RHS Gardens

Memorial to the Exhibition of 1851

View across the flower bed in the Royal Horticultural Society Gardens

View across the flower bed in the Horticultural Society Gardens, c.1871
Photographer: York and Son, 1870-1882
Copyright: Reproduced by permission of English Heritage. NMR 

This photographic view of c.1871 looks northwards over the central portion of the Royal Horticultural Society Gardens. In the far background the newly built Royal Albert Hall can be seen. Just before this is the garden’s great conservatory, designed by Captain Francis Fowke in 1861.

The foreground of the photograph shows some of the formal bedding of the gardens. In the centre you can see the Memorial to the Exhibition of 1851, which sits just above a water cascade.

The memorial was designed by the sculptor Joseph Durham (1814-1877). It was unveiled in the gardens in 1863 with a statue of the Prince Consort on the top. Previously it had been planned that the statue would be of Britannia, and then of Queen Victoria. However, following the sudden death of Albert in 1861, it was decided that he should be the figure on the memorial.

Opening the garden to the paying public

It was especially fitting for Albert to be honoured on this site for he played a major role in the society acquiring the gardens in South Kensington. The gardens opened in 1861 to great success, and with a very good turnout, in particular from the upper classes. Although Albert was pleased for the society and its typically upper class members, he wanted to open up the gardens to more of the public, and arranged for admission of non-members on payment.