Inventory Site Record

University College London, Front Quad (Camden)

Brief Description

University College London (UCL) is the third oldest university in England after Oxford and Cambridge. It was founded in 1826 as the University of London to provide university education without religious bias. The benefactors of the new university purchased the site, once part of the Mortimer estate, and William Wilkins' design was selected following public competition. The main buildings are ranged around the Front Quad, accessed via central entrance gates past the Front Lodge. The neo-Grecian central block was designed by William Wilkins, the south and north wings added in 1869-76 and 1871-81 respectively. The Front Quad is laid out as two lawns either side of a central path, in each an octagonal Observatory with domed lead roof and a number of mature trees.

Practical Information
Previous / Other name:
Gower Gardens
Site location:
Gower Street
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Institutional Grounds
Open to public?
Opening times:
accessible to visitors to UCL and students; has opened for OGSW and London Open House
Took part in Open Garden Squares Weekend in 2009.
Special conditions:
Public transport:
Tube: Euston Square (Metropolitan, Circle, Hammersmith & City), Goodge Street (Northern). Bus: 10, 18, 24, 30, 73, 134, 253
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.ucl.ac.uk

Full Site Description

The site was once owned by Hans Winthrop Mortimer, MP for Shaftesbury from 1774-90 and a property speculator, who purchased arable land here and began to develop his small estate from 1800 with shops and housing. In 1824 the land was purchased from the Mortimer estate by a builder who planned to create a residential square to be called Carmarthen Square, but he was bought out in 1825 by the three benefactors of what would become University College London (UCL) as the site for the new university. UCL, the third oldest university in England after Oxford and Cambridge, was founded in 1826 as the University of London to provide university education without religious bias, and its three benefactors were Catholic, Jewish and Nonconformist. There was some opposition from the clerical establishment, but on 30 April 1827 the Duke of Sussex laid the foundation stone. The architect was William Wilkins who was later to build the National Gallery, selected through a public competition. However his design was not fully carried out and the building took place over a period of time although UCL opened in 1828. Not only was it the first English university to admit students of any race, class or religion, in 1878 it was the first to admit women on equal terms with men.

The main buildings are ranged around a large quadrangle, the Front Quad, off Gower Street, accessed via central entrance gates past the Front Lodge. The magnificent neo-Grecian central block of 1827-9 was designed by Wilkins. The Flaxman Gallery and Library of 1848 were designed by TL Donaldson. The south wing was added 1869-76, and the north wing in 1871-81, both designed by T Hayter Lewis. Later additions include the north-west wing, 1912-13 by F M Simpson, and south-west wing, c.1923 by A E Richardson. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology is housed at the college, and the Slade School of Fine Art occupies the north wing. The Front Quad has two expanses of lawn either side of the central path and a number of mature trees; in each lawn is an octagonal Observatory, each with domed lead roof, dating from c.1804-6.

Within UCL is the preserved body of philosopher Jeremy Bentham, who died in 1832 having bequeathed himself to the university. His ideas on education and on society were influential on a number of the founders of UCL, who included James Mill (1773-1836) and Henry Brougham (1778-1868). The University of London today is now umbrella for c.50 different colleges and institutes across London.

Sources consulted:

OGSW website; F Peter Woodford ed., 'Streets of Bloomsbury & Fitzrovia' (Camden History Society, 1997).

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ295822 (529551,182278)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
University College London
Site management:
University College London
1827 onwards
Listed structures:
LBI: University College and attached railings to north and south wings. LBII: 2 Observatories
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:


Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:
In Conservation Area:
Conservation Area name:
Tree Preservation Order:
To be checked
Nature Conservation Area:
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Yes - Central London Area (Clear Zone Region)
Other LA designation:
Public Open Space, Strategic View - Background Corridor

University College London, Front Quad

University College London, Front Quad, 2006. Photo: S Williams

Click a photo to enlarge.

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