No list of London’s memorials could ever be complete without mentioning the extravagant Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens.
Completed in 1876 at a cost of £120,000, the monument – officially known as the Prince Consort National Memorial – was commissioned by the Queen after Prince Albert died of typhoid in 1861. Queen Victoria, devastated at his loss and wanting a public memorial for Albert, invited seven leading architects to submit designs. In the end she chose the designs of Sir Gilbert Scott which featured an ornate canopy and spire standing to a height of 176 feet (54 metres) over a larger-than-life gilded bronze figure of Prince Albert sitting in regal splendour.
The resulting memorial – described “visual feast” – is an exemplar monument of the Victorian era’s Gothic Revival style. It highlights Albert’s role as a patron of the arts. Around the base of the podium is a frieze containing images of sculptors, composers, painters, architects and poets while at the four corners of the canopy are four clusters of statuetry relating to agriculture, commerce, engineering and manufacturing.
Further out, on the corners of the base, stand another four groups of statues – these relate to the continents of Europe, Asia, America and Africa. The canopy itself features mosaics and statues depicting historical figures associated with the arts as well as statues depicting the artistic and scientific disciplines, and angels and virtues.
The statue of Albert, sculpted by John Henry Foley, gazes benevolently towards Royal Albert Hall – another monument dedicated to the Prince Consort – and holds in its hand a catalogue of the Great Exhibition of 1851 (Albert was a key player in the exhibition’s organisation).
The monument, which was apparently used as a landmark by German bombers and Zeppelin pilots in World War I, underwent an extensive restoration in the 1990s which involved dismantling its entire upper half and then reassembling it.
While entry to the memorial is free, there are paid for tours available for those keen to find out more about the monument. For more information about the tours, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/kensington_gardens/tours/index.cfm.
WHERE: Kensington Gardens (nearest tube station is High Street Kensington or South Kensington); WHEN: Accessible when the park is open (6am to dusk) but it can be seen from Kensington Gore; COST: Entry is free (there are paid tours, see above); WEBSITE: Royal Parks has a page on its website, www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/kensington_gardens/tours/index.cfm.