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History

Commissioned as the first purpose-built home and central headquarters of the University of London, Senate House welcomed its first occupants in 1936, a century after the University was granted its Charter. It was designed as the centrepiece of architect Charles Holden’s plan for a campus that, in the words of visionary Vice-Chancellor William Beveridge, would be “something that could not have been built by any earlier generation than this… an academic island in swirling tides of traffic, a world of learning in a world of affairs.”

William Beveridge

1926

In 1926 Sir William Beveridge is made Vice Chancellor of the University of London. Determined to make sure the University is known around the world, he convinces the Rockefeller Foundation to donate £400,000 to the building of a new site.

The First Sketch of Senate House

Holden’s first sketch of the new Senate House RIBA Journal 9 May 1938

1931

After making a name for himself with the London Underground stations, Charles Holden is appointed as the University’s official architect in February 1931. Designing Senate House is to be his life’s work.

King George V laying the foundation stone of Senate House

1933

In June 1933 King George V lays the foundation stone for Senate House.

A painting of Senate House

The University of London 1943, by Sir Henry Rushbury RA, presented to Lord Macmillan. Private collection.

1937

Building work on Senate House and the library is completed in 1937.

From its radically unadorned Portland Stone exterior to its classical interiors, the building is celebrated as the epitome of 1930s modernity.

Sir William Beveridge, describes it as ‘something that could not have been built by any earlier generation than this, and can only be at home in London.’

Beveridge Hall during the war

Beveridge Hall became the main press office for the Ministry of Information. From the Henry Heydmann collection: University of London Collection ULC/PC.6/14.

1939

In 1939, Europe is at war, and the University’s Colleges and students are forced into exile. Senate House is taken over by the Ministry of Information – a controversial Government department responsible for subterfuge, censorship and propaganda during the war.

The damage to Senate House Library after the Blitz

Damage to the library following the ‘Blitz’ 7-8th November 1940. University of London Library archive UL12/45

1940

On the night of 7th November 1940 Senate House withstands five brutal attacks from Nazi bombs dropped during the Blitz. Remarkably not a single soul inside was harmed and the defiant building proudly remains upright.

1944

By 1944, University Colleges begin to return to Senate House and students are able to take their exams in the capitol city again. By August the following year the library is reopened to the public. Over the next few decades the number of students doubled and the University’s library continued to build its reputation as one of the finest in the world.

1948

In 1948 George Orwell pens British literature’s greatest dystopian novel Nineteen Eight Four and uses Senate House as the inspiration as the story’s most significant landmark, the Ministry of Truth.

Senate House

1969

In 1969 the Secretary of State officially acknowledges Senate House as a building of great architectural significance and historical interest. It becomes a Grade II* listed heritage site.

1983

Senate House’s art deco interiors, impressive courtyard and exterior make it a Hollywood favourite. After Tony Scott’s The Hunger in 1983 it becomes a regular star on the silver screen and television. You can spot the building in Batman Begins, The Dark Knight Rises, The Theory Of Everything and Dr Who.

Inside Senate House

2006

The University completes a £55 million refurbishment of Senate House in 2006. Transforming the grand halls and original Art Deco rooms into amazing event spaces and installing the latest equipment and facilities to bring the building into 21st century.

Today, Senate House is a destination venue for everyone from business professionals to newly-weds around the world. Hosting some of the biggest events in London as well as intimate meetings and glamorous parties.

Walk through the entrance of Senate House and feel the waves of history wash over you. If you wish to discover this unique power, enquire about hiring Senate House for an event today.

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