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Jeremy Bentham Auto-Icon

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Jeremy Bentham Auto-Icon UCL © Laura Porter (2008) licensed to About.com, Inc.

Jeremy Bentham Auto-Icon:

Where can you see a dead body sitting in a university corridor in London? At University College London (UCL) you can find Jeremy Bentham sitting in a glass-fronted cabinet.

Who is Jeremy Bentham?:

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) is considered to be the spiritual founder of UCL although he actually didn't play an active part in its creation it is noted that he was inspiration for the first English University to open its doors to all, regardless of race, creed, or political belief as Bentham strongly believed that education should be made more widely available, and not only to those who were wealthy, as was the norm.

What Did He Do?:

Bentham was a philosopher and during his lifetime he campaigned for social and political reform and his utilitarian principles helped him to create the greatest happiness principle and calculus.

Why Is His Body on Display?:

Bentham requested in his Will that his body should be preserved and stored in a wooden cabinet and called this his "Auto-Icon". Originally kept by his disciple Dr. Southwood Smith, UCL acquired his body in 1850 and have kept it on public display ever since.

Is His Body Preserved?:

The Auto-Icon has a wax head and the real head is in a mummified-state locked away in the university. After his death, and at his request, students of the university dissected his body for medical research, and Dr. Southwood Smith reassembled his skeleton and put him in a sitting position on his favorite chair. Bentham detailed exactly what he wanted done in his last Will and Testament.

How To Find the Jeremy Bentham Auto-Icon:

Nearest Tube Stations:
  • Euston Square
  • Warren Street
On Gower Street, between Grafton Way and University Street, enter the UCL grounds at Porter's Lodge. You arrive at an open courtyard. Head for the right hand corner, furthest away, and there's a ramp entrance to the South Cloisters, Wilkins Building. The Jeremy Bentham Auto-Icon is just inside.
It's another part of the weird and wonderful that is to be found in London! Find out more about the Jeremy Bentham Auto-Icon on the UCL website.

What Is There Nearby?:

Check out the Free Family Day Out in Central London which includes a visit to the Jeremy Bentham Auto-Icon.


Also at UCL, there is the Grant Museum of Zoology which is next to the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. Just around the corner on Euston Road is the Wellcome Collection. The British Museum is about 15 minutes walk away.
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