In 1820, the Scottish poet, Thomas Campbell, put forth the idea of a metropolitan, nonsectarian university. With others he launched a movement in 1825 to found the University of London, for students excluded from Oxford or Cambridge by religious tests or lack of funds. With the assistance of Henry Brougham and Jeremy Bentham, a site on Gower Street was found. Bentham advertised for architectural drawings, and William Wilkins’ designs were chosen. The designs held a Continental element: a great assembly hall replacing the chapel; the wings of the structure to house museums and libraries; and four large, semicircular lecture halls.
According to Georgian London (Summerson, John, Yale University Press, 2003, page 274) we find, “Architecturally, the great feature is the central decastyle portico, raised on a podium and prefacing the assembly hall, behind which is an octagonal vestibule surmounted by a dome. In the execution of this design, a very unfortunate thing happened: the assembly hall was omitted. But its portico and the great steps leading up it it were retained. The result is that the steps and portico now lead to nothing except a disappointing octagon lobby with a lightwell in the centre so that the portico is now, in fact, nothing more than a ‘set piece,’ an architectural charade which reminds one forcibly that Wilkins was very much a man of the theatre. On the site of the missing hall a library was built in 1848.”
“Henry Peter Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux (19 September 1778 – 7 May 1868) was a British statesman who became Lord Chancellor of Great Britain. As a young lawyer in Scotland Brougham helped to found the Edinburgh Review in 1802 and contributed many articles to it. He went to London, and was called to the English bar in 1808. In 1810 he entered the House of Commons as a Whig. Brougham took up the fight against the slave trade and opposed restrictions on trade with continental Europe. In 1820, he won popular renown as chief attorney to Queen Caroline, and in the next decade he became a liberal leader in the House. He not only proposed educational reforms in Parliament but also was one of the founders of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge in 1825 and of University College London in 1826. As Lord Chancellor from 1830 to 1834 he effected many legal reforms to speed procedure and established the Central Criminal Court. In later years he spent much of his time in Cannes, which he established as a popular resort.”
“Jeremy Bentham (15 February 1748 [O.S. 4 February 1747]– 6 June 1832) was an English philosopher, jurist, and social reformer. He is regarded as the founder of modern utilitarianism. On his death in 1832, Bentham left instructions for his body to be first dissected, and then to be permanently preserved as an “auto-icon” (or self-image), which would be his memorial. This was done, and the auto-icon is now on public display at University College London. Because of his arguments in favour of the general availability of education, he has been described as the “spiritual founder” of UCL, although he played only a limited direct part in its foundation.”
From the University of London’s Website, we learn, “The University of London was founded by Royal Charter on 28 November 1836 and is the third oldest university in England. The two founding Colleges of the University, UCL (founded 1826) and King’s College London (founded 1829), both predate the University, as do many other of the University’s constituent institutions. For example, St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical School (now part of Queen Mary) and St Thomas’ Hospital Medical School (now part of King’s College London) both have twelfth-century origins. The University of London was initially established to act as an examining body for its Colleges and other ‘approved institutions’. It acted solely in this capacity until 1858. The University awarded its first degrees back in 1839 to 29 students.
“In 1858, the University opened its degrees to any (male) student, regardless of their location. Towards the end of the 19th century, the University became more than just an examining body and was established as a federal ‘Teaching University’. The University of London Act was passed in 1898, after which the University monitored course content and academic quality in the Colleges through centrally-located faculties and Boards of Studies. In 1878 London became the first university in the UK to admit women to its degrees. In 1880, four women passed the BA examination and in 1881 two women obtained a BSc. By 1895, over 10 per cent of the graduates were women and by 1900 the proportion had increased to 30 per cent. By 1908, the University of London had over 4000 registered students, exceeding the universities of both Oxford and Cambridge, becoming the largest university in the UK and the fifth largest in the world.”