King's College, so named to indicate the patronage of King George IV, was founded in 1829 in response to the theological controversy surrounding the founding of "London University" (which later became University College, London) in 1826. London University was founded, with the backing of Utilitarians, Jews and Nonconformists, as a secular institution, intended to educate "the youth of our middling rich people between the ages of 15 or 16 and 20 or later" giving its nickname, "the godless college in Gower Street".
The need for such an institution was a result of the religious and social nature of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, which then educated solely the sons of wealthy Anglicans. The secular nature of London University was disapproved by The Establishment, indeed, "the storms of opposition which raged around it threatened to crush every spark of vital energy which remained". Thus, the creation of a rival institution represented a Tory response to reassert the educational values of The Establishment. More widely, King's was one of the first of a series of institutions which came about in the early nineteenth century as a result of the Industrial Revolution and great social changes in England following the Napoleonic Wars. By virtue of its foundation King's has enjoyed the patronage of the monarch, the Archbishop of Canterbury as its visitor and during the nineteenth century counted among its official governors the Lord Chancellor, Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Mayor of London.
King's College London in 1831, as engraved by J. C. Carter
Duel in Battersea Fields, 21 March 1829
The simultaneous support of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (who was also Prime Minister of the United Kingdom then), for an Anglican King's College London and the Roman Catholic Relief Act, which was to lead to the granting of almost full civil rights to Catholics, was challenged by George Finch-Hatton, 10th Earl of Winchilsea, in early 1829. Winchilsea and his supporters wished for King's to be subject to the Test Acts, like the universities of Oxford, where only members of the Church of England could matriculate, and Cambridge, where non-Anglicans could matriculate but not graduate, but this was not Wellington's intent.
Winchilsea and about 150 other contributors withdrew their support of King's College London in response to Wellington's support of Catholic emancipation. In a letter to Wellington he accused the Duke to have in mind "insidious designs for the infringement of our liberty and the introduction of Popery into every department of the State". The letter provoked a furious exchange of correspondence and Wellington accused Winchilsea of imputing him with "disgraceful and criminal motives" in setting up King's College London. When Winchilsea refused to retract the remarks, Wellington – by his own admission, "no advocate of duelling" and a virgin duellist – demanded satisfaction in a contest of arms: "I now call upon your lordship to give me that satisfaction for your conduct which a gentleman has a right to require, and which a gentleman never refuses to give."
The result was a duel in Battersea Fields on 21 March 1829. Winchilsea did not fire, a plan he and his second almost certainly decided upon before the duel; Wellington took aim and fired wide to the right. Accounts differ as to whether Wellington missed on purpose. Wellington, noted for his poor aim, claimed he did, other reports more sympathetic to Winchilsea claimed he had aimed to kill. Honour was saved and Winchilsea wrote Wellington an apology. "Duel Day" is still celebrated on the first Thursday after 21 March every year, marked by various events throughout King's, including reenactments.
(1831–36), the first Principal of King's College London
King's opened in October 1831 with the cleric William Otter appointed as first principal and lecturer in divinity. The Archbishop of Canterbury presided over the opening ceremony, in which a sermon was given in the chapel by Charles James Blomfield, the Bishop of London, on the subject of combining religious instruction with intellectual culture. Despite the attempts to make King's Anglican-only, the initial prospectus permitted, "nonconformists of all sorts to enter the college freely". William Howley: the governors and the professors, except the linguists, had to be members of the Church of England but the students did not, though attendance at chapel was compulsory.
King's was divided into a senior department and a junior department, also known as King's College School, which was originally situated in the basement of the Strand Campus. The Junior department started with 85 pupils and only three teachers, but quickly grew to 500 by 1841, outgrowing its facilities and leading it to relocate to Wimbledon in 1897 where it remains today, though it is no longer associated with King's College London. Within the Senior department teaching was divided into three courses: a general course comprised divinity, classical languages, mathematics, English literature and history; a medical course; and miscellaneous subjects, such as law, political economy and modern languages, which were not related to any systematic course of study at the time and depended for their continuance on the supply of occasional students. In 1833 the general course was reorganised leading to the award of the Associate of King's College (AKC), the first qualification issued by King's. The course, which concerns questions of ethics and theology, is still awarded today to students and staff who take an optional three-year course alongside their studies.
The river frontage was completed in April 1835 at a cost of £7,100, its completion a condition of King's College London securing the site from the Crown. Unlike those in the school, student numbers in the Senior department remained almost stationary during King's first five years of existence. During this time the medical school was blighted by inefficiency and the divided loyalties of the staff leading to a steady decline in attendance. One of the most important appointments was that of Charles Wheatstone as professor of Experimental Philosophy.
At this time neither King's, "London University", nor the medical schools at the London hospitals could confer degrees. In 1835 the government announced that it would establish an examining board to grant degrees, with "London University" and King's both becoming affiliated colleges. This became the University of London in 1836, the former "London University" becoming University College, London (UCL). The first University of London degrees were awarded to King's College London students in 1839.
In 1840, King's opened its own hospital on Portugal Street near Lincoln's Inn Fields, an area composed of overcrowded rookeries characterised by poverty and disease. The governance of King's College Hospital was later transferred to the corporation of the hospital established by the King's College Hospital Act 1851. The hospital moved to new premises in Denmark Hill, Camberwell in 1913. The appointment in 1877 of Joseph Lister as professor of clinical surgery greatly benefited the medical school, and the introduction of Lister's antiseptic surgical methods gained the hospital an international reputation.
In 1845 King's established a Military Department to train officers for the Army and the British East India Company, and in 1846 a Theological Department to train Anglican priests. In 1855, King's pioneered evening classes in London; that King's granted students at the evening classes certificates of college attendance to enable them to sit University of London degree exams was cited as an example of the worthlessness of these certificates in the decision by the University of London to end the affiliated colleges system in 1858 and open their examinations to everyone.
In 1882 the King's College London Act amended the constitution. The act removed the proprietorial nature of King's, changing the name of the corporation from "The Governors and Proprietors of King's College, London" to "King's College London" and annulling the 1829 charter (although King's remained incorporated under that charter). The act also changed King's College London from a (technically) for-profit corporation to a non-profit one (no dividends had ever been paid in over 50 years of operation) and extended the objects of King's to include the education of women. The Ladies' Department of King's College London was opened in Kensington Square in 1885, which later in 1902 became King's College Women's Department.
The King's College London Act 1903, abolished all remaining religious tests for staff, except within the Theological department. In 1910, King's was (with the exception of the Theological department) merged into the University of London under the King's College London (Transfer) Act 1908, losing its legal independence.
During World War I the medical school was opened to women for the first time. The end of the war saw an influx of students, which strained existing facilities to the point where some classes were held in the Principal's house.
In World War II, the buildings of King's College London were used by the Auxiliary Fire Service with a number of King's staff, mainly those then known as college servants, serving as firewatchers. Parts of the Strand building, the quadrangle, and the roof of apse and stained glass windows of the chapel suffered bomb damage in the Blitz. During the post-war reconstruction, the vaults beneath the quadrangle were replaced by a two-storey laboratory, which opened in 1952, for the departments of Physics and Civil and Electrical Engineering.
One of the most famous pieces of scientific research performed at King's were the crucial contributions to the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA in 1953 by Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin, together with Raymond Gosling, Alex Stokes, Herbert Wilson and other colleagues at the Randall Division of Cell and Molecular Biophysics at King's.
Major reconstruction of King's began in 1966 following the publication of the Robbins Report on Higher Education. A new block facing the Strand designed by E. D. Jefferiss Mathews was opened in 1972. In 1980 King's regained its legal independence under a new Royal Charter. In 1993 King's, along with other large University of London colleges, gained direct access to government funding (which had previously been through the university) and the right to confer University of London degrees itself. This contributed to King's and the other large colleges being regarded as de facto universities in their own right.
King's College London underwent several mergers with other institutions in the late 20th century. These including the reincorporation in 1983 of the King's College School of Medicine and Dentistry, which had become independent of King's College Hospital at the foundation of the National Health Service in 1948, mergers with
Queen Elizabeth College and Chelsea College of Science and Technology in 1985, and the Institute of Psychiatry in 1997. In 1998 the United Medical and Dental Schools of Guy's and St Thomas' Hospitals merged with King's to form the King's College London GKT School of Medical Education. Also in 1998 Florence Nightingale's original training school for nurses merged with the King's Department of Nursing Studies as the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery. The same year King's acquired the former Public Record Office building on Chancery Lane and converted it at a cost of £35 million into the Maughan Library, which opened in 2002.
2001 to present
In July 2006, King's College London was granted degree-awarding powers in its own right, as opposed to through the University of London, by the Privy Council. This power remained unexercised until 2007, when King's announced that all students starting courses from September 2007 onwards would be awarded degrees conferred by King's itself, rather than by the University of London. The new certificates however still make reference to the fact that King's is a constituent college of the University of London. All current students with at least one year of study remaining were in August 2007 offered the option of choosing to be awarded a University of London degree or a King's degree. The first King's degrees were awarded in summer 2008.
In April 2011 King's became a founding partner in the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation, subsequently renamed the Francis Crick Institute, committing £40 million to the project. The Chemistry department was reopened in 2011 following its closure in 2003. In February 2012, Her Majesty The Queen officially opened Somerset House East Wing.
In September 2014 King's College London opened King's College London Mathematics School, a free school sixth form located in Lambeth that specialises in mathematics. In October 2014, Ed Byrne replaced Rick Trainor as Principal of King's College London, the latter having served for 10 years. In December 2014, King's announced its plans to rebrand its name to 'King's London'. It was emphasised that there were no plans to change the legal name of King's, and that the name 'King's London' was designed to promote King's and to highlight the fact that King's is a university in its own right. King's announced that the rebranding plans had been dropped in January 2015.
On 10 March 2015, King's acquired a 50-year lease for the Aldwych Quarter site incorporating the historic grand Bush House building. It began occupation of the Bush House Building in September 2016 and will occupy the adjacent King House and Strand House from 2017 and Melbourne House from 2025. In October 2016, King's announced it had also taken a separate 50-year lease on the North-West Block of the Aldwych Quarter which it will incorporate from 2018.