The Royal Institution

The Royal Institution, Albemarle Street, London. Neo-classical façade added by Lewis Vulliamy (1791-1871). 1838; restored 1995. Photograph and text by Jacqueline Banerjee, 2009. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

The Royal Institution goes back to 1799, when it was founded by Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford, for the diffusion of knowledge and particularly the introduction of "useful mechanical inventions" (Weinreb et al. 724). The emphasis has always been on "connecting people with the world of science" ("Mission"). It was granted a Royal Charter in 1800, and Sir Humphry Davy's appointment in the next year soon led to his becoming Professor of Chemistry there in 1802. Michael Faraday became his assistant in 1813, beginning his long association with it. Many other well-known figures were also associated with the RI (as it is abbreviated), including T. H. Huxley and John Haldane. One of its benefactors, who set up the Davy Faraday Research Laboratory there in 1896, was Dr Ludwig Mond.

Vulliamy, a pupil of Robert Smirke, modelled the façade with its giant Corinthian pilasters on the Temple of Antoninus in Rome. It gives unity to the separate houses which make up the institution, and the whole effect is very impressive, even in this narrow congested thoroughfare off Piccadilly. (The congestion is not just a modern phenomenon: David Knight tells us that when Davy himself was there, "the traffic bringing hearers to his lectures was so heavy that Albemarle Street had to be one-way on those nights.") Of Vulliamy, Roger Bowdler writes: "Never regarded among the first rank of architects, he was, with Charles Barry, one of the outstanding practitioners of the Italianate style in early Victorian England." His most famous pupil was Owen Jones.

Related Material


Bowdler, Roger. "Vulliamy, Lewis (1791-1871)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Viewed 19 April 2009.

Knight, David. "Davy, Sir Humphry, baronet (1778-1829)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Viewed 19 April 2009.

"Mission" (on the Royal Institution Website). Viewed 19 April 2009.

Weinreb, Ben, et al., eds. The London Encyclopedia. Third ed. London: Macmillan, 2008.

Last modified 14 September 2009