Nicholas Smith

Title: Archivist
Department: V&A Archive

I’m an archivist based in the V&A Archive where I help manage the institutional records of the V&A and its predecessor organisations. These records date from 1837 to the present day and provide a rich resource for the study of the history of the Museum’s buildings and collections. I enjoy helping researchers navigate these collections and blogging about some of the more unusual moments in the V&A’s long and colourful history. I’m currently researching the dispersal of the library of the celebrated eighteenth-century actor David Garrick.

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Queen Victoria’s Trowel

In a well-known quotation, Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) advises the poet and cultural critic Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) that ‘when you come to Royalty, you should lay it [flattery] on with a trowel’ (1). Flattery was much in evidence on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s laying the foundation stone of the new buildings at the Victoria and […]

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Behind the scenes: The V&A Archives

Saturday 16 November (10.00 am) Monday 18 November (10.30 am and 2.30 pm) Blythe House, near Olympia, West London Due to the high demand for tickets, we are delighted to offer an extra session at 10.30 am on Monday 18 November. The Victoria and Albert Museum invites you to discover some of the amazing stories […]

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Music for a While: Benjamin Britten at the V&A

While rummaging through a box of old photographs I chanced upon this one of the composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) and tenor Peter Pears (1910-1986) taken at recital they gave at the V&A. Tenor Peter Pears and pianist Benjamin Britten on stage during a recital in the Raphael Cartoon gallery. V&A Archive, accession no. A0212. © […]

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Let there be light! Illuminating the V&A in the nineteenth century

Did you know that the V&A was the first museum in the world to use gaslight in its galleries? This innovation was the brainchild of Henry Cole (1818-1882), the V&A’s first Director, who believed that extending the Museum’s opening hours until 10pm on two evenings a week would further his social reformist agenda by enabling working […]

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A Stitch in Time: the V&A and the Bayeux Tapestry (3)

Eliza Stothard received the exaggerated report of her death (see my previous post) with ‘mingled feelings of indignation and amusement’ (1). This humiliation came on the back of a newspaper review of Jules Comte’s La Tapisserie de Bayeux (1878) which had sought clumsily to draw a line under the affair – ‘an offence which, however […]

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A Stitch in Time: the V&A and the Bayeux Tapestry (2)

In a previous post I revealed the strange circumstances under which the V&A came to own a piece of the Bayeux tapestry. Here I explain why it was returned to Bayeux and how Henry Cole inadvertently planted the seeds of controversy regarding the identity of the person who spirited it away to England in the […]

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Tales from the Archives

Did you know that Henry Cole (1808-1882), the V&A’s first director, started his professional career as an archivist – ‘sub-commissioner’ was his actual job title – in the Records Commission (the forerunner of the National Archives)? Here he undertook the important archival work of calendaring, indexing, sorting, transcribing, and preserving records; and when the occasion […]

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Suffragettes plot to raid the V&A

Commemorative Suffragette silk scarf with purple, green and white vertical stripes, Museum no. T.20-1946. © Victoria and Albert Museum On 10 February 1913, the V&A’s Director, Cecil Harcourt-Smith, received disturbing intelligence of an audacious plot by members of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) to vandalise the Museum’s priceless treasures. The suffragette movement had […]

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Shakespeare’s First Folio

Of the 750 copies of Shakespeare’s First Folio – the first collected edition of the Bard’s plays – printed in 1623, 232 are known to survive. There are probably others waiting to be found, perhaps lying forgotten in dusty attics or locked away in the private libraries of reclusive billionaire bibliophiles! Bust, terracotta, of Shakespeare, […]

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A Stitch in Time: the V&A and the Bayeux Tapestry (1)

Photograph of the Bayeux Tapestry by Cundall & Co., 1873. Museum no. E.573:25-2005. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London It seems extraordinary but the V&A once owned a piece of the Bayeux tapestry! Measuring 3¼ in x 2½ in, it was one of two fragments removed surreptitiously (?) by Charles Stothard (1786-1821) sometime between 1816 […]

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