From: Survey of London: Volume 38, South Kensington Museums Area. Originally published by London County Council, London (1975):
“The Royal School of Mines was thus the part of Imperial College most urgently in want of new accommodation in 1907. At the same time the need for instruction in mining and metallurgy was, with engineering, that most compellingly felt by the founders of the college. (By 1912, the college owned a mine in Cornwall.) As the mining industrialist Sir Julius Wernher told a meeting at Lord Rosebery’s in 1902 ‘the men he and others wanted were not to be found in England, and the only alternative to the employment of Germans was the foundation of a technological department of the [London] University’. The Departmental Committee of 1904—6 had stressed that ‘as London is the financial centre of many great engineering, mining and metallurgical industries in the Colonies, it is … the best site for a more highly developed School of Mines which shall provide for the needs of the Empire’.”
George P. Landow writes at the Victorian Web:
“Founded in 1851, the year of the Great Exhibition, the Royal School of Mines now houses Imperial College’s departments of geology, engineering, and material science. According to Jones and Woodward, it was the last (1909-13) of Aston Webb’s three buildings in “hard white stone” in South Kensington, the other two being the Victoria and Albert Museum and Imperial College. “The monumental central semicircular niche with sculptures is impressive but cramped” (188). According to the school’s site, T. H. Huxley was its first dean.
Sculpture flanking the entrance: Alfred Beit, Sir Julius Wernher, and four allegorical figures.
“Sir Julius Charles Wernher, 1st Baronet (9 April 1850 – 21 May 1912) Born in Darmstadt, Hesse, Wernher was the son of Elisabeth (Weidenbusch) and Friedrich Augustus Wernher, a railway engineer of Protestant stock. He was educated at Frankfurt-am-Main, where he entered a merchant bank. In 1871, having served in the Franco-German War, he moved to London at the age of 21. His talent for business was spotted by a diamond dealer named Jules Porgès of London and Paris, who sent Wernher in 1873 as his agent to the diamond mines of Kimberley, South Africa to buy and export diamonds. Wernher bought up mining interests and by 1875 was a member of the Kimberley mining board. In that same year, Porgès and Alfred Beit joined him in Kimberley, and Porgès formed the Compagnie Française des Mines de Diamants du Cap. Porgès returned to London after having made Wernher and Beit partners in the firm of Jules Porgès & Co. By 1884 Wernher returned to London and traded in diamond shares, while Beit remained in Kimberley to look after their interests. On Porgès’ retirement in 1889, the firm was restructured and named Wernher, Beit & Co.
With the discovery in 1886 of gold on the Witwatersrand, the firm appointed Hermann Eckstein as their representative in Johannesburg, while Cecil Rhodes and Beit effectively amalgamated the Kimberley diamond mines by 1888 and enabled Wernher, Beit & Co. to acquire a controlling interest in De Beers Consolidated Mines. Wernher by now was managing over 70 South African companies from his London office, and developing a passion for collecting art. He was created a baronet in 1905, as well as being a member of the Order of the Crown of Prussia. Despite having a reputation for prudence in business, Wernher was swindled out of £64,000 in 1906 by Henri Lemoine, who claimed he could make synthetic diamonds.
Beset by failing health in 1911, Wernher merged the shareholdings of Wernher, Beit & Co. with those of Central Mining and Investment Corporation and Rand Mines Ltd. Besides his interest in art, Wernher funded an extension to the National Physical Laboratory. He also bequeathed £250,000 to establishing a university in Cape Town, and £100,000 to the Imperial College of Science and Technology in London.
At the time of his death in London, he was one of the richest men in the United Kingdom with a fortune of £12 million (then $60 million in face value, then more than about 20–30 times current purchasing power). This accumulation of wealth was due to his level-headedness and attention to detail. In contrast, Beit was shrewd but impulsive, leading to fiascos like the Jameson Raid.
Alfred Beit (15 February 1853 – 16 July 1906) was an Anglo-German gold and diamond magnate in South Africa, and a major donor and profiteer of infrastructure development on the African continent. He also donated much money to university education and research in several countries, and was the “silent partner” who structured the capital flight from post-Boer War South Africa to Rhodesia, and the Rhodes Scholarship, named after his employee, Cecil Rhodes. Beit’s assets were structured around the so-called Corner House Group, which through its holdings in various companies controlled 37 per cent of the gold produced at the Witwatersrand’s goldfields in Johannesburg in 1913.”