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Bloomsbury Institutions


University College School (UCS)

Also known as Junior School of University College/London University College School/London University School/University of London School

Not to be confused with University School (London High School)


It was founded in 1830 by a group of Proprietors of the University of London (later University College London) in order to prepare classically educated boys at the age of sixteen to go on to attend the University itself

One aim was to boost the numbers of students attending the University, which had opened in November 1828 but was in financial difficulty, having attracted fewer students than had been envisaged: 557 in session 1828–1829, and 596 in session 1829–1830 (UCL Annual Reports, UCL Records Office)

It was also the intention to offer a classical education in a day school, as opposed to a boarding school, so that middle-class London parents could keep their sons at home from the age of eight to sixteen

The principles of the school were to be the same as those of the University; it was to be open to sons of parents of all religions and none, and was to have no religious teaching (Prospectus, 18 October 1830, UCS Correspondence and Papers 1830–1832, A/1/4a, UCL Special Collections)

The idea originated with the Warden of the University, Leonard Horner, who had been one of the founders of the Edinburgh Academy in 1823 (Leonard Horner to James Loch, 19 October 1828, MS Add 131, Loch Papers, UCL Special Collections)

In March 1830 the University Council established a Committee to found the school, consisting of several Proprietors and Council members, including Lord Auckland as Chair, William Bingham Baring, James Loch, James Mill, and Viscount Sandon (Council Minutes, vol. II, 1830–1835, 13 March 1830, UCL Records Office)

Not all members of the University Council were in favour of the scheme, as the University’s finances were fragile and Council was facing complaints from several Professors during 1830 on account of their small salaries and the poor handling of the case of the Professor of Anatomy, Granville Sharp Pattison

The Proprietors who formed the Committee agreed to take the financial risk of the School on themselves; between them they subscribed over £500 to start a temporary school with about 150 boys in a rented house at 16 Gower Street, close to the University, but not in its grounds (Draft Prospectus, 24 June 1830, UCS Correspondence and Papers 1830, A/3/8, UCL Special Collections)

The first Headmaster appointed by the Committee was the Rev. Henry Browne, a 26-year-old graduate of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, who had taught in his father’s school in Norfolk (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

He came with recommendations from Cambridge tutors, clergymen, and a Rear Admiral (papers attached to Draft Prospectus, 24 June 1830, UCS Correspondence and Papers, UCL Special Collections)

The School, then called London University School, opened at 16 Gower Street on 1 November 1830 with 136 pupils aged between eight and fourteen, who were taught Latin, Greek, mathematics, history, geography, English, writing, drawing, and — unusually — German; Browne had visited Bavaria with the Committee’s approval in summer 1830 to observe the school system there (Freeman’s Journal [Dublin], 26 June 1830)

The idea was that if the School succeeded in attracting enough pupils to become financially viable, it would move into the University and come under the direct control of Council

Though the School was a success, bringing much-needed revenue to the University, which took a proportion of the school fees, tensions existed between Browne and some members of Council, who were unhappy that an Anglican clergyman had been appointed to their secular school, and vetoed Browne’s wish to introduce daily prayers to the school curriculum (H. J. K. Usher, C. D. Black-Hawkins, and G. J. Carrick, An Angel without Wings: The History of University College School 1830–1980, 1981)

Browne himself was unsettled by the disagreements in the University over Pattison and by the unseating during 1831 of his supporter, the Warden, Leonard Horner, who left the University in July 1831 (‘London University School’, 5 October 1831, signed by Horner’s successor, Thomas Coates, Secretary to the University, UCS Correspondence and Papers 1831, A/6/27, UCL Special Collections)

Browne resigned in August 1831, while discussions were going on in Council about moving the School into the University’s buildings in order to expand its numbers and connect it more closely to the University

He was succeeded by John Walker, a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, who was already a teacher at the school under Browne (‘London University School’, 5 October 1831, UCS Correspondence and Papers 1831, A/6/27, UCL Special Collections)

Walker lasted only until Christmas 1831; in November the Council learned that he was a declared bankrupt with outstanding debts from his time as a schoolmaster in Kennington (Ipswich Journal, 17 December 1825)

Not only had he not told the appointing committee, but he continued to hold a stake in an educational agency he shared with two notorious bankrupts, the brothers Pike, whose names he had given as sureties when he took over responsibility for the lease on the house at 16 Gower Street (UCS Coates v. Walker 1832, 15 February 1832, A/9/1, UCL Special Collections)

An unhappy correspondence ensued between Walker and Coates, in which Coates explained that since the School was to be brought into the University buildings in January 1832, Council was within its rights to decline to (re)-appoint Walker as headmaster without giving the usual six months’ notice (College Correspondence nos 2233–2554, UCL Special Collections)

Walker, for his part, invoked his rights and refused to leave 16 Gower Street until the lease came up for renewal on Lady Day, 25 March 1832 (John Walker to Thomas Coates, 24 February 1832, UCS Leases and Draft Leases 1831–1832, UCL Special Collections)

In a printed document dated 26 December 1831 Walker appealed to the parents of his pupils to support him, in order “that I may escape the ruinous effects of possible misrepresentation”; he claimed that as the six months’ notice rule had not been observed, he was free to continue his own school at 16 Gower Street, and asked the parents to keep their boys with him

He announced that all the masters intended to continue teaching for him (John Walker to parents, 26 December 1831, UCS Correspondence and Papers 1831, A/6/31, UCL Special Collections)

He could do this because he himself had been given the responsibility of appointing the masters and paying them out of the pupils’ fees, in accordance with the ill-judged arrangement entered into by Council, which hoped thereby to keep the University free from responsibility and expense

To the confusion of parents and the embarrassment of the University, Walker advertised for pupils in The Times in January and February 1832, calling his school “University School” and giving the address as 16 Gower Street (The Times, 24 and 30 January 1832, 13 February 1832)

As Lady Day approached, when his lease on 16 Gower Street would elapse, he advertised, on 12 March 1832, under the heading “University School, 16, Gower-street, Bedford-square”, that “Tavistock House and Grounds, Tavistock-square, having been taken for this Institution, the pupils and present establishment of masters will be transferred thither on Monday, the 19th of March, from which date it will be designated the London High School” (The Times, 12 March 1832)

By 23 April 1832, he was advertising his London High School at Tavistock House (which was to become Charles Dickens’s family home in 1851)

Meanwhile the University’s Professors of Latin and Greek, Thomas Hewitt Key and Henry Malden, stepped in to start the new University of London School inside the University itself, taking the financial risk on themselves (Council Minutes, vol. II, 1830–1835, 23 December 1831, UCL Records Office)

The University of London School, under the joint headmastership of Key and Malden, and with assistant masters swiftly appointed by them, including P. F. Merlet, who already taught French at the University, was soon being advertised (The Times, 24 April 1832)

Because a number of the parents who sent their sons to the original school were Professors, Proprietors, and Council members of the University, their sons transferred to the ‘real’ University of London school, rather than following Walker to Tavistock House

Among them were the sons of Dionysius Lardner (though he himself had resigned his chair in 1831), Anthony Todd Thomson, Andrew Amos, George Birkbeck, Henry Sass, and several members of the Goldsmid family (list of boys leaving the School in the 1830s, UCS Correspondence and Papers, B/1/1, UCL Special Collections)

The German artist George Johann Scharf, who lived in nearby Francis Street (now Torrington Place), sent his sons Henry and George (later Sir George Scharf, Director of the National Portrait Gallery) to the School in its first years (Temple Orme, University College School, London: Alphabetical and Topographical Register for 1831–1898, 1898)

In 1833 George Johann Scharf executed a fine print of the boys playing in the playground to the south of William Wilkins’s University building (UCL Art Collections); he dedicated the print “to the Pupils of the University of London School”

Under the headship of its two prestigious Professors, the school continued to thrive; indeed, it may have been the saviour of the University itself, where student numbers fell below 500 in the years 1832–1835, while the School had 249 pupils in 1833, 284 in 1834, and 302 in 1835 (Annual Reports, UCL Records Office)

When the University changed its name to University College London in 1836, the School was also renamed; it became briefly the Junior School of University College, before being given its final name, University College School, in 1838 (An Angel without Wings: The History of University College School 1830–1980, 1981)

In 1842 it was agreed that Malden would retire from the school to concentrate on his Greek Professorship, while Key gave up the Chair of Latin to become sole head of the School, where he remained until his death in 1875

He was succeeded by Henry Weston Eve, who lived at 37 Gordon Square with his sister, Treasurer of the Froebelian Training College in nearby Tavistock Place Read more about the Eve family

From the 1870s, schools were beginning to move out of central London to gain more space; Charterhouse moved to Godalming in 1872, Christ’s Hospital moved to West Sussex in 1902, and King’s College School resettled to Wimbledon in 1897

In the early years most of the pupils at University College School lived in west central or north London, but it was noted in 1904 that Gower Street itself was not as residential as it had been when the school was founded, and that two-thirds of the boys now came from Hampstead and its surroundings (‘University College School, founded 1830’, 1904, College Collection A16, UCL Special Collections)

The School itself moved to Hampstead in 1907

It continues as a successful independent day school

It remains proud of and committed to its original liberal and tolerant principles

What was reforming about it?

It was the first school to be founded on the same secular principles as the University of London (later University College London); there was no religious teaching, and after the resignation of the first headmaster, Rev. Henry Browne, no clergyman was appointed headmaster

There was also no corporal punishment

Though mainly a classical school, it also taught modern languages, including French and, unusually, German; fencing, gymnastics, and dancing were also on the curriculum

The boys were able to make use of the scientific laboratories and equipment of the University

Where in Bloomsbury

It opened at 16 Gower Street, near the University of London (later University College London)

During the school’s single year in Gower Street, complaints were made by neighbours about the erection of temporary buildings in the garden, which was in breach of the lease

This being land owned by the Duke of Bedford, the Duke’s agent, Christopher Haedy, demanded the removal of these extra buildings

Haedy also insisted on the removal of the brass plate which had been put on the door to advertise the school, as this was also not permitted on Bedford estate property (Green, Pemberton, Crawley, and Gardiner to Leonard Horner, 1 November 1830, 14 and 22 July 1831, 14 September 1831; Green, Pemberton, Crawley, and Gardiner to Thomas Coates, 27 January 1832; UCS Correspondence and Papers 1830–1832, A/5/3, A/6/7, A/6/8, A/6/22, and A/7/4, UCL Special Collections)

In 1832 it was taken into the University, occupying rooms behind the portico and using the large space fronting Gower Street to the south as its playground

When the school moved into the University building, it was no longer subject to the restrictive leases of the Bedford estate

In the 1860s building began on the two wings of University College, which had featured in the original Wilkins design, but for which there had been insufficient money in 1828 when the University was built

The School occupied part of the south wing, which opened in 1869; the north wing opened in 1871 to house the newly founded Slade School of Art

In 1907 the School moved out of Bloomsbury to Hampstead; however, it retains close associations with UCL and its former pupils are still known as “Old Gowers”

Website of current institution

www.ucs.org.uk (opens in new window)

Books about it

Temple Orme, University College School, London: Alphabetical and Chronological Register for 1831–1898: Supplementary to the First Issue 18311891 (1898)

University College School (1830–1930): A Short History (1930)

Register for 1860–1931: With a Short History of the School (1931)

C. D. Black-Hawkins, ‘From Gower Street to Frognal: A Short History of University College School’, Camden History Review, no. 5 (1977)

H. J. K. Usher and others, An Angel without Wings: The History of University College School, 1830–1980 (1981)

Nigel Watson, A Tradition for Freedom: The Story of University College School (2007)

Frederick William Felkin, From Gower Street to Frognal: A Short History of University College School from 1830 to 1907 (1909)

Temple Orme, University College School, London : Alphabetical and Chronological Register for 1831–1891 (1892)

The School also published its own journal, the short-lived London University College School Miscellany (1851 only; issues edited by Thomas Hood), and later a more successful version from 1878, the University College School Magazine, renamed The Gower from 1904 onwards, and subsequently renamed The Frognal

There was also a magazine of the junior school, The Comet (1889–1891)


Most of the early records of the school are held in UCL Special Collections and UCL Records Office

Details of those held in UCL Special Collections, ref. UCLCA/UCS, are available via UCL Special Collections online (opens in new window)

Some items, mainly dating from the later 19th century to the present, are held in the School itself; these are patchy because of a fire in 1978, and are not fully catalogued


This page last modified 14 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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