Lincoln’s Inn Fields: History

The Lincoln's Inn Fields (LIF) and Clare Hall (CH) laboratories were the principal research facilities of the former Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF), prior to its amalgamation with the Cancer Research Campaign (CRC) to form Cancer Research UK in 2002.

The Cancer Research Fund became the UK's first specialist cancer research organisation upon its formation on 4 July 1902. Prior to this date there were no independent institutions in the UK wholly devoted to the investigation of the causes and treatment of cancer. Instead, cancer research was carried out exclusively at hospitals, some of which had special cancer research departments, such as London's Middlesex Hospital. In 1904, the Fund was renamed the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF).

The ICRF's first laboratories occupied the Royal Colleges' Conjoint Examination Hall on Victoria Embankment, which is now the property of the Institution of Electrical Engineers. By 1909, the staff had grown to four research scientists, six voluntary scientific workers and 14 laboratory technicians, prompting a move to larger premises in Queen Square, Bloomsbury in 1912, and again to Mill Hill in 1938.

In the 1950s the ICRF laboratories relocated once again, this time to a specialist laboratory block located adjacent to the Royal College of Surgeons in Lincoln's Inn Fields, a tree-lined square in the heart of London. A £1 million appeal fund for the building was launched under the leadership of the Reverend George Chambers (who had successfully managed the Westminster Abbey Appeal) and the new laboratories were opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 11 June 1963, under the Directorship of Dr Guy Mariann. Dr Michael Stoker took over as Director in 1968 and established the laboratories as a world-leading centre for DNA and RNA tumour virus biology.

Expanding staff numbers encouraged the ICRF to take advantage of the opportunity to buy the freehold of the site next door. A new laboratory extension opened in 1973, doubling the size of the laboratories. With this the building reached its present size.

Dr Walter Bodmer took over as Scientific Director of the Laboratories in 1979, presiding over a substantial expansion of research into human cancer genetics. Upon Dr Bodmer's departure in 1994, Dr Paul Nurse took the helm. In addition to housing more than 40 independent research groups, the building now supports sophisticated research services including electron and light microscopy, mass spectrometry, informatics and pathology. A rooftop extension housing a new library and IT facility was opened in 1997.

In February 2002, ICRF amalgamated with the Cancer Research Campaign (CRC) to form Cancer Research UK. Within the new charity, the Lincoln's Inn Fields laboratories together with the former ICRF's Clare Hall laboratories combined as the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute (LRI). Dr Richard Treisman served as the Director of the Institute before it became part of the Crick in April 2015.

  • Blue skies and Bench Space, an unconventional history of Molecular Biology and the LRI is available to buy or download. For more information visit the BSBS website.
  • Click here for directions to the Lincoln's Inn Fields Laboratory.