Albert Memorial in London
The Albert Memorial is situated in Kensington Gardens, London, England, directly to the north of the Royal Albert Hall. It was commissioned by Queen Victoria in memory of her beloved husband, Prince Albert who died of typhoid in 1861. The memorial was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott in the Gothic Revival style. Opened in July 1872 by Queen Victoria, with the statue of Albert ceremonially "seated" in 1875, the memorial consists of an ornate canopy or pavilion, in the style of a Gothic ciborium over the high altar of a church, containing a statue of the prince facing south. The memorial is 176 ft tall, took over ten years to complete, and cost £120,000 (the equivalent of about £10,000,000 in 2010). The cost was met by public subscription.
Commissioning and design
When Prince Albert died on 14 December 1861, at the age of 42, the thoughts of those in government and public life turned to the form and shape of a suitable memorial, with several possibilities, such as establishing a university or international scholarships, being mentioned. Queen Victoria, however, soon made it clear that she desired a memorial 'in the common sense of the word'. The initiative was taken by the Lord Mayor of London, William Cubitt, who, at a meeting on 14 January 1862, appointed a committee to raise funds for a design to be approved by the Queen. The control and future course of the project, though, moved away from Mansion House, and ended up being controlled by people close to the Queen, rather than the Mayor. Those who determined the overall direction from that point on were the Queen's secretary, General Charles Grey, and the keeper of the privy purse, Sir Charles Phipps. Later, following the deaths of Grey and Phipps, their roles were taken on by Sir Henry Ponsonby and Sir Thomas Biddulph. Eventually, a four-man steering committee was established, led by Sir Charles Lock Eastlake. Eastlake had overall control for the project until his death in 1865. An initial proposal for an obelisk memorial failed, and this was followed in May 1862 by the appointment of a seven-strong committee of architects. A range of designs were submitted and examined. Two of the designs (those by Philip Charles Hardwick and George Gilbert Scott) were passed to the Queen in February 1863 for a final decision to be made. Two months later, after lengthy deliberations and negotiations with the government over the costs of the memorial, Scott's design was formally approved in April 1863.
The popularity of the Prince Consort led to the creation of several "Albert Memorials" around the United Kingdom. The Kensington memorial was not the earliest; the first to be erected was Thomas Worthington's Albert Memorial in Albert Square, Manchester, unveiled in 1865. Both memorials present the figure of Prince Albert enclosed within a Gothic ciborium, and the similarities of design have been remarked on.
There is some controversy as to whether the memorial in Manchester was influenced by the publication of Scott's design, or whether Scott was himself inspired by Worthing's design, or whether both architects decided on their canopy designs independently.
Worthington's design was published in The Builder on 27 September 1862, before Scott's final design was unveiled.
By the late 1990s the Memorial had fallen into a state of some decay. A thorough restoration was carried out by Mowlem which included cleaning, repainting and re-gilding the entire monument as well as carrying out structural repairs. In the process the cross on top of the monument, which had been put on sideways during an earlier restoration attempt, was returned to its correct position. Some of the restoration, including repairs to damaged friezes, were of limited success.
The centrepiece of the Memorial is a seated figure of Prince Albert. Following restoration, this is now covered in gold leaf. For eighty years the statue had been covered in black paint. Various theories had existed that it was deliberately blackened during World War I to prevent it becoming a target for Zeppelin bombing raids or domestic anti-German sentiment. However, English Heritage's research prior to the restoration suggests that the black coating pre-dates 1914 and may have been a response to atmospheric pollution that had destroyed the original gold leaf surface. Further restoration work, including re-pointing the steps surrounding the memorial, commenced in the summer of 2006.
There is no public access within the memorial's ornate surrounding fence.
- The Albert Memorial at the Survey of London online:
- Albertopolis: Albert Memorial Architecture of the memorial (RIBA)
- BBC News News story about the restoration, dated 11 May 1998
- IanVisits blog Under Albert: the foundations under the memorial, dated 7 February 2007
- V&A Collections Images and details of Scott's original model for the memorial