Great Exhibition

1862 International Exhibition

Perspective view from south west of 1862 International Exhibition Building

Architect: Francis Fowke (1823-65)
Copyright: V&A Images. Museum number: E.928-1976

The legacy of the Great Exhibition of 1851 lay not only in the vast profit made and the subsequent purchase of land in South Kensington, but also in the nation's desire to see more international or 'universal exhibitions'.

The exhibition building

The first of these exhibitions was the 1862 International Exhibition, housed in a building paid for by part of the profit from 1851. It was designed by the engineer Captain Francis Fowke, who had designed parts of the South Kensington Museum.

The location for the exhibition was a large site at the southern end of Exhibition Road, now mainly occupied by the Natural History Museum and Science Museum. A strange mix of brick, iron, glass, timber and stone was used, covering over 23 acres. On Exhibition Road, Cromwell Road and Queens's Gate imposing frontages of unrelieved brickwork rose up.

This very small, fine pencil sketch displays a degree of technical draughtsmanship which might be expected from someone with an engineering background. It shows the long main front along Cromwell Road, with its central triple-arched entrance reminiscent of a triumphal arch, and gigantic domes over the other entrances.

Was the exhibition successful?

The exhibition itself proved to be a success although not quite matching that of 1851. Perhaps this was due in part to the death of Prince Albert and the consequent lack of royal involvement.

Fowke's building, however, was not considered a success. Universally condemned in the press, the vast structure was pulled down in 1864 and the materials were sold and reused to build Alexandra Palace. The site became the location for the Natural History Museum; ironically the initial competition to design it was won by Fowke.