Dr Robert Mullineux Walmsley was the first ever Principal of the Northampton Institute, which thrives today as City, University of London. Chris Lines tells the story of a brilliant man whose vision is still keenly felt throughout higher education in the UK.

The rain is beating down on 8½ Dowgate Hill, the Hall of the Worshipful Company of Skinners. The year is 1896 and a large man cuts a bustling figure as he strides purposefully through the City of London and into the building.

Mullineux Walmsley, although not tall, is broad and portly. He is, as ever, distinctively dressed in a grey frock-coat, putty-coloured spats and a distinguished top hat.

He has recently been appointed as the first Principal of the Northampton Institute and there is a great deal of work to be done. His task is made harder by the fact that the budding Institute’s impressive new building on St John Street is not yet finished. This temporary office, a mile and a half to the south at Skinners’ Hall, will have to suffice. But despite such adversity – and in a selfless manner typical of the man – Dr Walmsley is still happy to grant a journalist a few minutes for a brief interview.

The reporter asks him whether instructors at the Institute are experts in their respective fields. “Oh yes,” replies Walmsley, “for the constant aim of the instruction is to bring the students into actual touch with the subjects dealt with. The object is not to prepare the student to pass examination tests but to fit them to become a competent worker and thinker in the career that they have chosen.”

And it was ever thus. The Institute that we know today as City, University of London continues to have “academic excellence for business and the professions” as its mantra, having been set on this path by the formidable Walmsley, arguably the most remarkable individual in City’s long and proud history.


Chris Lines is an experienced journalist and editor who, since 2014, has worked as Publications Officer for City, University of London. He is also an alumnus of City’s School of Arts & Social Sciences (Periodical Journalism, 2003).