Learned societies fight to keep historic homes

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The Independent Online

Five of the learned societies of Britain are fighting to retain their historic homes in Burlington House, London, amid a legal dispute with the Government over who owns the property.

The Geological Society, the Astronomical Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Society of Antiquaries and the Linnean Society, have been ensconced at the colonnaded building in the heart of Piccadilly since 1874.

They were moved there from Somerset House to make room for the Inland Revenue, and it was offered to them as a base by the then prime minister, Lord Palmerston, who said they would be provided with accommodation "mainly for the advantage of the country."

But when the Government decided individual departments should pay for their upkeep, rather than rely on a central funding system, no one would take responsibility for the societies. The sixth learned society, the Royal Academy, is protected by a 999-year lease, which means it can stay indefinitely.

Richard Bateman, chairman of the joint committee of the learned societies, said: "We've taken legal advice, and the Government has taken legal advice, and there are some differences between legal advisers, but we hope it can be resolved satisfactorily."