A record of over one and a half centuries of architectural history, the RIBA’s Periodicals Collection holds news from 150 years ago this month about the winner of the competition to build the Albert Memorial…
‘There can, indeed, be no doubt that the public expect a monument of great and conspicuous magnificence.’
(George Gilbert Scott in the Builder, 18 April 1863, p.276)
Mismanagement had damaged the project for a grand memorial to Prince Albert in Hyde Park, in the opinion of the Building News of 24 April 1863. It said anything built subsequently that could be said to resemble art would exceed everyone’s low expectations. What was ultimately erected, through its rich decoration and sculptures, symbolically brought together the arts, sciences and industries that Albert promoted during his life.
Two days earlier Scott won the competition to design the Albert Memorial, beating the entries of six other invited architects including Charles Barry Junior, E.M. Barry and Philip Charles Hardwick. This expensive example of Victorian architecture, a symbol of a monarch’s grief and paid for by public subscription, is the most grandiose memorial to Prince Albert. Many smaller memorials were built across the British Empire, something that the Building News considered had diverted energy and funds away from the creation a greater imperial monument in Hyde Park.
‘The structure is to have a shrine-like appearance, and be enriched to the utmost extent all the arts can go.’
(Building News, 3 April 1863, p.307)
Despite reservations about the rejection of the Classical style that Albert was reported to have favoured, Building News’s description of Scott’s Gothic design is remarkably similar to what was built – lavishly decorated and with a seated statue of Prince Albert underneath a canopy, but with one exception. What today is still a major landmark in the area of London dubbed ‘Albertopolis’ could have disregarded all practicalities and been nearly twice the size and height, reaching 300 ft high, according to Building News. This idea, intended to make Scott’s design even more striking by simply increasing its size, was soon dropped.
- Builder, 18 April 1863 ‘Proposed Memorial of the late Prince Consort’ , vol.21, pp.276-7
- Building News, 3 April 1863. ‘The Memorial to the Prince Consort’, vol.10, pp.249-50
- Building News, 24 April 1863. vol.10, pp.307-8
Discover more images of the Albert Memorial on RIBApix.