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British Industrial History

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Royal College of Chemistry

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of Oxford Street, London

Plans for a new private college of chemistry came from the German chemist, Liebig, who visited England in 1837 and again in 1842, publicizing the usefulness of chemistry to technology.

1843 Initial meetings were held by interested individuals but plans to locate the Davy College of Practical Chemistry at the Royal Institution were not accepted[1]

A group of technically knowledgeable investors in London sought the advice of Liebig and the help of the British government for the college; Prince Albert played an instrumental role in bringing the college into being. Liebig recommended August Wilhelm von Hofmann to lead the new enterprise.

1845 Hofmann became sole professor and director of the Royal College of Chemistry, established in October 1845 in rented rooms in a house on George Street, Hanover Square. 26 students enrolled for the first session. The Queen conferred the title "Royal" on the new institution.

1847 A new building for the college was erected, in Oxford Street, the cornerstone being laid by the prince consort.

Here, Hofmann inspired the young to do great things in chemistry, and relate them to both academic and everyday life. The two ideas guiding the Royal College of Chemistry were the transplantation of Liebig's approach to science into Great Britain, and the establishment of an institution where students could be trained for practical careers in agriculture, pharmacy, and chemical industry. But these 2 targets created tensions between the academics, such as Hofmann, and the shareholders and members of the council. A shortage of students meant that the council had increasing difficulty meeting its contractual obligations. Consequently, the college gradually sank into insolvency.

1853 Incorporated with the Government School of Mines and of Science applied to the Arts.

1863 Hofmann returned to Bonn and shortly afterwards was given a prestigious academic post in Berlin.

1871 A Parliamentary report highlighted a number of gaps in science education in Britain and recommended merging the Royal College of Chemistry and the Royal School of Mines, and moving the combined body to the new buildings under construction at South Kensington[2]

1872 With Government support the college moved to the unused building of the School of Naval Architecture in Exhibition Road, South Kensington. It included physics, mathematics and other departments.

1881 Incorporated with the Normal School of Science[3]. T. H. Huxley became Dean.

1906 The chemistry and physics departments moved to a new building designed by Sir Aston Webb in what is now Imperial College Road

1907 The Imperial College was founded by a combination of the RCS, the Royal School of Mines and the City and Guilds Institute.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. The Times Mar. 3, 1945
  2. The Times Mar. 30, 1871
  3. The Times Mar. 3, 1945
  • [1] Imperial College
  • Biography of August Hofmann, ODNB