Joseph Priestley sits over the main entrance of Birkbeck College, his head resting in his left hand, examining a huge scroll that drops over this lap down to the floor. Is he boning up on the latest developments in chemistry? or electricity? or theology? or English grammar? Perhaps he is studying one of languages he spoke, including Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French, Italian, German, Arabic and Aramaic? He was a true Renaissance man.
The statue was carved by Gilbert Bayes in 1914 when the building was erected for the Royal Institute of Chemistry, to designs by Sir John Burnet. Priestley is today remembered most for his part in the discovery of oxygen, though he called it 'dephlogisticated air.' reflecting his unyielding attachment to the phlogiston theory that was being debunked at the time by his arch-rival Lavoisier.