What remains of the Imperial Institute?

impinst - What remains of the Imperial Institute?

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The Imperial Institute as it would have been from this very spot. At least one of the lamps in the modern view is in the same location as in this pic from possibly the early 1900s. See it on Flickr.

The Imperial Institute was a huge group of buildings constructed in the late 19th Century with the aim of representing Britain and her Commonwealth. Despite the grand aspirations, most of it stood empty as its rooms and halls were just too large to use properly. Besides the roofs leaked badly and birds roosted in the building’s lofty rafters, joyously crapping on visitors below….

A nice picture from Getty’s Archive showing the Collcutt designed entrance buildings with cuppola roofs at the north east, north west and south west corners (partially seen) – more of these later.

The Institute’s demolition brought enormous outrage. John Betjeman called the destruction ‘highly improper.’ By the mid sixties it had gone. The Queen’s Tower was the one saving grace. A wry student said of it, ‘as time passes, no doubt we shall come to value the incongruous phallic symbol of bygone Victoriana that Mr. Betjeman has forced into our lap.’ (1)

Despite this ‘incongruous… symbol of bygone Victoriana’  that’s not to say there isn’t anything else left of the Institute besides the tower. There are things that still remain and this is what my post is about.

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Despite ongoing building work, this is still Imperial Institute Road, under a new name of course!

The largest single reminder happens to be Imperial College Road. This wide tree lined approach exists because it was originally built as the approach to the Institute itself and once known as Imperial Institute Road.

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One of the south side Imperial Institute Road lamp posts at the bottom of the Queen’s Tower.

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One of the original Imperial Institute’s lamp posts in the roadway itself.

The lamp posts on either side of Imperial College Road are another reminder. Most are from Institute days and in their original positions – the road has been widened to provide parking spaces  but the posts have not been moved so now stand in the roadway itself.

Look for those that have a square base (like the example above) these are the original lamp posts present when the institute opened. Those with a round base are replacements – some are from the early 20th Century and stamped GR whilst a couple are fairly recent City of Westminster clones.

Some of the other lamps were requisitioned from the south side of Imperial Institute Road and now form part of the embellishments at the base of the Queen’s Tower and the green space about it.

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The Institute’s lions now guard the Queen’s, or Collcutt, Tower. Notice the lamps.

Two of the four lions that once guarded the Institute’s main entrance have been retained and now guard the Queen’s tower.

The Institute’s architect, Thomas Collcutt designed not only the Institute but other buildings that formed an avenue of sumptuous buildings catering for the sciences and nature and there was an element of uniformity on both sides of Imperial Institute Road.

On each corner of this road stood an entrance building with cuppola roofs and wide arched openings. There were four, all practically identical and designed by Collcutt. The ones on the north side were built in 1891 and are evident in many of the old views showing the Imperial Institute. These formed the entrances to the East and West Galleries built back in the 1870s. In the early years of the 20th Century two more of these buildings, on the south side of Imperial Institute Road were built. One still remains adjacent to the former Post Office building and was until recently the Science Museum’s Group entrance. It now belongs to Imperial College.

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The remaining south east corner entrance building with cuppola roof is an adapted Collcutt design.

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Left, the old Post Office, now the Dyson Bldg. Centre (marked red) the Collcutt structure with new glass walkway on top.

Plans for the Dyson Building entails changes to this one still remaining Collcutt building. Neither Imperial College nor Willmott Dion who drew up the plans seem to be saying much of their proposals so I had to dig around. RBKC’s website came to the rescue. This picture extracted from plans submitted to the council and shown above, tells us this unique building left over from Imperial Institute days will be altered by an overhead walkway linking the Dyson building to the college’s other facilities. If you are interested in how things looked hereabouts sixty to a hundred or so years ago, best take photographs this summer before they construct their new glass fronted walkway!

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Three of Imperial Institute Road’s obelisks still remain. The lamps were a later addition. Some of these lamps were used in the restoration of the Queen’s Tower.

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Next to this is the Chemistry Buildings (designed by Sir Aston Webb and opened in 1906.) If one looks at the lamp posts here (mounted on obelisks) these are the same as those that were later on the Imperial Institute itself. Most of the south side of Imperial Institute Road had these obelisks. These (and the one entrance building) are reminders of the grand approach once offered to visitors.

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The remaining section of Henry Cole’s Western Gallery of 1870 built for the Horticultural Gardens.

We have already mentioned the Eastern and Western Galleries 1870. Whilst these were not in any way built for the Imperial Institute, they did form part of the Institute and included on maps showing the complex of buildings. They were around 300 yards long (274m.) The historic galleries were demolished along with the Institute, save a for short length of the Western gallery. This can be seen in Wells Way – largely ignored by those who wish to regale every aspect of London’s history.

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The section of Western Gallery survives because it forms the rear wall to properties in Queen’s Gate.

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Plaque shows layout of Horticultural Gardens & The Galleries with picture of how these looked.

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Rough approximation of the site of the Institute’s entrance with the scene from Titfield Thunderbolt.

Perhaps the most unusual remnant of the Institute is the celebrated scene in the fifties film Titfeld Thunderbolt where the replacement locomotive they ‘kidnap’ is brought out of the building and down the huge flight of steps.

(1) The History of Imperial College London, 1907-2007.

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