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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Bentham ‘present but not voting’

By Nick J Booth, on 12 July 2013

Jeremy Bentham prepares for the meeting.

Jeremy Bentham prepares for the meeting.

Tuesday 9th July marked the day that the retiring Provost, Sir Malcolm Grant, attended his final UCL Council meeting. UCL Museums marked this by doing something a little bit special…

Most people know that Jeremy Bentham, the spiritual founder of UCL, attends every UCL Council meeting. He is always recorded as ‘present but not voting’, except when the Council is split on a motion. On those rare occasions he gets a vote, and always votes in favour of the motion, due to his mischievous personality.

It’s a brilliant story, it has everything: a dead body, academic eccentricity, reanimation of a corpse, ancient tradition…what’s not to love? Except, unfortunately, it’s a myth. One of the many legends that have built up around the ‘old radical’ that I have no doubt that he would have enjoyed. (more…)

The Travels of Jeremy Bentham

By Nick J Booth, on 23 April 2013

We recently updated our Bentham webpages on the UCL Museums site. Among the new features is a conservation page that lists all the known inspections of the auto-icon; a Myth and Legends page that deals with some of the more popular stories concerning the auto-icon; and a new History page. This last one features a couple of pieces of data visualisation that we have tried out. This blog focuses on one of these, a Google map that shows how far Bentham and his auto-icon have traveled.

All the information used here can be found on a downloadable spread sheet on the History Page of UCL Museums website on the auto-icon of Jeremy Bentham. All distances are as-the- crow-flies, and are likely to be an underestimate.

The auto-icon of Jeremy Bentham resides in the South Cloisters of the Wilkins Building at UCL. Although he looks pretty sedate now, he only arrived in this location after the Second World War, and has in the past has been to a number of locations in London, and even out of the country (twice).

View Bentham’s Post-Mortem Travels in a larger map



Bentham’s Day Out

By Subhadra Das, on 9 November 2012

On Thursday November 8th, 2012, the UCL Teaching and Research Collections team arranged for the Auto-Icon of Jeremy Bentham to be removed from its box for cleaning. These pictures document adventures and experiences on the day.


Council of War. When it comes to doing anything to what is arguably UCL’s most iconic object, it is best to have a plan.


The Spirit of Jeremy Bentham

By Nick J Booth, on 19 October 2012

Looking through the  Jeremy Bentham archives I came across an interesting letter relating to a request for help from the Devonshire Inn Chess Club, Oakhampton, Devon.  I have reproduced the letter in full below.


Originally addressed to the President of the Royal College of General Practitioners.

2 June, 1993.

Dear Sir,

I write to you on a rather delicate matter, and seek your professional advice as a medical man.

I have for many years been an admirer of the nineteenth century philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, who as I am sure you know disapproved of cremation or burial, and suggested instead that the bodies of deceased loved ones should be preserved as an “auto-icon” in a lifelike state and mounted in a public place. He donated his own body to the University College, London, where he now sits in a glass case in the South Cloisters. You can visit him most days between 10.00am and 4.00 pm.

Jeremy Bentham, inspiration for a good letter from Devon.

This brings me to the point of my enquiry. The fact is, our secretary Colonel Polhill is no longer in the first flush of youth. An active member of the M.C.C. for over 20 years, he can still be observed daily walking his dog, and calling in to the Devonshire Inn for a half. He is dearly loved by all, but we are beginning to see certain signs. Quite likely the old soak will outlive the rest of us, but we feel that we need to make some provision.


Open House – special Saturday opening and art book sale

By Krisztina Lackoi, on 19 September 2012

This Saturday UCL opens its doors to the public for the annual showcase of the capital’s architecture, Open House London. Guided tours every 30 minutes will feature the iconic main building designed by William Wilkins and will include Jeremy Bentham’s auto-icon, a visit to UCL’s Art Museum which be showing the One Day in the City exhibition and access to UCL’s Main Library, including seeing work in progress on the Flaxman Gallery.

UCL Art Museum will also be selling a selection of old auction house catalogues and art books so do come along with some loose change to hunt out some bargains!

Times: Saturday 22nd September, 9am-1.30pm

Please register for tours in UCL’s front quad.