Tales from the Archives

Through Tales from the Archives we plan to share with you interesting facts about the history of the V&A and hidden stories from our various archives, keep you informed about our current and future projects, give you sneak previews of our new acquisitions and insights into what it is like to run a busy archive service.

The Victoria and Albert Museum Archives comprise:
The Archive of Art and Design (AAD), which collects, conserves and makes available for research the archives of individuals, associations and companies involved in design and the applied arts
The Beatrix Potter Collections), which constitute the world’s largest assemblage of Beatrix Potter’s drawings, literary manuscripts, correspondence, photographs and related materials
The V&A Archive, which manages the Museum’s institutional records and supports research into the collections and history of the V&A, and the broader history of art and design.

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What lies beneath: Foundation stones and time capsules

On 17 May 1899 Queen Victoria travelled in a semi-state open landau the short distance from Buckingham Palace to South Kensington to lay the foundation stone for the new Victoria and Albert Museum buildings designed by the architect Aston Webb (1849-1930). Part of the elaborate ceremony included the placement of an oblong casket, made of […]

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Trajan’s Column – the V&A’s ‘incongruous white elephant’?

The Cast Courts are still the most impressive spaces in the V&A and the plaster cast of Trajan’s Column is at once the most dominant and perhaps most surprising cast in the voluminous Western Cast Court, competing only with the Portico de la Gloria from Santiago de Compostella for attention. Aided by the vibrant original […]

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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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Photographic Reflections: the Photographer in the Mirror

As part of my research project for a MA in History of Art with Photography at Birkbeck, University of London, I visited the V&A Archive to see the photographic guardbooks, 854 Imperial folio-size volumes that contain within their pages a unique visual record of objects that the V&A has both acquired and been lent between […]

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National Knitting Week: Knit for Victory

It is National Knitting Week 14-20 October and to mark the event I was inspired to try a new challenge – to knit from a vintage pattern. Fortunately I am in an ideal position for obtaining vintage knitting patterns, as the Archive of Art and Design has a large collection of knitting ephemera. I began by […]

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Congratulations Beatrix Potter!

One hundred years ago to the day (15 October 1913) Beatrix Potter was married at St. Mary Abbots in Kensington. It seems fitting that this church is agreeably situated near the corner of Hyde Park, roughly equidistant from the V&A Museum and the V&A Archives, which now house the world’s largest collection of Potter artworks, […]

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Photographic guardbooks: Images of India

While looking through our photographic guard books to answer an enquiry about something completely different, I discovered some fascinating nineteenth century photographs of Indian street scenes and architecture.  These evocative images have stayed with me so I thought that I would find out a little bit more about them. The photographs were sent to the […]

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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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Computer Power to the People! and other nifty quotes from the computer art archives

‘You can and must understand computers NOW’ is the subtitle to Theodore Nelson’s 1974 book Computer Lib. His passionate manifesto was designed to captivate, inform and inspire people to engage directly with personal computers. He implores ‘If you can get a chance to learn programming it’s an awfully good experience for anybody above fourth grade’ […]

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