Survey of London: Volume 38, South Kensington Museums Area. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1975.
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This is the second of the three volumes of the Survey of London describing Kensington. The first was published in 1973 under the title Northern Kensington. It is for me a proud occasion to write the preface to a volume which marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of a great and scholarly enterprise. The first volume of the Survey of London appeared in 1900. During the intervening years, this publication has established for itself a very special place in the literature devoted to the history and architectural development of this great capital city. In a period which has seen two world wars and their consequential changes, especially the wholesale destruction of many fine buildings during the second world war, the London County Council and its successor, the Greater London Council, can look with satisfaction and pride upon the thirty-eight volumes published so far. They record with great accuracy, but above all with an intense feeling for the history and artistic development of London, its unique riches of buildings, monuments, terraces and streets. And if, as Chairman of the G.L.C.'s Historic Buildings Board, I sometimes feel a gnawing disquiet about the threat to many fine buildings springing from natural decay, commercial development or simply from neglect, it is a source of immense satisfaction to me to look upon the volumes of the Survey of London. Here a succession of devoted scholars and artists have created an enduring monument to the greatness of London. One might even, with complete justification, assert that the mere existence of these volumes will in many cases contribute to the preservation of the very buildings they describe, by pinpointing their relevance, by detailing their features and by enhancing the prevailing consciousness of their significance and beauty.
The present volume is largely concerned with the formation and development of the estate in South Kensington and Westminster which was acquired in the 1850's by the Royal Commissioners for the Great Exhibition of 1851. A large part of this area is now occupied by a group of world-famous institutions of learning such as the Victoria and Albert, Natural History and Science Museums. Despite the sweeping changes made in recent years, this great centre of art and scholarship still owes much of its character, strength and strong individuality to the determination and breadth of vision of Prince Albert, the Commissioners' first President. From Kensington Gardens his memorial can look out upon the scene of his labours with gratification.
Half a dozen of the buildings recorded in this volume are in the front rank of Victorian monumental architecture, e.g. the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Royal Albert Hall, the Albert Memorial, the Imperial Institute (demolished except for its remarkable tower) and the Huxley Building in Exhibition Road. They have become centres of pilgrimage not only for Londoners young and old but also for visitors from all over the world in search of knowledge, great music and art. But part of the Commissioners' estate was also used for domestic building, and the huge and impressive, stuccoed terraces in the Italianate manner which were erected in and near Queen's Gate, both on the Commissioners' own lands and on adjacent private estates, are recorded in this volume in some detail. We find here also a remarkable group of red brick houses of the Domestic Revival from the 1870's onwards, several of them due to the genius of Norman Shaw.
On behalf of the Council I should like to thank the many people who have given help in the preparation of these volumes. Their names are recorded in the List of Acknowledgments, and without their generous assistance much of the research for this study would not have been possible. In particular I am grateful to my colleagues, the advisory members of the Historic Buildings Board—Sir John Betjeman, Lord Faringdon, Sir Osbert Lancaster, Mr. Ian L. Phillips, Sir Paul Reilly, and Sir John Summerson—who, despite the many demands made upon them, have given their time and expert guidance at numerous meetings. I would also like to express my great appreciation to the elected members of the Board for their devotion to the task of preserving the architectural values of our great city.
Under the General Editorship of Dr. F. H. W. Sheppard, to whose exceptional scholarship London owes a great debt of gratitude, much of the text of this volume has been prepared and written by Mr. P. A. Bezodis of the Survey of London section of the Director-General's Department on the basis of his research since 1970. The research for other parts of the text and their preparation and composition have been the work, within the same section, of Dr. Sheppard, Mr. J. Greenacombe and Mr. V. R. Belcher, who with Mr. Bezodis have edited the whole, assisted in typing and proof-reading by Mrs. K. Hill. Mr. Ashley Barker, Surveyor of Historic Buildings, supervised all the contributions made by the staff of the Historic Buildings Division of the Department of Architecture and Civic Design. These contributions comprise portions of the text written by Mr. Nicholas Taylor (including most of chapter V) and Dr. Malcolm Airs, the organisation of the photographic programme by Mr. James Stevens Curl (the principal photographers being Mr. P. Loughborough, Mr. A. P. R. Turner and Mr. A. Chapman of the Council's Photographic Unit), and the preparation of the drawings, under the general guidance of Mr. F. A. Evans and Mr. John Sambrook. The authorship of each individual drawing is acknowledged in the list of figures in the text.