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The History

The Building

A great Central Hall, dedicated to the promotion of Art and Science, was a key part of Prince Albert's vision for the South Kensington estate, which was developed on land purchased with the profits of the Great Exhibition of 1851.

With Prince Albert's premature death from typhoid, the realisation of this vision was largely due to the energy and determination of Henry Cole. The design and robust structure of the Hall were inspired by Cole's visits to ruined Roman Amphitheatres. Detailed design of the building was started by Captain Francis Fowke of the Royal Engineers and completed, following Fowke's death, by Lieutenant Colonel (subsequently General) Henry Darracott Scott.

The original plan that the Hall should accommodate 30,000 was, for financial and practical reasons, reduced to approximately 7,000. Much of the money originally intended for the construction had been diverted to the building of the Albert Memorial. Cole raised the necessary money for building the Hall by selling 'permanent' seats in the Hall for £100 each. Preliminary work on the Hall by the contractors Lucas Brothers started in April 1867 and the foundation stone was laid the following month by Queen Victoria. The Queen opened the Hall four years later on 29 March 1871.