The construction of the building began in 1874, and was completed in 1881. The building and the college were a £600,000 "gift to the nation" by the entrepreneur and philanthropist Thomas Holloway. The building is an example of Gothic Revival architecture in the United Kingdom. It was designed by the architect William Henry Crossland, and inspired by the Château de Chambord in the Loire Valley, France.
The building was officially opened in 1886 by Queen Victoria, who allowed the use of "Royal" in the college's name. A statue of Queen Victoria sits in the centre of the north quadrangle. The centre of the south quadrangle contains a statue of Thomas Holloway and his wife, Jane.
The Founder's Building houses the Picture Gallery, containing a collection of over 70 pieces of Victorian era art given to the college at the time of its founding by Thomas Holloway. The college's Main Lecture Theatre, chapel, and one of two libraries on the RHUL campus are also housed within the building. Today, the academic departments of the college are all housed in more modern buildings on the college's campus. The college's main administrative offices remain within the Founder's Building. It is also a Hall of Residence for the campus, with rooms for over 470 students. A bar within the building is named "Crosslands" in honour of its architect.