Imperial College

Royal College of Science

Photograph of the Royal College of Science from 1900

Exterior of Royal College of Science, c. 1900
Photographer: Bedford Lemere & Co.
Architect: Sir Aston Webb (1849-1930)
Copyright: RIBA Library Photographs Collection 

This elegant, peaceful street is almost unrecognisable as Imperial College Road (then called Imperial Institute Road). The imposing building is the Royal College of Science (RCS), which was demolished in two stages in the early 1960s and 1970s.

A very small section of the building remains today, sandwiched between the Post Office building and the Sir Alexander Fleming Building on the south side of Imperial College Road. The building remnant is recognisable by its bold stripy brick courses, as seen at the left end of the photograph. Some of the obelisk street lamps which run along the imposing frontage also survive today.

Origins of the college

The college was first founded in 1881 as the Normal School of Science, with Thomas Henry Huxley as the first dean. It later gained the royal title, and over the next 20 years the college grew considerably, along with its neighbouring institution the Royal School of Mines.

The RCS building and Aston Webb

As both colleges developed they outgrew the building they occupied in Exhibition Road (now the Henry Cole Wing of the Victoria and Albert Museum) and new premises were required. The architect Sir Aston Webb was employed to design the new buildings.

Webb began with the new RCS. In 1898 the 1851 Commission offered land opposite the Imperial Institute, valued at £100,000 if government funding was made available for construction of the building. It was, and between 1900 and 1906 Webb built a large Classical structure, complete with new modern well-equipped laboratories.

The RCS was undertaken at the pinnacle of Webb's career. Around this time he was also working on the main front of the V&A (proposal for both can be seen in his site plan of 1898), the Royal School of Mines, and Admiralty Arch on Trafalgar Square. Between 1902 and 1904 Webb was President of the RIBA, received a knighthood in 1904, and became a Royal Gold Medallist in 1905.