Francis Galton’s Eugenics Record Office on Gower Street (ERO-Galton)

Number 88 Gower Street - location for the Eugenics Record Office 1904-1906 | At cover of Gower Street and Torrington Place, Bloomsbury, London, England, United Kingdom

Francis Galton created a Eugenics Record Office (ERO-Galton) at 88 Gower Street, London, England, in 1904, while developing a scheme to create for himself some research capacity in this area. ERO-Galton operated until 1907, when it was dissolved and replaced by the Francis Galton Laboratory for National Eugenics. Karl Pearson accepted directorship of ERO-Galton in 1906, while planning that significant transformation of the project.

This post is one of several about ERO-Galton. In this post, I examine the facility on Gower Street in which ERO-Galton undertook its business. The best single source about ERO-Galton is Farrall (2019 [1969]).

ERO-Galton should not be confused with Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor, a department of Carnegie Institution of WashingtonERO-CIW operated between 1910-1939, developed significantly by Charles Davenport and Harry Laughlin. ERO-CIW became a substantial influence on American eugenics, especially in data generation from family trees, training and education, and advocacy around the application of Mendelian inheritance to this line of thinking. ERO-Galton and ERO-CIW were not related. ERO-Galton did not inspire ERO-CIW. In comparison, ERO-Galton was tiny and ad hoc. In many ways, the people at the heart of these independent operations kept the others at arms length (Galton and Pearson vs Davenport and Laughlin). These men disagreed over fundamental issues of theory and method.

Location for ERO-Galton  

ERO-Galton was located at number 88 Gower Street, London. This is in Bloomsbury district of London. Within a few city blocks are major academic institutions within the federated University of London. Key to Galton was the proximity to University College (now UCL). Across Torrington Place from Number 88 is the 1907-08 grade II listed block formerly Dillon’s Bookstore and now Waterstones on Gower Street.

This section of Gower Street was a terraced row of houses constructed at the end of the 18th century. The original house was built by Alexander Hendy in 1785-87 as a five-floor terraced house, with a front entrance and walled back garden. Upper Gower Street was part of an expansion north along Gower Street by the Bedford Estates (circa 1820s map https://mapco.net/pigot/map03.htm). The terrace was part of the extension of Gower Street north from Bedford Square Upper Gower Street was a quiet cul de sac, with a barrier across the street at the corner of University Place.

The original address for the property was Number 1, Upper Gower Street, located at the end of the row, at the intersection with Torrington Place. The street was reorganised in the 1860s, and the property was assigned the address Number 88 Gower Street. (Survey of London) (K7 on 1908 Bartholomew’s Handy Reference Atlas of London and Environs

An aerial photograph from 1932 shows Gower Street, with terraced houses including number 88 (site of the ERO) and number 110 (one-time residence of Charles of Emma Darwin). Image: EPW039568 from BritainFromAbove.org.uk.

Aerial photo of London showing location of 88 Gower Street, London WC1, site of Galton's Eugenics Record Office | ProfJoeCain

Bloomsbury suffered bombing during the 1939-1945 war. An aerial photograph from 1946 shows Gower Street and its neighbourhood. Number 88 survived intact. Other nearby structures were not so lucky. The one-time residence of Charles of Emma Darwin at Number 110 was destroyed by fire during an air raid in 1941. Image: EAW000537 from BritainFromAbove.org.uk.

view of number 88 Gower Street in relation to 110 Gower Street and University College quad, 1946 aerial photograph courtesy Historic England. Image EAW000537

Number 88 was still intact in 1950. It was demolished in the middle 1950s to make way for a new Biological Sciences Building (BSB) for University of London, University College (now, UCL). That new building is on the site today, renamed UCL Darwin Building in 1982.

UCL Darwin Building at intersection of Gower Street and Torrington Place | ProfJoeCain
UCL Darwin Building at intersection of Gower Street and Torrington Place.

What Did 88 Gower Street Look Like?

Number 87 Gower Street, London WC1 | ProfJoeCain
Number 87 Gower Street, London WC1 as seen today. This house is located immediately opposite the site occupied by number 88. It was built to the same design.

Number 88 was constructed as a single-family residence. The best source about Number 88 as an original structure are the remaining buildings on Gower Street constructed by the same builder at the same time. These include numbers 87 and 89. It also included Number 110 Gower Street, the one-time residence of Charles Darwin and Emma Darwin.

The building had five floors. In the basement included the kitchen and domestic facilities. The ground floor included a dining room (front). The first floor included a sitting room (front) and study or morning room (rear). Bedrooms for family and servants were located on the upper floors.

Ordnance Survey Map 1896 Gower Street, Torrington Place, Torrington Square, London, UK
1896 Ordnance survey map showing backyard garden space for 88 Gower Street in lower right corner, at intersection with Torrington Place. Ordnance Survey. 1894-96. Extended Series. 1/1056. London Sheet VII 42.

Number 88 included a backyard garden, shown on an 1896 Ordnance survey map, surrounded by a brick wall of approximately eight feet. The same is extant today at numbers 85 and 87 Gower Street. The 1896 map indicates an additional structure in the garden. This, perhaps, was an extension to the original house or an external building. Both options are extant on Gower Street today. Number 87 has an extension to the original house. Number 85 has an external building (today, a garage) with an entrance cut into the original brick wall of the property. The 1946 aerial photograph is inconclusive as to which type of structure was present at Number 88. However, it shows an entrance cut into the original brick wall of number 88 along Torrington Place, suggesting an additional entrance to the property, and a reduced backyard garden associated with the conversion of Gower Mews by other activities.

Close-up view of number 88 Gower Street, 1946 aerial photograph courtesy Historic England. Image EAW000537
Close-up view of number 88 Gower Street with view of backyard garden and additional structures. From 1946 aerial photograph courtesy Historic England. Image EAW000537.

What activities took place in Number 88 Gower Street?

Francis Galton and Karl Pearson referred to Number 88 Gower Street as a “temporary address“. Other than the ERO, what activities took place in number 88 Gower Street in the decade after 1900?

The answer is unclear. Census records from 1851-1911 show the property was occupied as a residence under either (1) a single family name, with servants and occasionally lodgers, or (2) multiple family names. The property appears to have been subdivided into two residential units before 1851, as two families are shown in that census as occupying Number 1, Upper Gower Street. This was not unusual for houses along this section of Gower Street. The street’s location close to universities and hospital made it convenient for professionals attached to those businesses.

In the 1860s, Gower Street was converted from cultural de sac to thoroughfare. The resulting change in traffic volume altered the street’s residential character. Boarding houses and leasing arrangements grew common. The same pattern was present in the 1901 census. In the late 19th century, Gower Street is described as “dull and monotonous” (Walford 1873-78: 567) and “one of the dullest, gloomiest thoroughfares in town…” (Olsen 1976: 133). In Charles Booth’s (1886-1903) survey, Gower Street is classified as “Mixed. Some comfortable others poor.”

In the 19th century, notable occupants of Number 1/Number 88 included:

  • 1808-1816, Captain Thomas Murray
  • 1829-1841, Richard Young Vance, surgeon
  • 1842-1843, Arthur Woodhouse, surgeon
  • 1864-1882, Bartholomew Archdekin Duncan, M.D.
    (Survey of London)

Census records for 1911 list a single family in residence at 88 Gower Street. This suggests part of the property operated as a private residence and the other half was used by University College as additional office capacity. UCL’s estate was growing rapidly in the first decade of the 20thC, and academic space was at a premium, so this strategy is no surprise. A 1937 map of university properties lists Number 88 as “being the freehold or leasehold property of the College, at present let and not intended at any early date for use for academic purposes” (in Cain 2011: 18-19)

This suggests a likely scenario as follows. When University of London chose to accept Galton’s proposal for a Eugenics Research Fellow, assistant, and computer, it also chose to accept responsibility for housing the small group. One or several rooms in Number 88 were assigned to the project. In 1905, Galton refers to “the room” of the Eugenics Records Office, suggesting only one room was available to them. (LLLFG 3a:438)

ERO-Galton housed two staff:

  1. Dr Edgar Schuster, Galton Research Fellow (1905-1906), succeeded by David Heron, Galton Research Fellow (1906)
  2. Miss Ethel Elderton, Research Assistant and Secretary (1905-1907) then continuously employed in ERO-Galton’s successor unit until 1935

Galton visited the office on Gower Street irregularly. Pearson did not need to visit ERO-Galton after becoming Director, as his office was within the university complex, and he likely had staff visit him. (I’ve written elsewhere about their connection to the appearance of a plaque commemorating Charles Darwin at 110 Gower Street in this brief window of time.)

In 1907, Pearson succeeded in restructuring ERO-Galton along the same design as the Biometric Laboratory he also directed within the, then, Department of Applied Mathematics and Mechanics at University College. Galton gave his full support to Pearson’s strategy. He also financially supported the restructure, as Farrall (2019 [1969]: 108-111) describes in detail. At some point after Pearson took control of the project, he moved the staff into space available to him in the South Wing of the College’s main building (now, Wilkins Building).

 

 

 

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