Jeremy Bentham Auto-Icon

The Auto Icon of philosopher JEREMY BENTHAM at University College London (UCL)
© Jim Dyson / Getty Images

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) is considered to be the spiritual founder of UCL. Although he actually didn't play an active part in its creation it is noted that he was the inspiration for the first English University to open its doors to all, regardless of race, creed, or political belief. Bentham strongly believed that education should be made more widely available, and not only to those who were wealthy, as was the norm at the time.

Who Is Jeremy Bentham

Bentham was a philosopher and during his lifetime he campaigned for social and political reform and his utilitarian principles helped him to create the greatest happiness principle and calculus.

Why His Body Is on Display

Bentham made a request in his will that his body should be preserved and stored in a wooden cabinet and this should be called his "Auto-Icon." Originally, Bentham's body was kept by his disciple Dr. Southwood Smith, then UCL acquired his body in 1850 and have kept it on public display ever since.

Preserving His Body

The Auto-Icon has a wax head. We're told the real head is in a mummified-state locked away in the university. After his death, and, again, at his request, students of the University dissected his body for medical research, and Dr. Southwood Smith reassembled his skeleton and put him in a sitting position on his favorite chair. Bentham detailed exactly what he wanted to be done in his last Will and Testament so there were clear instructions to follow.

How To Find the Jeremy Bentham Auto-Icon

The nearest tube stations are Euston Square / Warren Street. On Gower Street, between Grafton Way and University Street, enter the UCL grounds at Porter's Lodge. You arrive at an open courtyard. Head for the right-hand corner, furthest away, and there's a ramp entrance to the South Cloisters, Wilkins Building. The Jeremy Bentham Auto-Icon is just inside.

It's another part of the weird and wonderful that is to be found in London! Find out more about the Jeremy Bentham Auto-Icon on the UCL website.

What to Do Nearby

Check out the Free Family Day Out in Central London which includes a visit to the Jeremy Bentham Auto-Icon. Also at UCL, there is the Grant Museum of Zoology and the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. Just around the corner on Euston Road is the Wellcome Collection. Plus, the British Museum is about 15 minutes walk away.

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