“Better it is to get wisdom than gold” - quote over the original entrance to the V&A Museum
This aerial view of London shows the city sprawling beyond Hyde Park northwards as far as the eye can see. But it’s the buildings in the foreground that draw our attention and tell a unique story of how a remote and unfashionable outpost was transformed into London’s cultural centre.
This small part of South Kensington is known today as 'Albertopolis' after Prince Albert and his vision for the area. The site is home to a huge concentration of cultural organisations, including the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, Imperial College, the Royal College of Art, the Royal Albert Hall and the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).
The Great Exhibition
Once a semi-rural area of fields and market gardens flanking Hyde Park, everything changed with the Great Exhibition of 1851. It was planned by Prince Albert to celebrate culture and industry from around the world, but the real motive was to promote Britain’s own industrial and design prowess during the age of Empire. One quarter of the British population visited and saw sights including the biggest diamond in the world, a carriage drawn by kites and furniture made of coal!
Many visitors were overwhelmed, including writer Charlotte Brontë. She described how "it seems as if only magic could have gathered this mass of wealth from all the ends of the earth".
The exhibition made a huge profit and the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 was able to buy 87 acres of land south of Hyde Park. This was used to establish a cultural centre dedicated to science, education and the arts.
And so Albertopolis was born. Though he didn’t live to see it completed, Prince Albert’s vision of a cultural quarter and ‘education for the people’ was well and truly realised.