Walking through Birkbeck history

Tim Spring, Senior Library Assistant (Acquisitions and Metadata), writes:

Birkbeck Library has an amazing image collection and I’ve always been intrigued by the people and places in these photos. Within the ‘Birkbeck History’ collection there is a set of photos taken of the family mausoleum of George Birkbeck, located in Kensal Green Cemetery. I don’t live too far from there, so a few months ago I decided to go explore and see if I could find it myself.

Photo of the Birkbeck mausoleum. A grand stone building with greek style pillars wither side and a pitched roof, also in stone.

Discovering the Birkbeck mausoleum made me wonder how many other places in London have a link to the College. I started off with some notable Birkbeckians, and very quickly found out that most of them have a blue plaque somewhere in London. I also started to learn about the history of the College, and it turns out that Birkbeck’s influence can be seen all over London.

This year Birkbeck is celebrating 100 years as a member of the University of London. In the Library we have a small group working on projects for this occasion and it was here that we came up with the idea of creating walking tours of Birkbeck history in London.

The first tour is an exploration of Birkbeck buildings, from the site the College was founded at through to our current location. This walk takes you all over central London, starting at the Strand, then heading towards the Barbican, and eventually ends up at the main Birkbeck building on Torrington Square.

Hand drawn image of the original location of the London Mechanics Institute.

The other two walks will take you past the homes of notable Birkbeckians. Some of the more famous figures on these walks include Rosalind Franklin and T. S. Eliot, but there are many other interesting people that passed through Birkbeck’s door over the years, such as Professor Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan, pictured below. My hope is that these tours will get you to enjoy going for a walk in London whilst also discovering more about the history of Birkbeck. We are a unique institution with a rich past and I think a lot of people would be surprised by what they learn about the College and all the interesting people who have helped make it what it is.

Image of Professor Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan teaching in her Botany laboratory in 1923.