Help save the Royal Institution

If you’re a Brit, you’ll know about The Royal Institution of Great Britain, which was founded in 1799 to disseminate scientific knowledge to the public. It’s now been doing that for 214 years, but, for the first time, it’s in danger of extinction. Financial difficulties are threatening the closure of this venerable and historic body by selling its headquarters.

The Royal has a distinguished past.  Thomas Henry Huxley, for instance, gave a series of public lectures there about Darwin’s theory. Their Christmas Lectures, intended for young people, began in 1825 and have featured a number of luminaries extending from Michael Faraday to Richard Dawkins and David Attenborough. Sir David and others who have lectured there wrote a letter to the Times which, though behind a paywall, is reported in the Telegraph:

The signatories of the letter, who have all given lectures at the Royal Institution, said the building had “nurtured some of science’s exciting and beneficial achievements”.

They wrote: “The Royal Institution has been home to some of the most important of Britain’s many contributions to science and engineering: the discovery of ten chemical elements, the first practical demonstrations of electricity, 14 Nobel Prizes and countless inventions.

“Since the start of its pioneering public lecture programme, through which science first entered popular culture, this building has not only nurtured some of science’s exciting and beneficial achievements, it has beamed them out to the world.”

It said that millions of families still watch the annual Christmas Lecture on television, more than 200 years after it was first given.

The letter went on: “If Britain loses the Royal Institution, it loses a part of its past. This institution, with its iconic lecture room where almost all the Christmas lectures have been delivered, is just as precious as any ancient palace or famous painting.

“This must not happen in a country that cares about culture, and least of all in one that pins its hopes for future prosperity on a new generation of scientists and engineers.”

Richard Dawkins, leading scientist and prominent atheist, and Colin Blakemore, Neuroscience Professor at Oxford, were among the 22 signatories of the letter.

Wikipedia adds that besides education, a lot of good science was done in the Mayfair building:

Notable scientists who have worked there include Sir Humphry Davy (who discovered sodium and potassium), Michael Faraday, James Dewar, Sir William Henry Bragg and Sir William Lawrence Bragg (who jointly won the Nobel prize for their work on x-ray diffraction), Max Perutz, John Kendrew, Antony Hewish and George Porter. In the 19th century, Faraday carried out much of the research which laid the groundwork for the practical exploitation of electricity at the Royal Institution. In total fifteen scientists attached to the Royal Institution have won Nobel Prizes. Ten chemical elements including sodium were discovered at the Institution, as well as the electric generator and the atomic structure of crystals.

What can you do about this?  Not much if you’re not a British citizen or UK resident. But if you are one, there’s a petition you can sign asking the British government to buy the Royal’s building and help save it.  You can sign the petition here (well, that link gives the info and a button to click), giving just your name, email address, and home address.

There are only 822 signatures so far, which is pathetic. We need to swell the ranks here, so please, if you’re a Brit or a resident of the UK, please consider signing. And send the link around to your friends, too ( The Royal must be saved.

This petition is on the up-and-up; you can read more about it here.



  1. Posted January 24, 2013 at 5:58 am | Permalink


  2. Bonzodog
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    Signed …. Not good. My old chemistry prof (Sir John Meurig Thomas) became director of the RI and I have taken my boys to the Christmas Lectures.

  3. @eightyc
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 6:19 am | Permalink


  4. Posted January 24, 2013 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    Thx for the heads-up. 855 now.

  5. BilBy
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    Signed. Link forwarded.

  6. Dominic
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    There is a rather strange Nature bit on it saying it is out of date –
    “with a lively pack of mass media, bloggers and tweeters snapping at its heels, the RI seems likely to emerge redundant, whatever happens to its lovely buildings.”
    Complete nonsense that misses the point.

    Neil Shubin is doing a talk there on Thursday 31st of January – still tickets available. I will be there.

    Also you can become a member here –

  7. StewedPrune
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    Thanks for bringing this matter to the attention of a wider audience. I’ve signed and will urge others to do so too.

  8. Bonzodog
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    Those on Faceache and the like share Jerry’s link!

  9. Sines
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    Not a Brit, but perhaps England can free up some money if it stopped being the [i]Royal[/i] Institute, if you know what I mean.

    • Aj
      Posted January 24, 2013 at 7:20 am | Permalink

      No, I’m not sure I do.

      Unless you know of a legal mechanism whereby the private property of an individual can be appropriated by the British government (without them being suitably compensated), then getting shot of the monarchy includes the loss of all income from the Crown Estates. Meanwhile, as a private citizen, Elizabeth Windsor would still be rich as Croesus; in fact rather wealthier than she was before.

      Obviously none of that’s a reason to keep a monarchy, but as far as reasons to get rid of one goes the cost argument is a terrible one.

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted January 24, 2013 at 11:33 am | Permalink


  10. Gabriel
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    Resident in the UK – signed.

    Wonder if we should ask the Faraday Institute to chip in? 😉

  11. shuckstuck
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    I’ve been watching those Christmas lectures all my life… Signed. Up to 906 now.

  12. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    It’s the Royal Institution. Why don’t the royals pick up the tab?

  13. Dave Hooke
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    I was at the Royal Institution last week, to watch a lecture by Sean Carrol (the physicist and blogger, not the biologist). Watching the children’s Christmas lectures on TV each year is a household tradition. I well remember watching the Dawkins ones when I was a kid. It would indeed be a terrible shame to see this venue go.

  14. lanceleuven
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    Signed and forwarded. Thanks for the heads up. Unbelievable that the future of something with such an illustratious history could ever hang in the balance.

  15. moleatthecounter
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Signed… 997 now.

  16. Jeremy Pereira
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Signed and posted on Facebook

  17. Klarky Khat
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Signed too, over a thousand now.

  18. HaggisForBrains
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Thanks; signed; over 1000 now.

  19. Nick260682
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    Signed. Would be terrible to lose it.

    Although on a side note, and let’s all hope it doesn’t happen; that building, bang in Mayfair would sell for an EFFING FORTUNE.

  20. LevelTwo
    Posted January 25, 2013 at 3:18 am | Permalink


    I grew up on the RI xmas lectures, and I’m now a PhD student at a large research institute in London.

    Thanks Jerry for bringing this to my attention. I’ll be making sure everyone signs it…

  21. LevelTwo
    Posted January 25, 2013 at 3:25 am | Permalink

    Although, as an interesting counterpoint, see Martin Robbins in yesterday’s Guardian (free access):

  22. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted January 25, 2013 at 3:39 am | Permalink

    Now 1340

  23. oldebabe
    Posted January 27, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    As a non-resident, and, therefore, can’t participate, I non-the-less hope you save this institution.

  24. Tina B
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    Sigh. If I were a Brit, I would sign. . . I hope the institution can be saved.

  25. Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Maybe the Queen could sell a painting or two to keep HER Institution going. The Royals are always passing the hat back to the British public.

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