There are many areas in London known for their beauty; there are many places in London with interesting pasts; London has no end of cultural and educational institutions. However, there truly is no area in London which is more renowned for boasting all of these things.
As anyone who is lucky enough to have booked a room in a hotel in Kensington knows, the area is the best place to see some of the world’s most famous sights, from museums to parks, to art galleries and everything in between. What most people aren’t aware of, however, is that there are two people who have had more of a hand in shaping the culture, architecture and history of the area than anyone else: Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
Like many royals before and since, Victoria grew up in Kensington Palace. She was a very private person, and, though she tried to abide by all the rules that were set upon her as a princess and potential future ruler of the British Empire, she found this a challenge due to her imagination and intellect.
She often felt imprisoned in her Kensington home, and her tumultuous relationship with her mother soured many aspects of her time there.
Victoria and Albert
As a quiet and private person, when it was suggested that she marry she was hesitant to rush into wedlock. Shortly after meeting Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, however, the Queen quickly became besotted and proposed to him almost right away.
The pair spent many happy years together in Kensington and clearly shared a deep affection for one another. During their 21-year marriage, they had nine children and achieved a great deal.
The Great Exhibition
The pair both expressed a passion for the arts, technological advancement and engineering. It was this that lead Albert to mastermind the Great Exhibition of 1851 with Henry Cole. The exhibition was the first international showcase of manufactured products of its kind and is where Exhibition Road gets its name.
Taking place at Hyde Park, close to hotels near Earls Court Tube station, the exhibition brought thousands of people to Kensington and made a lot of money for the area. This was then invested back into Kensington and went towards building the other fantastic structures that we know and love there today.
Prince Albert and Queen Victoria’s dream was to create a thriving cultural quarter for London, where visitors could gain access to knowledge on all subjects from history and science to art and music. They wanted to build establishments that were completely free to the public, believing in the power of education.
In the years that followed the Great Exhibition, the pair opened the Victoria & Albert Museum of art and design and the Science Museum. After Albert’s sudden death in 1861, Victoria was crushed. The Central Hall of Arts and Sciences opened just ten years later, and the Queen renamed it the Royal Albert Hall in honour of her beloved partner.
The Kensington we see today owes so much to Victoria and Albert’s love of culture, education and even each other, so it’s only fitting that the pair’s union should be immortalised in many of the names of its most famous institutions.