King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
In the Beginning ...


General Literature and Science

page from the King's College Calendar 1833-1834 listing courses offered each weekday and their times, including botany, chemistry, medicine, literature, languages et cetraTimetable: courses for first term 1833-1834Arts and science students pursued a compulsory core or general body of instruction in divinity, provided by the Principal in the College chapel, classical languages, mathematics and English literature and history, supplemented by optional classes in law, political economy, geology, zoology, natural philosophy and modern languages.

Daily schedules - every weekday and Saturday - normally consisted of mandatory chapel attendance at 10 am, compulsory classes in the morning session and optional courses during the afternoon.

Scholarships, usually of between £20 and £30, were endowed to help a small number of poorer or more promising students, 'subject to forfeiture for misconduct'. Similarly, a series of prizes were set up to reward outstanding students with the annual distribution of prizes becoming a highlight of the College year.

Course content

The content of courses was described in outline each year in press advertisements, a calendar and in printed syllabuses that were dispatched to prospective students and other interested parties upon request.

The science of timetabling remained to be perfected. In practice, some courses, particularly medical lectures, clashed with chapel attendance and other commitments. Instruction was via lectures, practical science in the College's laboratories and via attendance upon its growing botanical, anatomical and museum collections.

The College also possessed many useful contacts in the commercial world as typically its staff often undertook private teaching work or acted as consultants for industry. Charles Bloxam, Professor of Chemistry at King's, for example, also lectured at the Royal Military Academy and Royal Artillery College at Woolwich.

Similarly, Charles Wheatstone, John Daniell and William Dyce all pursued careers in industry or acted on behalf of the Board of Trade on matters of regulation, reform of education or in providing expert opinion.

It was via such contacts that student visits were organised to provide first hand experience of the latest manufacturing and other techniques: an example being the trip to the Woolwich Rope Works in 1841.

Broadening the curriculum

The curriculum quickly broadened to encompass greater variety, most notably with engineering in 1838, theology as a vocational subject in 1846 and evening classes in 1849. A short lived military department, the forerunner of the modern Department of War Studies, was created in 1848, teaching strategy, tactics and fortification.

The study of electromagnetism and chemistry were very important at King's. Its physics laboratories, which were later renamed after Sir Charles Wheatstone in the 1870s, were the first of their kind in an English university and predated Cambridge's Cavendish laboratories by more than a generation.

The Engineering Department was also one of the earliest in the country and quickly attained great distinction. Its cutting edge syllabus included mechanics, electricity, surveying, architecture and manufacturing art. Students made use of a well-equipped workshop and the student Engineering Society featured discussion papers on subjects as diverse as the geology of the Niagara Falls, rail and electrical developments.

The lectureship in photography was the first such Higher Education post. In addition to mainstream classes, optional lessons were also available in subjects such as oriental languages, landscape drawing and even fencing.

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