After winning the competition in 1891 for a design to complete the South Kensington Museum, Aston Webb had to wait eight years to see work begin. The end to the deadlock came in 1898 when the new Board of Education decided to amalgamate departments, freeing up space on the site; and also in February 1899 when the announcement was made that all buildings on the east side of Exhibition Road (except for the Royal College of Science) would be devoted to art collections.
Webb therefore had plenty of time to revise his plan. He replaced his large central tower with a three-storey octagon with columns, and a lantern with open flying buttresses, surmounted by a small cupola. This beautiful drawing of the entrance, produced by the artist Ralph Knott, gives full details of the design, and the wealth of sculptural decoration including the figure of Fame at the very top and Queen Victoria above the entrance doorway.
Renaming of the South Kensington Museum
The queen laid the foundation stone in a grand ceremony in 1899, at which she renamed the museum the Victoria and Albert Museum. Work began slowly, and was again hindered by changes of government and in budget. Eventually the vast Cromwell Road frontage (219 metres long) was completed.
Exterior façades and interior layout
Similarly to the Natural History Museum, Webb added sculpture to the exterior to suggest the contents of the collections, therefore along the two street façades are statues of English painters, craftsmen, sculptors and architects.
The entrance itself led on to a long gallery running the entire length of Webb's new building, and also to a new large square (later octagonal) court to the west, to balance the existing Architectural Courts on the east side. All was finally officially opened to the public in June 1909.