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Burlington House: Geological Society of London

Home to the oldest geological society in the world, founded in 1807.


Banks & Barry



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Burlington House, Piccadilly W1J 0BF

Sat 10am-5pm. Guided hourly tours 10am-4pm, early booking advised, email receptionist@geolsoc.org.uk providing your name and preferred tour time. Max 20 per tour. Self-guided tours available.

Piccadilly Circus, Green Park

14, 19, 22, 38

  • Bookshop at location
  • Partial disabled
  • Regularly open to the public at no charge

Burlington House: The Geological Society of London

The world’s oldest geological society was inaugurated on Friday 13 November 1807, at a dinner held at the Freemasons Tavern, Covent Garden. Before moving to its present apartments in 1874, the Society was housed in Somerset House.

The original Burlington House was built on the present site of the Royal Academy c. 1690 by Sir John Denham for Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Burlington. The building was reconstructed c. 1731 in Palladian style by the 3rd Earl of Burlington. It was purchased in 1854 by the Government to house The Royal Academy, The Royal Society and other learned societies.

Additional accommodation was provided in the West and East wings and gateway blocks enclosing the courtyard, which were completed to the designs of architects Charles Barry and Robert Richardson Banks between 1869 and 1873. The exterior of the Grade II* listed building is of Portland Stone (Upper Jurassic).

The Royal Society’s move to Carlton Terrace in 1967 allowed for further expansion, including the reconstruction of the old Meeting Room to form the present Lecture Theatre.

Features of interest:

• The reception desk, part of the 2007 Bicentenary refit, was designed by Robert Sandford of conservation architects Julian Harrap. It consists of 17 stone slabs, all classic British building stones which have contributed to Britain’s built heritage and remain commercially available today. All would have been in production in 1807.

• William Smith’s map, displayed on the staircase, is the first geological map of England and Wales, planned and executed single handedly by William Smith. To its left is the Society’s own map, compiled by George Bellas Greenough, using Smith’s map and his own research.

• The Council Room contains portraits of several early Fellows, as well as the Society’s 1825 Royal Charter. The painting, ‘Discussion on the Piltdown Skull’ (1931) portrays the famous find, later uncovered as a fake, which was first described at the Society on 18 December 1912.

• The double galleried Main Library houses over 300,000 volumes of monographs, periodicals and textbooks. It also includes the Lyell Room, part of the 2007 refurbishment. The Lower Library contains several nineteenth century prints of Burlington House and Piccadilly, as well as a striking original limestone fireplace.