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
UNIVERSITY OF WESTMINSTER
Press report of the opening of The Polytechnic
Institution, 1 September 1838.
Britain's first Polytechnic opened on 6th August
1838 at 309 Regent Street in London. Sir George Cayley, landowner
and gentleman scientist, was the first Chairman, and over the
coming decades, the Institution made a major contribution to the
development of technical and scientific education.
|The Great Hall of The Polytechnic was
a place of "abominable smells and of the odd explosion"
as demonstrations of new technologies - including the diving bell
- were made to the public. Early visitors included Prince Albert,
under whose patronage the name changed in 1841 to the Royal Polytechnic
Institution. Professor Pepper, who became a director in the early
1850s, is best remembered for the popular illusion 'Pepper's Ghost',
but he also established a series of evening classes in educational
and trade subjects. The Polytechnic organised an educational programme
around the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the combination of education
and entertainment captured the Victorian imagination.
The Exhibition Hall of the Royal Polytechnic
Institution c1850, from a contemporary hand coloured lantern
Façade of The Polytechnic building at 309
Regent Street in May 1935 celebrating the Royal Jubilee.
|Quintin Hogg acquired the building at
309 Regent Street in 1881. His vision of The Polytechnic which reopened
the following year, was to educate "mind, body and spirit".
He expanded the established role in science to encompass arts and
humanities in a full social mission. As a result, the Regent Street
Poly developed an international reputation and became a model for
technical education across London. The building at 309 Regent Street
was rebuilt in 1910-1912 to reflect the needs of a growing institution
whose student members exceeded 15,000.
|The Polytechnic was a club open to those who neither
studied nor taught there. With its public lectures and performances
and a strong commitment to sport, it reached out into the life of
London. When the Olympic Games came to London in 1908, the Poly
clubs organised the opening and closing ceremonies and many Poly
athletes became World, Olympic and National champions in their fields.
By 1929, there were 5,000 members participating in the wide range
of sports and social clubs. With everything from rambling to amateur
dramatics, The Polytechnic achieved a real community identity which
continued in the popular memory of the people of London right through
the 1950s and 1960s.
Athletes in The Polytechnic gymnasium, 1899.
During the Second World War, The Polytechnic provided
cinematography courses for the armed special forces.
|The Royal Polytechnic Institution became the world
centre for spectacular magic lantern shows. Henry Langdon Childe
joined the staff in 1838. Amongst his major technical advances,
Childe pioneered the illumination of lanterns by limelight rather
than oil, enabling the projectionist to come out from behind the
screen and project images from the back of the hall. Following the
early success of illustrated lectures, a new specially equipped
theatre was built on the south side of The Polytechnic building
in 1848 which could seat 1,000 people and usually held two shows
each day. Programmes included scientific lectures, travel shows
and "news reels" showing current events sequences. It
was this reputation which led to the choice by their manager Félicien
Trewey of The Polytechnic as the venue for the first presentation
in Britain of the cinématograph by the Lumière Brothers
on 20 February 1896. When the show moved to Leicester Square 16
days later, The Polytechnic electrician, Matt Raymond, went with
them and the movies were born.
|The name Polytechnic was originally chosen for his
institution by Sir George Cayley to reflect the growing movement
in scientific exhibition and education across Europe. An international
perspective has therefore informed the history of the institution
from its earliest times. In 1888 a party of boys from the Polytechnic
Secondary School founded by Quintin Hogg toured Belgium and Switzerland
in order that they could see the mountains they were learning about
in geography lessons. In 1893 Robert Mitchell bought chalets by
Lake Lucerne which were to become the most famous centre for the
Polytechnic Touring Association. The first escorted tour by air
to Switzerland was arranged by the Polytechnic Touring Association
on May 14th 1932. The Touring Association became a substantial business
and in the 1960s the firm of Henry Lunn Ltd took it over to form
Lunn Poly, one of the country's leading travel retailers.
The Polytechnic chalets at Seeburg, Lucerne, Switzerland,
The Polytechnic was formally rededicated as the University of Westminster
on 1 December 1992. Through its educational philosophy and range of
courses, its multicultural community and extensive partnerships, the
University of Westminster educates for professional life. For more information
about the institution and its archives, please see the University
of Westminster Archive Pages.