Institute of Historical Research

Moving into Senate House and the war years

In 1938, the IHR finally moved into the new Senate House building, although not yet into its dedicated space in the north block of Senate House. In the early years of its tenancy, it was located on the third floor of Senate House south block – the location to which it has now returned for the two years that it will take to refurbish its existing rooms.

It was only in 1948 that the purpose-built library and office space in the north block wing were completed and the IHR was able to move into its permanent home.

Sunday Times, 5 June 1938






News Chronicle, 27 June 1932The Observer, 24 April 1938












The war years

The IHR was forced to close in May 1940 when the Ministry of Information took over the Senate House building, although a skeleton staff remained to deal with postal enquiries.

In 1943, the Ministry of Information required room to expand, and the IHR’s rooms were occupied by ‘overseas propaganda specialists’. New accommodation was provided for the Institute’s staff in the recently completed British Medical Association Building in Tavistock Square.

In early 1946 plans were drawn up for the removal of the IHR into its new Senate House home, and the grand reopening finally took place on 13 February 1946.

Closure of the Institute on 23 May 1940   

    REPORTED: That the Ministry of Information having closed the Institute on 23 May to persons not receiving payment from the University, informed the Acting Secretary in early June that admissions must be further restricted to 24 persons in all, including staff; that the Passes previously issued had been recalled and new Passes given to members of the staff, representatives of the enterprises which are being carried on at the Institute, and one or two teachers of the University.

Committee Minutes, 11 September 1940

A medical connection

‘When I joined the  staff of the Institute as the junior clerk in the autumn of 1945, the Institute was housed in Tavistock South, a wing of BMA House. The front of the building had not been completed when the war started and we had to enter through a door in the hoarding and walk down a passage with wooden walls on each side to a door, at which one had to ring to be let in. We occupied the ground and first floors of the rear of the building. On one side we looked across a courtyard, complete with goldfish pond, to BMA House, and on the other to the playground of the Mary Ward Settlement for Physically Handicapped Children and to some old surface air-raid shelters …

    We had several disasters in that building: during the very cold winter of 1946–7 the pipe carrying the water for the central heating from BMA House to our wing either burst or froze, and we sat shivering miserably while we could see the BMA staff sitting with their jackets off, complaining they were too hot! Then one morning … I came in to find that the cold water tank in the unfinished part of our wing had burst and the water was pouring down the stairs, flooding the ground floor, which included the bindery, where volumes of The Times were shelved on floor level’.

Cynthia Hawker, M.B.E., reproduced in The History Laboratory (London, 1996)

The Times, 14 February 1948The Times, 14 February 1948