Wilkins Building | Attraction Guides | History Hit

Wilkins Building

London, England, United Kingdom

Sarah Roller

13 May 2021
Image Credit: LillaSam / Shutterstock

About Wilkins Building

The Wilkins Building is part of University College London, and houses the university’s main library underneath its octagon dome.

History of the Wilkins Building

University College London (known as UCL), was founded in February 1826 as London University – it was widely seen as an Anglican alternative to the existing universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Many regard the philosopher Jeremy Bentham as the ‘spiritual father’ of UCL – his radical ideas on educational reform and critiques of society and establishment were certainly an inspiration to the university’s founders.

The Wilkins Building was designed by the architect William Wilkins in 1827 – originally designed to be much larger, funds began to run dry and Wilkins’ original plans were only completed in the late 20th century. It encompasses the Main Library, Flaxman Gallery, Cloisters and Dome. The classical, temple-esqe façade was typical of the neo-Classical architecture of the time, and remains somewhat iconic.

In 1836, the university was formally incorporated into the wider University of London as University College – King’s College was the other member. In 1878, the University of London became the first university (along with the University of Bristol) to be allowed to award degrees to women – although they were not permitted to study medicine until the First World War.

The university was heavily bombed during the Second World War – its central location meant it was a target for the Luftwaffe – and almost all of the departments and faculties were relocated elsewhere in the UK. Throughout the 20th century, it continued to develop and now has departments dedicated to specialist and cutting edge research of all kinds. It remains a world-class university producing pioneering research.

The Wilkins Building today

The Wilkins Building is open to visitors who wish to visit the Main LIbrary or UCL’s art museum, which has a collection of prints and drawings by Old Masters, including Dürer, Rembrandt, Turner and Constable, as well as graduates of the Slade School of Art (an extension of UCL), including works by Paula Rego and Jenny Saville. The 19th century sculptures of John Flaxman can be visited in the dedicated Flaxman Museum. There’s a small shop on site and plenty of cafes in the vicinity.

Getting to the Wilkins Building

UCL is located in Bloomsbury, in the heart of central London. The nearest tube stations are Euston Square (Metropolitan, Circle, Hammersmith & City) & Goodge Street (Northern Line), and buses 18, 30, 73, 134 and 205 stop 1 minute away on the Euston Road.