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Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury and the Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury People

What is the Bloomsbury Project?

The Leverhulme-funded UCL Bloomsbury Project was established to investigate 19th-century Bloomsbury’s development from swampy rubbish-dump to centre of intellectual life

Led by Professor Rosemary Ashton, with Dr Deborah Colville as Researcher, the Project has traced the origins, Bloomsbury locations, and reforming significance of hundreds of progressive and innovative institutions

Many of the extensive archival resources relating to these institutions have also been identified and examined by the Project, and Bloomsbury’s developing streets and squares have been mapped and described

This website is a gateway to the information gathered and edited by Project members during the Project’s lifetime, 1 October 2007–30 April 2011, with the co-operation of Bloomsbury’s institutions, societies, and local residents

Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832)

a summary of his Bloomsbury connections

He was the great Utilitarian philosopher and legal reformer, inventor of the Panopticon idea for prisons, schools, factories, and hospitals (according to which such communal buildings would be built on a circular plan, with the warders, teachers, managers, and nurses placed at the centre so as to be able to monitor the activities of their charges), and supporter of free education without religious instruction or corporal punishment

He has often been thought to be the founder of the University of London (later University College London), and with these beliefs Bentham might certainly claim to be the spiritual father of the new institution

Many of the chief founders, including James Mill and Henry Brougham, were his disciples, friends, and colleagues

Though Bentham’s principles were those embraced in the establishment of the University, and he was a financial supporter of it, by 1825 he was in his late seventies and a recluse in his Westminster home, playing little or no part in campaigning

The idea of Bentham as founder was revived, or perpetuated, in 1922, by the large painting by Henry Tonks, then Professor of Fine Art at the Slade School in University College London, showing the architect, William Wilkins, offering his plans of the university for the approval of the towering figure of Bentham, with the building under construction in the background (Negley Harte and John North, The World of UCL 1828–1990, 1991)

In this and other ways Bentham’s presence was, and is, felt in University College; in 1850 his friend Thomas Southwood Smith, who, in accordance with Bentham’s will, had arranged for the dissection and preservation of Bentham’s body on his death in 1832, presented the body, dressed in Bentham’s own clothes and sitting in a glass box, to the College

The auto-icon, as it is known, is still displayed in the main Wilkins building of University College London

Another material legacy is the huge collection of Bentham’s books and papers, donated to the university from the 1830s on, the latter still being edited by a team of scholars at University College Find out more about the Bentham manuscripts in UCL Special Collections (opens in new window) or about the Bentham Project (opens in new window)

For more information about Jeremy Bentham and UCL, see www.ucl.ac.uk/about-ucl/history/bentham (opens in new window)

Note that Bentham did not (as is often thought) live in Bloomsbury; he lived at Queen’s Square Place, Westminster, not Queen Square Place, Bloomsbury

For more general biographical information about Jeremy Bentham, see his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

This page last modified 7 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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