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The history of Birkbeck

On the evening of 11 November 1823, around 2000 people flocked to the Crown and Anchor Tavern on the Strand to witness Dr George Birkbeck and his supporters, including Jeremy Bentham, JC Hobhouse MP and H Brougham MP, discuss education for the working men of London. From this grew the London Mechanics’ Institute, dedicated to the education of working people, formally created on 2 December at the same location.

This foundation meant that, for the first time, artisans and craftsmen could learn about science, art and economics – a concept so controversial that Dr Birkbeck was accused of 'scattering the seeds of evil'. Undeterred, Dr Birkbeck called his supporters to action: 'Now is the time for the universal benefits of the blessings of knowledge.' Many donors were convinced by the important mission and enough money was raised to open the College and push forward a radical new vision. Seven years later, the Institution took a further radical step by becoming one of the first colleges to admit women as students.

By 1858, Birkbeck was the first choice for students who wanted a university education but who could not afford to study full-time. This role was formalised in 1920, when Birkbeck officially became part of the University of London.

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Attention, alumni

If you would like to share your memories of your time at Birkbeck, please get in touch with our alumni team, who will be happy to hear from you.

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