Representing students for more than a century

Union Bar 1966-67. Image courtesy of King’s College London Archives.

King’s Student Union made the move to its new home in Bush House in 2018. We take a look back at the origins of this long-lived institution.

There is some disagreement over who has the oldest student’s union in England. The University College London Union was founded in 1893 and the Liverpool Guild of Students was founded in 1889, but a King’s student association was recorded as existing on the Strand as early as December 1873, when students were granted the use of a common room. In 1878 this organisation was named the Union Society of King’s College, and the societies for all the individual faculties were incorporated into it. However, this Union soon ran into financial and other difficulties and was taken over by the College Engineering Society in 1885.

KCLSU’s real beginning should probably be dated to 1908. According to the College historian F J C Hearnshaw, ‘the Union Society appears to have been completely reorganised at a general meeting held on Friday 4 December, and to have taken over both the athletic club and all social activities of the College’. It was at this point, to ensure the Union’s financial stability, that the College Council agreed to a sum being deducted from the fees of every student to support it.

Student elections at King’s in 1931. Image courtesy of King’s College London Archives

The Union was an all-male organisation, and when large numbers of students were called up during the First World War it again nearly collapsed, but was saved by the arrival of female students at the Strand after the merger with King’s College for Women in 1915.

A few years later King’s played a major part in establishing the National Union of Students (NUS), and the first president of the NUS (in 1922) was Ivison Stevenson Macadam who had been President of KCLSU from the year before. Like Macadam, many of the founders of the NUS were ex-servicemen who wanted to prevent further wars by promoting mutual understanding and friendship between the future leaders of different nations.

Reggie the Lion at KCLSU, Bush House

Reggie the Lion arrived at King’s at about the same time. In 1923 the students set out to find a mascot similar to the lion on the College’s crest, and eventually they bought a beaten metal lion with his paw on a globe. Reggie the lion has also found a new home at Bush House. You can read more about his colourful history here: The history of Reggie.