The Institute has a long history of supporting French and British academic collaboration that pre-dates the Entente Cordiale – the historic agreement that significantly improved Anglo-French relations in 1904.
The University of London Institute in Paris was the brainchild of Miss Edith Williams, who came to the Sorbonne to train as a teacher of English. She succeeded in becoming the second-ever woman to receive the Agrégation d’anglais (a qualification necessary for teaching at university level) and started holding weekly English classes in her flat. In 1894, thanks to the support of the British Ambassador and the French Government, she formed the Franco-British Guild.
In the aftermath of the Great War, the Guild was reorganised to become the British Institute in Paris, the first British institute in continental Europe that offered both French and English courses. At that time it was an integral part of the Université de Paris and was also supported by a consortium of British universities including the University of London. A library and a clubroom were added, and leading French and British intellectuals and academics were invited to lecture. The Institute's work continued during German occupation of France. Some staff accepted the hospitality of the University of Reading, where they offered parallel classes in French and English to British and French officers respectively to improve the liaison between them. Others remained in Paris, from where they contrived to run covert distance courses in English through-out the war.