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120 years since One Birdcage Walk's opening ceremony

by Evelyn Alves | May 16, 2019
The 16 and 17 May 2019 mark the 120th anniversary of the Opening Ceremony of 1 Birdcage Walk, home today to the IMechE.

This blog post uses material from IMEchE's archive to reveal more about the Opening Ceremony and the planning behind it.

Front cover of the programme for the opening ceremony for One Birdcage Walk

A rapidly growing membership meant that the Institution’s needs could no longer be met in its temporary locations first in Birmingham, then in London from 1877. The lease for a site at Birdcage Walk in Westminster was established in 1895 and the building, designed by the architect Basil Slade, was completed in early 1899. The building has been the Institution’s home ever since.

Architect’s proposed front elevation, IMechE by Basil Slade

An opening ceremony was originally planned for 17th May with the desire for it “to be of a social character”. Invitations were sent to 2,225 IMechE members and c. 750 guests representing scientific societies, Government and universities.

There was such a positive response to the invitations that the decision was made to have two opening ceremonies in the form of a conversazione – one on the 16th and one on the 17th May – each capable of accommodating up to 1000 guests each night, though the final number of attendees each evening did not reach such a heady figure.

Arrangements were made not only for the evening’s entertainment but also for the logistics of catering for the sheer number of guests as well. 650 hat and coat pegs were ordered, and permission was sought and granted for an awning to be set up in St James’s Park to allow for two to three carriages to set down at any one one time.

The programme of entertainment was intended to show off the facilities and flexibility of the new building. It included musical performances, a cinematographic display and the descriptive display of slides of “Typical Ships of the Navy” by IMechE member Sir Fortescue Flannery M.P.

Programme of performances by the Meister Glee Singers

The library itself was the venue for performances by the Meister Glee Singers, a quartet who performed among others the musical jest “An Italian Salad” a version of which can be heard here:

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