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The Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens is a Gothic Revival style monument designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott. It was commissioned by Queen Victoria in 1861 following the death of her husband Prince Albert. The memorial was opened in July 1872 and the seated statue of Albert was unveiled four years later. It was primarily funded by public subscription and cost £120,000 (about £10 million in today’s money). 

Figure 1 – The Albert Memorial in 1878

https://ia800501.us.archive.org/BookReader/BookReaderImages.php?zip=/23/items/albertmemorialhy00daff/albertmemorialhy00daff_jp2.zip&file=albertmemorialhy00daff_jp2/albertmemorialhy00daff_0061.jp2&scale=8&rotate=0

Source: J. Dafforne, The Albert Memorial, Hyde Park: its history and description (London, 1878), p. 35. Credit: archive.org

Why was it built?

The memorial overlooks ‘Albertopolis’, a permanent area for the public dedicated to promoting the Arts and Sciences in South Kensington that Prince Albert wanted to create using the profits from the Great Exhibition of 1851. Prince Albert died in 1861 before his vision was realised but much of the scheme came to fruition through the efforts of the Science and Art department, the team behind the success of the Great Exhibition. 

‘Albertopolis’ viewed from above reveals the alignment of its core buildings, with an axis spanning from the Albert Memorial at the north of the site, down through the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal College of Music, the Queen’s Tower, to the Natural History Museum. 

Figure 2 – Aerial view of ‘Albertopolis’

Aerial photographs of London at dawn. Aerial view of the Royal Albert Hall and Albert Memorial. Picture: High Level Photography / Rex Features

Source: ‘Aerial Photographs of London at Dawn’, The Telegraph. Credit: High Level Photography < https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/uknews/9331468/Aerial-photographs-of-London-at-dawn.html?frame=2248118>

The Memorial’s Design

Numerous sculptors were involved in the creation of the allegorical figures on the memorial. The outer corner’s of the memorial signify the British Empire, with sculptures for Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe; these are represented by a camel, a bison, an elephant, and a bull, respectively. Each corner of the memorial’s central plinth is an allegory to Victorian industry – that of agriculture, commerce, engineering and manufacturing. Around the circumference of the main plinth is the Parnassus Freize, made up of 169 marble figures of painters, sculptors, poets, and musicians, including the likes of Handel, Shakespeare, and Chaucer. On the spire are eight bronze statues symbolising the sciences – that of geometry, chemistry, geology, astronomy, philosophy, physiology, medicine and rhetoric; as well as eight statues representing the virtues, and two sets of angels. 

Figure 3 – Allegories of Victorian Industry: Commerce, Agriculture, Manufacture, and Engineering

Source: wikipedia.org. Credit: Wikimedia

Figure 4 – Figures representing Africa, the Americas, Europe, and Asia

Source: wikipedia.org. Credit: Wikimedia

Under the canopy of the memorial are colourful mosaics made of venetian glass and centre stage is the grand 14 ft seated statue of Albert holding the catalogue of the Great Exhibition.

Figure 5 – Prince Albert seated under the canopy of the memorial

Related image

Source: wikipedia.org. Credit: Wikimedia

Damage and Restoration

The Albert statue was covered in black paint during World War One to avoid Zeppelin attacks, stripping it of its gold complexion until the end of the twentieth century. The memorial became weather-damaged throughout the century and was covered during most of the 1990s whilst it underwent extensive restoration. Albert’s statue was regilded to its original state and today the memorial remains one of London’s most ornate monuments.

Clip of the memorial’s restoration from the BBC tv series One Foot in the Past, 1996. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oyP294BII-4

Opening times/ access:

Public afternoon tours are held on the first Sunday each month. Tickets available through the Royal Parks website: –

https://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/kensington-gardens/things-to-see-and-do/events-in-kensington-gardens/guided-tours-of-the-albert-memorial

Find out more:

J. Dafforne, The Albert Memorial, Hyde Park: its history and description (London, 1878)
Chapter 4 in M. Homans, Royal Representations: Queen Victoria and British Culture, 1837-1876 (Chicago, 1998), pp. 157-228

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