Victoria And Albert Museum

Victoria and Albert Museum

Victoria and Albert Museum entrance front during construction

Photographer: Bedford Lemere
Architect: Sir Aston Webb
Copyright: RIBA Library Photographs Collection

The first seed of what was to become the Victoria and Albert Museum was the founding of the Government School of Design, established in Somerset House in 1837. The Department of Practical Art followed in 1852, with Henry Cole as its head. Alongside the department the Museum of Manufactures was set up in Marlborough House, using a grant of £5,000 to purchase objects from the Great Exhibition.

The result was the first public institution to offer education in design, with the objective to make works of art available to all, and to inspire contemporary design. Both the department and museum were renamed in 1853, and in 1857 the Department of Science and Art, with its Museum of Ornamental Art, moved to its present site in South Kensington, then part of the suburb of Brompton.

The Brompton Boilers

Henry Cole became the museum’s first director, and it was he who coined the name 'South Kensington' for both the area and the museum. The museum opened in the summer of 1857 in an iron building which earned the derogatory nickname the 'Brompton Boilers'. Cole quickly employed the engineer Captain Francis Fowke to design new permanent buildings for the museum collections.

Fowke remained the architect for the museum until his death in 1865 when his work was taken over by another engineer, Major Henry Scott. The last building to be erected following Fowke and Scott's plans for the museum was the Art Library, opening in 1884. No further building work was proposed until a competition was launched in 1891 to complete the museum towards Cromwell Road.

Renaming of the South Kensington Museum

In what was to be her last public ceremony, Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone for the winning design by Aston Webb in 1899. It was also at this ceremony that she renamed the institution, the Victoria and Albert Museum.

International influence

Coinciding with the Albertopolis display which is open from 26 November 2011 to 29 April 2012 at the V&A, is an exhibition in Bonn looking at the international influence of the V&A since the 19th century. 'Art and Design for All' is open from 18 November 2011 to 15 April 2012 at the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany.