ll universities are different, but some are more different than others. The University of London is the most different of them all," writes the University's official historian, Negley Harte (10). This university does seem unique — a leviathan, with twenty major self-governing colleges, and many other colleges, schools and institutes of all kinds. Writing in 1986, Harte put the total number of "distinct and separate institutions which constitute the University of London" at thirty-seven (12), but then went on to refer to "the fifty-five different institutions mentioned in [his] outline description of the University" (21); more recently, in 1991, The London Encyclopedia has put the total of "constituent colleges, schools and institutes" at a more conservative forty-seven (928). The different totals reflect the complicated and still-evolving history of this great federal university. For example, the major colleges themselves are huge coalitions. King's College London's alumni magazine alone (In Touch) goes out to the alumni of thirteen distinct institutions, including Chelsea College, the Institute of Psychiatry and Guy's Hospital Medical and Dental Schools. All told, the University includes eleven famous medical schools, one of which (the British Postgraduate Medical Federation) has twelve institutes of its own. The Royal Veterinary College is also a part of the University, along with several other colleges with widely different specialities. In addition, the University is linked with three conservatoires (including the Royal Academy of Music); an art school (the Slade School of Fine Art, housed in University College); a world-famous art gallery (at the Courtauld Institute); and the Institute of Archeology. There are other important affiliations, too. One is with the Royal Society of Dramatic Art, which has its courses validated by King's College London. All this gives some indication of the University's complexity and diversity.

Prize giving at the U of London

An Early Victorian Prize-Giving in the Large Theatre

Several of these institutions existed in some form well before Queen Victoria came to the throne. For example, St Bartholomew's Hospital dates from the twelfth century, and must have had its trainees long before students were formally recorded there in 1664; the London Hospital's medical college goes back to 1785; coming into the next century, Birkbeck College had its origins in 1823, when Dr George Birkbeck and his followers launched the first successful Mechanics' Institute at the Crown and Anchor on the Strand. Later in the same decade, on the very threshold of the Victorian age, the project for university-level education in London really got under way with the founding of University and King's Colleges. Yet the University of London as it is today was essentially a Victorian project, and the issues surrounding and consequent on this project (especially the rise of secularism, access to higher education for artisans and the middle classes, and women's rights to higher education), reflected the great social changes taking place in that age. On an individual level, the staff and alumni of the University contributed much to education, medicine, science, technology and the arts during the period, leaving their mark on every area of life in England — and beyond.


"The History of Birkbeck.." Viewed 4 February 2007.

Harte, Negley. The University of London, 1836-1986. London: Athlone Press, 1986.

" Third Oldest University in England Debate." Wikipedia. Viewed 4 February 2007.

"University of London." The London Encyclopedia, ed. Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert. London: Macmillan, rev. ed. 1992, p. 928.

"About the University." The University of London website. Viewed 4 February 2007.

Last modified 5 February 2007