By Frank James, Professor of the History of Science and Head of Collections.
It is an oft repeated story that Albemarle Street was the first one-way street in London because of the crush of carriages bringing wealthy aristocrats and members of the upper middle class to hear lectures at the newly founded Royal Institution during the opening decade of the nineteenth century. The content of the lectures was not just about science (as we now construe the term) where the very young Cornish chemist Humphry Davy reigned supreme, but also literature where Davy's close friend the poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge lectured on poetry. Furthermore, the Whig wit Sidney Smith, whose idea of heaven was ‘eating paté de foie gras to the sound of trumpets' and who viewed ‘Switzerland as an inferior sort of Scotland', lectured on moral philosophy.
The Royal Institution did not begin keeping records of visitor numbers until the late 1820s, but judging by comments in newspapers, letters and diaries both Davy and Smith commanded large audiences - the theatre until it was reconstructed in the late 1920s could, on occasion, hold more than a thousand. Such accounts and such numbers make sense of the Royal Institution providing specific instructions to coach drivers about the direction on Albemarle Street in which they should drop off and collect their passengers. That the Royal Institution enforced this is illustrated by their paying for constables from Marlborough Street, in much the same way as football teams do today. On one occasion a coach driver disagreed with a constable about the direction of traffic flow and to avoid prosecution was forced to issue a printed statement of apology. In such a way did traffic management start to come to London.