Great Exhibition

Redevelopment plans for South Kensington

Proposal for the redevelopment of the Kensington Gore estate 1853

Watercolour and ink
Designer: Charles Robert Cockerell (1788-1863)
Copyright: Reproduced by kind permission of the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851

This drawing from the Archive of the Royal Commission for the Exhibition 1851 gives the first hint of what was to happen in South Kensington following the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the subsequent purchase of land. Although never built, the watercolour shows the grand ideas that were intended for the area, to transform it into a cultural and educational centre.

The plan was prepared by the English architect Charles Robert Cockerell, on the request of the Prince Consort in 1853. As President of the 1851 Royal Commission, the prince played a major role in the purchase of the Kensington Gore estate and its development.

Prince Albert’s plans for a new cultural centre

Prince Albert’s early ideas for the area are reflected in Cockerell's plan. It included new buildings for sculpture, manufacture and art galleries. Gardens featured prominently, an ideal which soon found form in the Royal Horticultural Society Gardens.

The importance of music to the prince and his keenness to include it in the new cultural centre is also shown on the plan. At the bottom of the drawing, on the south side of Cromwell Road, a music hall was proposed. This idea was later taken up in the north of the site in the form of the Royal Albert Hall.

Charles Robert Cockerell

By the time of this plan in 1853 Cockerell was a prestigious architect, having won the first RIBA Gold Medal in 1848. He trained in the practice of his father Samuel Pepys Cockerell, and in the early stages of his career assisted Robert Smirke. He was perhaps best known for his work at the Ashmolean Museum and Taylor Institution, Oxford; and the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Surprisingly Cockerell did not go on to become involved with the actual later development of South Kensington, but his career continued successfully, becoming President of the RIBA in 1860.