Victoria & Albert's Bicentenary
Founded in 1852, the Victoria & Albert Museum represents more than 3,000 years of human creativity, with collections unrivalled in their scope and diversity. Originally called the South Kensington museum, it was officially opened in 1857 by Queen Victoria. It is free for visitors.
Cromwell Road, , London SW7 2RL
Sir Aston Webb Façade
In 1909, the architect Sir Aston Webb completed a three-storey façade extension to the Victoria and Albert Museum. In 1899, when the museum was renamed from the South Kensington museum the Victoria and Albert Museum, Queen Victoria herself laid the foundation stone for a new and imposing grand entrance. The arched entrance and central tower of the façade are adorned with figures of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria
The South Kensington Museum
Inspired by the Great Exhibition of 1851, Prince Albert set up the museum in its current site in 1857. It formed part of a cultural district of museums and colleges in South Kensington, which were intended to help improve British design through the teaching of art and science. The V&A was the first of these institutions.
Lecture Theatre Block
The Madejski Garden
The triangular pediment of the Lecture Theatre Block on the north side celebrates the origins of the V&A in the Great Exhibition of 1851. It features a silhouette of the Crystal Palace, where the Exhibition was held, and Queen Victoria awarding laurels to the prize-winners.
Coronet designed by Prince Albert
Queen Victoria’s sapphire and diamond coronet is now on permanent public display. One of Queen Victoria’s most treasured jewels, it was designed for her by Prince Albert in 1840 – the royal couple’s wedding year. Albert played a key role in arranging Victoria’s jewels, and he based the coronet’s design on the Saxon Rautenkranz, or circlet of rue, which runs diagonally across the coat of arms of Saxony.
Cut Steel at the Great Exhibition
The Great Exhibition was a showcase for manufacturers to promote their goods to huge numbers of clients at all levels of society. In the jewellery gallery you can see examples of items that were on display & purchased at the Great Exhibition including a chatelaines inscribed to Prince Albert (a waist-hung fashion accessories worn by housewives and house keepers), brooches with Queen Victoria's portrait & bracelets.
Imperial College London
Following the success of the Great Exhibition of 1851, Prince Albert and Queen Victoria invested the proceeds into a brand new, world-class cultural and educational quarter for science and the arts. In 1887, Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone and opened the Imperial Institute.
South Kensington Campus, , London SW7 2AZ
Queen Victoria Statue
Head inside the circular glass doors of Imperial Business School to see the marble statue of Queen Victoria. The statue has sat in this location since the building’s opening in 2006. It was previously situated outside the Imperial Institute before its demolition in the 1960s, and then moved to the inside of the Queen’s Tower. During its time in the Queen’s Tower that the statue’s crown vanished. A new one was only made in 2016. The Queen's Tower. Built in 1887, it is the centrepiece of the University campus and the only remaining part of the Imperial Institute.
The Queen's Tower
The Queen's Tower is all that remains of the Imperial Institute, which was built to mark Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887. To make way for modern laboratories, the Imperial Institute was demolished in 1958 - to preserve the tower, new foundations and reinforcements were required. The Tower contains the Alexandra peal of 12 bells, rung on anniversaries. The Queen's Tower is 287 feet tall, clad in Portland stone and topped by a copper covered dome. There are 324 steps from the ground to the base of the dome.
Royal Albert Hall
The Royal Albert Hall, built in 1867, is one of the world's most famous stages. It hosts over 700 events a year across a large variety of performance genres. The Hall was named by Queen Victoria in memory of Prince Albert.
Kensington Gore, , London SW7 2AP
The Hall of Arts and Science
At the heart of Albertopolis is the Royal Albert Hall. The Hall was fundamental to Prince Albert's vision for the area. It was originally to be called the Central Hall of Arts and Sciences. As it didn't open until 1871, a decade after Albert's death, Queen Victoria renamed it to the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences after laying the first foundation stone on 20 May 1867. The Hall offers guided tours for those who want to learn more about its interesting history. For example, far from being the impeccable concert venue it is today when the Hall was first built, it had terrible acoustics!
Look up towards the roof for an inscription written around the building. It starts: ‘This hall was erected for the advancement of the arts and sciences and works of industry of all nations in fulfillment of the intention of Albert Prince Consort’. Below the inscription is a mosaic frieze that encircles the building depicting 'The Triumph of Arts and Sciences'. There are 16 themes including music, sculpture, painting, pottery and glass-making, astronomy and navigation and workers in stone.The frieze measures 800 feet long and 5,200 square feet.
The birthplace of Queen Victoria who lived here until she became queen in 1837. She grew up here under the watchful eye of her mother, the Duchess of Kent. Victoria’s mother controlled every aspect of the Princess’s upbringing and education, together with the manipulative Sir John Conroy.
Kensington Gardens, , London W8 4PX
Queen Victoria Statue
Outside Kensington Palace stands a statue of Queen Victoria sculpted by her daughter, Princess Louise, to celebrate 50 years of her mother's reign. It thus shows a young, eighteen-year-old Queen in her coronation robes. The exceptionally gifted Princess Louise was a most accomplished sculptor in her own right. From the memoirs of her nephew Ernst Ludwig we know she was reluctant to make the sculpture but was persuaded by the famous painter Alma Tadema.
Where Victoria first met Albert
A small plaque on the Stone Staircase landing denotes that this is the exact spot that Victoria first laid eyes on Albert. He and his brother Ernest came through the doors as Victoria was watching from above. You are able to read Princess Victoria's diary entry from that day. We encourage you to speak to the knowledgable guides inside the Palace for interesting insight into Victoria's early life. Entrance to the Palace can be bought here.
The Red Saloon
Queen Victoria held her first Privy Council (a meeting of ministers and close advisors) in this room on 20 June 1837, aged only 18, just a few hours after learning she was the monarch. She surprised them all with her dignified composure.
Inside the palace you can find a collection of gifts exchanged between Victoria and Albert. They shared a passion for art and during their time together they established a tradition of giving each other gifts of works of art on their birthdays, anniversaries and at Christmas. Albert was a keen designer. Victoria had the ultimate reverence for her husband’s taste in all artistic matters: ‘Albert has such taste & arranges everything for me about my jewels’.
Opens 24 May: Exploring the life of Victoria
Two new exhibitions open on Queen Victoria's birthday. Victoria: A Royal Childhood examines Victoria's early years at Kensington, with the suite of rooms she and her mother occupied being reimagined in an exploration of royal childhood.Victoria: Woman and Crown considers the private woman behind the public monarch. Victoria had the unique challenge of balancing the role of wife and mother with that of Queen of an expanding empire.
The Gardens with their magnificent trees are the setting for Kensington Palace. Prince Albert was a keen gardener and took charge of the gardens at Osborne House, where he introduced an Italian garden with large raised terraces, fountains, urns and geometric flower beds.
Kensington Gardens, , London W2 2UH
The Albert Memorial is one of London's most ornate monuments unveiled in 1872 to commemorate the death of Prince Albert in 1861 of typhoid, age 42. The memorial shows Prince Albert holding the catalogue of the Great Exhibition which he inspired and helped to organise. The memorial took over 10 years to complete. Around the base the Parnassus frieze depicts celebrated painters, poets sculptors, musicians and architects, reflecting Albert's enthusiasm for the arts.
The Italian Gardens
Created in the 1860s, you can find this ornamental water garden on the north side of park, near Lancaster Gate. The gardens are believed to have been a gift from Prince Albert to his beloved Queen Victoria. The layout of the Italian Gardens can be traced to Osborne House on The Isle of Wight, where the royal family spent its holidays. Look out for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's initials on one of the walls of the Pump House, at the north of the gardens.
London's Hyde Park covers 142 hectares (350 acres) with over 4,000 trees, a large lake, a meadow and ornamental flower gardens. The park was established by Henry VIII in 1536 when he took the land from Westminster Abbey to use as a hunting ground.
Hyde Park, , London W2 2UH
The Great Exhibition of 1851
On your route through the Park, you will pass the site of The Great Exhibition in 1851 which was the first international exhibition of manufactured products. It was organised by Henry Cole and Prince Albert, and held in a purpose-built Crystal Palace in Hyde Park with over 6 million visitors. Many of the objects in the Exhibition were used as the first collection for the South Kensington Museum which opened in 1857 and later became the Victoria and Albert Museum. The extraordinary legacy enabled a unique cultural estate to be created which became known as Albertopolis.
Today these large iron gates mark the boundary between Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. Look carefully at the bottom of the main pillars for a set of small plaques. They explain the gates were made by the Coalbrookdale Company for the Great Exhibition of 1851. These gates were at the original exhibition entrance.