
The neighbourhood was a noisy clutter of theatres,
taverns, shops and the disease-ridden slums of Holborn and Covent
Garden. Campaigning writers such as Charles Dickens and Robert
Southey drew the public's attention to an area that arguably
endured the worst poverty in London. The College authorities
were particularly concerned about the effect of numerous thieves
and prostitutes on the welfare and morals of its students. With
the poor in mind, in 1840 the College opened a hospital in Portugal
Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, then close to London's meat and
vegetable markets. It was here that Joseph Lister crucially
rolled out his use of antiseptics in medicine, while its public
health and bacteriological laboratories were among the first
of their kind in the country. King's College Hospital outgrew
its premises and relocated to Denmark Hill in 1913, shortly
after the slum clearances of the early 1900s that witnessed
the building of Kingsway.
Nurses during a post-War royal
visit to King's College Hospital.
Professor Maurice Wilkins, who played a key
role in the discovery of the DNA helix.
The College has over time merged with a number of
other historic institutions including Queen Elizabeth and Chelsea
Colleges, and more recently, the Medical Schools of Guy's and
St Thomas's Hospitals. St Thomas's can trace its origins back
to the 12th century while Guy's was founded in the 18th century;
famous students and staff have included Florence Nightingale and
the poet John Keats.
For more information on the history of King's
College, to browse catalogues or to visit our online exhibitions,
and on how to access the College's Archives, see the King's
College Archive website
Drug Control Centre, King's College,
2004, testing athletes for banned substances. Copyright: Action