Colin Penman, Head of UCL Records, writes about a newly uncovered item in the UCL Records collection.
In the timely way that these things can happen, I recently came across an official souvenir programme for the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in May 1937:
As this is the last time there was a coronation of a king and a queen consort –Charles III’s grandfather and grandmother – it has been interesting to compare the occasion with Saturday’s event. The procession and liturgy are very similar, these things changing little over time. There will be new music and prayers, and the much-publicised ‘Homage of the People’. But some elements of the ceremony date back to before the Norman Conquest, for example the Presentation, when the king is ‘presented’ to the four points of the compass.
The programme itself is quite a lovely thing, a lavish 36 page quarto booklet with decorative embossed card covers, glassine protective sheets, and nice watered-silk end papers. It seems to be bound with cord rather than staples – you can see it here at the centre pages, which show the route of the procession:
Interestingly, on the right hand side, just above the compass, is the ‘Site of New Waterloo Bridge’, not completed until the middle of the Second World War, largely with women’s labour. We can compare this route with a London Transport map which can be found in the Gaitskell papers in Special Collections, showing the route of Queen Elizabeth II’s procession in 1953:
GAITSKELL/G/MISCELLANEOUS PAMPHLETS AND OTHER PAPERS
Not much between them. King Charles, on the other hand, will simply travel up Whitehall and down the Mall to get back to Buckingham Palace:
The programme for George VI’s coronation includes a coloured, embossed title page:
and another showing the emblems of the king’s Dominions, which definitely wouldn’t look so crowded in today’s equivalent:
This is followed by a poem by the Poet Laureate, John Masefield, very much of its time: ‘Make wise the councils of the men who sway / The Britain here, the Britains far away’. There is also an interesting essay on the ceremony itself by the Garter King of Arms, the full order of service, and a genealogical table showing the king’s descent from William the Conqueror. The latter can’t compete for splendour with UCL’s own MS ANGL/3, a giant 15th century roll, 10 feet long, showing the supposed lineage of the kings of England all the way back to Adam – you can see a video about MS ANGL/3 online. However, the lineage in George VI’s programme is presumably more accurate.
I don’t know how or why we ended up with this item. It was found in a box of uncatalogued College archive material, where it obviously doesn’t belong. It’s accompanied by a card from the Vicar of St Peter, Vere Street, and a copy of his sermon, so perhaps there’s a clue there:
I have no information so far on Minos Devine, but hope to find a connection to one of our existing collections. If not, this will be an interesting addition to our London History collection.
Leah Johnston, Cataloguing Archivist (Records), explores documents in the College Archives relating to the history of UCL’s Wilkins Building
We are fast approaching UCL’s bicentenary in 2026 and much of its almost 200-year history is recorded within the documents, plans, drawings, photographs, and ephemera of UCL’s College Archive. The archive spans the period from its establishment in 1824, to the present day, and covers everything from founding deeds to student magazines, along with Council minutes, student registers and files, correspondence, and publications about the university.
As UCL Record’s Cataloguing Archivist, it is currently my job to catalogue some of the many collections we hold. I have recently begun work on the College Correspondence, which covers a variety of matters relating to the early administration of the university between 1825-1890. Although most of this collection has already been processed there are still around 200 letters left to be documented. The collection is often used by UCL’s Records’ team to answer enquiries about the early history of the university so it is important that we know what each letter relates to and where it can be found within the 164 boxes in which they are all stored.
While working on a folder of correspondence from 1827 I came across several letters from the architect, Sir William Wilkins who designed UCL’s Wilkins Building. In 1826 he entered a competition set by the Council to submit a design for the emerging university’s main building. Architects submitted their designs in March 1826 and after much deliberation Wilkins’ design was chosen. As noted by Dr Amy Spencer in her lecture ‘The beginnings of UCL in Bloomsbury: some parallels with UCL East’, this was mainly due to the fact that it offered the largest square-footage for the lowest estimate.
UCLCA/CORR/3076: Letter from William Wilkins to the Council, dated 17 February 1827, requesting that they delay setting the first stone.
In this letter dated 17 February 1827, Wilkins requests that the ceremony of the setting of the first stone be postponed for another month. It seems that due to a hard frost at the time Wilkins believed it would be nearly impossible to break ground and he urged the Council to reconsider the intended date.
Other collections within the College Archive include drawings, plans and photographs of the Wilkins building from its inception in 1826 until the present day, allowing us to trace its history through the decades.
College Collection I 16C: West Front of the University of London, 1828
This print shows how the building would have looked upon its opening in October 1828. Although Wilkins’ estimate was relatively low the university struggled to secure the required funds and as a result the two wings of the building were unable to be built. It wouldn’t be for another 158 years until the building’s quadrangle was completed in 1985, an occasion marked by a visit of Queen Elizabeth II.
The Queen is pictured during a visit to UCL in 1985 to mark the official completion of the Main Quad.
College Collection X 65: William Monk’s etching of the Wilkins’ Building Portico (c.1900-1920)
Over the years the building has become a well-known landmark of the Bloomsbury area and has been reproduced in drawings, paintings, and later photographs. This print is a copy of an etching by the Victorian artist William Monk and shows the distinctive 10 column Portico some time at the start of the 20th century.
In contrast this image taken by UCL Media Services team in November 2008 shows the same aspect portrayed in Monk’s engraving. Although the images are almost a century apart the Wilkins Building has remained almost unchanged.
The College Plans, belonging to the Records Office Collections within UCL Special Collections, Archives and Records Department, are housed in part at the National Archives and in part at UCL. They are architectural plans and drawings of several landmarks of the UCL campus, such as the Cruciform, the Rockefeller Building of the “New” Chemistry building.
If most of these plans and drawings, dating from the end of the 19th and early 20th century are in stable condition, some show conservation pathologies that prevent their usage by students, scholars or the public, or would impede their handling for digitization and cataloguing purposes.
They present naturally occurring conditions in working documents, such as pin holes, folds, dirt and smudges, creases… but these objects are also often torn, cockled, warped, and bear historic repairs, many of which are made with pressure-sensitive adhesive tape that needs to be removed. Those conditions are worsened by the fact that most paper substrates are brittle, particularly the different kinds of tracing paper.
A conservation campaign was then launched to stabilize as many records as possible. The work started with surveying 485 items of the collection, and identifying the unstable ones.
The plans and drawings were prioritized according to their state and their relevance for the curators of the collection, and were treated according to a protocol aiming at stabilizing them with minimal intervention:
Setting of tears using wheat starch paste
Repairs and consolidation of regular paper objects using different thicknesses of remoistenable repair tissue prepared with wheat starch paste and methylcellulose.
Some of the tissue was toned with black acrylic paint for the repairs over black media on the recto of objects.
Repair and consolidation of tracing paper using remoistenable tissue prepared with Isinglass: a fine protein adhesive prepared using swim bladders of sturgeon fishes.
Adhesive removal using poultices prepared with methylcellulose and ethanol, or heated spatulas and other solvents.
Photographic and written documentation:
Condition and treatment records
Housing in polyester pockets.
These interventions were carried out by paper conservators at UCL Special Collections Conservation Department, and also involved the participation of UAL – Camberwell College MA Conservation intern students, who were given the opportunity to add working collection objects treatments to their portfolios while learning and practicing different techniques, such as preparing Isinglass, removing adhesives or repairing tracing paper.
Priority was given to stability for handli
ng purposes, also respecting the nature of each substrate. For instance, repairs on tracing paper were done with extremely thin tissues to avoid being visible by transparency. Due to their aesthetical value, some objects were nevertheless given extra care, with the usage of toned tissues for repairs and infills. One plan with a large lacuna even received an infill digitally produced to minimize the visual impact of interrupted lines.
In the images, one can see the detail of record Ref. Nº ROC 86, a drawing for a decorative swag of the Board Room in the Rockefeller building before and after conservation. It was extremely rewarding for the conservators to discover that the ornament was still in place. As recommended in writing on the May 1907 document, the sculptor hadn’t “adhered” exactly to the drawing, but his execution of the motif still allowed super-imposing the final result with architect J. Carmichael’s vision.
We’re excited to announce UCL Special Collections Presents… – a day of talks and displays in UCL’s South Junction Reading Room on Tuesday, June 5th.
Join our team of friendly archivists and librarians at the South Junction Reading Room to hear about some of their favourite Special Collections items in an informal setting. Come face to face with exquisite treasures, learn about the work of our conservators, and discover which curious tomes our volunteers have been studying.
We are running a range of sessions throughout the day, including:
11am-11:30 and 11:30am-12pm:
Protest songs for equal pay
A balloon’s eye view: historical maps of London
Maps from the Jewish Pamphlets collection
12-12:30pm and 12:30-1pm:
A history of the book
“Confessions of a Down and Out in London and Paris”: gems from George Orwell’s archive
1-1:30pm and 1:30pm-2pm:
UCL’s student disruptors
Small Press magazines on vinyl
2-2:30pm and 2:30-3pm:
Jeremy Bentham and Lord Brougham, social reformers
Enid Blyton’s Teacher’s Treasury
3-3:30pm and 3:30-4pm: Medical and Scientific Manuscripts and Rare Books
A 14th Century Haggadah, and other Jewish and Hebrew treasures
When: Tuesday, 5th June, 11am-4pm
Where: South Junction Reading Room, Wilkins Building, University College London, WC1E 6HJ
You are warmly invited to this year’s Treasures Of The Written Word on Tuesday 6 June, 12 to 4.30pm, in the Roberts Building Foyer. The event is open to all, and booking is not required: just drop in.
This annual event is a chance to see some of the treasures held in the library’s Special Collections, Archives and Records, and to talk to the staff who work with them. This year we’ll also have students and volunteers talking about their Connected Curriculum projects with the collections, and our popular conservation demonstrations. See below for the full programme.
Highlights will include a letter by Beethoven, George Orwell’s notes for his novel 1984, miniature children’s books from the 1700s, one of the first printed anatomy text books with pop-up diagram from the C16th, illuminated Mediaeval manuscripts in Hebrew and Latin, some of the earliest European music notation to survive, model furniture belonging to archives on the history of school education, documents on the history of UCL itself, radical design from rare C20th magazines, newly discovered Bentham manuscripts describing a dramatic prisoners’ escape, and selections from the fascinating Huguenot Library.
You’ll also be able during the first session to ask our students to look up your favourite words in early dictionaries, or find out whether your favourite area of London was anything more than fields in our C18th London maps. In the second session you can have a go at transcribing Jeremy Bentham’s handwriting, or at other times during the event hear how digitising rare materials can aid research.
12 – 1.30pm
Rare printed books
Mediaeval manuscript fragments
Institute of Education rare books
History of UCL
Digitising rare materials
1.30 – 3pm
Educating children – archives from the Institute of Education
On 9 February, I delivered a UCL Lunch Hour Lecture entitled ‘The youth of our middling rich’: how egalitarian were UCL’s founders? It was a reflection on research I have been carrying out over the past year on UCL’s much-touted radical and egalitarian credentials, particularly the claim that is often made that it was the first English university to admit students ‘regardless of race, class, religion or gender’.
It’s easy to forget that, in 1825, no university had been founded in the British Isles in over 200 years, and there were only two universities in England, where – at least if you wanted to take a degree – you had to be a member of the Church of England. This created a problem for the growing portion of England’s population that didn’t belong to the established church, such as Jews, Catholics and dissenting Protestants. These people could go abroad, if they had the money. There were academies for dissenters in England – but they weren’t universities. Or there were Scotland’s five universities, which had no religious tests for students, and that’s the path many took, including many of UCL’s founders.
The man who deserves the credit for changing this was the poet Thomas Campbell who, impressed by the liberal education on offer at the recently-founded universities in Bonn and Berlin, wrote to The Times in February 1825:
The plan which I suggest is a great London University. Not a place for lecturing to people of both sexes (except as an appendage to the establishment), but for effectively and multifariously teaching, examining, exercising, and rewarding with honours in the liberal arts and sciences, the youth of our middling rich people, between the age of 15 or 16 and 20, or later if you please. By the middling rich I mean all between mechanics and the enormously rich…
This got the ball rolling remarkably quickly: a preliminary meeting was held in April, and the first prospectus appeared in July. The land for the building was purchased in September, a Council elected in December, and on 11 February 1826 our first foundation document, the Deed of Settlement,
was signed. The foundation stone was laid in April 1827, and the first students arrived in October 1828. That Deed of Settlement says the object of the university is:
The advancement and promotion of Literature and Science, by affording young Men … adequate opportunities for obtaining Literary and Scientific Education at a moderate expence.
It was to be a joint-stock company, selling shares for £100 each to Proprietors, who would elect the Council at an annual general meeting. The professors would be paid a ‘modest’ salary for three years only, as they had to support themselves directly from the students’ fees – a precarious system that lasted decades.
And students would not live on the premises, which meant fees really could be set at a comparatively modest level, giving access to university education to the sons of the new middle classes. This occasioned the kind of mockery that appeared in John Bull magazine, where it was claimed:
Each Dustman shall speak, both in Latin and Greek,
And Tinkers beat Bishops in knowledge –
If the opulent tribe will consent to subscribe
To build up a new Cockney College.
What doesn’t appear in the curriculum, an area which Campbell deliberately avoided in his letter, is religion, which brings us back to the treasured notion of a supposed principled opposition at UCL to the teaching or promotion of theology. In fact many, possibly most, of the founders were men of faith, such as the Catholic Duke of Norfolk, and the Baptist minister Francis Augustus Cox. They were anxious to provide some kind of religious teaching in the new institution, and planned to have professors of theology.
However, ultimately it proved impossible both to keep to the principle that there would be no religious tests or barriers, and to teach theology to the satisfaction of the different religious groups involved. Instead, the spiritual and moral welfare of the young men who didn’t live at home were to be overseen by boarding-house keepers with ‘satisfactory religious habits and morals’ who, among other things, would ensure their charges attended public worship regularly: in other words, it was a last ditch compromise, designed to keep everyone on board.
So, to go back to the title of the lecture – how egalitarian were our founders? Well, if we measure UCL against the criteria I mentioned, that it was ‘the first English university … to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender’, we would have to say:
On race: no university in Britain discriminated explicitly against students on grounds of race, and we know that some non-white students did study at our universities before UCL was even thought of.
On class: there were certainly no barriers in terms of class, except in the sense that you needed the money to pay, and UCL was much cheaper. But you could say the same about Oxford and Cambridge – there were no actual class barriers: if you were Anglican, and could pay, you could come, and some students did have very humble origins.
On religion – in this context, UCL represented a revolution, making a university education available to those who were not members of the Church of England. But this was partly because the men who founded this institution cared deeply about faith and the religious and moral well-being of its students.
On gender – this is really part of a different story, but the answer would probably be: ‘it’s complicated’. UCL was the first to admit women to degrees (fifty years after it opened) but actually not on equal terms for a further forty years.
In these ‘post-factual’ times, I think we need to be careful about UCL’s myths (and what better way to do that than resort to our own amazing archives). The new university didn’t ‘open up’ education to everyone from the outset, and we do ourselves a disservice if we buy too much into the ‘godless’, ‘Cockney university’ image, because that would overlook the fact that this was hostile propaganda on the part of a threatened establishment. The truth is richer and more interesting: UCL did make university education affordable and available to a much more representative cross-section of society, largely the new middle classes who had been, for the reasons I’ve discussed, excluded from it. And it did it in new and ground-breaking ways.
We are currently digitising the Council minutes and student registers, which will enable us to do so much more, and faster. I’m particularly interested in mapping the origins and subsequent careers of our earliest students, and automating the transcription of the earliest minutes and correspondence. So this lecture was a great opportunity to share some of my findings, but there is a fascinating story still to be told, and we’ve so far barely scratched the surface. UCL’s 200th birthday in 2026 is fast approaching – watch this space for further developments!
With the brand new South Junction Reading Room just opened, a team from Special Collections, Archives and Records were able to put on a display of captivating rare and unique items for UCL’s Graduate Open Day on November 23rd.
Current and future students – as well as interested staff – heard our librarians and archivists talk about a diverse range of materials from our collections, across many fields of study:
Geologists and geographers alike were entranced by the superb illustrations of Hamilton’s Campi Phlegraei, showing Vesuvius erupting. This book is also featured in our own publication, Treasures from UCL; more illustrations from the Campi Phlegraei can be found in Digital Collections.
Not above aiming to impress, our archivists showed off a folio from the manuscript draft of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species
Nazlin Bhimani, Research Support and Special Collections Librarian for UCL Institute of Education, writes about the two tiny books she chose to display:
“The Baines Collection consists of 200 books dating from the 1700s to 1920. This is a collection of children’s books that originally belonged to the Baines Family (many of them have inscriptions providing names of family members to whom the books belonged) and were given in 1955 to the Ministry of Education. The collection was eventually donated to the IOE in 1992.
These two tiny books (volumes 4 and 5) I chose (Baines 104) were both published around the 1780s and belong to a series of work published in ten volumes entitled The Lilliputian Library or Gulliver’s Museum. The success of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels early in the century led to publishers to draw on this popularity by associating subsequent children’s publications on Gulliver and Lilliput. The Lilliputian Library or Gulliver’s Museum is an example of one such publication that uses this marketing ploy.
The frontispiece confirms that when first published the complete series cost five British shillings and each volume six pence for the following reason:
“…[it is ]but for the convenience of those little Masters and Misses, whole finances may not admit of expending to capital a sum at once, they may be supplied with one or more volumes, weekly or monthly, till the whole work is completed, at Six-pence each.”
The small size (the books fit in the palm of my hand!) appealed to children who could more easily hold the books in their hands. We often think of miniaturisation as something that is a modern concept with computer devices getting smaller and smaller but in the 18th century, this was a growing phenomenon most evidenced in the trend towards designing dolls houses with smaller and smaller and more intricately designed furniture including book shelves and tiny books that sat on the shelves.”
For more about these miniature marvels, check out Nazlin’s original post at Newsam News.