Survey of London: Volume 38, South Kensington Museums Area. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1975.
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CHAPTER VII - The Garden of the Royal Horticultural Society
FROM Prince ConsortRoad a curved carriageway rises to the south-east side of the Royal Albert Hall, and is partly mirrored by a slanting road that descends from the south-west side of the hall towards the junction of Prince Consort Road and Queen's Gate. The south side of these curved roads taken together marks the circumference of crescent arcades that for a quarter of a century bounded the northern end of an elaborate, heavily architectured Italian garden, which fell away in terraces to a southern boundary about where the Science Museum now stands. This garden, of some twenty acres, was maintained by the Royal Horticultural Society from 1861 to c. 1886, and thus survived just into 'living memory'. But with its great conservatory, its arcades of brick, tile and terra-cotta, its spiral shrubs and its statuary standing among stone-edged canals and box-embroideries of coloured gravel it is one of the more unimaginable pieces of a fairly recent past. (For this chapter see plan a between pages 54 and 55, and Plates 2b, 26, 27, 28, 29, 31, 32c, 35c, 50b, 55b, c, 56a, 57c, d, 72b.)
In the events that brought the Society to South Kensington and shaped its garden there the dominant figure was Prince Albert. His death less than a year after the garden was opened deprived the Society of strong guidance and no doubt contributed to the subsequent decline of its fortunes and to its ultimate inauspicious departure from South Kensington. But the connexion of the Society with the estate of the 1851 Exhibition Commissioners seems in retrospect to have been fundamentally an aberration not well serving the Prince's ideals for the area, and far less the real needs of the Society itself. At the significant time, however, in 1858, it appeared to offer a neat solution to some problems facing those two bodies, and as the Prince was then President of both the conjunction was effected with a perhaps unfortunate facility.
The Society had been founded in 1804. From 1818 to 1823 it had had a small 'experimental' garden in Kensington, on the site of St. Mary Abbot's Place, but in the early 1850's it maintained headquarters in Regent Street and experimental and exhibition gardens at Chiswick. Despite the good scientific and social standing of the Society it had great difficulty adjusting its out-goings to its income, and after half a century was threatened with dissolution. (fn. 6) In 1855 it considered applying to the 1851 Exhibition Commissioners for a more central garden-site on the eastern, outlying part of their newly acquired estate at South Kensington: the Commissioners' secretary, Bowring, thought that this would make the area 'highly popular with the upper classes', but the land was used instead for the South Kensington Museum. (Bowring himself raised the question whether Palmerston's Government, which at that time had a share in the administration of the estate with the Commissioners, would object to the admission of 'an Aristocratic Society' to ground bought directly or indirectly with the people's money. (fn. 7) )
By 1858 the need for a change of fortune was even more pressing. Early in that year, however, Prince Albert had succeeded to the Presidency of the Society, and as President also of the 1851 Exhibition Commissioners could give it an entree to their unappropriated main quadrangle. The development of this was hanging fire, and the Commissioners were about to free themselves of their partnership with the Government in its management. The idea of a central show-garden surrounded by a 'corridor' or arcade which might serve to unite institutional buildings to be erected round its margin gave an attractive prospect of enhancing the charms of the estate; it would be beneficial to the tone and land-values of the residential parts of the property, and would be a helpful adjunct to the international exhibition intended for 1861. The potential architectural and (especially) sculptural embellishment of the garden particularly interested the Prince.
Already in the latter part of 1857 the triumvirate of officers of the Science and Art Department—the secretary, Henry Cole, the inspector for art, Richard Redgrave, and the engineer and architect, Francis Fowke—who were among the Prince's advisers, had, at Cole's prompting, adumbrated a specific plan for an 'inner garden' on the main quadrangle. Evidently Cole himself thought that a talk between him and his old associate of 1851, C. W. Dilke, in March 1858, was decisive in appropriating that garden to the Horticultural Society. (fn. 8) Dilke, an influential member of the Society (and also, like Cole, of the Society of Arts and of the circle of workers in touch with the Prince), became an important link between the Society and 'South Kensington', but it seems unlikely that the idea formulated by him and Cole was not already very much in the Prince's mind when he accepted the Presidency of the Society. During an important meeting at Osborne in July 1858, at which were present the Prince, Bowring, Dilke, Redgrave and Cole, the Society's use of the centre of the quadrangle was informally agreed to. The arcade on each side of the garden (a suggestion of the Prince's (fn. 9) ) was, Redgrave says, to be so prepared that busts, inscriptions, statues, and silicated paintings might be placed in it. The Science and Art Department triumvirate was constituted an executive committee to prepare plans for the Commissioners. They were also authorized to obtain the services, as consultant architect, of Sydney Smirke. (fn. 10) It is not clear whether the co-option of an experienced practitioner of an 'adjustable' classicism reflected the Prince's personal choice, for the realization of his own ideas. At the time Fowke told Cole 'I think it quite right that the thing should be done by an Architect and Smirke's work at the British Museum speaks well for him'. (fn. 11) In the event, Smirke and Fowke divided the architecture between them. Fowke, Cole and Redgrave were together paid £2,500 per annum by the Commissioners. At first they agreed to take this in ratios of 5, 4 and 3, but the Commissioners seem subsequently to have decided that they would have to find out of it Smirke's fee of £300 per annum as consultant from April 1859. (fn. 12) (Fowke's clerk of works was H. Saxon Snell. (fn. 13) )
In January 1859 the Society formally asked the Commissioners if they would receive an application for a lease of the site. (fn. 14) Exactly how the garden could best be introduced into an as-yet unrealized ensemble where its ancillary buildings might ultimately serve a wider purpose remained obscure: Cole noted in his diary in April 'all at sea' and 'not much daylight'. (fn. 15) For a time the financing of the layout by a 'company' independent of the Commissioners, or by a 'capitalist', was in contemplation. (fn. 16) The inclusion of shops to yield a rental was for a time considered. (fn. 17) At a special meeting on 7 July, however, the Society authorized its Council to negotiate with the Commissioners for a lease on the terms then set before it, and which in essentials took effect. The Society was to hold twenty acres for thirty-one years (from 1 June 1861), with a qualified right of renewal. The Commissioners were to spend £50,000 (raised by a mortgage) on the basic 'earthworks' and surrounding arcades and the Society the same sum on the garden layout and a conservatory. The rental terms were favourable. No rent was payable until the Society's yearly expenses, including those of the experimental garden at Chiswick, were discharged, when £2,400 per annum became due as the equivalent of the Commissioners' interest-payment on their mortgage. Thereafter profits were to be divided between the Society and the Commissioners. There was to be no accumulating liability for any unpaid back-rent, and the Commissioners were to have a right of repossession only if rent was unpaid for five consecutive years. (fn. 18)
At that meeting it was announced that the Queen and Prince would make substantial donations to the Society, the royal children would become life-members and the Prince a debenture-holder. This royal lead brought in many members from the fashionable and would-be fashionable world, and the £50,000 was raised, mainly in debentures, by the autumn. (fn. 19) The Society was empowered to call itself Royal in December 1860. (fn. 20)
Already at the time of that meeting much work had been done under the Prince's aegis towards the design of the garden. It appears that from the beginning it was destined to be formal or 'geometric', although at first this was modified to allow the retention of one or two large trees in its upper part, (fn. 21) and recollections of the elaborate layouts submitted to the Prince by Donaldson, Pennethorne and Cockerell in 1853 seem to be discernible (see page 84). Cole suggested that photographs of the 'most successful' English gardens, including Osborne and Windsor, should be commissioned, (fn. 22) and during his visit to Italy in the winter of 1858–9 obtained photographs, at the Prince's prompting and expense, of Italian arcaded architecture. Specimens were displayed at the Society's meeting, to recommend the proposals to it (fn. 23) and probably included the photographs preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum of the cloisters of St. John Lateran and of crescent arcades in the gardens of the Villa Albani that were to give stylistic suggestions for the southern and northern (crescent) arcades. (fn. 24)
A preliminary general plan by the triumvirate and Smirke was submitted to the Prince in May 1859. (fn. 25) A drawing by Smirke for the central arcades is dated in the following month (fn. 26) and a perspective view of the proposed layout was published in The Builder in July just after the Society's decisive meeting. (fn. 27) It was to be considerably altered but shows the main features of the garden as built, bounded by covered arcades that at the northern end formed a crescent embracing a large glass conservatory and at the southern end broke back to give greater width to the garden. Behind the arcades vacant ground some 150 or 200 feet wide was left along the Queen's Gate and Exhibition Road frontages.
By July it had been determined that the same team should be responsible also for the Society's part of the work. (fn. 28) An important addition to the team was to be Godfrey Sykes (1825–66). In April 1859 Cole had consulted with the headmaster of the Sheffield School of Art and in October Sykes, formerly the second master there, began work for the Department on the arcades. (fn. 29) The fairly conventional stylistic range of the team was augmented by something richer and more original in detailing and thereby a characteristic South Kensington style was developed.
In May Smirke had produced a design for the conservatory, (fn. 30) but the work was given to Fowke, and in July he was viewing E. M. Barry's newly built or building Floral Hall in Covent Garden with Cole. (fn. 31) The large gas-lit conservatory, which The Building News was to call 'noble' and The Builder 'one of the best things of the kind that we know of', (fn. 32) was supervised for Fowke by his assistant, the engineer J. W. Grover (Plates 28a, 28b, 29, 50b, 72b). (fn. 33) The general contractor, as for the other garden buildings, was John Kelk, but the cast iron of the framework and wrought iron of the roof were supplied, by canal, from the Britannia Works at Derby. (fn. 34) (fn. 1) The tile pavement was by Minton, Hollins and Company. (fn. 37) The conservatory measured 265 by 96 feet (maximum) and was 75 feet high, (fn. 38) and the rapidity with which the framework was raised, in three weeks in April 1861, was applauded. (fn. 39) It was painted a very pale green, and there were big brown-and-red-striped awnings. (fn. 40) Fowke's contrasting introduction of a massive internal flight of stairs in brick, tile and terra-cotta detailed by Sykes, to connect with the terrace-walk on the arcades which ran through the back of the conservatory, was praised as 'most agreeable and altogether novel'. (fn. 41) The Builder said the total cost was £16,000. (fn. 42) (Kelk's tender had been accepted at £14,519. (fn. 43) (fn. 2)
Fowke also designed the two 'band houses' of iron and zinc-covered wood which The Builder thought 'light and tasteful' (Plate 28c). (fn. 45) The ironwork was by J. Potter and Company. (fn. 46) One bandstand survives on Clapham Common where it was re-erected in 1890. (fn. 47) (fn. c1)
The northern (crescent) arcades and the central ranges of arcades, called respectively the 'Albani' and the 'Milanese', were the work of Smirke (Plates 26d, 27d, 29d, 55b). His designs were exhibited widely—at the Royal Academy, the 1862 Exhibition and at the Architectural Exhibition in Conduit Street—as well as being reproduced in the press. They included fanciful refreshment pavilions above the arcades, that were published but not built. (fn. 48)
In the southern and wider part of the garden the 'Lateran' arcades on either side were designed by Fowke, to harmonize with the south side, which was formed by the northernmost range of the building that he was designing for the 1861 (1862) Exhibition. They were designed for glazing. (fn. 49) Fowke had been thinking about the style of the arcades in April 1859, although at that time 'wanting', as Cole says, '"Venetian" or Romanesque'. (fn. 50) The central features on the east and west sides were gracefully designed as entrances for visitors passing to or from Exhibition Road and Queen's Gate (Plates 27b, 28c, 31b, 50b).
On the east side the entrance was through an apartment that also served as a Council Room for the Society (Plate 27c). It had a flat ceiling glazed with ground glass and a black and red Mintontiled floor, and the architectural features were coloured pearl white against surfaces of 'dead deep pink or palish purple'. The quite suave treatment of this room by Fowke, 'very simple in colour and pure in design', was approved by some critics. (fn. 51)
Late in 1860 Cole was planning to finance the erection of a fine entrance feature on the outward face of this side by letting the frontages on the approach from Exhibition Road for shops. The Commissioners' surveyor Henry Hunt quashed the idea, partly because he thought that until the garden was well established the Commissioners would not get a sufficient rent. (fn. 52) Instead, a 'temporary' wooden structure to form the approach from Exhibition Road to the Council Room-cum-entrance was erected by Fowke in 1861 on the economical pattern used by him for a Volunteers' drill-shed built in 1859–60 on the east side of the South Kensington Museum's grounds and for the 1862 Exhibition's machinery annexe. Richard Redgrave decorated the interior—'rather prettily', according to The Building News—chiefly in light green, buff and chocolate, with a few stronger accents in the roof. On the Exhibition Road front Fowke's entrance feature was 'as ugly as any combination of forms could possibly make it' but a similar colour scheme formed the background to painted decorations by Godfrey Sykes which The Building News admired. (fn. 53) Foreseeably, this temporary front remained for many years, as one of the more remarkable pieces of 'South Kensington' design (Plate 27a, 55c).
Of greater significance for the development of a 'South Kensington' style was, however, Sykes's decorative detailing of the arcade elevations (Plate 27d). He provided terra-cotta columns for the southern arcades and terra-cotta embellishments for the others, where sympathizers with the triumvirate had condemned the 'artistically worthless' stone-carving of Smirke's capitals. (fn. 54) Sykes's work, like Fowke's, was soon admired by the Prince, (fn. 55) and together they established a distinctive Departmental style, especially in the use of terra-cotta. The studios set up in the South Kensington Museum for the design-work of Sykes and his assistants were to contribute largely to other buildings under the Department's aegis.
One or two unexecuted drawings for arcades apparently by Sykes's mentor, Alfred Stevens, seem to relate to the garden. (fn. 56)
In the autumn of 1859 there was a move, possibly begun by Bowring, to dispense with Smirke's services in favour of Fowke's overall superintendence, but it was condemned by Fowke himself and others as a breach of etiquette, and Smirke remained to supervise the erection of his own arcades. (fn. 57) The Prince had sometimes to defend him against interference by Cole. (fn. 58) The Society, also, could not be ignored, and their inclinations went rather counter to Fowke's: they were, in fact, decidedly suspicious of the triumvirate's influence with the Prince. (fn. 59) Cole was in turn contemptuous of the Society's method of proceeding through many sub-committees, and prophesied correctly that they would be less successful than the Commissioners in holding the cost of their work to £50,000. (fn. 60)
Although Fowke was initially responsible for determining the levels and the basic earthworks for the Commissioners, the Society's laying out of the garden itself required yet another designer. In October 1859 Cole and the Prince's secretary Charles Grey were discussing the choice. A party within the Society wished Paxton to be consulted. (fn. 61) Cole, however, rejected him because 'he repudiates Geometric laying out and knows nothing about it'. Also, he would want to be in sole command. Paxton had to some extent become suspect to the Prince and his 'South Kensington' circle by associating himself with the more 'commercial' enterprise at Sydenham, and the Prince agreed that his influence would be mischievous. (Paxton was, nevertheless, something of an admirer of Fowke's architecture, preferring, Cole says, his arcades to Smirke's. (fn. 62) ) The Prince and Cole both thought the formalist landscape gardener W. A. Nesfield suitable, and the Society engaged him. (fn. 63) The division of responsibility between the Society and the Commissioners gave rise, however, to intermittent friction between him and the triumvirate. (fn. 64)
The inclusion of the proposed memorial to the 1851 Exhibition in the garden at the beginning of 1860 required a revision of the preliminary layout and the new and more elaborate scheme by Nesfield was published in May 1860. (fn. 65) It seems that the introduction of the 'canals', and probably of the 'water works' more generally, was at Fowke's suggestion. Smirke approved of them, but Nesfield himself would have preferred flowerbeds. (fn. 66) Fowke was perhaps stimulated by the engineering aspects of the work. The water was supplied from an artesian well sunk some 400 feet vertically by Easton and Amos and Sons of South-wark, who 'fitted up some beautiful pumping machinery'. (fn. 67) The large ornamental water was evidently installed by January 1861. (fn. 3)
Nesfield had to deal with criticisms by the Prince that apparently emanated originally from Cole, (fn. 69) and when he later was directed by the Prince to submit the architectural parts of his design to Fowke and Smirke he seems to have found the latter's 'masterly idea of the case' the more acceptable. (fn. 70) It appears that by early in 1861 the Society in fact succeeded in substituting Smirke's influence for Fowke's in the handling of the terraces, bridges and other architectural features in the garden itself. (fn. 71) Dilke was to tell Cole in May 1861 that Fowke 'was as clever as possible—but no architect or man of business', (fn. 72) and may therefore have been behind the preference for Smirke.
This limitation on Fowke's work in the garden seems to have caused some resentment in the triumvirate. Fowke told Cole that Smirke's arcade was 'the only ungentlemanly thing in the Gardens', and the 'streaky bacon' walls of Smirke's terraces were also condemned (Plate 26d). (fn. 73) The Prince himself evidently regretted them, and in order to subdue the tone of the bands of yellow brick suggested the use of the black cement mortar that appears so unfavourably in illustrations of the garden. (fn. 74) In the end it was Fowke who seems to have received the more publicity at the opening.
Smirke's stripes were a rare instance of apparent loss of control by the Prince, whose close supervision is evident throughout. The Queen was annoyed by his sometimes depressed pre-occupation with what she called the 'tiresome' garden, (fn. 75) and even Cole seems occasionally to have been wearied by his pertinacity in details. (fn. 76) Some larger characteristics were also, however, determined by him—that there should be 'no Greek architecture' in the garden, (fn. 77) and that colour should be given the great importance that The Builder noted as a feature of Smirke's arcade designs. (fn. 78) The Prince insisted, for example, on the lightest possible red in the moulded bricks, (fn. 79) personally examined them for their colour values, (fn. 80) and put Cole to some trouble to try to get special bricks from Messrs. Norman of Burgess Hill. (fn. 81)
Many of his criticisms were specific—that the southern arcade designs should show keystones, for example. (When they were provided he thought them too big, so they were left out after all. (fn. 82) ) For the shell-headed niches in the arcades hints should, he suggested, be taken from Heidelberg Castle; (fn. 83) and Cole testified after his death to his attempts with 'the modelling tool or the paint-brush' to demonstrate his intentions when visiting Sykes's studio. (fn. 84) He suggested to Nesfield the replacement of the intended wall between the main terrace and the sunken garden by a stepped declivity, and sent Nesfield sketches to explain very detailed queries about the effect of his plantings on sight-lines across the garden. (fn. 85) The Prince tried, with some success, to have everything submitted to his approval, and was particularly insistent that the Commissioners should do nothing about the elaborate entrance from Exhibition Road (as Cole was then envisaging it) without his personal authorization. (fn. 86)
The Prince supported the Department's use of models and large- or full-scale 'mock-ups' as preliminaries to building. (fn. 87) Full-scale frescoes and prototypes of the arcades were set up on the northern boundary wall of the South Kensington Museum (where the frescoes are still just discernible), and the water-works were also carefully tried out in models (Plate 26c). (fn. 88) The bill for models paid by the Society (that is, excluding any payment for models of the arcades, which would have been met by the Commissioners) was at least £583. (fn. 89)
The laying out of the area had been begun late in 1859. (fn. 90) The Prince was worrying about the slow progress in September 1860, (fn. 91) but the Society moved its offices to Kensington early in 1861, (fn. 92) a thousand men were reported to be at work in May, (fn. 93) and the garden was inaugurated, although unfinished, on 5 June 1861. The Prince then pronounced it 'a valuable attempt at least to reunite the science and art of gardening to the sister arts of architecture, sculpture and painting', and foresaw a future for it as 'the inner court of a vast quadrangle of public buildings,. . . where science and art may find space for development, with that air and light which are elsewhere well nigh banished from this overgrown metropolis.' (fn. 94)
The opening was a brilliant occasion. 'Such a gathering of the higher classes has been rarely seen in London, and the expressions of surprise and delight in the gardens were universal', reported The Athenaeum. (fn. 95)
There was to be provision for the admission of non-members on payment and the press reflected the interest of a wider public in the garden. One feature attracted particular attention—the 'box-embroidery' of coloured gravels and other materials in which, it was said, the Queen and Prince had taken a deep interest. These 'charming horticultural pictures' (fn. 96) (alternatively compared to 'the mosaic pavements of the finest Italian churches' (fn. 97) ) were thought effective in conjunction with the 'ribbon style' of the flower-beds. (fn. 98) The Builder found 'care and taste' in their design. (fn. 99) They were expected to make the garden attractive in the winter, and, whether for this reason or not, it is true that the garden pleased contemporaries at that season. (fn. 100) Soon, however, Beres-ford-Hope was making a lively attack on the whole style of the garden: 'little ramps were raised, and little slopes sliced off, with a fiddling nicety of touch which would have delighted the imperial gardener of the Summer Palace; and the tiny declivities thus manufactured were tortured into curvilinear patterns, where sea-sand, chopped coal, and pounded bricks, atoned for the absence of flower or shrub'. (fn. 101) (fn. 4)
Beresford-Hope had praised more highly the surrounding architecture, although as a gothicist he could not be enthusiastic. Compared with the detested 1862 Exhibition building, Smirke's and Fowke's arcades were 'both of them graceful, and even refreshing architectural experiments'. (fn. 101) Most periodicals had been more whole-hearted, and particularly liked the colour and 'crisp sharpness' of Sykes's terra-cotta, and the workmanship generally. (fn. 103) The terra-cotta was chiefly supplied by Messrs. Blanchard but some probably also by Messrs. Blashfield. (fn. 104) The Department had taken trouble with it, testing its weight-bearing qualities in its own press (Plate 26b), (fn. 105) carefully warning the manufacturer against 'touching up' (fn. 106) and evolving an economical system of alternating patterns whereby 'great diversity, the very essence of romantic art, is readily obtained'. (fn. 107)
The Building News was particularly impressed by the architecture, where it detected 'the artfeeling that rules in the Museum'. If anything of Old Heidelberg had by then been introduced into the detailing, The Building News ignored it. 'The style . . . is pure Italian—the very Italian of Italy itself. . . The Horticultural Society's arcades might have stood as consistently near the Tiber as near the Thames, and they would have endured without any peril to their own reputation a comparison with the worthiest of their neighbours on that classic soil.' (fn. 108)
The Athenaeum found the garden Italian but also something more, and evidently detected a fresher and more appealing element than in great formal gardens of the type already created by Barry and Nesfield. 'It was felt that in these magnificent arcades we have something new to our country and our century—something exquisitely Italian, and shady and cool; that in these successions of terraces, in these artificial canals, in these highly ornamental flower-walks we have something of the taste and splendour of Louis Quatorze. It was of such a garden as this that Bacon must have dreamt.' (fn. 95)
Statuary and other artefacts, particularly under the Prince's inspiration, had an important place in the garden. Terra-cotta statues were intended to be placed in the arcade niches. Cole had to repress the Prince's inconsistent wish for 'Greek statues' here, (fn. 109) and himself seems to have asked Alfred Stevens for a design. (fn. 110) In March 1861 the Society formed a Fine Arts committee under the Prince's chairmanship, (fn. 111) the Society's secretary later recalling 'the eloquent language in which His Royal Highness explained his views to the Committee'. (fn. 112) It arranged with a committee of sculptors for annual exhibitions. (fn. 113) The Prince presented statuary for the garden, (fn. 114) but his influence also effected some departure from the assurance given to the Society by the former secretary, that the statuary would not be a charge on the Society. (fn. 115) (fn. 5) The embellishment of the pedestal of the memorial to the 1851 Exhibition also put it to some expense.
The formidable pressure of the Society's President was in a measure contrary to its own inclinations. The secretary, Andrew Murray, in his courtier-like account of the garden published in 1863 asserted that the interests of the Commissioners 'as it were dovetailed into' those of the Society (fn. 117) but he also acknowledged that the Prince had a 'deeper object' than the promotion of horticulture (in which he was 'in no way more specially interested . . . than in any other liberal pursuit'). The Prince was 'using, unobtrusively and silently, the Society as an influence for the good and advancement of the people', to whom it would afford 'occasional access' to the influences of horticulture and art. (fn. 118) By his 'well-digested scheme' it was to the garden as the centre of the intended quadrangle of cultural buildings that 'the student and the amateur might retire to refresh themselves, when fatigued with their labours'. (fn. 119)
The Prince's ideas here, as elsewhere, worked against the exclusiveness of private societies. In the last months of his life his secretary was telling Murray that (at least during the period of the 1862 Exhibition) the aim should be to make the garden attractive to the public: posters should be put up at railway stations, a reading-room with magazines provided and, in the ante-garden, an aviary for children. (There was already a maze, although the pheasantry first planned by Nesfield was omitted. (fn. 120) Murray himself was sympathetic to the provision of 'attractions', even perhaps a small zoo, thinking that the overspill from the Exhibition would be 'of that English public who the moment they come in rush off to see something'. (fn. 121) But at the opening The Building News had supposed that the Society would not attempt to rival the popular appeal of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, or to attract 'the masses'. (fn. 122) Measures to aid the popularity of the South Kensington complex were only too likely to jar on some of the members of a Society whose fetes at Chiswick had been notable for their aristocratic brilliance (fn. 123) and whose inaugural ceremony at Kensington had been fixed for a date 'between the meeting at Epsom and Ascot'. (fn. 124)
The Exhibition of 1862 caused apprehension in the Society. Over the arcades on the south side of the garden refreshment rooms were built (Plates 28c, 31b, 35c, 35d); but some feared that ladies and Fellows walking in the garden would be subjected to 'disagreeable comment and annoyance' from the windows of the dining-room, where 'good behaviour and discretion after dinner' was at best doubtful. (fn. 125) Cole told the Society to regard profit more than dignity, attract the public as much as possible and so 'promote Science, pay its debts, and keep its public obligations'. (fn. 126) It was perhaps at his promptings that the garden's furniture and fittings were treated as exhibits in the manner of the South Kensington Museum, with the maker's name attached. (fn. 127) The expenses connected with the 1862 Exhibition were great but yielded the Society a profit. (fn. 128) The Commissioners were, however, critical of its financial management (fn. 129) and, with the artificial aid of the exhibition-visitors removed, it seemed necessary to appoint Cole manager for 1864, possessed (as Lord Derby commented) of 'dictatorial powers'. (fn. 130) The Prince would probably have approved. (fn. 131) Cole avowed that the garden could not be used for 'direct promotion of Scientific Horticulture', and among the measures taken 'to re-animate the thing immediately' were band competitions, croquet, 'lawn billiards' and bowls. Characteristic of his belief in free trade was the ruling that no work for the Kensington garden should be done at Chiswick if it could be done as well or cheaper by a commercial firm. (fn. 132) Cole had an appreciable success, particularly as his advent was associated with an expenditure of £13,000 by the Commissioners on improving the arcades. (fn. 133) This decorative work continued into 1866. (fn. 134)
Late in 1864 the Society was brought into an even closer relation to its landlords when Henry Scott, seconded from the Royal Engineers to the Commissioners' employment, became Cole's assistant and in 1866 the Society's honorary secretary. (fn. 135) In the later 1860's the improved state of the garden pleased many associated with 'South Kensington', and Bowring was hoping that, with a lead from the Prince and Princess of Wales, the garden might supplant the Zoological Gardens as a fashionable venue on Sunday. (fn. 136) The prospect of the 'Albert Hall' (for the Society's flower shows) at its northern end and the Natural History Museum, perhaps immediately adjacent, at its southern, was also promising. Chiefly, however, the Commissioners saw the garden's future in connexion with the permanent buildings which in 1868 were being designed by Scott to house a series of annual international exhibitions planned by Cole. (fn. 137) Built in 1869–71, they extended along the northern two thirds of each side of the garden behind the arcades. A terrace was constructed on top of the arcades, and additional decoration given them by students and artists of Cole's Department under F. W. Moody, (fn. 138) that included the frieze-inscription in Sykes's pictorial alphabet (Plates 55b, 56a). (fn. 139) The augmentation of the arcades by new galleries probably, as Cole said, represented the sort of arrangement that had originally been visualized. (fn. 140)
The financial position of the Society was not, however, good, and by its inability to pay rent to the Commissioners in 1866–70 it became legally liable to the forfeiture of the garden. (fn. 141) The annual exhibitions, moreover, required considerable concessions by the Society to permit access across their ground. The Society's experience of completely free admission on the anniversaries of Prince Albert's birthday was not always happy—in 1868, according to Scott, 'scenes were witnessed by some of our Fellows, if they speak the truth, of a very strong complexion indeed' (fn. 142) —and the resistance of an influential part of the Society, the residents in South Kensington, to the conditions for public access to the garden exacted by the Commissioners came to a head in 1873. Discontent was increased by the Commissioners' new policy of disposing of parts of their main quadrangle for private building. (fn. 143) In the spring the resignation of Scott and of most of the Council was forced by the dissidents. (fn. 144) A new Council hostile to the Commissioners was elected, and by the terms that it required for allowing access was responsible, Cole thought, for the failure in 1873 and 1874 of the Commissioners' annual exhibitions, which then terminated. (fn. 145) The problem of financing the garden remained. A proposal by the Council to build a skating rink was quashed late in 1874 by the Commissioners, as neither serving science and art nor, on the other hand, helping the estate's potentialities for residential development. (Scott who by then was the Commissioners' secretary, suspected that the Society had had the Prince of Wales's backing for the idea: Scott himself was not unsympathetic—'it will be a pretty sight'. (fn. 146) ) The Society's financial situation and bargaining power continued to deteriorate, with serious dissension between the South Kensington residents and the 'horticulturalists'.
Journalists' descriptions of the garden as 'a very charming addition ... to the fashionable lounges of the West-end' (1862) (fn. 147) or 'the largest and, as regards flowers, handsomest of London squares' (1874) (fn. 148) explain the alienation of serious gardeners, who thought Chiswick a better object of the Society's resources than Kensington's 'fine art' embellishments. And by the 1870's the smoke of Victorian London was becoming a menace to cultivation at the garden. (fn. 149)
In the winter of 1875–6 the Queen's secretary and the chairman of the Commissioners' board of management were among those who anticipated a 'smash'. (fn. 150) By the summer of 1876 a scheme was outlined for the Society to surrender its lease, so enabling the Commissioners to pursue their ambition of building a Science Museum across the site of the garden. (fn. 151) The ground would have been conveyed to the Government with provision for retaining the greater part of the garden as a public park. Governmental examinations were conducted in adjacent buildings and this would therefore 'prove an inestimable boon, in their intervals of rest, to a large number of young persons annually subjected to the severe strain upon mind and body entailed by a lengthened examination'. (fn. 152) The plan was obstructed by the refusal of the Society's debenture-holders to agree, (fn. 153) and in 1879 the Commissioners gave notice of their intention to reoccupy the land. The Society felt obliged to its debenture-holders to await eviction and it was only in 1882 that the Court of Appeal, reversing a judgment in a lower court, gave the Commissioners power to take possession and at the same time relieved the Society of any obligation to its debenture-holders. (fn. 154) Cole, in the last year of his life, was indignant that their interests were jettisoned, as it seemed to him a betrayal of those who had acted in aid of the Prince's ideals. (fn. 155)
In 1880 Cole had noted how the state of the garden showed 'the poverty and decline of the Society'. (fn. 156) It continued in fact to occupy the garden, by arrangement with the managers of exhibitions held in 1883–6. (fn. 157) (For the first of these, International Fisheries, Scott utilized the truss-design of Fowke's entrance-approach from Exhibition Road for extensive temporary buildings by Peto Brothers, of which the main east-west hall measured 850 feet long and 50 feet wide. These 'light and elegant, though simple' structures were admired (Plate 72a). (fn. 158) ) Photographs taken in the mid 1880's show the garden's appearance, reminiscent of a municipal park (Plate 72b). (fn. 159) In 1888 the Society finally moved from South Kensington, and set up new offices in Victoria Street. (fn. 160) Imperial Institute Road and Prince Consort Road were laid out in c. 1888–92 across the site of the garden, which was obliterated by new building (plans b, c between pages 54 and 55). The arcades were used for very various purposes as galleries, store-rooms and class-rooms by the South Kensington Museum (latterly the Science Museum), the Royal College of Science, the Imperial Institute and other institutions (Plates 57c, d). Some arcades survived, looking out upon the miscellany of 'infill' visible on Plate 118a, until the extension of the Science Museum and Imperial College in the 1950's.