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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

Henry Brougham, later first Baron Brougham and Vaux (1778–1868)

a summary of his Bloomsbury connections

Henry Brougham, from 1830 Baron Brougham and Vaux, was the most famous orator of his day, and one of many Scots involved in the foundation of the University of London (later University College London)

Though he did not live in Bloomsbury, he was probably the most influential figure in the development of the area as an intellectual centre in the nineteenth century

Brougham was the most prominent founder member of the University of London (later University College London) and of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, which was associated with the University and had its offices in Bedford Square for some years

Born in Edinburgh, he was a brilliant law student at the University there in the 1790s, and in 1802 helped to found the Whig Edinburgh Review, for which he wrote hundreds of articles advocating educational and legal reform over the next thirty years

A flamboyant performer in the courtroom, he defended liberals and radicals accused of seditious libel, and was most celebrated for his successful defence of Queen Caroline at her ‘trial’ in the House of Lords in 1820, thwarting her estranged husband who wished to stop her attending his coronation as George IV

Brougham was also famous for giving in 1828 the longest speech ever made in Parliament; it was on law reform, and lasted more than six hours

Brougham’s coat of arms
(By kind permission of the
Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn)

His influence with the Edinburgh Review and The Times, whose editor Thomas Barnes was a close friend, ensured that his doings were always given wide coverage

The Times was especially sympathetic to the founding of the University of London in 1825

Brougham was the most energetic of the University’s founders, hosting early meetings in his chambers in Lincoln’s Inn, and acting as Chairman of Council and President of the University until his death in 1868 (H. Hale Bellot, University College London 1826–1926, 1929)

He was depicted in cartoons and satirical poems using his influence in Whig and radical circles and among supporters of educational reform to drum up support by selling shares in the new metropolitan university being built in Gower Street

In July 1825, soon after the plan for the University had been announced in the press, Robert Cruikshank published ‘The Political Toy-Man’, a caricature of Brougham, dressed in his lawyer’s wig and gown, hawking shares round Lincoln’s Inn for the “London College”, an elaborate architectural model of which he carries on his head (Negley Harte and John North, The World of UCL 1828–1990, 1991)

The Tory newspaper John Bull was a tireless attacker of the new university because of its radical and secular principles; it satirised Brougham as the leading salesman of “the Joint-Stock Cockney Learning Company”

On 20 April 1828, a few months before the University opened, John Bull published a poem called ‘The London University; or Stinkomalee Triumphans’ (the same newspaper had christened the University Stinkomalee on 26 December 1825 on account of its swampy site at the top of Gower Street)

Echoing a famous political poem by George Canning and other Tories published in the Anti-Jacobin Review in 1798, the John Bull author, the Rev. Richard Harris Barham (known by the pseudonym Thomas Ingoldsby), passes the University’s founders and supporters in review, pretending that each is going to be a Professor there

The poem reaches its climax in the last verse:

To crown the whole with triple queue,
Another such there’s not in town,
Twitching his restless nose askew,
Behold tremendous Harry Brough-
am ! Law Professor at the U-
niversity we’ve Got in town
niversity we’ve Got in town

(John Bull, 20 April 1828)

Brougham was a gift to satirists both verbal and visual; his name, being pronounced ‘broom’, meant that he could be depicted as the new broom which sweeps clean or the broom hanging outside a shop indicating that something within is for sale, and as he happened to be tall and thin with an elongated nose, many a caricature portrayed him as a broom wearing a wig and gown and sticking his nose in everyone’s business (M. Dorothy George, Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum, vols X and XI, 1952 and 1954)

Lord Brougham wearing his famous checked trousers: portrait believed to be by Spiridione Gambardella
(By kind permission of Senate House, University of London)

He combined a dazzling number of careers: reforming MP in the debates leading to the passing of the Reform Act of 1832, Lord Chancellor in the Whig administration of 1830–1834, principal actor in the affairs of the University of London, leading light and chief writer on popular science for the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, eloquent barrister on the northern circuit, spokesman in Parliament for the extension of education and inventor of the much-quoted catchphrase “the schoolmaster is abroad” (The Times, 30 January 1828), and from 1825 Lord Rector of the University of Glasgow

As Walter Bagehot (a star student at University College London in the 1840s) wrote in his survey of Brougham’s career in 1857, he was a “restless genius” who could plead a case in court, drive to the hustings and make electoral speeches, pen an article for the Edinburgh Review or an address to his Glasgow students, all in the course of a single day (Walter Bagehot, Biographical Studies, 1881)

Brougham’s activity on behalf of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge was as energetic as his efforts for University College London

The Society was founded in 1826 to bring instruction to a mass and as yet largely uneducated public by publishing cheap, informative works on modern subjects, especially science and technology

Brougham wrote the Society’s introductory publication, the first of its sixpenny treatises, in 1827; by 1833 it had achieved a sale of 42,000 (Monica Grobel, ‘The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge 1826–1846’, unpub. MA thesis, University of London, 1933)

Entitled A Discourse of the Objects, Advantages, and Pleasures of Science, it offers a brisk survey of mathematics, natural philosophy, the solar system, electricity, and – topically – the workings of the steam engine

After a breathtaking run through the whole of science, Brougham ends on an optimistic note, extolling the “solid benefits” of science in making our everyday lives both “more agreeable” and morally better

The treatise was well received on the whole, though Professors of Mathematics quibbled with the maths, and Brougham drew an immediate response from the caricaturist William Heath in the form of a pamphlet called Blunders of a Big-Wig; or Paul Pry’s Peeps into the Sixpenny Sciences (1827), Paul Pry being Heath’s pseudonym

Even Brougham’s eccentricities and affectations could start a fashion

He often wore black and white chequered trousers, which became known as ‘broughams’ and which an unlikely later friend of his, William Gladstone, took to wearing (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

A type of small, closed, one-horse carriage was also named after him; built to his design in 1838 by carriage builders Robinson & Cook of Mount Street, the brougham became universally used in both Britain and Europe, and the original model is in the Science Museum in London

Brougham was a divisive figure, not fully trusted by either his Whig or radical colleagues in Parliament, where he made enemies by his vehemence and satire and where he was seen to be an inveterate promoter of himself and seeker of high office

He was fickle and inclined to fits of depression, and his ubiquity in the cartoons of the day – after the founding of Punch in 1841, Brougham featured in almost every number, depicted as madly ambitious and always wearing his checked trousers – led some colleagues to think him an embarrassment rather than an asset to all the reforming causes he espoused

G. Vivian Poore, Professor of Medical Jurisprudence and Clinical Medicine at University College London, reviewed the University’s history in an oration in June 1897, in which he regretted Brougham’s notoriety and untrustworthiness but gave him credit for the use to which he put his energy and intelligence on behalf of the institution in its difficult early days

He was a “violent man”, wrote Poore, and greatly self-interested, but he was “first President and whipper-in of the first Council” and “gave motive force to this machine” (‘The History of University College,’ 14 Jun 1897, College Collection A20 POO, UCL Special Collections)

Brougham was a man of breathtaking talents, which he used to powerful effect in the cause of legal, political, and educational reform, his main achievement being his vital role in forcing through, against financial difficulty and opposition from political and religious antagonists, the fledgling University of London

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

This page last modified 13 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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