1. KCL vs UCL - Mascot Wars
The KCL vs UCL feud actually started before the foundation of King’s, and has continued throughout the history of both colleges, taking mostly the form of Varsity these days. Relations between the two universities were not always as civil as they are today, and 1922 saw the start of the mascot war which would last several decades (with intermissions). The war saw KCL mascot Reggie kidnapped several times, often missing for years to be found in ditches heavily damaged. UCL mascot Phineas also had its share of kidnappings and disappearances. The most morbid episode is without a doubt when KCL students stole the head of philosopher Jeremy Bentham (whose body is on display at UCL even – but not with his real head anymore).
Speaking of mascots, did you know that our beloved red lion was born in the 1920s? Since then, several versions of Reggie have been born. The one declared the original is now on display at Bush House Level -1 by the entrance to The Vault. There is also a beloved version greeting students on the staircase by the Great Hall of King’s, and a small silver Reggie is used at Graduation ceremonies and other official celebrations. If you would like to find out more about the life of Reggie, have a read here or here.
3. Foo Fighters at King’s
KCLSU nightclub ‘Tutu’s’ played host to the first ever UK gig of Foo Fighters! Sadly, the venue has now been turned into teaching rooms, so if you want to pay homage to this piece of music history, you will need to keep an eye out for a lecture at Macadam Building.
4. Somerset House is King’s – well, sort of
We have all seen the pictures of King’s students chilling outside Somerset House, suggesting that you will be having lectures inside the walls of the majestic building. I am sorry to tell you, that is unlikely unless you are a law student. Somerset House does not belong to the university – except for the East Wing. Since 2009, the East Wing has been the home of the Dickson Poon Law School, so in a way Somerset House is King’s after all.
5. Strand Campus and WW2
To protect the staff, students and academic materials during World War 2, most of King’s activity was relocated to outside London. The Strand campus was not left unused, however, as the Auxiliary Fire Service used it as a base and stored equipment on the Quad. In October 1940, a bomb fell on the Quad, leaving a massive crater in its wake – fortunately, the buildings were not damaged. After the war, a two-story underground facility was built under the Quad, and it was here, in one of the labs where Rosalind Franklin and Ray Gosling took “the most important picture of history” showing that DNA is a double helix.
6. King’s was not always planned to be on Strand
Whilst we cannot imagine the oldest bits of King’s (the King’s Building) to be anywhere else but on the Strand next to Somerset House, its founders had very different places in mind first. One of the potential locations discussed for the university was Buckingham Palace, but this was a relatively short-lived idea. A more supported idea was to have King’s located by Regent’s Park, however, the upper class residents of the area protested against having students disturb their peace, and so a new location had to be found. In the end, the final location on the Strand, next to the not yet complete Somerset House was chosen because of the very low cost of renting the land. Despite the concerns that the nearby slums and theatres might corrupt the morale and health of the students, King’s found its home along the Thames.
7. Some of the Maughan Library is over 700 years old
The Maughan Library, which was acquired by the university in 2001, is the main research library of King’s. Although the Grade II listed building was finished in 1851, some parts of it are hundreds of years older than that. The Chancery Lane side of the building used to be the Rolls Chapel which was the office of the Keeper of the Rolls from 1377, with the chapel itself tracing its origins to a century earlier. What is now called the Weston Room incorporates many features from the former Rolls Chapel, including stained glass windows, a mosaic floor, and three 16th and 17th century funerary monuments. Along the corridor, you can also peek at the original cell which used to house the rolls and records throughout the centuries.
8. The UK’s Largest Medical Museum is at King’s
The Hodgkin Building at Guy’s houses the largest medical museum in the UK: the Gordon Museum of Pathology. The main function of the outstanding collection is to help educate King’s medical students, although the collection includes scientific artefacts and even paintings beyond embalmed specimens. The museum is not open to the public and access is mostly granted to medical and nursing students – you can find out more about visiting here.
9. Bush House used to be home to the BBC World Service
The latest addition to the Strand Campus, Bush House, used to be the home of BBC World Service from 1941 to 2012. The building itself was finished in 1935 and was called the most expensive building in the world due to rising building costs. One of the most famous people to have worked within its walls during the BBC era was author George Orwell. King’s acquired a 50-year lease for the Grade II listed building in 2015, and after extensive renovation the building was fully opened to students in 2018.
10. Wellington’s Duel
The Duke of Wellington (Prime Minister and Soldier) was one of the prominent politicians who founded KCL which was seen as a Church of England counterpart of the Protestant UCL (or the “godless college on Gower Street”). In the beginning of 1829, Wellington was simultaneously supporting the foundation of the Anglican KCL and the Roman Catholic Relief Act, which lead to him being challenged to a duel by the Earl of Winchilsea. The duel took place at Battersea Fields on 21 March, shots were fired, but no one got hurt, and Wellington is argued to be the winner.