Bragg’s Dining Room

The dining room of the resident professors has played host to distinguished speakers, including Guglielmo Marconi and Lord Rutherford.

Poet, chemist and aficionado of laughing gas, Sir Humphry Davy could be rather chaotic. The story goes that he once invited three grandees to the Royal Institution for dinner—the physician Clement Carlyon, the polymath Thomas Young and the mineralogist William Babington, who gave his name to the mineral Babingtonite. All went well until they tasted the woodcock, which Davy had been keeping in lab equipment used for experiments with ether. It was inedible.

The practice of inviting speakers to dine here after giving their Friday Evening Discourses was started by Michael Faraday, and continued by John Tyndall and Sir James Dewar, whose guests included Guglielmo Marconi and Lord Rutherford. When Dewar died in harness, his body was laid out in this room, which also hosted his funeral.

In the 1950s, Sir William Lawrence Bragg stressed the importance of the dinners he and his wife Alice gave for the speakers—although it seems they could be rowdy affairs. One guest, the Nobel Laureate Sir John Kendrew, remembered Alice shouting down the table at her husband, “Don’t get on your high horse, Willie!”