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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Circulating Barbara Hepworth

Involute II

Guest blog by Joanna Weddell, who holds an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award with the V&A Museum and the University of Brighton researching Disseminating Design, a project on the post-war regional impact of the V&A Circulation Department. To coincide with the Tate show Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World we look at the sculptor’s Involute II which inspired art students around the […]

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‘Slumland Art’: Exhibiting the Bethnal Green Men’s Institute 1924-1938

Lord Burnham and Archibald Hattemore

In 1928, East Ender Archibald Hattemore was interviewed by the Daily News and Westminster Gazette about his painting ‘The Dead Flamingo, Interior of Bethnal Green Museum’ (Tameside Museum and Galleries Service). The picture had just been purchased by the world’s most famous art dealer, Joseph Duveen, for exhibition in the Tate Gallery. A resident of […]

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Pulling out all the stops: Henry Cole and Royal Albert Hall’s Grand Organ

The Royal Albert Hall: The Great Organ, Orchestra, and Chorus

The BBC Proms season is only just underway so it seems somewhat premature to mention the climactic Last Night of the Proms, when the bronze bust of Sir Henry Wood, borrowed for the duration of the concert series from the Royal Academy of Music and set on a plinth immediately before the Royal Albert Hall’s […]

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Pet Cemetery: Henry Cole, Jim, Tycho and Pickle


This blog was prompted by an enquiry we received recently about the two commemorative plaques for ‘Jim’ and ‘Tycho’ set into the wall in an obscure corner of the V&A’s John Madejski garden. On Thursday, 30 January 1879, Sir Henry Cole (1808-82), the V&A’s first Director, wrote this poignant entry in his diary: 49 Wilton […]

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‘Mouthing for snuff-boxes’: David Garrick, Macbeth and a gold snuffbox

Garrick's snuffbox

Is this a dagger, which I see before me, The handle toward my hand? (Macbeth, II.i.33-34) David Garrick (1717-79) delivered Macbeth’s famous soliloquy 37 times on the London stage between 1744 and 1768. Thomas Wilkes, in A General View of the Stage (1759), attempted to describe the manner of Garrick’s performance, specifically his unrivaled ability […]

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Of objects and labels: Mr Beresford visits the V&A

'Lago Maggiore from Stresa' by Sir Alfred East

The majority of the 50,000 historical correspondence (or nominal) files in the V&A Archive document the acquisition and loan of museum objects. Some, however, contain correspondence and papers of a more general nature. In the file for George Charles Beresford (1864-1938) we find a combination of acquisition papers and visitor feedback, the latter prompted by a […]

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A Tale of Two Ernsts

photo 1

Last week I fell victim to a Surrealist joke, some 80 years after its creation! A sure-fire way to discover new things in the Word & Image department is to have a gander at what other people have requested to see from the stores.  On any given day you will see a wide variety of […]

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The Early Music Movement and the V&A


In Britain the adoption of period instruments and historically informed practices (HIP) for the performance of ‘early music’ (generally understood to encompass music of the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods) dates to the 1970s, with some ensembles, such as the Deller Consort, blazing a trail earlier still. Looking through the concert files in the V&A […]

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Planning a Royal visit: traffic management and crowd control in 1899

Leaving Buckinham Palace

Traffic management and crowd control were uppermost on Sir John Donnelly’s mind when he sat down to dictate a memo to the Vice President of the Committee of Education on 20 April 1899. The foundation stone laying ceremony for the new museum buildings at South Kensington was only four weeks away and Donnelly was concerned […]

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Richard Redgrave (1804-1888): A Reluctant Traveller

Cole and Redgrave

You’d think that the opportunity to travel around Italy at the Museum’s expense, hunting for priceless late Medieval and Renaissance treasures to send back to South Kensington, would have been considered by a nineteenth-century curator as one of the perks of the job. Not so with Richard Redgrave. Redgrave was a painter and arts administrator; […]

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