Origins of the Trust


Silver model of the Imperial Institute presented to Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales by the Corporation of the City of London upon her silver wedding day 10th March 1888

In 1837, at the age of eighteen, Queen Victoria ascended the British throne. Fifty years later she had established the monarchy and her own presence at the heart of the nation’s identity. She was not merely Queen of the United Kingdom but Empress of India and titular head of the greatest empire the world had ever seen. Victoria’s reign saw great advances in industry, engineering, science, communications and transport.

Edward, Prince of Wales, resolved that this fiftieth anniversary would unite all the peoples of the Empire. He decided upon the foundation of an Imperial Institute to undertake research, education and related activities which would promote the prosperity and development of the people of the Empire. Supported by the Lord Mayor of London he set about raising the money, writing personally to friends and communities across the globe to promote the idea. The campaign raised 426,000 pounds, overwhelmingly from private donations, and received a grant from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 of land valued at 250,000 pounds. The culmination of this endeavour was the Imperial Institute based in South Kensington. Queen Victoria, greatly affected by this manifestation of popular generosity and affection, became very attached to what she termed informally "my institute".

In the years since the launch of the appeal the world has changed beyond recognition. The Empire has given way to a Commonwealth of 53 countries, a voluntary association of equal members united by a framework of common values. The Institute is now the Commonwealth Education Trust - entrusted with the funds originating in the great public subscription. Through our focus on primary and secondary education we continue to use those funds to undertake research, education and related activities to promote the prosperity and development of the people of the Commonwealth.

In 2011 Charles, Prince of Wales, great-great-grandson of Edward, Prince of Wales, founder of the Trust, concluded his Foreword to the Trust’s 125th Anniversary publication ‘A River of Stories – Tales and Poems from Across the Commonwealth ’ by saying that he hoped readers would be "inspired to find the wisdom that is needed to take the world forward in a sustainable way for the next 125 years".

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