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The Freemasons' Hall meeting: June 1828

Freemasons' Tavern, ca 1800Freemasons' Tavern, ca 1800Peel was instrumental in obtaining the backing of Wellington and it was the Prime Minister who chaired the inaugural meeting of the College at noon on Saturday 21 June 1828.

This took place at Freemasons' Hall, behind the famous Tavern, a popular venue for such public gatherings, and was packed with several hundred noisy and excited dignitaries.

He knew how to make an entrance and many in the audience, including large numbers of country clergy no doubt unfamiliar with London, were also star struck by the galaxy of political and ecclesiastical figures arrayed before them - no fewer than three Archbishops, seven other senior bishops, several peers of the realm and at least two future Prime Ministers: Peel and the Earl of Aberdeen.

Wellington's plan for King's

Freemasons' Hall, 1800sFreemasons' Hall, 1800sWellington strode in at a quarter past twelve and took the chair to loud cheers.

The plan, he said, was to 'establish a college for the education of youth in all the branches of literature and science, including the doctrines and discipline of Christianity'. The statement met with thunderous applause.

When the audience had quietened down, Wellington opened the proceedings with a brief description of the proposed institution.

Meeting notice, June 1828Meeting notice, June 1828Wellington clearly knew how to woo an audience with references to his heroic military record, declaring to loud cheers that he valued a university education all the more for never receiving one himself, 'owing to the particular pursuits of life in which I have been engaged'.

He modestly disavowed all credit for the scheme - that should belong, he said, to the established Church, and his speech ended with a rousing declaration of his hopes and expectations for the new King's College and one that encapsulated many of Wellington's own beliefs in a stable social order, the value of patriotic duty and necessity of religious faith.

Article, 1828Article, 1828It should, he said, aim to teach its sons 'to perform their duties to their Sovereign and to their country in their various situations in life; and above all to give them a knowledge of God…a knowledge that shall teach them to be satisfied with their lot in this life, and give them hope in the mercies of God for the future one'.

He would 'do more to endeavour to promote the objects of this meeting by every means in my power'.

At that point, Wellington stepped aside and handed the meeting over to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

What was decided at the Freemasons' Hall meeting?

First Council minutesFirst Council minutesWellington's contributionWellington's contributionThe outline constitution of the College had already been agreed before the Freemasons' Hall meeting - in effect its public launch.

Wellington and the other speakers summarised the proposals that then took up the rest of the meeting:

A new metropolitan university was proposed 'for general education' and the 'essential knowledge of the doctrines and duties of Christianity' that owing to the patronage of George IV was furthermore to be called 'King's College'.

The syllabus was designed to meet the needs of the children of the new middle classes, as reference was made to the need for a practical education. There were to be no religious entry requirements although regular students were expected to attend chapel and compulsory classes on the fundamentals of Christianity.

The government of the College comprising shareholders, Court and Council was laid out and a provisional committee of the 'great and the good' was also established to collect subscriptions, locate a suitable site for the erection of the buildings, draw up a set of regulations and petition for a charter - eventually granted in August 1829.

The meeting had been a triumph and the subscriptions poured in: within days, over £30,000 had been pledged. Wellington himself was a prominent financial backer, investing £1000 in shares.

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