Skip to main content

Archives of the Commonwealth Institute

Reference Code: GBR/0115/RCS/RCMS 409

Content Description

Comprises annual reports, corporate plans, reports to ministers and heads of government, centenary brochures, programmes, and papers relating to the future of the Institute, the Commonwealth Education Trust and the Centre for Commonwealth Education in Cambridge. The papers were collected by Stephen Cox, a former director of the Institute, and largely relate to his tenure as director, 1991-7, and his ongoing interest in the winding-up of the Institute in the 2000s.


  • 1964 - 2017

Biographical / Historical

The Imperial Institute was established by royal charter on 10 May 1893, as suggested by the Prince of Wales to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of his mother, Queen Victoria. The Institute was envisaged as a repository for information and a site of investigation for commercial development. The Institute opened to great fanfare at a site in South Kensington, the money for which was raised by public appeal through the British Empire. From an early stage, the Institute housed permanent galleries and exhibition space showcasing the territories of the British Empire as well as laboratories to carry out research on the produce of the Empire. Scientific research was subsequently published through the ‘Imperial Institute Bulletin’.
Following a period of financial difficulties, the Colonial Office assumed responsibility for the Institute in 1907. The Institute continued to focus on scientific research and by 1925 was administered by the Department of Overseas Trade. In the interwar period, increasing emphasis was placed on educational work and exhibitions; responsibility for the Institute was passed to the Ministry of Education in 1949. In 1958, the newly renamed Commonwealth Institute moved to a new site in Holland Park in Kensington. The Institute’s focus was on developing new exhibitions to reflect the growing membership of the Commonwealth.
By the 2000s, the Institute was no longer financially viable. In 2007, the Commonwealth Education Trust was set up as a successor charity and, after a long process, liquidation of the Institute was completed by 2015. The Institute’s artefacts were transferred to the Museum of Empire and Commonwealth in Bristol. The Design Museum now occupies the former site in Holland Park.


0.045 cubic metre(s) (3 archive boxes and 1 oversize folder)

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Presented by Stephen Cox, former director of the Commonwealth Institute, in May 2019.

Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

Cambridge University Library
West Road
Cambridge CB3 9DR United Kingdom