While higher education may something we generally associate with more recent historical eras, London’s oldest higher educational institution in fact was founded in the dying years of the 16th century.

Thomas-GreshamGresham College was founded in 1597 by Sir Thomas Gresham (pictured, right) – son of Lord Mayor Sir Richard Gresham and the man behind the construction of the Royal Exchange (see our earlier post on Sir Thomas Gresham here) – according to instructions in his will (Sir Thomas died in 1579).

Under the terms of the will, part of his estate was left to the City of London Corporation and the Mercer’s Company and it is these who founded the organisation according to his request and still operate via the Joint Grand Gresham Committee.

According to the will’s terms, the corporation were to appoint professors in divinity, astronomy, geometry and music while the Mercer’s Company were given the responsibility of appointing professors in law, physic and rhetoric (a chair in commerce was added in 1985). There are also currently a number of visiting professorships.

The college – which was founded to provide free public lectures on subjects of scientific interest – is  governed by a council with the Lord Mayor of London as its president.

Sir Thomas’ mansion in Bishopsgate (now the site of what was formerly known as the NatWest Tower) was the college’s first home. Professors, whose salaries were met by rental income from the Royal Exchange, continued giving lectures there until 1768.

Various locations around the city were later used for the college before the opening of a new college building in Gresham Street in 1842. It moved again in 1991 and is now based at Barnard’s Inn Hall in Holborn.

Among the professors who have held chairs at the college are architects Sir Christopher Wren (astronomy) and Robert Hooke (geometry) as well as Richard Chartres, current Bishop of London (divinity).

The college, which doesn’t enrol students as such and doesn’t award degrees, continues to provide more than 100 free public lectures every year and is also involved in running seminars and conferences and other initiatives.

For a detailed history of Gresham College, check out Richard Chartres’ and David Vermont’s book on the college’s history – www.gresham.ac.uk/greshamftp/historygreshm_bk2.pdf. For more on the college and its programme of events, see www.gresham.ac.uk. Lectures are available online.

Where is it? #21

March 16, 2012

The latest in the series in which we ask you to identify where in London this picture was taken and what it’s of. If you think you can identify this picture, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!

Congrats to Jameson Tucker who correctly placed this in the gardens which now occupy the site of the former church of St John Zachary which lie, as Mike Paterson correctly pointed out, near the Goldsmiths’ Hall.

In fact, the gardens, located at the corner of Gresham and Noble Streets in the City (opposite the Goldsmith’s Hall), are also known as the Goldsmith’s Garden and were laid out following bomb damage during the Blitz (the church of St John Zachary had been destroyed in the Great Fire of London and not rebuilt).

The gardens were redesigned in 1957 by landscape architect Sir Peter Shepheard and have been added to and amended over the years since (including by landscape architect Anne Jennings in the mid-Nineties).

The iron arch, which was commissioned by the Blacksmith’s Company and put here in 1994, features the leopard’s head which is the hallmark of the Goldsmiths’ Company Assay Office, the premier hallmark in the UK (the term hallmark dates from the 15th century when London craftsmen were first required to bring their creations to the Goldsmiths’ Hall for verification and marking although the mark of the leopard’s head has been in use since the early 1300s).

For more on the Goldsmiths, see www.thegoldsmiths.co.uk.