Survey of London: Volume 38, South Kensington Museums Area. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1975.
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CHAPTER IX - The Exhibition Building of 1862
From May to the end of October 1862 over six million visitors came to South Kensington to view an international exhibition of art and industry that in the opinion of many who remembered the exhibition of 1851 excelled that great exemplar by the scope and interest of its contents. Not the least remarkable feature in 1862 was the exhibition building itself, a mixed structure of brick, iron, glass, timber and stone, covering some 23½ acres, which in its main aspects, however, presented frontages of unrelieved brickwork rising sheer from the footpaths of Exhibition Road, Cromwell Road and Queen's Gate. The gigantic structure was to disappear unregretted almost as quickly as it was built—and the rapidity with which it had been raised was the pride and wonder of contemporaries. (fn. 13) (For this chapter see plan a between pages 54–5, and Plates 28c, 30–38, 90a, d.)
That there should be an exhibition in London in succession to that of 1851 did not, in the late 1850's, require elaborate justification: the recurrence of exhibitions was part of their raison d'être, to stimulate progress and to prevent success at any single exhibition becoming itself an obstacle to further advance. In 1851 the two poles of activity had been the Society of Arts and Prince Albert. Again early in 1858 it was the Society that took the initiative, and the heavy outlay and massive construction that were to mark the enterprise were largely due to an ambition to make the exhibition a means of providing the Society with permanent buildings for its own use. Nevertheless, any widespread desire to renew the sequence of the 1851 and 1855 exhibitions in London and Paris seems to have been wanting, and the chairman of the new exhibition commissioners, Earl Granville, was later to say that only one man (but that one a very influential member of the Society) had really wanted it—Henry Cole. His strong will had driven it forward. (fn. 14) The Society's initial policy was certainly close to Cole's ideas, and its contribution was chiefly embodied in him and its chairman of 1858–9, C. W. Dilke—both of them veterans of 1851. The Prince remained a crucial figure. As President both of the Society and of the Commissioners for the 1851 Exhibition, whose estate was dedicated broadly to developing that exhibition's work, he could shape the new project decisively. It would not, indeed, have been easy for him to avoid involvement. But his attitude was ambiguous and he never became a working member of the exhibition organization as he had in 1851. Like most observers he understood quite well that the new enterprise might be a valuable achievement but could not be expected to repeat the emotional success of 1851, and it seems that he shrank from an unflattering comparison.
In March 1858 the Council of the Society decided to work for an exhibition in 1861. (fn. 15) It was to be more selective than in 1851, and focused on recent progress. The arrangement was to be by classes, not countries—a persistent but 'pious' hope. The fine arts and music were to be included, (fn. 16) and in these two respects Cole's ideas affected the architectural form. He had lately been scheming for a great chorus-hall, and hoped that the exhibition buildings might include as permanencies both that and picture galleries. The hall especially conditioned the architectural plans to the eleventh hour. He put his ideas to the Prince's secretary, Charles Grey, in March, as a promising project for the Commissioners' Kensington estate (fn. 17) (perhaps in conjunction with a show-garden for the Horticultural Society). In July, the Prince told Cole, Dilke and Richard Redgrave, at the same meeting at which he accepted the Horticultural garden idea, that he would recommend the Commissioners to contribute £50,000 to a guarantee fund for an exhibition at South Kensington. (fn. 18) Sponsors of other sites were, however, in contention, particularly the advocates of riverside Battersea and the Crystal Palace Company on behalf of their grounds at Sydenham. (fn. 19) The Builder preferred South Kensington (where its editor had interests) and in December the Society asked the Commissioners not merely to provide a site but to undertake the management ment. (fn. 20) The Prince, however, now seems to have doubted public support, and thought the exhibition premature. (fn. 21) The Commissioners therefore gave a disappointing answer in February 1859, demanding that the Society should show more evidence of popular interest and of the prospect of financial backing. (fn. 22) The Society replied that it would raise a guarantee fund of £250,000. (fn. 23)
Then in April war broke out between France and Austria. Some thought that 'it was the duty of the Society, as a body independent of politics, to enter a protest against war being allowed to interfere further than is inevitable with Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce', and that preparations should continue. (fn. 1) But in May the Society abandoned preparations for 1861, thinking that 'the public mind was never occupied by two great subjects at once'. (fn. 25)
Already drawings for the building were being prepared. (fn. 26) Except as member of the Society's Council Cole at that stage had no official locus standi: nevertheless the plans were being made by the architect of his Department, Captain Fowke of the Royal Engineers, who was also beginning to think about the arcades surrounding the Horticultural Society's garden immediately adjacent to the proposed site. As in that work, Cole and Redgrave were his collaborators, (fn. 27) and the pencilled perspective of an abortive scheme for the building (fn. 28) doubtless originated from the Department (Plate 30a).
By November the exhibition was again in prospect, but deferred to 1862. The site was settled at South Kensington, south of the Horticultural Society's garden, and the broad outlines of the scheme were clearer. The Council of the Society of Arts proposed to go to a body of trustees for the management. The building would include a permanent part that it was hoped would be vested in the Society and by February 1860 the proposed form of guarantee included provision for a third of the outlay on the buildings to be so employed. (fn. 29)
The nominated trustees were fewer in number and rather less august than in 1851—Earl Granville, Lord President of the Council, Liberal leader of the House of Lords, and an old coworker with the Prince (and Cole) in 1851; the Marquis of Chandos (from 1861 Duke of Buckingham), chairman of the London and North-Western Railway; Thomas Baring, head of Baring Brothers; Thomas Fairbairn, chairman of the great Manchester Art Exhibition of 1857; and Dilke, a former member of the 1851 executive. In the spring, when the guarantee fund, aided by £10,000 from the Prince, had reached its mark, the Society seems to have suggested, at Cole's prompting, that the Commissioners should dedicate the site permanently to decennial exhibitions. But in May the Commissioners' Finance Committee rejected the idea. Cole was disgusted and the Committee, perhaps embarrassed by a suggestion that it was difficult for them to reject gracefully, was 'much irritated' by him. Cole prophesied 'endless troubles' from the decision. (fn. 30) In this he was, broadly, justified, for the outcome was to be the erection under complicated arrangements of a partially 'permanent' building at a cost that a single year's event proved unable to sustain. Cole tried to bring the Prince's supposed wish for periodic exhibitions to bear on the Finance Committee but without effect. (fn. 31) Then in June 1860 it became known that the nominated trustees were reluctant to act, as they felt insufficiently authoritative either to deal with foreign states or to overcome opposition and inertia at home. They wanted a royal charter, but thought the Prince and the Commissioners the more suitable managing body. (fn. 32) An address given by Disraeli at the Society of Arts on 22 June, in part drafted for him by Cole and expressing Cole's views, was designed to increase public interest, (fn. 33) and a few days later the Commissioners formally offered the sixteen-acre site, to be held rent-free to the end of 1862. They made some provision for periodic exhibitions by undertaking to reserve the site for 1872, and on their being paid £10,000 part of the building was to be held permanently by the Society if £50,000 (no longer, that is, necessarily a third of the whole cost) was spent upon it. But the area of this part was to be only one acre and in the following month the Commissioners refused a request to enlarge it. Generally the offer represented a less ardent co-operation than the Prince's talk of a £50,000 contribution had suggested. (fn. 34)
Another time-consuming attempt by the Society followed, probably at Cole's instigation, to ensure periodic exhibitions by expanding the draft charter to be procured for the 1862 trustees. This annoyed the Prince, and the late summer passed with bad relations between the 1851 Commissioners and the Society: the latter, whatever its maladroitness, had had some reason to expect more help in its present undertaking. (fn. 35) Finally in October, after the Prince had talked of yet another postponement, the Society dropped the wider aim, and in November the trustees-designate said they would act if incorporated. (fn. 36) It was now only about eighteen months before the exhibition should open, and attention turned to the urgent matter of the building.
Probably the general expectation would have been an open competition, as in 1851, or a limited invitation for designs from the architectural profession. But when Fowke's plans were produced in November 1860 the trustees-designate seem never seriously to have considered obtaining others. Pressure of time increased the attraction of a ready-made scheme. As the authorities later explained, they were afraid of the precedent of 1851, when much time had been wasted on 'competition' and 'official' designs before Paxton's last-minute suggestion was adopted. (fn. 37) The limit of expenditure was agreed at £200,000 and if Cole's memoirs are correct the builder whose tender was eventually successful, John Kelk, offered at the beginning of December to do the work for that sum. (fn. 38) This is not unlikely, as Cole had already envisaged him as builder of the great hall. (fn. 39) (fn. 2) A day or two later the Prince saw the plans and on 13 December Lord Granville told Cole he considered them 'settled'. (fn. 41) On the 22nd the engineers William Fairbairn (Thomas's father) and William Baker (Lord Chandos's engineer for the London and North-Western Railway) reported that, 'by great exertions', the plans could be realized in the time available, but the cost would be at least £295,000 exclusive of a temporary annexe, for machinery in motion, that was to be built northward along Queen's Gate. (fn. 42) On 5 January 1861 the Prince approved the plans, under strong urging from Granville, who had tried to keep him up to the mark with the news that if London did not house the exhibition in 1862 Napoleon III proposed to stage it in France. (fn. 43)
There was, however, some aesthetic disagreement between the Prince and Fowke. The chief—and really startling—feature of the design was an apsidal-ended hall placed behind and parallel to the main (Cromwell Road) frontage, rather as in Fowke's Scottish Industrial Museum in Edinburgh (now the Royal Scottish Museum, plans 1858 onwards). The London hall was to be huge. Fairbairn and Baker spoke of its 'gigantic dimensions', (fn. 44) which were variously described and delineated as 500 to 600 feet in length, 200 to 300 feet in width, and some 200 to 220 feet in height. (fn. 45) (Compare the external dimensions of the Albert Hall of 273 by 241 feet by 143 feet high.) Its central compartment was to serve as hall of ceremonies, music auditorium and miscellaneous amenity, but Fowke calculated that with its three tiers of galleries it would also give more exhibition space than alternative plans. (fn. 46) A drawing in the Victoria and Albert Museum, perhaps of November or December 1860, shows this internal arrangement. (fn. 47) Another, in the Public Record Office, representing a different stage of its evolution, shows an exterior rising behind but unrelated to a curiously designed street front (Plate 30b, c). (fn. 48) The Prince seems to have wanted to make at least this front more harmonious. Evidently (although not very intelligibly) he suggested the introduction of elements of Osborne House, whence Granville wrote to Cole in January 1861: 'What do you and Fowke think of the roofs to the small towers in the Cromwell Road elevation? I thought Fowke right to object to copying the House here, and the suburban villas, but on the other hand there seemed to be something in the Prince's objection to the two stiles, particularly when backed by a building which with gothic windows [sic] has a stile peculiar to itself'. (fn. 49)
The lack of formal qualifications in the cooks of a broth for public consumption perhaps disquieted Granville, who sounded Cole a few days later about getting outside advice. Cole took a high line on behalf of Fowke, Redgrave and himself. In the cause of undivided responsibility he rejected the idea of a building committee, citing the history of 1851 and the Royal Horticultural Society's works for the ill effects of multiple committees, and asserted the Department's competence: 'I said we would have our professional status acknowledged or would not act'. (fn. 50) Granville nevertheless insisted, against Fowke's wishes, on consulting Paxton, a guarantor of the exhibition. Paxton gave both Granville and Cole the impression that he strongly approved of the plans, Cole noting that he 'would not have a building like the Crystal Palace'. (fn. 51)
The 1851 Commissioners formally approved the plans on 21 January (fn. 52) and tenders were invited from six large contractors, to be submitted by 9 February. (fn. 53) Then Paxton sent The Times what Granville called 'an insidious letter . . . hitting us between wind and water'. (fn. 54) He attacked not only the expensiveness of the plans but also the short time and meagre information given to the competing builders. (fn. 55) In view of the history of his 1851 design this was rather disingenuous. (fn. 56) But his hint that some or one of the builders might have been given a prior idea of what the work involved was perhaps, despite denials, not far from the truth. The Building News ridiculed Paxton, attributing his complaint to Sydenham jealousy, but The Builder supported him, and deplored that no advice had been sought from the architectural profession: 'the transaction has an aspect of slyness, to say nothing of its doubtful wisdom'. (fn. 57) The Daily Telegraph, as a friend of Sydenham, was less temperate, scenting 'the fullest flavoured job', and a correspondent complained to it of plans prepared at South Kensington behind (he said) jealously closed doors. (fn. 58)
For the time being, however, there was no general outcry on behalf of the profession. Indeed, considering the importance of the commission, it is rather surprising that 'South Kensington' had been allowed to retain control of the design with comparatively little outside intrusion. Even the secretiveness of the exhibition authorities seems insufficient explanation unless for some reason the 'programme' itself was not irresistibly attractive to the architects of 1861.
Paxton's comments were directed against a project that he thought would cost at least £250,000. It is uncertain, therefore, whether he had been allowed to see the plans in their fulness. For when three tenders were submitted they ranged not around £250–300,000 but from c. £610,000 to c. £700,000 (fn. 59) and desperate measures were necessary. This crisis is difficult to account for, after the comparatively lengthy preparation of the plans. At the time of tendering Fowke had been confident that quantities (and hence costs) might be surely and rapidly calculated because of what he called 'the system of repetition on which the building has been designed'. For example 'in the nave a single unit is repeated 144 times, the principal feature of the Great Hall 50 times, the Courts 100 times and the machinery shed 320 times.' (fn. 60) He later said, however, that (at an unspecified period) the unit of the design had been increased from 24 to 25 feet, the nave consequently widened, and the picture galleries raised to the first floor and made more substantial, and that this caused the excess of the tendered prices over the earlier estimates. (fn. 61) Presumably, therefore, it had taken place after Fairbairn and Baker's report in December 1860, although no decision to this effect seems to be recorded. Despite assertions by Cole and others that the picture galleries would, if preserved, be used for future exhibitions (fn. 62) it was widely thought that they were made so big and solid to serve eventually the Prince's known wish to bring the National Gallery to South Kensington. (fn. 63) It was the Prince himself who was responsible for the extension of the picture galleries along the east and west fronts (fn. 64) and it is possible that the elaboration of the structure, at least in respect of the picture galleries, was inspired from Osborne.
The tenders were, it seems, not published. The lowest came from the firms of John Kelk and of Lucas Brothers, who had submitted a joint tender. (fn. 65) (fn. 3) After ten days the estimate was reduced to £300,000, but only by an extensive change to wooden construction, and, evidently, a reduction in the hall's dimensions. (fn. 66) Then Fowke himself proposed, in order 'to secure all the rest', a drastic revision of the design, eliminating the hall. Granville agreed that 'a little red Lion does not answer for a great one', and regretfully that 'the eighth wonder of the world' should remain unbuilt. (fn. 67) He thought that Paxton, who had recently suggested undertaking the work himself in conjunction with Thomas Brassey, had 'a new plan and contract to propose'. But he doubted 'that the same man can play the same game twice in his life with the same success' (fn. 68) and Fowke, Kelk and Lucas remained in possession.
Within a day or two Fowke had decided that the hall's ceremonial function as an assembly place should be discharged by the octagonal crossings near the east and west entrances, and that these should be enhanced architecturally by replacing their low roofs with two great disastrous glass domes. The hurriedly revised plans were adopted by the 1862 Commissioners (newly constituted by their charter of 14 February) on 23 February 1861, and on 9 March the laying out of the ground began. (fn. 69)
The need to jettison the preferred design presumably weakened the position of Cole and his colleagues, and in April a five-man building committee was appointed. It consisted of two of the Commissioners, Lord Chandos (whom Cole rather unreasonably disparaged as an 'Amateur Architect' (fn. 70)) and Thomas Fairbairn, the two engineers already consulted, William Fairbairn and William Baker, and Lord Shelburne (later Marquis of Lansdowne). (fn. 71)
The financial and legal arrangements were complicated. The site was leased rent-free by the 1851 to the 1862 Commissioners and the latter were obliged (except in certain eventualities) to surrender the land cleared, if required, of buildings. The arrangements with Kelk and Lucas similarly acknowledged that at least the greater part of the building might be temporary. The 1862 Commissioners were absolutely committed only to its hire for £200,000 plus receipts over £300,000 up to an additional £100,000. The building could be bought outright for a further £130,000, making £430,000 in all. In that event, or if the Society chose to make good any deficiency, the central acre (subsequently reduced to three quarters of an acre) of the south front would be leased to the Society by the 1851 Commissioners, who for £10,000 paid by the 1862 Commissioners would also reserve the whole main site for an exhibition in 1872. The disposal of any ultimate surplus was to rest with the guarantors. Meanwhile the Bank of England advanced the working capital to the 1862 Commissioners on the security of the guarantee fund. (fn. 72)
Bowring, the 1851 Commissioners' secretary, had been emphatic in December 1860 that any building that might be retained for the Society should be capable of being 'carved out' of the rest, which the Commissioners might wish to sweep away. (fn. 73) It is not, however, easy to discern that this nucleus was in fact expressed in Fowke's plans (plan a between pages 54–5).
In mid March the design was made public. Comments were mixed. It was at once apparent that the building would have none of the 'fairylike' character of the 'crystal palace', but it was acknowledged that the inclusion of would-be permanent picture galleries had complicated the problem and that the diversified design gave more scope for meeting the requirements of a miscellaneous exhibition. The Illustrated London News approved of the 'abandonment of glass as the staple of the building' and thought it 'a courageous act on the part of the commissioners to repudiate a novelty in structural arrangement which had received such eclat'. (fn. 74) The comparison with 1851 remained a damaging one, however: the 'Victorian' heaviness was not popular. As the edifice itself appeared feeling swung violently against it, and the final verdict of The Building News—'one of the ugliest public buildings that was ever raised in this country'—expressed the consensus of opinion. (fn. 75) The crudity and 'monotony' of the street frontages were much disliked. The east and west elevations had something reminiscent of the rejected 'official' design for 1851, but with an added awkwardness. The polygonal domes—'tumid bubbles, with their . . . green and half transparent tint of gooseberry'—looked lop-sided and purists objected to Fowke's duplication of so centralizing and climactic a feature (Plates 31a, b, 36a, b, 37, 38a). But beyond this, as BeresfordHope said, 'there was something uncanny about the whole building, with its permanent and its non-permanent portions; and its hideousness was of that genuine stamp which appeals as forcibly to the instincts of the million as to the science of the expert'. (fn. 76)
Praise of particular parts of Fowke's building was not withheld. His north front (which cost the 1851 Commissioners £47,000 as part of the buildings of the Horticultural Society's garden) was acceptable (Plates 28c, 31b, 50b), and so, generally, were his interiors, although the disharmony of styles was noticed. The misguided ingenuity that placed dodecagonal domes on octagonal crossings not designed to receive them was fiercely denounced, but many admired his nave and transept roofs and the impressive sequence of coved and skylit picture galleries. The vista'd interior of his cheaply built machinery annexe along Queen's Gate was widely praised as the best feature of the building (Plates 33b, c, d, 34a, 35a). (fn. 77) But in the total effect of his 23½-acre complex Fowke failed to solve problems that would have tested a Wren.
His building was probably not helped by the recent construction of the surrounding roads some five feet above ground level. Fowke tried to make a 'feature' of this by leading visitors up from his entrances to platforms commanding views down into the exhibition; but some thought it had a deflating effect on the building's impact. (fn. 78) At the same time, the building seemed too near the road (Plates 37, 38a, 90d). (fn. 79) Particularly compared with the green setting of 1851 the lack of 'approach' made it unattractive, and it was this over-building of the site that caused even Cole to admit, some years later, that it would never have made a fine public edifice. (fn. 80)
The defence of the building was mainly based on its utility, soundness and cheapness. It was claimed that Fowke had eliminated defects in the buildings of 1851 and 1855 (when he had served with the British Commission in Paris), and in particular had provided a variety of lighting compared with the pervasive 'glare' of 1851. (fn. 81) In fact, he overdid this. It was too dark under the galleries of nave and transepts, but architecturally a greater fault was the apparent darkness of the wooden-roofed nave and transepts themselves after the brightness of the glass-domed octagons from which they were approached. The external bareness of the building was explained as a prudent economy to permit sounder basic construction. The 'South Kensington' belief in the transforming efficacy of applied decoration sustained the argument that an extended series of later adornments, perhaps financed by the profits of later exhibitions, would remove the objections to the exterior. (Cole rather unwisely invoked the 'cathedrals of old' as exemplars of embellishment over a long period. (fn. 82)) Schemes for completion of the building in which the draughtsman of the Department, John Liddell, participated, were among the exhibits. (fn. 83) The blank recesses over the street-front windows were especially detested, and here Cole was enthusiastic for decoration with ceramic mosaic pictures. He used the newly building walls of the South Kensington Museum in the summer of 1861 for full-size outlines (Plate 10a), (fn. 84) formed a fund-raising committee with Layard and Lord Salisbury later in the year (fn. 85) and had designs prepared by Sykes and Townroe of his Department and by two Royal Academicians, C. W. Cope and J. C. Hook (Plate 38b). Fullsize cartoons by the last two were shown in situ during the exhibition, with some applause. Had the building survived, more than a score of artists were expected to contribute. (fn. 86) (fn. 4) Cole said it would be 'the introduction of a new art into England' (fn. 87) and as such it was welcomed by The Builder, and by M. D. Wyatt and Gilbert Scott among architects. (fn. 88) But not all were convinced: 'one might as well decorate a huge bloated prize-fighter with Maltese jewellery . .,' (fn. 89) As for the cheapness of the building, the authorities claimed that it cost 2d. per cubic foot, but their figures were contested. (fn. 90)
In June the Horticultural Society's garden on the north side of the exhibition site was opened. The Prince spoke encouragingly of the exhibition to the Society of Arts (though in the vocative case), and praised Fowke: 'Gentlemen, you will succeed. You are in earnest; and being in earnest you will succeed. . . . You have got an able architect, in a young officer of Engineers, who has, as Lord Granville says, today shown by the works which have been opened in the Horticultural Gardens, that he is capable of vast designs, of novel contrivances, and possessed of great taste.' (Some versions of the speech omit 'as Lord Granville says'.) The Prince noticed that 'we already see to the south, rising as it were by magic, the commencement of a noble work'. (fn. 91) Many others marvelled at the rapidity with which the building progressed—like 'an express train'. (fn. 5) Compared with 1851 more mechanical aids were used, and the added speed of action thereby given to a still predominantly manual operation made the work in some ways more impressive in human terms than the constructional achievements of earlier or later generations.
Periodicals dilated on the railway tracks which spread in all directions over the site and on the steam-winch, devised by the superintendent of the ironwork, which lifted materials at signals from coloured flags. (fn. 93) The same superintendent, Ashton, devised a much admired travelling scaffold used for the construction and decoration of the main roofs (Plate 33a). (fn. 94) The head foreman, S. Clemence, designed the inner scaffolds of the domes: each had to bear 120 tons of metal and was considered 'a triumph in scaffolding' (Plate 32d). (fn. 95)
The domes were, the Commissioners thought, the largest in diameter ever erected. (fn. 96) They had a greater diameter than that of St. Peter's, but the dome of 'the old Halle au Blé' in Paris was said to have been wider. (fn. 97) In their construction the spirit in which the work was carried on was evident to the public. They were subcontracted, like most of the wrought ironwork, to the Thames Iron Works and Ship Building Company, but the main contractors themselves took one of them in hand when its completion on time seemed doubtful, and, working by gas-flares at night, produced a 'race' between the two teams that was publicized to catch the attention of journalists. The foremen gave an account of the race in The Builder. (fn. 98)
Periodicals noted that to preserve the unbroken silhouettes of the hollow iron columns that supported the domes the joints were made on the inside and a boy lowered within the columns to fix them. (fn. 99) Generally, the iron columns were utilized as rainwater pipes. (fn. 100) In the opinion of The Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal the iron-work did not show quite the 'consummate mechanical skill' of 1851. (fn. 101)
Progress was hastened by prefabrication of much of the structural woodwork, which was supplied by Kelk from his yard in Pimlico. (The other woodwork, such as window casements, came from the Lucases' works at Lowestoft.) The plank-ribs of the main roofs were assembled in four sections, which were joined into two on the site for hoisting and finally united in position. Those of the annexes, which Cole thought 'offer useful suggestions for the cheapest kind of agricultural buildings', were simply nailed together flat on templates and raised bodily into position. (fn. 102)
An article in the Society's Journal, Cole-like in tone, praised Kelk and Lucas's celerity, 'which English energy and English capital alone could ensure'. (fn. 103) Another in The Builder of the same period, January 1862, delighted in the assiduity of the 'labourers of all nations' in the work. 'With no shirking anywhere and no driving taskmasters to be seen, . . . all are for progress; and there is no coercion'. (fn. 104) An element in this was probably payment by the hour. Kelk told Cole in March 1861 that 'his firm, Peto, Brassey etc were going to pay hereafter by the hour [Cole's underlining] and that the men might work as long as they liked'. (fn. 105) Cole applauded this in The Cornhill Magazine in July—it had 'put down the nonsense of ten hours pay for nine hours work'—and thought it a specific against strikes. (fn. 106) Nevertheless, there was a labourers' strike, and according to The Builder when this was settled in January 1862 'the contractors' conceded an extra 6d. a day. (fn. 107) If methods of payment varied it was possibly because of the extensive 'division of labour and subdivision of contracts' noticed by The Builder. (fn. 104) (fn. 6)
Although progress was rapid Kelk subsequently grumbled at the trouble given him because 'everyone . . . wanted to be master'. (fn. 113) The building committee soon made itself unpopular with him, Cole, and Fowke, and the last had difficulty persuading it to accept alterations. (fn. 114) One important change that Fowke did make, about the time of the committee's appointment, was to move the intermediate 'towers' of his Cromwell Road front nearer the extremities of the faç. (fn. 115)
In June 1861 another alteration to the design substituted a double for a single row of iron columns under the picture galleries in the range along Cromwell Road: Kelk (it seems) had wanted a change to a double row of 'wooden posts'. During building, at least, the resultant perspective of beams and columns was pleasing, although the modelling and decoration of the members suggested timber construction rather than iron (Plate 34c). (fn. 116)
Perhaps inevitably Fowke's individual responsibility suffered some dilution as the urgent complex work was taken in hand. In particular, Kelk and Lucas took charge of the working drawings,and employed the civil engineer, Alfred Meeson, to prepare them for a fee of 1,000 guineas. (fn. 117) Cole noted attempts by Meeson to improve the elevations, and his diary entry of 30 July 1861—'Fowke undertook to design a rib for the Nave, Meason [sic] having failed'—implies that Meeson had enjoyed extensive powers of revision. (fn. 118) Kelk told Cole in September that Fowke's rib-design would be used, and the structure of the side galleries utilized as abutments. (fn. 119) The bracing to effect this was designed by the engineer R. M. Ordish, of Ordish and Lefevre. (fn. 120) Fowke's own chief draughtsman was H. Saxon Snell of the Science and Art Department, at £1 a day. Under him the other chief draughtsmen, both belonging to the Department, were J. W. Grover, an engineer, and John Liddell, an architect. (fn. 121) Grover's obituarist confined his work on the executed design to the domes. (fn. 122) Fowke was assisted by two other officers of the Royal Engineers, Lieutenant E. J. Brooke and Captain W. C. Phillpotts, who were seconded to the 1862 Commissioners as Superintendents of Building. (fn. 123)
Fowke, as advised by the engineer, John Fowler, and the architect, William Burn, asked £5,000 for his professional fee in a letter that Cole says he dictated to Fowke. Granville had advised him to ask for £3,000 only, and the Commissioners, though evidently granting the larger sum, seem to have proposed that Fowke should allow £2,000 of this to be conditional on the financial success of the exhibition. Being already a contributor to the guarantee fund, he refused. (fn. 124)
The interior decoration of the building gave much trouble and left Fowke dissatisfied. In November 1861 he recommended the building committee to employ a lecturer in ornament at the Art Training School, Octavius Hudson, who was said to have gained credit for work in Salisbury, Ely and Chester cathedrals. Hudson's 'large and simple' scheme, which Fowke thought sufficiently neutral in tone to enhance both the building and the exhibits, was tried out in bays of the nave. (fn. 125) Probably Hudson intended the iron columns and roof-ribs to be 'a rich salmon colour' against a pale background that nevertheless respected the facts of construction. Cole disliked it, and a scheme of Kelk's mainly in buff and green, was also tried. So was Fowke's own, said to employ 'the fashionable "mauve" in the columns, with the same fast color alternately with white in the ceiling'. (fn. 126) (Appropriately, mauve represented a technical innovation, made possible by the development of coal-tar dyes.) Finding Fowke in difficulties, at the end of January the building committee turned to the successful commercial decorator J. G. Crace. (fn. 127) With much use of distemper on the rough boards, and of stencils for linear decoration, he produced in what the Commissioners called 'an incredibly short time' a relatively elaborate treatment with considerable subdivision and variegation of colour (Plates 33c, 34d, 35a). (fn. 128) Particularly in the upper parts of the nave and transepts he used rich colours to balance the brightness of the exhibits below, which were given a much quieter background. Deep red and blue ribs against the warm-grey, scroll-ornamented roof-planking were set off by black-and-white, bronze-colour, maroon, green and gold. Under the domes dark maroon was prominent on the iron columns, and light blue and vellum-colour were introduced: inscriptions were also utilized. Large medallions were painted by the art-school students under R. Burchett. The glass-roofed courts (Plate 34b) were much cooler in colour, and their brick walls a quiet maroon. In the picture galleries, probably under Redgrave's influence, the batten-lined walls were papered and coloured sage green, the cornice vellum-colour with maroon in hollow mouldings, the pale green cove panelled and figured, and the cross-walls panelled in maroon as a background for sculpture (Plates 33b, d).
Crace's performance in a building much concealed from him by scaffolding was generally respected, and his colouring under the domes, for example, found 'extremely grand, harmonious and rich'. (fn. 129) Compared with Owen Jones's clear bright colours in 1851 the effect was much more 'mid-Victorian'. Contemporaries were conscious of the attractions of the earlier scheme and some had wanted Jones called in again as knowing 'more about colour than all the officials of South Kensington put together'. (fn. 130) But from 'South Kensington' it was argued that the colours of the Crystal Palace had shown off the building better than its contents and that the much greater areas of solid roof and walling needed more diversified handling. (fn. 131) Crace himself thought that his subdivisions, and especially the counterchanged colouring of the polygonal ribs of the main roofs, gave 'softness, richness and glow'. But his non-structural colouring exasperated Fowke, who protested that it would 'completely spoil what is really a good piece of timber work': if built as coloured the roofs 'could not stand'. He was, however, overruled. (fn. 132) Fowke himself had the annexes coloured with warm lavender principals and stone-yellow planking. (fn. 133)
Stained glass was installed by J. Hartley of Sunderland in the 'rose' windows at the ends of the nave (Plate 34d): (fn. 134) some would have liked more to be used. Fowke had rejected Frederick Sang's suggestion for colouring his glass domes. (fn. 135)
At the opening it was only in the design of the picture galleries and in the exhibits themselves that The Builder detected 'the beneficial influence of the Department of [Science and] Art'. (fn. 136) In their official report the 1862 Commissioners thanked Cole and his Department for their help, and a fortnight after the opening Granville had noted that Cole was 'working with his usual vigour'. (fn. 137) He had been the dominant executive in 1851 and was now paid £1,500 for his services helping the secretary and general manager, F. R. (later Lord) Sandford. (fn. 138) Cole afterwards said that without his help Sandford would have failed. (fn. 139) But Granville regretfully observed that his colleagues were prejudiced against 'Cole and his staff'. (fn. 140) Cole's employment was kept quiet and at the opening ceremony he took his place simply with the Council of the Society of Arts. (fn. 141) His vehemence was an embarrassment, while his Some Account of the Buildings . . .for the International Exhibition, which he produced in September 1861, and everyone wrongly thought official, provoked rather than mollified critics. A stormy meeting at the Society of Arts in December, when Cole lauded Fowke's 'constructive ability amounting to genius' and disparaged the works of Sir Charles Barry, as representing the 'professional' architect, had not helped. (fn. 142) (fn. 7)
Perhaps it was reluctance to use Cole's abilities fully that impaired the management. When the exhibition opened on I May the arrangements were 'gloriously incomplete': (fn. 144) some thought them 'the ne plus ultra of bungling inefficiency'. Regardless of the crinoline, the Commissioners had crowded the nave with 'trophies'—towering card-castles of manufacturers' wares. 'The Groves of Blarney were order and good taste', wrote Beresford-Hope, 'in comparison with the conglomeration of telescopes, organs, lighthouses, fountains, obelisks, pickles, furs, stuffs, porcelain, dolls, rocking-horses, alabasters, stearine, and Lady Godiva, which reduced the nave to a striking similitude of a traveller's description of Hog-lane, Canton'. (fn. 145) What Cole's son-in-law called his 'Cromwellian generalship' quickly put that right, but the planning remained confusing. Foreign exhibitors had obstructed the arrangement by classes (the French actually walling-up their large section to the roof (fn. 146)). Fowke's ground plan had been praised for its straightforwardness and practicality, (fn. 147) but either he failed to visualize exhibition realities or the management was at fault, for in use the building tended to 'harass and weary' the visitor more than the simpler structure of 1851. Getting through the exhibition was, in truth, no joke. (fn. 8) (fn. 148)
The size and awkwardness of the building perhaps contributed to an almost nightmarish quality in the exhibition. One visitor saw it all through eyes very different from Cole's. Dostoyevsky came, and found that 'a feeling of fear somehow creeps over you ... It is a Biblical sight, something to do with Babylon, some prophecy out of the Apocalypse being fulfilled before your very eyes'. (fn. 149)
Mundanely, the exhibition met a demand from exhibitors, whose requirements caused the construction, extra to the contract, of the eastern annexe, (fn. 150) and attracted good crowds. The show of modern art and of recent technologies made for a more interesting display than in 1851. (Cole mentions the electric telegraph, photography and 'Delia Robbia ware' as symptoms of progress, (fn. 151) and in July there was a trial of electric light in the picture galleries. (fn. 152)) Colonial produce, particularly from the antipodes, was better represented. (fn. 153) Most observers thought foreign visitors more numerous. But over the same period the exhibition attracted only some 5¼ million visitors compared with 6 million in 1851 (fn. 154) and the earlier total was exceeded only by extending the period of the exhibition. An important cause of the lack of entire success was the death of the Prince in December 1861. Apart from the want of his power to remove difficulties from the Commissioners' path, the exhibition was dulled by the Queen's absence. Industrial distress in the north was also blamed for the smaller number of excursionists from manufacturing centres than in 1851.
The total receipts were £448,632 and the expenditure £458,848. (fn. 155) The latter was, of course, swollen by the heavy outlay on the building, stated as £233,846, plus the added sums of £86,833 for the eastern annexe along Exhibition Road and extra work and fittings, and £4,723 for drawings and models. (fn. 156) The repair of the three adjacent and 'unadopted' roads was also expensive: it was found that 'no obligation to keep them in repair appears to reside in any person or body of persons' and by arbitration the Lord Mayor of London laid almost all the cost on the Commissioners, who paid £13,359. (fn. 157) On the other hand, they spent only £2,466 on advertisement. (fn. 156)
By the standard of later 'universal exhibitions' that of 1862 was not a financial failure, or at least not seriously such. No public funds, of course, were called upon. Nor was the guarantee fund, which finally amounted to £451,070. (fn. 158) This was possible because in September Kelk and Lucas reduced their outstanding claims, and Kelk personally met the final deficit of some £11,000. (fn. 159)
Kelk thus justified Cole's argument in 1861, when the Commissioners had hankered after a cheaper builder, that 'Kelk's respectability was worth the purchase'. A few weeks before his offer Kelk had told Cole that he had taken the contract 'to get credit—but did not do so—always treated as a Tradesman'. Kelk had earlier told Cole that the Lucases were jealous, 'thinking he Kelk might get some honour'. (fn. 160) In fact Kelk (like Thomas Lucas) had many years to wait for his baronetcy.
With no surplus receipts, the building remained the contractors' property. The Society of Arts seem not to have contemplated raising funds to secure any part for themselves, or the reservation of the site for 1872, 'and so', as Bowring wrote unsympathetically, 'disappear from the scene'. The disposal of the site and buildings remained a problem. The 1862 Commissioners were obliged to sell the fabric and, if required, clear the site for surrender to the 1851 Commissioners. The latter, burdened by a mortgage, wanted to sell the site for purposes compatible with their charter and, if it would help that aim, to retain the building upon it: if used, for example, for future exhibitions it would give these a good prospect of profit. The contractors wanted to sell the fabric as a building rather than as scrap. (fn. 161) In December they were thinking of selling it to a private company for use as 'a vast International Bazaar', but the 1851 Commissioners would not agree, and turned to the Government as a purchaser. (fn. 162) Gladstone, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was attracted by the prospect of buying at the Commissioners' price of £120,000 some 16½ acres worth perhaps £250–280,000, together with a building, at Kelk and Lucas's price of £80,000, that might accommodate a Natural History Museum, a Patent Museum, a National Portrait Gallery, and possibly Cole's South Kensington Museum itself removed bodily from across the road. (fn. 163) (fn. 9) Kelk had a 'palatial' recasting devised by his associate, the architect John Johnson. (fn. 164) Cole prodded Fowke into producing a scheme. First it was something in the manner of the Duomo in Florence (Cole suggesting 'Mr. Burgess' to work it out). Then it was a recasting in the Francois Premier style, which Cole had approved by the Princesses at Windsor in February 1863 (Plate 38c). (fn. 165) Johnson's and Fowke's treatments were put on view, (fn. 166) and in May the Cabinet decided to buy the site and building. (fn. 167) The ground covered by the annexes was excluded and also the central part of the northern-most range (the south side of the Horticultural Society's garden).
But hostility to the building, and the manner of its architect's appointment, was very strong. The Art Journal had been particularly violent against the building ('the most worthless and the vilest parody of architecture that it ever has been our misfortune to look upon', 'a monstrous outrage upon national forbearance', and so on), and contrasted it harshly with that 'noble edifice', the Grosvenor Hotel. (fn. 168) The Builder thought that on economical grounds it should be retained (fn. 169) but The Building News, which at the close of the exhibition had concurred, was swinging strongly against it. (fn. 170) And in the House of Commons the building was becoming, rather irrationally, the focus of resentment at the growth of Cole's Department and the proposed application of public money to institutions at South Kensington. Grey and his colleague Phipps were nervous of too bold an avowal of the Queen's wish for the purchase. Granville was even more so, but to those guiding the 1851 Commissioners' policy the purchase now seemed very important, and individual Commissioners were told of the Queen's interest, in the hope of a 'leak'. (fn. 171) The Queen appealed to Lord Derby to bring the Opposition into line, and he rather grudgingly agreed. (fn. 172) An appeal by Grey to Disraeli as an old supporter of the Prince's work won a more willing compliance in furthering the posthumous aims of 'our beloved and illustrious chief'. (fn. 173) At the Opposition's suggestion the vote was split. (fn. 174) That for the site was taken first and was approved on 15 June. (fn. 175) (The site was transferred by the 1851 Commissioners to the Office of Works in September 1864. (fn. 176))
On 2 July the vote was taken for the purchase of the building from the contractors. Palmerston had badly embarrassed supporters of the scheme by talk of stuccoing the exterior. Lord Elcho reminded the House that 'an earnest truthful school was springing up', and there were hasty disavowals of 'compo' from Cole and Fowke. (fn. 177) The latter's estimate for the casing of the exterior in Portland stone was £230,000 or, with the enrichments in 'silicious stone', £187,000. (fn. 178) The Government's estimate for the whole cost of renewal was about £285,000. (fn. 179) In total, therefore, (including £200,000 for the site and structure as it stood) some half a million would, as Cole told Grey, provide a building 'as handsome as the Hotel de Ville at Paris'. (fn. 180) But meetings were being held to oppose the purchase at which Beresford-Hope, James Fergusson and G. E. Street were of similar mind, (fn. 181) and at the end of June the (Royal) Institute of British Architects produced a very unfavourable report. (fn. 182) On the other side the Government could cite Owen Jones, Gilbert Scott and Sydney Smirke. (fn. 183) (fn. 10) Gladstone moved the vote, and blundered badly by revealing, as an argument for purchase, that there was no explicit legal obligation on the contractors to remove the building within a specified time. Many Members were enraged that the House had been led to approve the purchase of the site in ignorance of this possible encumbrance. Lowe, Disraeli and Northcote were shouted down, and amidst 'a din quite demoniac' the back-benchers of both parties united to reject the vote by a large majority. (fn. 186)
In a dignified reproof to the House for a scene of unparalleled 'excitement and uproar' The Builder ridiculed those who had seen in the purchase 'some dreadful gunpowder-plot intended to destroy Queen, Lords, and Commons, and their little ones'. (fn. 187) Replying to the Queen's expression of annoyance and regret Palmerston described the back-benchers as 'like an army that has taken a town by storm; they have broken loose from all control'. Characteristically, he identified the core of the opposition as 'artists and architects who . . . expect that their body corporate will obtain employment and reap honour and fame from the erection of the buildings to be substituted for the present one'. (fn. 188)
The wooden annexes had already been taken down. (fn. 189) (fn. 11) Overlooking the Horticultural Society's garden the central refreshment rooms remained in the ownership of the 1851 Commissioners and survived, generally in use for the South Kensington museums, until 1949. The rest was demolished, rather slowly. The contractors had found a purchaser of the portable materials (for, it was said, some £100,000) in the Alexandra Palace Company, and they were carted away to Muswell Hill for reconstruction by Meeson and Johnson. (fn. 190) (fn. 12) To replace the building the Government held a competition, primarily for a Natural History Museum. After the complaints on behalf of the architectural profession there was amusement that the victor, in May 1864, was Fowke. Perhaps restored in spirits, he discerned the chance of 'a little bit of practice for some of the young officers at Chatham', and during the autumn of 1864 fellow-Sappers blew up the remaining and obdurate parts of his creation with dynamite. (fn. 191)