Senate House Library treasures volume: featuring the collegiate University

When selecting items for a treasures volume, the University Archive was an obvious source to comb, with its records of University proceedings from the foundation of the University in 1836 onwards. This was where we could expect to find unique documents which provided a sense of University identity. As Senate House Library had put on an exhibition of items from the Archive in 2011 to celebrate the University’s 175th anniversary, selecting items for the treasures volume was quite easy. We had already looked at numerous items, far more than we could exhibit, in the earlier context, and in that context had regretfully discarded this picture of the Colleges in favour of some showing the location of the central University, namely the Imperial Institute in South Kensington and Senate House.

The picture shown here is from the time when the University was located in the Imperial Institute. It is the work of Stanley Gordon Wilson, a historian and vicar who drew it while recovering from a motor-cycling accident. The drawing measures 55.7 by 21.7 centimetres before mounting; 69.9 by 37.6 centimetres when mounted. On the assumption that members of the University might like to have it on their walls, copies could be purchased from a shop in Southampton Row. A reduced version, measuring 13.8 by 41.7 centimetres, appears as the frontispiece of Wilson’s The University of London and its Colleges (1923), which claimed to be the first illustrated account of the University of London ever published. The picture represents every institution that formed part of the University at the time, by a sketch, coat of arms, or both. It thereby aims to portray the University as a cohesive whole composed of and even greater than the sum of its distinguished parts.

The University and its Colleges

The University and its Colleges


London University 1932 graduates list

Just over eighty years ago, the class of 1932 graduated.  The list of London University graduates of 1932 has recently been added to the student records webpage,

The student records webpage now includes lists of students covering the period, 1836-1932.

Students on Presentation Day, 1930.

Students on Presentation Day, 1930 (reference UoL/FG/5/2)

Among the students who graduated in 1932 was Solly Zuckerman (1904-1993), later Baron Zuckerman, a British public servant, zoologist, and scientific advisor who is perhaps best known as an advisor to the Allies on bombing strategy in the Second World War.  Solly Zuckerman was appointed Chief Scientific Advisor to the British government in 1964.

Matriculation milestone

A milestone has been reached in the project to transcribe names from the examination registers in the University’s own archive (reference UoL/D/1-). 

There are sixty-six large volumes in total covering the period 1838-1889.  They are all handwritten and comprise details of students, who took a variety of University of London examinations.  Some of this information may well be unique, such as the details of addresses of students in non-census years.  Information like this is gold-dust for genealogists but the registers are of potential interest to a wide variety of researchers. 

Examination register

A nineteenth-century examinations register (reference D3).
Can you spot the world famous figure?

The details of over 7,500 matriculation examination students, covering the years 1867-1875, are now online,

These comprise only a fraction of the total number of students in the volumes but amongst their number were luminaries such as Arthur Conan Doyle and Alexander Graham Bell.   We are very grateful to Laura Wood, Isobel Royce, and Ben Rowlands, who have worked with such skill and dedication on this project.

The University of London at war: Nazi black book et al. on display

The Nazi black book at Senate House Library is a photostatic reproduction of American

Ministry of Information pamphlets

Ministry of Information pamphlets

army microfilm. It is a wartime German list of 3,000 wanted people in Great Britain – Winston Churchill, Noel Coward, Lord Baden-Powell and others whom the German National Socialists intended to arrest when it had conquered Great Britain. Also listed are lists of major British firms, with brief details of their organisational structure and major officers, German firms partly or wholly in British hands, and towns, with their well-known institutions and firms that might be of use to occupiers. This chilling document, given to Senate House Library by the Ministry of Information after the war, was one of several displayed yesterday to accompany a talk given by Dr Karen Attar about the University of London Library during the Second World War, as Senate House Library’s third “Insight” session. Participants leafed through the book with interest after the talk, looking for and finding Vera Brittain among others.

The display also included two bomb-damaged books, their covers shattered and parts of their pages shredded, the oldest book acquired during the war, a 1482 edition of Thomas Aquinas’s Catena Aurea with a beautiful penwork initial, and the most unusual book purchased during the war, a Hebrew translation from 1924 of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. From the University Archive came the diary kept from 1939 to 1943 to record regular activity in the Library (UoL/UL/3/3). The Ministry of Information, which was housed in Senate House during the war and used the Library extensively, gave the Library its publications, and some of its pamphlets on aspects of daily life and on the forces were exhibited.

Swimmers powered by Bovril

All the excitement in the Olympic pool puts us in mind of a nice item in the University Archives: a programme for the third annual swimming championships of the University of London Athletic Union held at Holborn Baths 75 years ago in 1937. The programme included 20 events, comprising individual and team races, diving and water polo. There were also special exhibitions by Miss Olive Bartle, southern counties 220 yards free style champion, and Mostyn Ffrench-Williams, who competed for Great Britain at the 1932 and 1936 Olympic Games.  And what did the competitors take to give them their competitive edge? Bovril. The salty meat extract was supplied to all competitors, and each page of the programme is adorned with a catchy slogan for the product: ‘After a swim – Bovril’; ‘Bovril promotes good health’; ‘Bovril gives strength to win’; ‘Bovril prevents that sinking feeling’. One wonders what the swimming stars of London 2012 would make of being presented with a hot mug on emerging from the pool …

Exams a century ago

The exam season for most students has been and gone this summer.  If you are interested in how London University students fared a century or more ago, why not visit the University of London Student Records webpage?  We have recently added a digitised copy of the University of London Historical Record, 1836-1912 to this page,

Presentation Day, 1930

The Historical Record includes a wealth of detail.  For the first time, researchers can use the student records page to see full class lists.  For instance, George Gissing, the novelist, was listed as being the top student in both Latin and English in the intermediate exams in 1875.  Sadly a scandal involving pilfering from other students ended Gissing’s university career prematurely.  Gissing’s motives were noble – he stole to provide for a penniless street orphan, Nell Harrison.  But the authorities were unforgiving and he was sentenced to hard labour. Gissing was a student at Owens College (a forerunner of the University of Manchester).  The fact that he took University of London exams is an example of the immense geographical influence of the University in the nineteenth century.

‘One of the most wonderful times in the history of England’ continued …

Here is more from Charles Booth’s evocative letter describing Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee celebrations in June 1897. Unpredictable weather seems to be a theme of diamond jubilee pageants …

In the evening we all, except Mary & little Charles (who seemed safer in bed) went out to see the illuminations […] every young man had charge of one of the girls, a very necessary precaution as sometimes the crush was great […] We saw a large part of the show at this side & crossed the river & returned by a second bridge. A beautiful sight with the electric search lights playing about & the dome of St Paul’s gleaming through the darkness […] The quantity of illuminated buildings was astonishing. It was not at all only on the line of procession but everywhere in streets & squares people had shown loyalty in this way […]

The naval review made a grand finish to the whole […] We were invited to be on board the ‘Theseus’, one of the cruisers […] very nearly the centre of the fleet, giving us a glorious view. The day was perfect, & the sun & wind so cleared the air that we could see the whole […] Returning we saw nothing being buried under our umbrellas while everything was obscured also by the most tremendous thunder storm & the heaviest rain […] that I ever was out in. The scene just before we left the ship was most striking as the storm was coming up & the lightening flashing […] we all got very wet & had to discard outer garments & walk about to dry ourselves in the railway station till our train started […]

So ends the jubilee week & this long letter […] I hope what I have written may serve to help to give you some idea of one of the most wonderful times in the history of England […]

I am yours affectionately,
Charles Booth