Belgrave Square

By Ian Shepherd and Cath O'Driscoll

Four years later, after a series of changes of address, the Society finally moved to its fifth and present location at 14/15 – and initially 16 – Belgrave Square in 1955.

Owned by the Duke of Westminster, along with the rest of Belgravia, the building was and still is part of the Grosvenor Estate and had recently been commandeered by the Ministry of Defence during World War II. Interestingly, the former Nazi commander Rudolf Hess is believed to have been interrogated in the building after he flew to Britain late in the war.

It was here in Belgrave Square that the Society celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1981, under the leadership of SCI president William Duncan. Reflecting on the past and present achievements of SCI in a special C&I supplement published that year, Duncan noted how the Society has also played an important role in the establishment of several other influential chemical bodies. In its early years, the Society fulfilled the function not only of a learned society, but also a trade association, Duncan wrote. 'During the First World War, when it became apparent that a separate trade association for the chemical industry was desirable, it was the Society’s London section, together with the Association of Dyers and Colourists, which initiated, in 1916, the Association of British Chemical Manufacturers, now the Chemical Industries Association.’

Duncan’s leadership of SCI came at a critical time for the Society’s future. In 1980, the year after he took office, the Chemical Society – based at nearby Burlington House – and the Royal Institute of Chemistry, together with the Faraday Society and the Society for Analytical Chemistry, merged to become the Royal Society of Chemistry, with a new Royal charter and the dual role of learned society and professional body. SCI, although involved in these talks, decided to remain independent, though as Duncan noted. ‘These talks caused the Society carefully to consider its role. It was obvious that an international multi-disciplinary society had much to offer the chemical industry, which was itself becoming ever more international and which needed to exploit new fields outside its traditional technology base. The Society decided, therefore, that it could best serve the industry by remaining independent and exploiting these advantages’.

That tradition of serving its members’ interests, and establishing a bridge linking science and business, has continued to this day. As well as its numerous and expanding range of meetings and networking events, SCI now has 24 technical and business interest groups, as well as 17 international and regional groups. SCI conferences and events take place regularly across the UK, while the society’s publications continue to grow in number and reputation. The Society’s membership also continues to diversify, with new opportunities and partnerships currently being sought not only in Europe and the US but also in Asia, where an SCI India headquarters was opened in 2008.

Members who changed the world

The history of SCI has been largely influenced by the inventors and scientists who came together and founded the Society back in 1881. More information about those notable scientists and inventors can be found here.