The Northampton Institute, from which City University London originates, was established to provide for the education and welfare of the local population. It was constituted under the City of London Parochial Charities Act (1883), with the objective of "the promotion of the industrial skill, general knowledge, health and well-being of young men and women belonging to the poorer classes".
There were six departments in the 1890s: Mechanical Engineering and Metal Trades; Artistic Crafts; Applied Physics and Electrical Engineering; Horology (the science of time and art of clock-making); Electro-Chemistry; and Domestic Economy and Women's Trades.
The first five candidates were admitted to engineering day classes in 1900 and by 1911 the Encyclopedia Britannica recorded that at the Northampton Institute in Clerkenwell "there is a very important day school of engineering conducted on the sandwich system". Indeed, the Institute became widely known as the Northampton Engineering College.
In 1909 the first students qualified for University of London BSc degrees in Engineering as internal students, and teachers at the College were Recognised Teachers of London University. A separate Technical Optics department was established in 1903-04.
In 1908 the University swimming pool was used for the Olympic games.
In the years that followed, the Institute concentrated increasingly on technical education but also worked to raise the academic level of its educational work. In 1957 the Northampton Institute was designated a College of Advanced Technology. New activities in this period included the establishment of separate mathematics and computer science courses and the introduction of liberal studies.
The name, "The City University", was officially adopted in 1966 to reflect the institution's close links with the City of London, although the University continues to use the name "City University London". It was agreed that the Lord Mayor in office should be invited to be the Chancellor, installed annually at the degree ceremony in Guildhall. The University's motto is "to serve mankind".