The History of Higher Education in Bloomsbury and Westminster

Institute of Commonwealth Studies

Institute of Education, University of London

King's College London

London School of Economics

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Royal Holloway, University of London

School of Oriental and African Studies

Senate House Library, University of London

University College London

University of Westminster


This virtual exhibition uses documents and images held by the Archives of the London School of Economics to tell the story of the School's foundation and early years.

The LSE Archives holds a wide range of rare and primary source material, not just papers relating to the history of the School. Click on the LSE collections page to view a selection from our collections, chosen around the theme of 'Beginnings'

Click on the images to enlarge them.

The London School of Economics and Political Science was established after a bequest to the Fabian Society of some £20,000 by Henry Hunt Hutchinson in 1894. Sidney Webb, a prominent member of the Fabian Society and one of Hutchinson's trustees, had long dreamed of setting up a new university to encourage social and economic research and managed to persuade the other trustees to use the money to found just such an institution. The London School of Economics and Political Science was born!

Extract from Beatrice Webb's diary

Extract from Beatrice Webb's typescript diary, 21 September 1894

Sidney and Beatrice Webb

Sidney and Beatrice Webb, 1942

Sidney Webb and Beatrice Potter first met in 1891 when Beatrice contacted Sidney about her research into the co-operative movement. After their marriage in 1892, Sidney gave up his work as a civil servant and the couple concentrated on their political and social reform activities. The Webbs regarded the School as their 'child' and continued to exert a powerful influence on its development until their deaths in the 1940s.

This list, taken from an 1896 School report, shows that right from its inception the School gave opportunities for study in special subjects not dealt with by other institutions. It also demonstrates that as well as being a centre for research, LSE saw itself as having a practical role in educating and training people for careers in administration and business.

Subject list

List of subject areas covered by lectures and classes at the LSE in its first two terms

Passmore Edwards Hall

Passmore Edwards Hall, c1902

The School was immensely successful in its early years and expanded so rapidly that in 1902 it had to move to larger premises in Clare Market, near Lincoln's Inn Fields. Passmore Edwards Hall was LSE's first purpose-built premises. It was named after a wealthy benefactor and designed by the architect Maurice Adams. The School has continued to grow and develop around the Clare Market site, but the Hall itself was demolished in the 1930s to make way for new developments.

By 1919, the School was running out of space again and plans were being formulated for a new building in adjacent Houghton Street. The extension (now known as the Main or Old Building) was designed by the architects Trehearne and Norman; George V and Queen Mary laid the foundation stone in 1920 and it opened its doors to students in 1922.

Proposed front entrance to old building

Proposed front entrance to the 'Old Building', c1920

Motto and coat of arms

School motto and coat of arms

The School's motto 'rerum cognoscere causas' ('to know the causes of things'), a quotation from Virgil's Georgics, was adopted in February 1922. The beaver emblem, indicating industry, was chosen in the same year. This version was painted by Sir Arnold Plant, then President of the Students Union. Plant returned to LSE in 1930 as Professor of Commerce, a position he held until his retirement in 1965.

The School has always attracted students from a wide variety of social, educational and ethnic backgrounds. In the early days the student body was made up of university graduates, civil servants, local government and railway officials, businessmen, journalists and teacher, including a significant proportion of women and overseas students. This photo illustrates perfectly the diverse range of students at the School. The School's director, Sir William Beveridge, can be seen in the front row, just left of centre, wearing a bow tie. Beveridge, a former civil servant, was to achieve wider recognition in 1940s when his report on social insurance became the blueprint for the foundation of the welfare state.

Staff and students, 1924

Staff and students of the School, 1924

Click here for further information about the history of the LSE or visit the LSE Archives webpages to find out more about our collections and services.

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