A Moment in London’s History – The opening of Royal Albert Hall…

Crowds gathered at the Opening of Royal Albert Hall, on 29th March, 1871, as seems in the Illustrated London News, on the 8th April, 1871.

Next week sees the Royal Albert Hall’s 150th anniversary concert taking place, one of a number of events to mark the anniversary of the hall’s opening.

This spectacular building in South Kensington was officially opened on 29th March, 1871, as The Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences (the opening was actually brought forward from 1st May – 20th anniversary of the opening of the Great Exhibition – at the request of Queen Victoria).

The Queen had laid the foundation stone in 1867 and the work on the building, the creation of which was partly funded by profits from the Great Exhibition of 1851, was complete by the end of 1870 (at least its structure – much of the interior decoration was apparently added later).

An image of the interior of the hall during the opening ceremony on 29th March. 1871. The illustration originally appeared in The Graphic. PICTURE: Via Wikipedia.

Queen Victoria and members of the Royal Family left Buckingham Palace in a line of state carriages for the event at noon escorted by the Royal Horse Guards Blue. Large crowds lined the route of her passage and a guard of honour composed of the Grenadiers stood opposite the entrance.

On arriving, the Queen was met by the Edward, the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII), members of the building committee and some of those who has served as commissioners of the Great Exhibition of 1851.

The Queen processed to a dais inside the building’ auditorium where some 8,000 dignitaries and invited guests waited in the audience. But she was apparently too overcome by memories of her late husband – Prince Albert, after whom the building as named – to give a speech. So it was the Prince who did so, although the Queen did reportedly add her own comments, saying according to an account in The Guardian: “I cannot but express my great admiration for this beautiful building, and my earnest wishes for its complete success.”

A battery of artillery performed a salute in nearby Hyde Park after which the Queen and Royal Family took their seats in the Royal Box to watch the musical program that followed. The Queen then returned to Buckingham Palace.

Interestingly, the first concert at the hall, held to test acoustics, actually took place month earlier on 25th February for an audience of some 7,000 people made up of those who had worked on the building and their families as well as officials and various invited members of the public.

10 sites from Victoria and Albert’s London – 4. Hyde Park…

As well as being a location for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s carriage rides, Hyde Park was the scene of what the Queen described as “the greatest day in our history” – the opening of the Great Exhibition in 1851.

Designed by Joseph Paxton, the vast Crystal Palace had been constructed on the south side of the park and it was at noon on 1st May, 1851 (having already celebrated their son Arthur’s first birthday), that the Queen and Prince arrived in a closed carriage to officially open the exhibition, encountering, as they did so, the biggest crowd they’d ever seen.

They were greeted by massed choirs as they entered the Crystal Palace after which Prince Albert delivered an address to the Queen and she made a short reply before the choir then sang the Hallelujah Chorus. The Royal Family – the Queen holding the hand of Bertie, the Prince of Wales, and the Prince holding that of Princess Victoria “Vicky” – then toured the building, cheered on by thousands of onlookers.

The exhibition, with its thousands of displays from around the world, was then officially declared open by the Lord Chamberlain and 100 cannons were fired outside.

The royal couple returned to Buckingham Palace where, for the first time, they walked out onto the balcony to greet the thousands of people massed outside.

Victoria described the day as one to “live for ever” in her journal. Paul Thomas Murphy, in his book Shooting Victoria, records that she went on to write: “God bless my dearest Albert, God bless my dearest country, which has shown itself so great to-day. One felt so grateful to the great God, who seemed to pervade all and to bless all.”

Interestingly, the park was also where Queen Victoria, in the presence of Prince Albert and other members of the Royal Family, presented 62 men with the first Victoria Crosses on 26th June, 1857. It was also where, sadly without the Prince, the Queen made a surprise appearance on 22nd June, 1887, as thousands of school children ate a free meal given as a gift to celebrate her Golden Jubilee.

PICTURE: ‘Her Majesty and the Princes passing through the Crystal Palace’, 1851 Sharles, H (artist) ; Ackermann & Co. (printer and publisher)/© Victoria and Albert Museum London.

WHERE: Hyde Park (nearest Tube stations are Lancaster Gate, Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner and Knightsbridge); WHEN: 5am to midnight; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park

What’s in a name?…Exhibition Road…

This important Kensington thoroughfare runs through the heart of South Kensington’s world-famous museum precinct from Thurloe Place, just south of Cromwell Road, all the way to Hyde Park.

Along its length, it takes in such important institutions as the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum, Science Museum and Imperial College London while Royal Albert Hall is only a stone’s throw to the west.

It was, as might be expected given the name, indeed laid out as part of Prince Albert’s grand scheme surrounding the Great Exhibition of 1851 as a means of accessing the vast Crystal Palace which was located in Hyde Park (before moving out to south London).

It wasn’t the only road in the area built specifically for that purpose – the transecting Cromwell Road and Queen’s Gate, which runs in parallel and, yes, is named for Queen Victoria, were also built for to provide access to the Great Exhibition.

After the exhibition was over, Exhibition Road formed part of the precinct known as “Albertopolis” in which, inspired by the Great Exhibition, became something of a knowledge and cultural centre featuring various museums and the great concert hall which sadly Albert didn’t live long enough to see.

In the 2000s, a scheme to give pedestrians greater priority along the road was realised (in time for the 2012 Olympics).

PICTURE: Looking north along Exhibition Road from the intersection with Cromwell Road (the Natural History Museum is on the left; the Victoria & Albert Museum – and the Aston Webb Screen – on the right)/Google Maps.

 

Treasures of London – Richard Coeur de Lion…


Located in Old Palace Yard outside the Palace of Westminster, this Grade II-listed equestrian statue of 12th century crusader-monarch King Richard I, known as the “Lionheart” or Coeur de Lion, is the work of 19th century sculptor Baron Carlo Marochetti. 

The nine metre high statue was originally exhibited as a clay work at the Great Exhibition of 1851 – it was located outside the west entrance of the Crystal Palace – and, despite the tail falling off soon after it was display, it was well enough received by the crowds attending the exhibition (as well as the critics) that a public subscription was raised to cast the statue in bronze. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were among those who subscribed.

It was initially proposed that the statue be placed on the site of the Crystal Palace as a memorial to the exhibition (along with a statue of Prince Albert), but this plan was put aside and, after numerous other sites were considered, the current location was settled on.

The statue was erected on the site, facing south, in 1860, although it wasn’t completed with the addition of two bronze bas relief panels until 1867. These depict Richard on his death bed pardoning Bertran de Born, the archer whose arrow caused his death, and Richard fighting Saracens at Ascalon during his crusade in the Holy Land. Two other proposed panels were never made.

The statue was peppered with shrapnel when a bomb landed only a few metres away in 1940 during the Blitz, leaving Richard’s sword bent and damaging the tail and granite pedestal. The sword was fixed soon after. Further conservation works were carried out in 2009.

Italian-born Marochetti had worked in Paris as a sculptor before following King Louis-Philippe to London after the revolution of 1848 and largely remained in the city until his death in 1867. He was created a baron by the King of Sardinia.

His statue of Richard is one of few artworks created by non-British artists in the Parliamentary estate and while Marochetti had plans to create another equestrian statue, this one of Edward, the Black Prince, to face his statue of Richard across the entrance to the House of Lords, it never eventuated. Plans to install the second statue are, however, once more being talked about.

PICTURES: Above – The statue in Old Palace Yard (David Adams); Below – Detail of the panel depicting the death of the king (Prioryman/CC BY-SA 4.0)

LondonLife – Artistic eyes gaze upon us…

V&A

Eighteenth century artists William Hogarth and Joshua Reynolds gaze down from the facade of the V&A in South Kensington. The Victoria and Albert Museum was established in 1852 – capitalising on the success of the Great Exhibition the previous year – and moved to its current site in 1857. The foundation stone for the current building was laid by Queen Victoria herself in 1899 and it was to mark this occasion that the museum was renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum after the queen and late Prince Albert (although the queen really just wanted it to be the Albert Museum). For more on the V&A, see www.vam.ac.uk.

10 of London’s greatest Victorian projects – 2. Two South Kensington Museums…

Located in the South Kensington estate – known to some during the Victorian era as Albertopolis (see previous entry in this series) – each of the two museums mentioned here represents an architectural and cultural feat in its own right, for the sake of space (and to allow us to explore a wider range of buildings as part of this series) we’re grouping them together…

V&A2• Victoria and Albert Museum: Following on from the success of the Great Exhibition of 1851, the V&A as it’s popularly known, was established in 1852 and funded by the profits from the exhibition.

Initially known as the Museum of Manufactures, it was founded with the three aims of making art accessible, educating people and inspiring British designers and manufacturers.

Renamed the South Kensington Museum after moving to its current site in 1857, its collections – which now include everything from metalwork, furniture and textiles to fine art such as paintings, drawings and sculptures from a range of contemporary and historical periods – continued to expand.

Located in what were only meant to be temporary exhibition buildings – factory-like structures which become known as the ‘Brompton Boilers’, in 1899 Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone for the grand new facade and entrance that we see today (it was at this point that that the museum took on its current name).

The Science Museum – the third major museum of Albertopolis – initially formed part of this museum and only gained its independent status in 1909.

WHERE: Victoria and Albert Museum (nearest Tube stations are South Kensington and Knightsbridge); WHEN: 10am to 5.45pm daily (late opening Fridays); COST: Free (apart from special exhibitions); WEBSITE: www.vam.ac.uk.

 

NHM Natural History Museum: Created to house what was previously the natural history collection of the British Museum (itself founded out of the collections of Sir Hans Sloane), the museum was founded thanks largely to the efforts of Sir Richard Owen.

The superintendent of the natural history department at the British Museum and later the founder of the NHM, it was he led the campaign for a separate premises for the museum’s natural history collections which had outgrown the museum’s home in Bloomsbury.

It first opened its doors on Easter Monday, 1881, but the museum legally remained part of the British Museum until 1963 and continued to be known as British Museum (Natural History) until 1992.

Known as the Waterhouse Building (after Alfred Waterhouse, the young architect who designed it following the death of the original designer, engineer Captain Francis Fowke, who was also involved in the initial design of Royal Albert Hall), the museum’s main structure – faced in terracotta – is said to be one of the finest examples of a Romanesque structure in Britain.

The premises and collections of the Geological Museum – now the ‘red zone’ of the NHM –  merged with the Natural History Museum in 1985.

WHERE: Natural History Museum (nearest Tube stations are South Kensington and Knightsbridge); WHEN: 10am to 5.50pm daily; COST: Free (apart from special exhibitions); WEBSITE: www.nhm.ac.uk.