Albert Memorial

Built

1872

Location

London

Albert Memorial, London, in 1960. © Edwin Smith / RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Mismanagement had damaged the project for a grand memorial to Prince Albert in Hyde Park, in the opinion of Building News  of 24 April 1863. It said anything built subsequently that could be said to resemble art would exceed everyone’s low expectations. What was ultimately erected, through its rich decoration and sculptures, symbolically brought together the arts, sciences and industries that Albert promoted during his life.

There can, indeed, be no doubt that the public expect a monument of great and conspicuous magnificence 

George Gilbert Scott in the  Builder , 18 April 1863, p.276

‘Architecture’ mosaic, one of the four external mosaics representing the four arts, Albert Memorial. © Wilson Yau
‘Architecture’ mosaic, one of the four external mosaics
representing the arts, Albert Memorial. © Wilson Yau

Two days earlier Scott won the competition to design the Albert Memorial, beating the entries of six other invited architects including Charles Barry Junior, E.M. Barry and Philip Charles Hardwick.

This expensive example of Victorian architecture, a symbol of a monarch’s grief and paid for by public subscription, is the most grandiose memorial to Prince Albert. Many smaller memorials were built across the British Empire, something that  Building News  considered had diverted energy and funds away from the creation a greater imperial monument in Hyde Park.

 

 

The structure is to have a shrine-like appearance, and be enriched to the utmost extent all the arts can go.  

Building News, 3 April 1863, p.307

Despite reservations about the rejection of the Classical style that Albert was reported to have favoured, Building News's description of Scott’s Gothic design is remarkably similar to what was built – lavishly decorated and with a seated statue of Prince Albert underneath a canopy, but with one exception. What today is still a major landmark in the area of London dubbed ' Albertopolis ' could have disregarded all practicalities and been nearly twice the size and height, reaching 300 ft high, according to  Building News .  This idea, intended to make Scott’s design even more striking by simply increasing its size, was soon dropped.

In the years after the Albert Memorial was officially opened by Queen Victoria in 1872, this monument  has undergone changes in popularity mirroring that of Victorian architecture in general. Over a century of neglect was finally reversed in the 1990s when the Albert Memorial underwent a major restoration programme, preserving some of the most exuberant examples of Victorian art and craftsmanship.

Competition designs for the Albert Memorial from Charles Barry (left) and Philip Charles Hardwick (right), 1863. © RIBA Library Drawings and Archives Collections Albert Memorial, London, in 1960. © Edwin Smith / RIBA Library Photographs Collection
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