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120 Years of Enthralling Events At Bishopsgate Institute

By Londonist Last edited 30 months ago
120 Years of Enthralling Events At Bishopsgate Institute

This November sees the 120th anniversary of Bishopsgate Institute, the home of cultural events and learning in the heart of the City. The venue has hosted hundreds of events throughout the turbulent 20th century and beyond - here are a few of the highlights of a venerable institution's first century and a bit.

Dame Myra Hess in Great Hall (1953)
Dame Myra Hess in Great Hall (1953)
9th July 2013 - city hall, London
Tony Benn (2013)
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Modern day use of the Great Hall, swing dancing! Photo by psyxjaw via Flickr
Modern day use of the Great Hall, swing dancing! Photo by psyxjaw via Flickr

Shackleton's great adventures

In 1903, Sir Ernest Shackleton - known at the time as plain old Mr Shackleton - began his epic quest to reach the magnetic South Pole, which ended with he and his colleagues further south than anyone had ever been in January 1909, just over a hundred miles from the bottom of the world. Shackleton and his colleagues returned to London to be greeted as heroes by adoring crowds, and the following year Dulwich's most famous resident brought a selection of Kinematograph views and lantern slides to the Institute, to accompany some remarkable tales on both reaching the South Polar Plateau and the dreadful journey back to their ship, the Nimrod.

Political heavyweights

In one of his last public appearances, veteran socialist politician Tony Benn captivated crowds in the Great Hall in November 2013 with tales from his final collection of diaries, entitled A Blaze of Autumn. Benn was the latest in a long line of politicians who have chosen the Institute to recount stories from their lives and the lives of others, with Arthur Scargill having held a discussion on the impact of the Miners Strike, and Clare Short having examined the legacy of Margaret Thatcher. Politicians have also discussed current affairs, with Sir John Pratt's talk on the politics of the Great War a highlight among a selection of 1916 mid-day war lectures.

Seton's wild animals

Ernest Thompson Seton was one of the most influential wildlife enthusiasts of his day, though his reach stretched far beyond animals. He is remembered today as one of the fathers of the scouting movement with a number of books to his name on the subject, but it was for his love of animals that he was asked to present a lecture at Bishopsgate Institute in 1906. 'Wild Animals I Have Known' brought illustrations and stories of London of Seton's experience hunting wolves in the southwestern United States at the turn of the century and proved one of the Institute's most popular events.

Concerts and concert parties

Lectures and discussions are not all the Bishopsgate Institute has been famous for. Concerts have also been a mainstay of the Institute's calendar ever since the venue opened with its remarkable Grand Ball, with highlights such as Victorian theatre star Randell Jackson's Grant Concert Party of 1909 and the 1958 lunchtime concert from acclaimed British pianist Dame Myra Hess. One of the most well-received shows of all came in 1997, when the recently ennobled Paul McCartney made the most of the Great Hall's remarkable acoustics.

The next 120 years

Londonist has a birthday of our own coming up - the website will be 10 years old in October, and we can think of nowhere better to celebrate our admittedly-small-compared-to-theirs anniversary than at Bishopsgate Institute.

But although we're just a touch excited about that, a somewhat bigger event will take place the following month when the Institute recreates the Grand Ball of 120 years ago. 2014's version of the event will be typically up to date, with live music from Down for the Count, DJ Nick Miles and various guest appearances.

Countless other events and courses can be found at the Institute's listings page — including 50 Years of Wexford with Ruth Rendell and Kate Adie talking about women on the home front in World War One. The venue is available to hire for private events throughout the year. You can find full details on the booking process, availability and how to make your event a success at the 230 Bishopsgate website.

Londonist is 2014 media partner to Bishopsgate Institute.

Images from Bishopsgate Institute archives, except the swing dancing one by psyxjaw.

Last Updated 03 September 2014