South London Polytechnic Institutes Council was established following the City of London Parochial Charities Act, 1883. In the Act the government's Charity Commissioners were to distribute money to schemes which would improve the physical, social and moral condition of Londoners. Edric Bayley, a solicitor and member of the London School Board, wanted to use the money to establish a people's college in Elephant & Castle, which could help alleviate the extreme poverty he saw in that area as well as help strengthen British industry.
In 1887 Bayley established the South London Polytechnic Institutes Council, whose members included the Lord Mayor of London and the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII) as its President. In January 1888 the Council appealed to the Charity Commissioners for the money they needed. The Commissioners were impressed and pledged that they would match any funds raised by the public up to the sum of £150,000 in order to establish three technical colleges, or polytechnics, in South London.
A Committee of the Council had the task of raising the money needed from the public and also of deciding where the three polytechnics should be located. The Committee decided that one should be established at Elephant and Castle (now London South Bank University), another at New Cross (which is now Goldsmiths College) and lastly at Battersea (which eventually moved and became part of the University of Surrey). The public appeal for the money needed was launched at a widely publicised dinner held at Mansion House in June 1888. Within four years £78,000 had been raised through the public's generosity for the Elephant & Castle and Battersea Polytechnics, which was matched by the Charity Commissioners.