Bishopsgate Institute | Attraction Guides | History Hit

Bishopsgate Institute

Bishopsgate, London, England, United Kingdom

Peta Stamper

11 May 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Bishopsgate Institute

The Bishopsgate Institute is a cultural organisation based in the Bishopsgate Without area of central London. Established in 1895, for 126 years the Bishopsgate Institute has offered a community-oriented programme of cultural events, educational courses for adults, and today houses a historic library and LGBTQ archive collection.

Bishopsgate Institute history

The Bishopsgate Institute building was the first of 3 designed by the architect Charles Harrison Townsend. Townsend’s Victorian design reflected elements of the Arts and Crafts movement that reacted against the poverty of decorative arts and influenced the Modern British Art Nouveau style, which Townsend also incorporated into the institute’s facade.

The institute was built using funds that had been donated by the parish of St Boltolph-without-Bishopsgate over a period of 500 years. The funds were drawn together by the Reverend William Rogers, a notable educational reformer and supporter of free libraries and education. Rogers ensured the institute met its original aims: providing a public library, hall and meeting rooms for locals to engage with literature, science and the arts.

The Bishopsgate Institute opened on New Year’s Day in 1895. Between 1897 and 1941, Charles Goss was Bishopgate’s chief librarian. Goss began collecting working-class histories at a time when ‘history from below’ was not considered within mainstream academia.

Bishopsgate Institute today

A free and independent library open every weekday, the Bishopsgate Library exists for public exploration both in person and online. Underneath the library is the Special Collections and Archives that are home to an important historical collection documenting the histories of the labour movement, free thought and protest and campaigning.

The library is also home to the Great Diary Project which has collected over 9,000 unpublished diaries as well as the Lesbian and Gay News media Archive, which holds 350,000 press cuttings alongside 500,000 images, banners, badges, flyers and a growing oral-history collection.

Currently, a particular highlight is the Chris and Betty Birch Archive that documents the couple’s activism, including forming the Mark Ashton Memorial Trust to support those living with HIV. The archive includes personal items and press cuttings as well as the police truncheon Mark Ashton took from an officer.

Getting to Bishopsgate Institute

In the heart of London, Bishopsgate Institute is across the road from Liverpool Street Station which links to many major UK stations. Liverpool Street tube station serves the Central, Circle, Hammersmith and City and Metropolitan lines. Along the A10 Bishopsgate road, you can get TFL buses 8, 11, 26, 42, 78, 135, 205, N8, N11 and N26.