On 28 May 1920 George V and Queen Mary left Buckingham Palace in an open carriage escorted by the Life Guards, writes LSE Archivist Sue Donnelly. They were accompanied by Herbert Fisher, Minister for Education and as they approached St Clement Danes the church bells began to ring. Halting on Clare Market the royal party entered Passmore Edwards Hall as the Royal Standard was raised on the flagstaff above the entrance. George V had come to Clare Market to lay the foundation stone of the Old Building.
By 1912 the School had outgrown Passmore Edwards Hall and was desperately overcrowded, but the outbreak of the First World War blocked any major developments. In 1919 the School was making use of former YMCA huts on the Aldwych Island site now due for development. Finally the funding and impetus for a new building project came from the University of London’s commitment to a new degree course in Commerce.
Before the end of the war, on 18 July 1918 the Lord Mayor of London convened a meeting at the Mansion House calling for a committee to investigate the need for commercial higher education. Westminster council and Parr’s Bank had pledged support and the Lord Mayor of London and the Vice Chancellor of the University of London were appointed honorary treasurers. Soon the Sir Ernest Cassel Educational Trust had pledged £150,000 as long as the city provided matching support and the pledge soon became an absolute gift. The Royal Commission on University Education had already noted that the highest teaching in London’s faculty of economics was at the School making it the natural home for the Commerce degree and the appeal included funding for a new building.
On 28 May a ceremonial dais was raised on Houghton Street with room for over 700 guests and 250 standing places for students.
The waiting audience was entertained by the string band of the Scots Guards and songs from the students. At noon the royal party processed out accompanied by Dr Russell-Wells, Vice Chancellor of University of London, Sir Edward Busk, Chair of Convocation, Sir E Cooper-Perry, Principal Officer of the University of London, Sir John Cockburn, Vice Chair of LSE’s Council of Management and LSE’s new Director Sir William Beveridge. The representation of the University of London reflected its important role in establishing the Commerce Degree. The party was greeted by cries of “Polycon, hush, hush” the LSE chant – apparently a contraction of “Political Economy”.
Four students participated in the ceremony: Miss Valentine, a student of economic history and member of the LSE hockey team, Miss Tata (later the first Indian woman barrister), Mr C M Jones (Chairman of the Students’ Union) and Mr Rhymes (who graduated the following year). The ceremony began with the Lord Mayor of London presenting a deed of gift for £50,000 on behalf of the Commerce Degree Appeal Committee. Then Miss Valentine presented items for a “time capsule” below the foundation stone including a set of newly minted British currency and a copy of Wealth by Professor Edwin Cannan. The King then spread the mortar for the stone and after it had been laid tapped it into place. The King’s speech emphasised the importance of university education in Britain’s post war reconstruction, particularly praising the pursuit of “useful subjects” no doubt a reference to the commerce degree.
After the event the King and Queen signed the LSE minute book and the Student’s Union visitors’ book and the Royal Standard was lowered as they departed. While the guests enjoyed refreshments including sandwiches, gateaux and petits fours some students kidnapped a local tobacconist’s figure of Sir Walter Raleigh and chaired it through the streets claiming it was to be enrolled as a student.
The Court of Governors recorded on 1 July 1920: “The feeling was unanimous that the proceedings on this occasion were in every way completely successful.” In 1921 LSE occupied the building, including the arched entrance and the Old Theatre recognisable today – and between the entrance arch and Wright’s Bar is the original foundation stone.
Contributed by Sue Donnelly (LSE Archivist)
Watch a film of the ceremony by British Pathe