Already in 1853 Prince Albert had expressed an interest in housing a musical society in South Kensington. The Royal Academy of Music (founded 1822), had asked for a site for a ‘Music Hall’, but nothing came of this. In 1865 Henry Cole took up the idea again, and appointed a committee to try to establish a national training scheme for music.
There were various attempts to move the Royal Academy (RA) to South Kensington. However the Prince Consort and Cole wanted the schools there to be nationwide in scope and open to all thanks to scholarships, rather than private pupils, which did not fit with the character of the RA.
The establishment of the college
In 1873 the committee decide to build an independent school - the National Training School for Music. This was initially housed in the building now known as the Royal College of Organists, built 1874-75. In 1883 the school was replaced by the Royal College of Music.
By 1887 the college had outgrown their premises, and the 1851 Commissioner’s offered them a new site on the west side of Exhibition Road. Later that year the college received an offer of £30,000 towards a new building, which prompted both the college and the commissioners to look again at which site would be best.
A site was offered on the south side of a new road, Prince Consort Road, with a lease for 999 years. The college was told that it would have to have the design approved by the consultant architect of the commissioners, Alfred Waterhouse, and to spend more than £30,000 on the building.
It was therefore decided by the college that it would be simplest to abandon the idea of an architectural competition, and to directly commission the experienced architect Sir Arthur Blomfield. The result was a grand, red brick, French Baronial style building which was formally opened by the Prince of Wales on 2 May 1894, an event recorded in the photograph. More of the RCM’s collections of images and archives are available from the Centre for Performance History.