20 May 1867. A milestone in the history of the Royal Albert Hall

May 20, 2017

On this very day 150 years ago, Queen Victoria went from Windsor Castle to South Kensington to lay the foundation stone of the Royal Albert Hall. She reported in her diary:

Queen Victoria in 1867

A muggy dull day. At ½ p. 10 started for London. A little rain had been falling, the sky was heavy and the air oppressive, but by the time me reaches Paddington it cleared & was quite fair.


Got into open carriages of which there were 6,& 4 horses, with Ascot liveries, and had a full Escort of the Life Guards, with standard & trumpeter. Great crowds everywhere & much enthusiasm. 




We drove through the Park …up to the place adjoining the Horticultural, where the Hall is to be. It was enclosed & covered in by an enormous tent.

The place was full of people, about 6000 or more, numbers of whom I knew. The national Anthem was sung & then came that most Trying moment, from which I suffered severely, – the reading of the Address by Bertie, & my answer, both full of allusions to my beloved one, which agitated my dreadfully, & I was nearly overcome, though I managed to command myself.


The ceremony of the laying of the first stone of the Royal Albert Hall, which took place in an enormous tent, ‘Illustrated London News’, courtesy of Royal Albert Hall Archives.


I went down to the lower platform, only accompanied by our children  & those engaged in the laying of the stone. The usual ceremony was gone through, The Arch Bishop of Canterbury offering up a short Prayer. What was very moving & again nearly upset me, was the flourish of trumpets whilst the stone slowly descended into its place.’

I then returned to my former place & dearest Albert’s composition ‘Invocazione all’Armonia’ was performed under the direction of Costa. Mario’s voice, which my beloved one so admired, sang his solo beautifully, though he is now 61! How I thought of dearest Albert’s feeling so shy about ever having this composition performed, which I had helped in writing down for him, & singing the solos for him.’

A golden trowel was appositely designed and manufactured by Messers R. and S. Garrand, goldsmiths of the Haymarket, for the laying of the first stone at the Albert Hall. As the Illustrated London News commented on the 1st of June 1867, The Royal building-tool is worthy to be handled by a lady and a Queen.


Although this grand and moving ceremony marked the beginning of the construction work, the architectural and ornamental design of the hall was still in flux, as can be seen in the new display Building the Royal Albert Hall currently showing in the V&A, on the architecture landing (Room 128). Supported by the Royal Albert Hall, it explores the fascinating story of the Hall’s design through a variety of historic models, photographs and casts.

These include a magnificent model of an early proposal for the hall presented to Queen Victoria in 1865 (below), as well as one depicting an alternative solution for its external appearance.


The display will be on until 6th January 2018. Watch this space for more information on the Hall’s construction. V&A staff, together with students of the V&A/RCA History of Design MA,  will be posting over the next months.


The  V&A/RCA History of Design MA,  with the Theatre and Performance Department at the V&A,  launches in September 2017 a new pathway in the History and Material Culture of Performance.

Early model for the interior of the Royal Albert Hall (V&A Collections). Produced in the South Kensington museum following designs by Francis Fowke, it was presented to Queen Victoria on 30th January 1865 by Mr Cole and Mr. Redgrave.




About the author

May 20, 2017

I am Head of Early Modern Studies in the V&A's Research Institute (VARI). The History of Architecture and of Technology are my main research interests. Currently I am working on...

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