London Scientific Institutions and Societies

The University of London

The University of London was formed to combine University College and King's College. It was chartered in 1836, initially as just an examining and degree granting body. Teaching was left to UCL and KCL. The University of London Act (1898) restructured UL as a teaching university and it soon admitted many other colleges.

The headquarters was once in the back of Burlington House, where the Museum of Mankind is now. This was a separate building from the front part which now houses the Royal Academy. It was built in 1866-1869. With the opening of the new Sackler Galleries at the Royal Academy, one can clearly see that there were originally two buildings. Moved to Imperial Institute in the 1920s.

The University has an Observatory at Mill Hill Park.
Senate House was started in 1932, but interrupted by WW2 and never really completed. Designed by Charles Holden, the architect of much of the Underground. The University Library is in Senate House. It contains the library of Augustus De Morgan - cf University College above - and his papers presented by his son William about 1900.

Bedford College

Augustus De Morgan taught for two terms in 1849-1850 when the College was in Bedford Square. It merged with Royal Holloway College in 1985.

Birkbeck College

Despite being the evening college of the University of London, Birkbeck has had a distinguished record in certain sciences, notably crystallography. L. J. Mordell taught here in 1913-1920, with two years out as statistician in the Ministry of Munitions. The crystallographer J. D. Bernal was here, as were Roger Penrose and P. M. S. Blackett.

Imperial College

Imperial College in South Kensington, is now the leading technological college in the UK, but is relatively modern, dating from the end of the last century. E. W. Hobson was a student here. A. R. Forsyth (1855-1942) was Professor and Head of Mathematics in 1913-1923. A. N. Whitehead was Professor of Applied Mathematics, 1914-1924, when he resigned to go to Harvard. H. Levy was Professor from 1927. Blackett was here. Abdus Salam was Professor of Theoretical Physics from 1957.

In the lobby of the Mechanical Engineering Building is the Guilds Clock of 1884, an example of Grimthorpe's work (see Houses of Parliament in Section 2-A), originally on the City and Guilds Central Institute building of 1884. When the building was demolished in 1963, the clock was preserved and set up at the present site in 1972 with a new elaborate compound pendulum so it could run in a limited space. It should be running, but was not when I visited it in 1992.

King's College London (KCL)

Henry Moseley was Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy and Astronomy in 1831-1844, as well as Chaplain in 1831-1833. Wheatstone was Professor of Experimental Physics from 1834. Cayley was a student from 1835, aged 14. Maxwell was Professor in 1860-1865. Clifford was a student in 1860-1863. Golombek was a student of philology, c1930. Arthur C. Clarke was a student. Hermann Bondi was Professor of Mathematics, 1954-1985, though from 1967 he was involved in other jobs.

The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

The LSE has not had major mathematical figures, but Sir Karl Popper (1902-1994) was Reader in Logic from 1945, then Professor of Logic and Scientific Method from 1948 until his retirement in 1969. Imre Lakatos taught here.

In 1949, Bill Phillips, a New Zealand engineer turned economist at LSE, produced a water-based analogue computer to illustrate income flow in the national economy, using water to represent money. Though it only had accuracy of 4%, the perspex construction gave immediate visual display of interactions and instabilities. It was really designed for exposition rather than calculation. It was about 7' high by 5' wide. The Professor of Economics used it effectively by giving two students the tasks of controlling flow as though they were the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Governor of the Bank of England acting independently - the results were always disastrous. The prototype version went to Leeds. Some 14 other examples were built, including one for LSE which has been restored and put on display in the Science Museum, London, in 1995, but it no longer operates. [Doron Swade, 'Liquid assets', The Guardian, part 2, (16 Mar 1995) 5.]

University College London (UCL)

UCL, in Gower Street, was the first part of the University of London, founded in 1828 to provide university education free of religious restrictions. The classical main building was designed by William Wilkins, a mathematician turned architect (qv under Cambridge) and built in 1827-1829. Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was a principal founder and left his entire estate to the College. His 'auto-icon', prepared by Southwood Smith, is in a glass case in the South Cloisters and is often on display, but the head had to be replaced by a wax mask very early on [Welfare & Fairley, p. 96 with photo on cover and p. 97].

Augustus De Morgan (1806-1871) was the first Professor of Mathematics from 1828 until 1831 when he resigned over a matter of academic freedom. His successor drowned in a boating accident in 1836, by which time the University regulations had been amended, so that De Morgan returned as Professor from 1836 to 1866, when he again resigned over a matter of religious tolerance. [Neumann.] Because of the final separation from UCL and financial need of the family, De Morgan's extensive library was not offered to UCL but was purchased by Lord Overstone who presented it to the University of London and it is housed in Senate House. Jevons was a student of De Morgan, but financial problems caused him to leave in 1854 before completing his degree, but he returned five years later and got an MA [Gardner, p. 91].

John Thomas Graves (1806-1870), brother of R. P. Graves (William Rowan Hamilton's colleague and biographer), was Professor of Jurisprudence here in 1839-1843. He started life as a mathematician and devoted much of his life to collecting old mathematical books, leaving some 14,000 items to UCL. It is kept as a separate collection, but it was simply catalogued with the rest of the library's holdings and it is in store, so it has been difficult to use. UCL has recently received a grant to produce a catalogue which will make these material much more usable - work had already begun in Jun 1995. [Adrian Rice; British Libraries #4: The Graves Collection, University College London; BSHM Newsletter 28 (Spring 1995) 37-40 & Addendum in 31 (Spring 1996) 50. DBS.]

Sylvester was a student for five months in Nov 1828-Feb 1829. He was 14 and I am not clear if he was at the School or the College, or indeed if they were separate institutions at the time - see under Schools below. Later, he was Professor of Natural Philosophy, 1838-1840, but he did not find this congenial. W. W. Rouse Ball was a student to 1869. T. A. Hirst was Professor of Physics in 1865-1867, then succeeded De Morgan in Pure Mathematics to 1873. Clifford was Professor of Applied Mathematics and Mechanics from 1870 to 1877, when his health broke down and he was replaced by Rouse Ball for a year. Jevons was Professor of Political Economy in 1876-1880, resigning due to failing health [Gardner, p. 91]. Oliver Lodge was Assistant Professor of Applied Mathematics in 1879-1880. A. N. Whitehead taught here in 1911-1914. G. N. Watson taught here in 1914-1918. W. H. Bragg was Quain Professor of Physics in 1915-1923. Todhunter was a student before going to Cambridge. Davenport was Astor Professor from 1945 to 1958. Freeman J. Dyson, C. A. Rogers were students of Davenport's. K. F. Roth did his thesis here under T. Estermann in 1946-1949? and then joined the staff. Davenport founded Mathematika here in 1953.

UCL was the most significant site for the development of statistics - Galton, Fisher, Weldon and both K Pearson and E Pearson were here. K. Pearson was Goldsmid Professor of Applied Mathematics in 1884-1911, then Galton Professor of Eugenics and Director of the Galton Laboratory in 1911-1933. He founded Biometrika. Charles Edward Spearman (1863-1945) held various posts, finally Professor of Psychology, and introduced factor analysis in 1904 which he attempted to use to obtain a coefficient of general intelligence. He also introduced the Spearman rank correlation measure, which Pearson violently disagreed with. Richardson was an assistant to Pearson in 1907. Fisher succeeded Pearson as Galton Professor for 1933-1943, but continued to live at Harpenden and his unit was evacuated to Rothamsted during the war. [Gower.] Gosset ("Student"), Yule and Neyman were here for short but significant periods. Comrie recalled first learning about the Brunsviga machine from Karl Pearson here on Armistice Day [Tee]. L. S. Penrose was Galton Professor. Cyril Burt succeeded Spearman as Professor of Psychology.

Angus Armitage, the popular historian of science, was at UCL, c1940.

Sir James Lighthill was Provost from 1979.

Westfield College

Was in Kidderpore Avenue, Hampstead. Olga Taussky ( -1995) taught here in 1937-1943 [Kilmister, p. 334]. It merged with Queen Mary College..

Inns of Court

A number of mathematicians have been in or studied for the legal profession. (The English legal profession has long been divided into two parts- solicitors, who handle ordinary matters - and barristers, who conduct court cases. The training of barristers is supervised by the four Inns of Court in London. One actually works and studies in a barrister's office, or now at a college, and the Inns supervise the overall process and the examinations.) Notable examples are the following.

Gray's Inn

Bacon was a prominent member from 1576 and his statue is in South Square and his portrait is in the Hall. He had rooms at 1 Gray's Inn Square from 1577 to 1622 (or until 1606 and again from c1620) -the site is now covered by Verulam Buildings. He laid out the gardens in 1597-1598, planting elms. The ancient catalpa tree(s?) are said to have been brought from Virginia by Walter Raleigh and planted by Bacon - though horticultural opinion says catalpas first came to England in 1726 and Raleigh was never in Virginia [Ackermann, p. 292; Harper, p. 41]. [Eastman, p. 235] says in 1985 that the catalpas survived until recently, but [Blackwood, p. 162] says in 1989 that they still exist. Thomas Gresham was a member. Henry Dudeney lived at 6 South Square from sometime in the 1870s to 1884.

Inner Temple

Maseres was called to the Bar (i.e. became a barrister) here in 1758. Bromhead studied here in 1812-1813. J. J. Sylvester was a student in 1846-1850, was called to the Bar here in 1850 and was a member. Karl Pearson was called to the Bar here in 1882.

Lincoln's Inn

Jeremy Bentham lived here in 1766-1792, at 1 Elm Court and at 6 Old Buildings. Because Arthur Cayley would not take holy orders, he practised as a barrister here at 2 Stone Buildings, 1849-1863, after studying for 3 years. Augustus De Morgan studied here. Ferrars was a student and was called to the Bar here in 1855.

[A. C. Ranyard; The gateway of Old Square, Lincoln's Inn; Knowledge 13 (2 Jun 1890) 143-147] asserts that the stairways at Lincoln's Inn and other Inns of Court were the first numbered houses in England, c1712. Numbering on streets did not become common until the 1760s. [Harper, pp. 248-249] agrees that the stairways of the Inns of Court (but he doesn't specify which) were the origin of numbering and that New Burlington Street, Piccadilly, was the first street to be numbered, in Jun 1764, followed by Lincoln's Inn Fields. However, the idea was first used in 1463 on the Pont Notre-Dame in Paris. Ranyard's article castigates the restoration supervised by Lord Grimthorpe, designer of the clock at Parliament. His restoration work was not always well received, particularly here and at St. Albans Abbey, and 'to grimthorpe' was used for 'to do a rotten job of restoration' [Espy, p. 111].

Garnett College

Garnett College is named for William Garnett. It is now incorporated into the University of Greenwich.

Gresham College

Sir Thomas Gresham (1519 (or 1513)-1579) was a wealthy merchant, Royal Agent in Antwerp, the founder of the Royal Exchange, a propounder of Gresham's law in economics (first given some 30 years previously by Copernicus!) and the supposed founder of Martin's Bank, the oldest in London. His will of 1575 provided for the establishment of a college in his house in Bishopsgate St., to be staffed by seven unmarried resident professors, including professors in astronomy and geometry. The College started up on his widow's death in 1597. By that time, Edinburgh had established professors of mathematics and natural philosophy, in 1583. Gresham's house was used until 1768 but is now covered by Gresham House, which has a City of London plaque on it at 24 Old Broad St. From then to the present, the College has moved several times. It was in the Royal Exchange from 1773 until its destruction by fire in 1838. A special building was constructed in 1842-1843 at Cateaton St. (now Gresham St.) and Basinghall St. This was rebuilt and extended in 1912?13 and was in use until 1965. It was assimilated as an extracurricular part of the City University after 1966, but has recently been re-established as a separate body in association with the University. In 1984-1991, lectures were held in the new Barbican Centre, the Museum of London and similar City venues. In 1991, the College was established in Barnard's Inn Hall, Holborn, originally an Inn of Chancery, subsequently part of Mercers' School in 1892-1959 and described in Dickens' Great Expectations. Lectures are sometimes given there.

Notable holders of the geometry chair have been: Henry Briggs (1597-1620); Laurence Rooke (1657-1662); Isaac Barrow (1662-1664); Robert Hooke (1665-1703); Karl Pearson (1890-1894, who outlined the modern development of statistics in his lectures); L. M. Milne-Thomson (1946-1956); T. A. A. Broadbent (1956-1971); Clive Kilmister (1971-1988); Sir Christopher Zeeman (1988-1994); Ian Stewart (1994-1998), and the twenty-seventh geometry professor, Sir Roger Penrose (1998-2001)
Notable Professors of Astronomy have been: Edmund Gunter (1619/20-1626/7, died in the College); Henry Gellibrand (1626/7-1636/7, who completed Briggs' Trigonometrica Britannica); John Greaves (??-1643, a scholar of ancient astronomy who gave the first detailed description of the Great Pyramid, later Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford); Laurence Rooke (1652-1657); Christopher Wren (1657-1660/1); John Machin (1713-1751).

In 1658, Wren determined the arc length of the cycloid. He had been one of the Oxford group which was the precursor of the Royal Society. By 1658, several members of the group had come to London and started meeting at the 'Bull-head Taverne' in Cheapside. As the meetings grew larger, the group transferred in 1660 to Gresham College because of the presence of Wren and Rooke. On 28 Nov 1660, Wilkins suggested forming a 'College' and this became the Royal Society in 1662. Wren made a relief model of the moon. Wren and Hooke debated the laws of motion and gravity here with Halley. Wren offered the famous reward of a 'book worth forty shillings' to whomever gave a convincing argument for the inverse square law (Halley was dissatisfied with Hooke's attempt and went to see Newton in Cambridge, leading to the Principia). Newton came here to explain his work to them. The earliest public teaching of Newton's ideas was probably the lectures of Wren and Hooke here.

Morley College

Morley College, Lambeth, is a major extension college for the arts. I recently noticed a handsome sculptured knot by an entrance in King Edward Walk.

(Royal) Polytechnic Institution

The (Royal) Polytechnic Institution, Regent Street, was founded by George Cayley (the pioneer aerodynamicist) et al. in 1839. The Polytechnic closed c1880 and was reopened in 1882 as the Regent Street Polytechnic. It became part of the Polytechnic of Central London, c1970, which became the University of Westminster in c1992. It was a favourite location for exhibitions of magic and science. John Henry Pepper was here from 1848. In 1868, Henry Dircks devised the illusion which he and Pepper developed into "Pepper's Ghost". [G. Lamb, Victorian Magic, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1976, pp. 43?44 & 50.] Also in 1868, Charles Arthur (or Edward) Hooper first exhibited his automaton chess-player called Ajeeb [Carroll, p. 99]. It was also the location of the first photographic studio in Europe (1841) and the first film showings in England (1896).

Royal Indian Engineering College

The Royal Indian Engineering College was at Cooper's Hill, Egham. Joseph Wolstenholme (1829-1891) was a professor in 1871-1889.

Royal Military Academy

The Royal Military Academy, formerly at Woolwich, was a major scientific institution from its foundation in 1741. Mathematical professors have included: Thomas Simpson (1743-1761, of Simpson's rules, actually due to Newton and Cotes); John Bonnycastle (1782-1785); Charles Hutton (1773-1807); Olinthus Gregory (master from 1802, Professor in 1807-1838); Peter Barlow (beginning as a lecturer in 1801, to 1847); Francis Bashforth; E. J. Routh and Sylvester (1855-1870). (Sylvester was turned down in 1854, but the appointee died the next year. He was compelled to retire in 1870.)

In 1773, the post was hotly contested by 8 candidates and a competitive examination was held. Hutton greatly improved the standing of the School. In 1775-1778, he carried out the calculations from N. Maskelyne's measurements at Schiehallion, leading to a value of G.
P. A. MacMahon was a student 1871-1873. After service in India, he returned as Instructor in Mathematics in 1882-1890 (when he met Greenhill), then Professor of Physics at the Ordnance College in 1890-1897. A. G. (Sir George) Greenhill was Professor at the nearby Artillery College, 1876-1908. Littlewood served in the Royal Artillery nearby at Woolwich Arsenal in 1914-1918.

There was a Royal Military College in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, in the early 19C, but I am unsure of their connection if any.

James Ivory (1765-1842: professor 1804-1816) and William Wallace (1768-1843) were Professors at the Royal Military Academy, which subsequently became Sandhurst [Alex Craik].

Royal Naval College

The Royal Naval College, Romney Road, Greenwich, SE10, lies to the north, across Romney Road, from the National Maritime Museum. Previously a royal palace, Greenwich Palace, known as Placentia, was on the site - Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were born here. Charles II planned to rebuild it and one block was built in the 1660s. William and Mary decided to convert it into a Royal Naval Hospital, similar to Chelsea Hospital, i.e. more for retired sailors than ill ones. The overall design was by Wren about 1698, but most of the actual work was done by successors such as Hawksmoor - an exhibit in the Queen's House gives details, including a model of the domes. Mary objected to losing her view of the river, so the central open space had to be provided. The SW building, by Wren, has a double arches across the west-facing facades of its end blocks. In the double arches, one is circular, the other is cycloidal. [Summerson, pp. 136-137.] It was planned to accommodate 3000 pensioners. In 1805, Nelson's body lay in state here. Though a hospital, there was also a school here - Edward Riddle (1788-1854) was master of the mathematical school from 1821 and Thomas Dobson was master in the late 1850s. The Hospital closed in 1869. The Royal Naval College moved here in 1873 from Portsmouth, and the building was later used for various purposes, including the Royal Naval Engineering College, the Royal Naval Staff College, and most recently the Joint Services Defence College. Prince Phillip and Prince Andrew both were students here. Military use ceased in 1997 and the site is now open to the publi. The buildings, except for the Chapel and Painted Hall, are leased by the University of Greenwich and Trinity College of Music.

The main entrance is at the west side of the College in King William Walk, but you can also use the east entrance. On top of the pillars of the West Gates are 6 ft diameter stone globes - celestial and terrestrial - from 1754. The right, terrestrial, globe showed Anson's circumnavigation but has faded into illegibility. The Great Painted Hall contains one of the world's largest paintings and is normally open from 10:00 to 16:00. The painting includes pictures of Navigation, Astronomy, Geography, Archimedes consulting a globe, Galileo with a telescope, Brahe, Copernicus, Flamsteed and the latter's assistant Weston. Flamsteed is observing through a telescope and holds a paper predicting the solar eclipse at 17:15 on 22 Apr 1715. [Dawson. Hamilton, p. 71.] Burnside (1852-1927) was a professor here (1885-1919). Milne-Thomson was a professor. At the British Mathematical Colloquium held here occurred the famous incident of Mordell falling asleep while chairing Davenport's lecture and then adding an anecdote which Davenport had just given.

The College started in 1832-1841 at a site in Camberwell - Southwark is proposing a plaque on the Town Hall extension on the north side of Peckham Road [Southwark]. T. A. Hirst was first Director of Studies, 1873-1883.

Nautical Almanac Office

The Nautical Almanac Office was located at Greenwich (in the Royal Naval College). The Almanac was begun by N. Maskelyne in 1766 as a table for calculating longitude from the position of the moon ("the lunar distances") and this feature actually continued until 1907 since it provided a check on the errors of chronometers. It was originally a service of the Observatory, but due to Pond's lack of interest and the consequent difficulty in supervising it, it was separated off in 1831. It returned to the Astronomer Royal's supervision in 1937 and removed to Herstmonceux in 1949. Thomas Young was Superintendent from c1820 to 1829 because of Pond's lack of interest. Comrie was Deputy Director from 1926, then Director from 1930 to 1936. He introduced punched card computing equipment.

Gazetteer Index Main MacTutor index

An extract from The Mathematical Gazetteer of the British Isles created by David Singmaster