Imperial College

Decline of the institute

Entrance hall of Imperial Institute in April 1962

Entrance hall of Imperial Institute, April 1962
Photographer: Herbert Felton
Architect: Thomas Edward Collcutt (1840-1924)
Copyright: Reproduced by permission of English Heritage. NMR 

The purpose of the Imperial Institute was to research resources and raw materials of the Empire, promote interests of overseas territories in the United Kingdom, and provide a meeting place for overseas visitors. The new building therefore included reference libraries, laboratories, exhibition galleries, and conference rooms.

Many of these rooms were decorated in an elaborate and ornate fashion, often reflecting the different countries of the empire: the India Room, the Canadian and Australian Conference Rooms. The entrance hall and grand staircase were particularly impressive, with moulded and painted ceilings.

Decline and demolition

The Imperial Institute never found great success, and as early as 1899 the University of London took over half the building as administrative offices. The university stayed until 1936, when they moved to Bloomsbury. The building then experienced numerous different occupants until its demolition was proposed in 1956. This was to allow for the expansion of Imperial College, a scientific institution which had evolved piecemeal around the Institute.

There was considerable opposition to the proposed demolition of the Imperial Institute, including not only the Royal Fine Arts Commission and other bodies, but also members of the general public. As a result of the protest it was decided to retain the central 'Queen's tower' but by 1962 the rest of the building was gone.

The photograph

This photograph shows the entrance hall in 1962, shortly before its demolition. In the far right corner stands a marble statue of Queen Victoria. Commissioned by London University in 1888 to mark the Golden Jubilee, it remained in the building throughout its life. It now stands in the entrance hall to the Imperial College Business School.