Celebrating 125 years of the Queen's Tower (2018)

In 2018 Imperial College celebrated the 125th anniversary of the topping out of the Queen’s Tower.

History of the Queen’s Tower

The Queen’s Tower is located on the South Kensington Campus of Imperial College London.

The Queen’s Tower is all that remains of the Imperial Institute, which was built to mark Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887.  (The Imperial Institute became the Commonwealth Institute).  The Imperial Institute building was designed by T. E. Collcutt (1840-1924) in the neo-renaissance style.  It was 700 feet long with a central tower (the Queen’s Tower) and smaller towers at the east and west ends.  It contained a library, laboratories, conference rooms and exhibition galleries with gardens at the rear.  Construction work took six years and the Institute was opened in 1893.

Following government requirements for expansion in education, the Imperial Institute was to be demolished in the early 1960s. The Victorian Society and John Betjeman, 1906-1984 (Poet Laureate 1972-1984) campaigned against total demolition. It was probably Julian Huxley’s suggestion, in a letter to The Times, that the tower be saved that enabled agreement for the rest of the building to be demolished.  Between 1966 and 1968, on advice from the Civil Engineering Department, work was carried out to enable the central tower to stand on its own. This involved creating massive foundations and then substantially rebuilding the lower portion of the tower.

The Queen’s Tower has since been a feature of Imperial College and can be seen from various points around London.

The Queen’s Tower Today

The bells housed at the top of the Queen’s Tower are still rung today.

The belfry contains the Alexandra Peal of bells; the peal consists of 10 bells and is named after Alexandra, the Princess of Wales.  The bells were a gift to the Prince of Wales from Mrs Elizabeth M. Millar of Melbourne, Australia in 1892.  Each bell is separately named after members of the Royal family - Queen Victoria, her three sons, her daughter-in-law Alexandra and her five Wales grand-children.  The bells are now rung on Royal Anniversaries between 1 and 2pm:

6thFebruary - The Accession of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

21st April - Birthday of Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II

2nd June - Coronation Day of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (1952)

10th June - Birthday of The Duke of Edinburgh

15th August - Birthday of The Princess Royal

14th November - Birthday of The Prince of Wales

20th November - Wedding Day of Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh

Other occasions:

May - Imperial College Postgraduate Ceremony (Date varies)

October - Imperial College Commemoration Day (Date varies)

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The Queen's Tower in the Archives

The Imperial College Archives holds a variety of material relating to the tower, including drawings, plans and ephemera. Below is a just a small example of the wonderful records held in the archives.

The College Archives are open to researchers by appointment only. Further details are available here.

Items from the Imperial College Archives relating to the Queen's Tower - plan, ticket to state Opening and news report
Items from the Imperial College Archives relating to the Queen's Tower. Clockwise from top right: A ticket to the state opening of the Imperial Institute, a news report of the opening of the Institute, and a plan of the Queen's Tower.

Tours of the Queen's Tower

Tours of the tower are by appointment only. Access is strictly prohibited without a trained tour leader in attendance, and permission to ascend the tower is required in advance from the Queen’s Tower Manager. For further information regarding tours please see here.

View of Central London from the viewing platform at the top of the Queen’s Tower. AVR, Imperial College London
View of Central London from the viewing platform at the top of the Queen’s Tower. AVR, Imperial College London.