News blog

Royal Institution considers sale of London headquarters

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The wood-panelled theatre where Michael Faraday presented his annual Christmas lectures on chemistry, electricity and magnetism could be up for sale, along with the rest of the London headquarters of the esteemed Royal Institution (RI).

According to a report in The Times, the West London property on Albemarle Street will soon be listed by a real estate agency for upwards of £60 million (US$95 million).

The move follows years of financial turmoil and internal strife at the RI, which Nature reported on in 2010 (see ‘Revolution crushed at Royal Institution’): “A refurbishment of the RI’s central London headquarters costing £22 million (US$34 million) has caused a shortfall in funds, and, some say, leaves the institution in danger of closing.”

The two-century-old institution’s books have not apparently got much better. According to its 2011 financial report, it is £7.1 million in debt and received a £3-million loan and another £2 million in overdraft allowances from the bank HSBC. “The charity is reliant on overdraft and bank loan facilities, which are reviewed on an annual basis and will be reviewed again in March 2013,” the report says. That year, the RI reported £4.49 million in expenses against £4.38 million in income.

In a statement today, RI chairman Richard Sykes confirmed that the sale of the Albemarle Street building was being considered:

The RI and its advisers are exploring a range of options to ensure it can continue to pursue fully its charitable aims and deploy its resources optimally. It is clear that this is likely to involve a restructuring of the charity and, ideally, a substantial partnership. It may also involve the RI sub-letting or disposing of some or all of its Albemarle Street property.


  1. Report this comment

    John Chapman said:

    It was watching the RI Christmas Lectures from that building, visiting it as part of open days when I was an undergrad, and being surrounded by that sense of history and legacy that showed me how much I wanted to spend my life as a research scientist. Spouting nice phrases when it come to promoting science and technology is all very well, but government seems unwilling to actually support the institutions that do the real work. MPs should be able to do their job just as effectively from a trading estate in Milton Keynes and yet the public purse is supposed not to bat an eyelid when considering the vast cost of upkeep for their Neo-Gothic pile in Westminster. Part of attracting good people to any role is establishing prestige and esteem. We only narrowly avoided having the Courtyard Societies turfed out of Burlington House, and even that dodged bullet only came at the cost of greatly increased overheads for their members. Considering the role that the RI plays in promoting science it would be a travesty if the government weren’t fully involved in trying to find a route that would avoid selling Albermarle Street.

    1. Report this comment

      Mary Save21Albemarle said:

      Couldn’t agree more. 60 million is a drop in the ocean for the government. They should buy the building as a building of great historical importance, and let the RI stay there rent free.

      In the meantime, we need 1% of the population to pledge to raise £100 each.

      Who’s with me?


  2. Report this comment

    Mike Glazer said:

    This is absolutely shocking and scandalous. The RI is a national treasure and must be rescued. If this were a valuable piece of artwork a cry to save it for the nation would ensue. So why not in this case?

    1. Report this comment

      Mary Save21Albemarle said:

      Yes Mike.

      You are absolutely right.

      I have emailed the RI this morning to ask how much money they actually need to remain where they are. I have been told unofficially that they are considering selling the building as the only way they can raise what they need, but that what they need is in fact less than 60 million.

      We need to do all we can to stop this building being turned into a hotel, or flats, or something equally devoid of national significance.


  3. Report this comment

    Mike Glazer said:

    There was a piece on the Today program this morning, which I thought gave an impression that the RI was living in the past. Apart from the fact that the RI is doing valuable (and modern) work in what today is fashionably called “public engagement in science”, knowledge of the past is also valuable. We in this country should be proud of our scientific heritage and the RI is a wonderful tool to celebrate this. If the V & A found itself in financial difficulties like this, there would not be any criticism of its living in the past.

    What is needed now is a national campaign to mobilise people to save the RI.

Comments are closed.