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150 years of mining history

Experts and alumni from around the world descended on the Royal School of Mines last month for a unique celebration.
Prof Monhemius, Sir Richard Sykes, Lord Vincent and the Princess Royal
The Chancellor enjoys a jovial moment with, from left, Prof Monhemius, Sir Richard Sykes, Lord Vincent and the Princess Royal
Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, Chancellor of the University of London, launched the 150th anniversary of the Royal School of Mines - the oldest of Imperial College's four constituent colleges on Friday, 11 May.

The royal opening was followed by a one-day scientific symposium that featured a number of distinguished speakers, including Sir John Browne, Group Chief Executive of BP Amoco, and Sir John Houghton, co-chairman of the International Panel on Climate Change, who reviewed advances in the fields that the RSM is famous for: geology, mining and petroleum engineering, materials and environment.

Saturday, 12 May, was the actual date on which the RSM was first opened by Princess Annes great-great-great grandfather, Prince Albert, 150 years ago. Research displays, exhibits, memorabilia and historical mini-symposium, T H Huxley and the Royal School of Mines, attracted almost 300 visitors, including the great-great-granddaughter of T.H. Huxley, who was the first Dean of the RSM.

The pinnacle of the celebrations was a gala dinner and dance in the Natural History Museum Dinosaur Hall, organised by the Royal School of Mines Association (RSMA). Dancing with Dinosaurs featured a colour scheme which complimented the event - the black, yellow, gold and white of the Mines colours was echoed by the black tablecloths with gold napkins and table centres of white and yellow roses.

Attended by more than 500 people, the occasion included a military band which brandished hunting horns as it marched among the tables to music from the William Tell overture. The rector, Sir Richard Sykes, spoke of a bright future for both undergraduate and postgraduate teaching and research in the earth sciences, materials and related environmental, business and IT aspects of these.

"London is now the mining finance centre of the world, with three of the largest mining companies based here, and all the major petroleum companies represented," he informed guests. "This is a substantial advantage for our students and staff in their interaction with the mining and related industries. RSM graduates remain eminently employable, with many going into business and finance where they apply their knowledge and understanding of the industry."

Sundays social events included a river trip to the Thames Barrier, a flight on the London Eye, and a tour to the largest vineyard in northern Europe - Denbies vineyard near Dorking. Mini symposiums and annual meetings were held on Monday and Tuesday.

Professor John Monhemius, dean of the Royal School of Mines, said: "Everyone was impressed with the celebrations, enhanced by a mini-heatwave. A full spectrum of students from the second world war to the present day attended and a few who had been around for the 100th anniversary in 1951, commented that our celebrations were much better!"

Dr Jim Secord's address examined why the RSM occupied a pivotal position in the history of education, the history of science, and the emergence of a scientific profession in Britain.

"How do we remember an institution like the Royal School of Mines, whosefirst century was so deeply rooted in heavy industry and high empire?" asked the Reader in the History of Science and Technology at Cambridge.

"We celebrate through stories passed down in common rooms, through memorabilia and portraits posted on walls, and at anniversaries like this one. Real history is not brief; it is not so much written down, but embodied in what we do every day. To work in a laboratory, to go on a field class, to advise a company on a new product, to sit in a lecture hall: these are historically embodied actions, and to engage in them is to celebrate a particular vision of science that has come into being during the past two centuries.

"In the making of that vision, the Royal School of Mines has had, and should continue to have, a vital part to play."

RSM 150 Anniversary website:

*** © Imperial College 2001. This article originally appeared in IC Reporter, the staff newspaper of Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine. Please contact the editor Tanya Reed (Email:, Telephone: +44 20 7594 6697) for permission to re-use any or all parts of this article.***