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Bloomsbury Institutions


Russell Institution for the Promotion of Literary and Scientific Knowledge

Also known as Russell Institution/Russell Literary and Scientific Institution


According to Frederick Miller, its origins lay in the intention of James Burton to build assembly rooms at the beginning of the nineteenth century; he was granted a 98-year lease at £10 per annum ground rent by the Duke of Bedford, including land off the Duke’s Road and other land exchanged by the Foundling Hospital, who could only exchange, not sell, their land (Frederick Miller, St Pancras – Past and Present, 1874)

The Duke inconveniently died in 1802, but the next Duke honoured the deal, and the “Russell Assembly Rooms” opened in 1804 to Burton’s design (Frederick Miller, St Pancras – Past and Present, 1874)

Its balls, billiards, and concerts were, however, a failure, and it was decided to relaunch it as a literary institution, not a circulating library as is sometimes said: Miller distinguishes between these “now so general”, institutions, which were then rare, although circulating libraries were relatively common (Frederick Miller, St Pancras – Past and Present, 1874)

The “Russell Literary and Scientific Institution” was planned at a meeting in 1808, and was a joint stock project, with members including Sir Samuel Romilly, Henry Hallam, Francis Horner, and later John Galt; and Dr Nathaniel Higmore as its first librarian (Frederick Miller, St Pancras – Past and Present, 1874)

Its membership was originally restricted to 500 members, then 700; it had 17000 volumes in its library, and received many gifts of paintings and so on (Frederick Miller, St Pancras – Past and Present, 1874)

Lectures on literary and scientific subjects were delivered there; in 1829 these subjects also included singing (The Times, 18 June 1829)

William Tooke and his son Thomas were both subscribers (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

Edward Wedlake Brayley became its Secretary and Librarian in 1825, and held these positions until he died of cholera at the institution in 1854 (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

The seventh Duke of Bedford was its patron in 1843

It was still operating in 1851, when Charles Richard Weld delivered a lecture there on ‘The Search for Sir John Franklin’; Weld was married to Franklin’s niece (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

It was one of the many institutions to which the eccentric Londoner Phileas Fogg did not belong, in Jules Verne’s novel Round the World in Eighty Days (published in 1873 and set in 1872)

It was also still operating in the 1870s, although seemingly in decline; Miller gives this description of its state:

“The exterior of the building is heavy, and the two pillared porticoes at either end are retained, but the baths to which they were entrances have long been disused, and in their stead wines and spirits are stored. The adjoining house, too, in which formerly resided the chief officer of the institution is now occupied by a wine merchant. The main objects, however, are still maintained. Twenty daily papers, the leading monthly and annual publications are supplied; a whist club meets on Wednesday and Saturday evenings, and the subscribers and proprietors have free admissions to the lectures and musical evenings”

(Frederick Miller, St Pancras – Past and Present, 1874)

It (and the whist club) are still listed in the Post Office directory for 1881, but by 1891 it had disappeared

What was reforming about it?

It attracted some progressive lecturers

Where in Bloomsbury

It occupied the building at no. 55 Great Coram Street which had been built as assembly rooms in 1802 and rebuilt after a fire in 1803 before being sold by James Burton to the Institution

It closed some time between 1881 and 1891

Website of current institution

It no longer exists

Books about it

None found


As a Society, its rules and statutes were filed with Middlesex Sessions of the Peace and copies dating from 1843, 1847, 1849, and 1851 are held in London Metropolitan Archives, ref. MR/SLR/10, MR/SLR/40, MR/SLR/49, and MR/SLR/54; details are available online via Access to Archives (opens in new window)

This page last modified 13 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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