Imperial College

Queen's Tower

Contract design for the Principal Tower of the Imperial Institute

Detail and contract design for the Principal Tower of the Imperial Institute, 1888
Pen and coloured wash
Architect: Thomas Edward Collcutt (1840-1924)
Copyright: RIBA Library Drawings & Archives Collections

This is the contract design for the one surviving part of the Imperial Institute, the Queen's Tower. As a contract drawing it's signed and dated not only by Collcutt, but also by the building contractors, Messrs. Mowlem. It is also very detailed, with an elevation, section, details and plans at various levels.

The 287 feet/87 metre tall tower is clad in Portland stone, with a few characteristic Collcutt stripy brick courses, and a copper dome at the top. With a viewing gallery where in good conditions you can see for 20 miles, it has dominated the South Kensington skyline ever since its completion in 1893.

Threats and preservation

Fondness for the tower was such that when it was proposed to demolish the Imperial Institute in the 1950s, the tower alone was saved. After the demolition of its surrounding, supporting buildings, the tower had to be reinforced with a new base and foundations. This exercise was carried out partly by the same people who straightened the leaning tower of Pisa.

Special occasions

The tower is today closed to visitors, but it can still be admired within the grounds of Imperial College. The Alexandra Peal of bells, a collection of ten bells in its belfry and all named after members of the royal family, can be heard on royal anniversaries and Imperial College Graduation Days. Two of the majestic stone lions which sat either side of the entrance to the Imperial Institute can now be seen at the base of the tower, (the other two were moved to the institute's successor, the Commonwealth Institute).