In November 1833, the newly-founded University of London (now UCL) appointed Captain Alexander Maconochie, Secretary to the Royal Geographical Society, as its first professor of geography. This was the first such appointment in the British Isles. Maconochie resigned in August 1836 to take an appointment in Tasmania and subsequently became a reforming governor of the penal colony of Norfolk Island in the Pacific Ocean.
Members of the geology department at UCL gave lectures on physical geography in the final decades of the 19th century but not until 1903 was the chair of geography re-established. Its occupant was Lionel William Lyde who had been a schoolmaster specialising in the classics and history. He had developed an interest in geography and enjoyed remarkable success as a prolific writer of textbooks. He taught alone during most of his quarter century at UCL. The professor of geology continued to give introductory lectures in physical geography (an arrangement that survived until 1961) and in the mid 1920s Lyde had support from three assistant lecturers. When Lyde retired in 1928, he was replaced by Charles Bungay Fawcett who occupied the chair of geography for twenty one years, retiring in 1949.
In 1937 Geography moved from a house facing Gordon Square to premises in Foster Court that it would occupy until 1979. During the Second World War, the Department was evacuated to the University of Wales at Aberystwyth, returning to Foster Court in 1944. Following Fawcett's retirement, Henry Clifford Darby, was appointed to the Chair at UCL. Darby embarked on a programme of expanding his department in terms of academics, undergraduates and postgraduates, and enhancing its quality.
Professor Bill Mead became head of department in 1966, and during his tenure the Department acquired more chairs (Eric Brown, Paul Wheatley) and continued its tradition of receiving academic visitors from North America and Europe. Ron Cooke was Head of Geography at UCL from 1981-1991, leaving to become Vice-Chancellor of the University of
York. His successor as head of department was Richard Munton (1991-1997, 2002-2005). Many colleagues who had been appointed in the 1960s acquired personal chairs at UCL, whilst others moved to senior posts elsewhere.