University College, London: Calling the dead to order

University College London is one of the capital's premier higher education institutions, based largely around the Bloomsbury area.


Founded in 1826, UCL owes much of its initial birth and subsequent growth to Scotland! Most of its founding fathers were from north of the border including statesman Henry Brougham and poet Thomas Campbell.


The college was responsible for a lot of firsts; it was the higher education institution to be established on an entirely secular basis and the first to practice gender equality, with women being admitted on equal terms with men. Finally, and most bizarrely, it was the first (and we think possibly remains the only) university to have a dead man present at key meetings. You see in 1850, UCL acquired the auto-icon (preserved corpse) of Jeremy Bentham, a philosopher and reformer.


Although not technically one of the founders (he was 78 when UCL opened), Bentham is credited with creating the ideological backdrop necessary for the university to be born. For this reason he is often referred to as the godfather of UCL. That's in the protective, familial sense, not the mafia-style way.


Bentham usually sits in the south cloisters of UCL and occasionally attends meetings of the College Council, where he is registered as ‘present but not voting'. He has a wax head, which it is rumoured has previously been stolen and used as a football by King's College students, with whom UCL has an ongoing rivalry. This has never been proven.


UCL is also the largest college of the University of London, which it helped found in 1836.