Bentham on the Streets

By Valerie H Wallace, on 30 May 2011

In May the Historical Association celebrated its local history month. A series of events held across the country focused on exploring the history of the local community. In recognition of this celebration, the Bentham Project organised its own series of public events, Bentham in the Community, which aimed at situating Bentham’s life and work within a local history context.

Bentham was a Londoner who had a significant impact on his home town. Born in 1748, he grew up in the hustle and bustle of the diverse east end. He went as a boarder to Westminster School when he was seven; and on his return from Oxford in 1763, he lived at Lincoln’s Inn. From 1792 until his death in 1832, his home was at Westminster where he was dubbed the ‘hermit of Queen Square Place’. From 1814 his neighbours were James Mill and his son John Stuart Mill, who exercised on the gym constructed in Bentham’s garden, where Bentham also kept a pet pig. Bentham and his circle wrote extensively on political, legal and educational reform; their ideas contributed to the foundation of the University of London in 1826.

Bentham in the Community May 2011

The Bentham Project arranged three events funded by a Beacon Bursary for public engagement to explore Bentham’s connections to his environment and to start a dialogue between academic and amateur historians.   The first event was held at UCL and the second at the Women’s Library in Spitalfields, near where Jeremy was born. At these events Bentham scholars, London historians and local experts discussed Bentham and London with a public audience. The third event was a guided walk around the parts of London with which Bentham was associated.

Bentham in the Community also aimed at raising awareness of Transcribe Bentham. Audience members were invited to try out our transcription exercise on computer workstations. We hoped that by reaching out to the public, our Transcribe Bentham community would move beyond the digital and become more personal.

We received lots of positive feedback from the events and we are so grateful to our participants and our attendees for helping to make the programme so stimulating and enjoyable! We hope that Bentham in the Community will be the first of many public engagement events aimed at bringing Bentham studies to a wider audience.