Queen Mary is in a residential area to the east of the City of London. This part of London played a major part in the history of industrial and working-class England. Charles Dickens and Jack London wrote about the poor of East London in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. From the early seventeenth century the Whitechapel and Mile End Roads were studded with charitable sites, both educational and for the poor, two of which occupied the site of the present College. A statue near the College marks the spot where the Salvation Army was founded in 1865. Many immigrants to Britain came first to this part of London: two old Jewish cemeteries lie east and west of the college. The Grand Union Canal passes to the east of the College and down to the old Thames docklands, which have now been vigorously redeveloped into a major financial and shopping centre.
The College began life in 1885 as 'The People's Palace', a cultural and recreational centre for the population of the East End of London. It offered a swimming pool, donkey and pony rides, flower shows, concerts and evening classes. In 1892 the educational side of the People's Palace became the East London Technical College under the direction of the Rev. J.L.S. Hatton, a pupil of the geometer J.J. Sylvester. Through his efforts, the College became a School of London University - the first postgraduate student in mathematics at the College began work in 1906. Westfield College in Hampstead amalgamated with the College in summer 1989, and in 1995, the medical schools of the Royal London Hospital and St. Bartholomew's Hospital were formally merged with the College.
The modern growth of the mathematics department began with the appointment of G.C. McVittie in 1948. The subsequent appointments of V.C.A. Ferraro and K.A. Hirsch in 1951/2 led to the creation of the Applied and the Pure sections of the department; the Astronomy Unit was established in 1983. Astronomy in Applied and algebra in Pure developed into major research centres of world renown. In 1967 the mathematicians moved into their purpose-built Mathematics Building beside the Mile End Road, together with Queen Mary's first computer. This building is now (2015) undergoing a major refurbishment.
The School of Mathematical Sciences was formed in 1984 under the headship of Professor I.W. Roxburgh. Originally it was an amalgam of the former departments of Applied Mathematics and Pure Mathematics, with the slightly later transfer of the Statistics group from the then Department of Computer Science and Statistics. Since then staff have come from other London colleges during a reorganisation in the 1980s and more recently from Goldsmith's College in particular. In the years since there have been many appointments from elsewhere in the UK and abroad. Many staff, who have retired in recent years, now hold emeritus status at Queen Mary and are still very active in research, in the School and in the College.