Science Laboratories to 1900

Introductions to Heritage Assets

This document is intended to provide an overview of the history of laboratory buildings, in order that important surviving buildings can be identified and understood in their proper context.

The cut-off date of 1900 has been chosen for a number of reasons:

  1. Owing to the long pre-history of the laboratory, the centrality of the Victorian era, and the massive growth of science in the twentieth century, finishing at 1900 offers a means of establishing the history of the laboratory in a limited space.
  2. It was around the turn of the twentieth century that standards were established for institutional (school and university) teaching and research laboratories, so at least in this area a degree of stability took over from continual change.
  3. The challenges of describing twentieth-century laboratories are different in kind from those relating to laboratories up to 1900, owing in large part to the massive growth in specialized research laboratories in government, industry and academia.

This document has been commissioned by Historic England and prepared by Dr Boris Jardine of the University of Cambridge.


  • Historical background
  • Development of the building type
  • Associations
  • Change and the future
  • Further reading

Additional Information

  • Series: Guidance
  • Publication Status: Completed
  • Pages: 28
  • Product Code: HEAG303


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