Jeremy Bentham has moved

Christina McGregor and Hannah Cornish of UCL Culture explain the challenges of relocating the auto-icon of Jeremy Bentham

Mannequin of Jeremy Bentham on display at a pop up exhibition at UCL

This article first appeared in issue 7 of Portico magazine, published October 2020.

In the summer of 2019, our team began planning the preservation of Jeremy Bentham’s Auto-Icon and its relocation from its original home in the Cloisters. It was a delicate process, both physically, as the figure is more than 170 years old, and ethically, for beneath the period costume is the skeleton of the man himself.

While Bentham’s philosophy and ideas around equal opportunities in education contributed to the foundation of UCL, his preserved body has its own significance.

The Auto-Icon is historically important because Bentham requested that his body be dissected to further medical science. This was before the Anatomy Act was passed – an issue he’d campaigned on for years. His colleague and friend Thomas Southwood Smith performed the operation in front of his friends and medical students.

The figure is also symbolic of Bentham’s rejection of the church. He proposed that by becoming your own memorial, rather than erecting a tombstone, you could remain in the lives of your family and friends. Bentham has been on display since 1850, but his idea did not catch on; his is the first and last Auto-Icon.

This article first appeared in issue 7 of Portico magazine, published October 2020.

In the summer of 2019, our team began planning the preservation of Jeremy Bentham’s Auto-Icon and its relocation from its original home in the Cloisters. It was a delicate process, both physically, as the figure is more than 170 years old, and ethically, for beneath the period costume is the skeleton of the man himself.

While Bentham’s philosophy and ideas around equal opportunities in education contributed to the foundation of UCL, his preserved body has its own significance.

The Auto-Icon is historically important because Bentham requested that his body be dissected to further medical science. This was before the Anatomy Act was passed – an issue he’d campaigned on for years. His colleague and friend Thomas Southwood Smith performed the operation in front of his friends and medical students.

The figure is also symbolic of Bentham’s rejection of the church. He proposed that by becoming your own memorial, rather than erecting a tombstone, you could remain in the lives of your family and friends. Bentham has been on display since 1850, but his idea did not catch on; his is the first and last Auto-Icon.

This article first appeared in issue 7 of Portico magazine, published October 2020.

In the summer of 2019, our team began planning the preservation of Jeremy Bentham’s Auto-Icon and its relocation from its original home in the Cloisters. It was a delicate process, both physically, as the figure is more than 170 years old, and ethically, for beneath the period costume is the skeleton of the man himself.

While Bentham’s philosophy and ideas around equal opportunities in education contributed to the foundation of UCL, his preserved body has its own significance.

The Auto-Icon is historically important because Bentham requested that his body be dissected to further medical science. This was before the Anatomy Act was passed – an issue he’d campaigned on for years. His colleague and friend Thomas Southwood Smith performed the operation in front of his friends and medical students.

The figure is also symbolic of Bentham’s rejection of the church. He proposed that by becoming your own memorial, rather than erecting a tombstone, you could remain in the lives of your family and friends. Bentham has been on display since 1850, but his idea did not catch on; his is the first and last Auto-Icon.

Mannequin of Jeremy Bentham being made, and later transported to the exhibition

Jeremy Bentham’s will gave very specific details for his life after death: from how he should be dressed to his presentation in a wooden case that would be accessible not just to his friends but also to future generations of disciples of his philosophy. This provoked much discussion between the relocation team of experts from around UCL. Keeping the figure in the Cloisters posed preservation problems because of the light, temperature and dust.

Bentham’s new home in a museum-grade glass case in the Student Centre resolved these issues, keeping the Auto-Icon visible in a state-of-the-art building designed to enhance the student-learning experience and commensurate with his utilitarian principle of the greatest happiness for the greatest number.

As for the wooden cases, research showed that the inner case had been repaired beyond recognition so could no longer be considered original, while the outer case was from the 1940s. However, as historic pieces of UCL’s furniture, we have preserved both, and the outer one will soon enjoy a new life as a pop-up performance and exhibition space.

Discover more about the auto-icon of Jeremy Bentham

This article first appeared in issue 7 of Portico magazine, published October 2020.

Jeremy Bentham’s will gave very specific details for his life after death: from how he should be dressed to his presentation in a wooden case that would be accessible not just to his friends but also to future generations of disciples of his philosophy. This provoked much discussion between the relocation team of experts from around UCL. Keeping the figure in the Cloisters posed preservation problems because of the light, temperature and dust.

Bentham’s new home in a museum-grade glass case in the Student Centre resolved these issues, keeping the Auto-Icon visible in a state-of-the-art building designed to enhance the student-learning experience and commensurate with his utilitarian principle of the greatest happiness for the greatest number.

As for the wooden cases, research showed that the inner case had been repaired beyond recognition so could no longer be considered original, while the outer case was from the 1940s. However, as historic pieces of UCL’s furniture, we have preserved both, and the outer one will soon enjoy a new life as a pop-up performance and exhibition space.

Discover more about the auto-icon of Jeremy Bentham

This article first appeared in issue 7 of Portico magazine, published October 2020.

Jeremy Bentham’s will gave very specific details for his life after death: from how he should be dressed to his presentation in a wooden case that would be accessible not just to his friends but also to future generations of disciples of his philosophy. This provoked much discussion between the relocation team of experts from around UCL. Keeping the figure in the Cloisters posed preservation problems because of the light, temperature and dust.

Bentham’s new home in a museum-grade glass case in the Student Centre resolved these issues, keeping the Auto-Icon visible in a state-of-the-art building designed to enhance the student-learning experience and commensurate with his utilitarian principle of the greatest happiness for the greatest number.

As for the wooden cases, research showed that the inner case had been repaired beyond recognition so could no longer be considered original, while the outer case was from the 1940s. However, as historic pieces of UCL’s furniture, we have preserved both, and the outer one will soon enjoy a new life as a pop-up performance and exhibition space.

Discover more about the auto-icon of Jeremy Bentham

This article first appeared in issue 7 of Portico magazine, published October 2020.