Do You Know About Gresham College?

Gresham College has no students and does not teach courses, rather it is an educational institution of higher learning that exists to provide free public lectures, which have now been running for over 400 years. Gresham College was founded by Sir Thomas Gresham in 1597, son of Sir Richard Gresham who was Lord Mayor in 1537/38. Gresham College started long before there was a University of London.

Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-1579) stated in his will that Gresham College was to provide free public lectures in Divinity, Astronomy, Music, Geometry, Law, Physic and Rhetoric, endowed by revenue from the Royal Exchange, which he founded in 1570.

The Royal Society can trace its roots back to Gresham College and to 28 November 1660, when 12 of the members met at Gresham College after a lecture by Christopher Wren, the Gresham Professor of Astronomy, and decided to found ‘a Colledge for the Promoting of Physico-Mathematicall Experimentall Learning’. This group included Wren himself, Robert Boyle, John Wilkins, Sir Robert Moray and William, Viscount Brouncker.

The first college location was Gresham’s mansion in Bishopsgate where Tower 42 is now built. It stayed there until 1768, and next settled in 1842 in Gresham Street EC2. Gresham College did not become part of the University of London on the founding of the University in the 19th century, although a close association between the College and the University persisted for many years. Since 1991, the College has operated at Barnard’s Inn Hall, Holborn EC1.

A look at recenlty past and upcoming lectures will show how varied the programs are:

Fakes, Completions and the Art of Borrowing – Professor Christopher Hogwood CBE – Date/Time: 25/01/2011, 1pm Venue: Museum of London

Although Mozart’s unfinished Requiem is the most publicised composition requiring a helping-hand, there are many similar incomplete may-be masterpieces which have been assisted in some way, plus a number of well-loved classics which have very little connection with their supposed author (‘Albinoni’s Adagio’ heads such a list). In addition composers of all periods have been open to the ‘art of borrowing’ – Handel was particularly active in this area and the reasons and results of his ‘borrowings’ shed a new light on some very familiar compositions.

The Victorians: Gender and Sexuality – Professor Richard J Evans – Date/Time: 14/02/2011, 6pm
Venue: Museum of London 

‘Victorian’ came in the twentieth century to stand for sexual repression and social convention. Personal life was governed by complex and rigid rules of behaviour. Like other aspects of Victorian culture this began to break down in the fin-de-siécle. Yet recent research, discussed in this lecture, has undermined this rather simplistic picture and begun to explore some of the contradictions and complexities of Victorian attitudes to marriage and sexuality. The place of women in Victorian culture was by no means as passive or subordinate as conventional images of the era suggest.

The Gresham Astronomy Weekend – Professor Ian Morison – Date/Time: 18/03/2011 Venue: Farncombe Estate, The Cotswolds

The primary aim is to encourage newcomers to take up observational astronomy. There will be demonstrations of telescopes, planispheres and star charts, plus workshops and practical sessions for beginners, but more advanced amateurs are also welcome. There will be advice on astro-imaging using web-cams, digital cameras and dedicated CCD imagers. A set of annotated star charts will be provided. There is a charge for this event.

Engraving by George Vertue of Gresham College, looking east, showing the entrance in Old Broad Street, from John Ward’s Lives of the Professors of Gresham College (1740).

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