Monarchy and culture collude to transform a former royal retreat into one of the world’s preeminent museum quarters
In the seventeenth century Kensington was a fledgling suburb west of London that was home to a new baroque palace designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Two hundred years later the Great Exhibition of 1851 had transformed it into a visionary Victorian utopia sprinkled with monuments to the perennial nineteenth century pursuits of culture and learning. This is a role which its museum quarter, sometimes known as Albertopolis in honour of its Prince Consort founder, continues to occupy to this day. An extraordinary sequence of museums and institutions unravels south from Hyde Park, all dressed in the most exuberant stone and terracotta styles Victorian architecture had to offer and designed by the foremost architects of their day. Exhibition Road is the spine that connects them all, recently and ambitiously revamped as the largest shared surface public space in Britain. But Kensington’s royal connections persist and it endures as a sombre site of royal commemoration. Its memorials to Princess Diana and most notably the aforesaid Prince Albert both offer a fascinating insight into the varying ways in which architecture in their respective societies conveyed the concepts of ornament, metaphor and reflection.
South Kensington Museums
WALK START LOCATION: South Kensington tube station (Thurloe Street Exit) / Map
WALK ENDS: Near High Street Kensington