Royal College of Organists

Survey of London: Volume 38, South Kensington Museums Area. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1975.

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'Royal College of Organists', Survey of London: Volume 38, South Kensington Museums Area, (London, 1975), pp. 217-219. British History Online [accessed 20 June 2024].

. "Royal College of Organists", in Survey of London: Volume 38, South Kensington Museums Area, (London, 1975) 217-219. British History Online, accessed June 20, 2024,

. "Royal College of Organists", Survey of London: Volume 38, South Kensington Museums Area, (London, 1975). 217-219. British History Online. Web. 20 June 2024,

CHAPTER XIV - Royal College of Organists

This building was erected in 1874–5 to accommodate the National Training School for Music (Plate 71a; fig. 36). As early as 1853 the Prince Consort had contemplated housing a musical society on the 1851 Exhibition Commissioners' estate, where the Royal Academy of Music had asked for a site for a 'Music Hall'. (fn. 2) Nothing came of this but in 1865 (Sir) Henry Cole took the matter up again through the Society of Arts, which appointed a committee under the Duke of Edinburgh to work for the establishment of a national training scheme for music. During the next eight years various attempts were made to effect this by the proposed removal of the Royal Academy of Music to South Kensington, first to the Museum and then to the Albert Hall. But, like the Prince Consort, Cole and his supporters wanted the teaching institutions at South Kensington to be nationwide in scope and sustained by an extensive scheme of scholarships rather than by private pupils, and the Academy proved resistant to this transformation of its character. (fn. 3) Finally in May 1873 the Duke's committee determined to build a training school independent of the Academy. The cost was expected to be between £15,000 and £20,000, to be raised by debentures on the security of the site and building. (fn. 4) Already, however, Cole's friend and fellow-member of the Society of Arts, the great speculative builder C. J. Freake, had told Cole of his intention to build the school at his own risk, if the Commissioners would provide the site, and the informal work of planning a building had begun. (fn. 5) (Cole's diary mentions various musical entertainments staged by the Freakes at their house, No. 21 Cromwell Road.) The site west of the Albert Hall recommended itself partly as 'one which, for strange sounds caused by practising, will be the least inconvenient to the neighbourhood'. (fn. 6) In July the Society of Arts accepted the arrangement, and turned its main effort to financing scholarships at the school. (fn. 4) By November the site had been leased to Freake by the Commissioners for 99 years at £80 per annum, (fn. 7) and the foundation stone was laid by the Duke of Edinburgh in December. (fn. 4)

The architect, who gave his services free, (fn. 8) was Lieutenant H. H. Cole, R.E. (1843–1916), Henry Cole's eldest son. (A younger son, Alan, was to be honorary secretary of the school.) Lieutenant Cole had returned in 1871 from India, where he had been Superintendent of the Archaeological Survey, North-West Provinces, and his previous architectural work seems to have been confined mainly to publications on ancient Indian architecture and archaeology, and the preparation of casts for the Indian section of the South Kensington Museum, which he catalogued. (fn. 9) (fn. 1) He was not left to design the school on his own. It was evolved in consultation with his father, (fn. 15) and was subjected to criticism by members of the Science and Art Department. (fn. 16) A committee of management was appointed in July 1873 (the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Christian, Lord Clarence Paget, Sir William Anderson, Generarl F. Eardley Wilmot, Major J. F. D. Donnelly and Sir Henry Cole), of which the Duke of Edinburgh and Sir Henry Cole formed a superintending sub-committee. (fn. 17) A protégé of Sir Henry and teacher at the National Art Training School, F. W. Moody, designed the panels of sgraffito-work, which were executed by his students. (fn. 18) Like other buildings under the Department's influence its form developed gradually through the making and revision of models. (fn. 19)

The school was deliberately designed to contrast with the Albert Hall, (fn. 20) and the favourite red brick and terra-cotta of South Kensington were therefore abandoned. There was, however, some thought of linking the two buildings by a bridge, an idea given up soon after the opening. (fn. 21)

Figure 36:

Royal College of Organists, formerly National Training School for Music

The Department's aesthetic philosophy appears in the 'sound principles' guiding the use of plasterwork. This was employed in decorative panels rather than in architectural mouldings, which Lieutenant Cole thought to be 'against good taste and truth'. Large windows were provided to give the necessary light. The outcome was more piquant and unusual than might have been expected from the disingenuous profession of its architect, who thought that 'the old English style of the fifteenth century, when large windows and plaster ornament prevailed, seems to be exactly suitable'. (fn. 22) As has recently been remarked, the building 'has a feeling of having strayed from Istanbul', (fn. 23) with its flat oriel windows on conspicuous brackets, while another precedent might be found in Venice. Rather strangely, this foreign-seeming aspect of the building was evidently not noticed. The Graphic, indeed, thought it more nineteenth than fifteenth century in character, and pronounced the building 'novel, instructive and satisfactory'. (fn. 24) The Building News, similarly admiring its 'peculiarly novel and decorative character', nevertheless detected 'semiGothic features'. The careful colour-scheme of the front was originally a little more variegated than now. (fn. 8) Inside, Sir Henry Cole recommended 'great simplicity', (fn. 25) and the interiors are very plain.

The cost of the building to Freake—probably some £10,000, or 1s. per cubic foot—was considerably less than the committee had envisaged for its own project. (fn. 26) Some economy may have been effected by making the work wait on the phases of Freake's other house-building. (fn. 27) By Freake's direction the builder was nominally his associate, J. Waller, probably the executant of alterations then being made to Clarence House for the Duke of Edinburgh. (fn. 28) The building was finished in 1875 and opened, under (Sir) Arthur Sullivan as Principal, in May 1876. (fn. 29)

Its use was given free for five years by Freake, whose ground rent was remitted by the Commissioners for the same period. By 1878 Freake had made over all his rights in the building to the Prince of Wales, (fn. 30) who was interesting himself in the extension of the school's work. In 1882 the school was closed to make way for the newlyfounding Royal College of Music (and in the same year Freake's work for the school procured him a baronetcy on Gladstone's recommendation (fn. 31) ). The new college was inaugurated here by the Prince of Wales in May 1883. (fn. 32) By 1887 it was preparing to move to a larger site: at least one of the staff, the future Director, Professor (Sir) Hubert Parry, detested the old building, and its internal sound-proofing is said to have been defective. (fn. 33) After standing vacant from 1896 these old premises were leased by the Commissioners in 1903 for 99 years to the Royal College of Organists, which had been founded in 1863. Alterations, including the removal of many internal partitions, were supervised by John Belcher. The organ, by Norman and Beard, was replaced by another by Hill, Norman and Beard in 1967 (architect, Ralph Covell). (fn. 34)


  • 1. When he was about to return to India his father told the Prince of Wales's secretary, in 1875, that he had 'been designing a church for Sandhurst College and making new plans for the Knightsbridge Barracks'.9 (The Royal Military Academy chapel, 'on an amazing scale and in an amazing style', survives.10) He also made plans for Government House, Simla.11 From 1881 to 1884 he was Curator of Ancient Monuments in India,12 and subsequently had appointments in the Public Works and Military Works departments of the Royal Engineers there.13
  • 2. 1851 Comm., W.A. XIX, 117, xx, 104: RA Add. J/1, 9.
  • 3. Fifty Years of Public Works of Sir Henry Cole, K.C.B., 1884, vol. 1, pp. 366–76: 1851 Comm., W.A. XXI, 51, 93: H.C.D. 1 March 1873: P.R.O., Ed 28/21, no. 76.
  • 4. B. 18 July 1874, pp. 599–600.
  • 5. H.C.D. 1, 22 March, 20, 29 April, 30 May 1873.
  • 6. V.A.M., Lib. MSS., Miscellanies of Henry Cole, 1868–73 (18 June 1873).
  • 7. 1851 Comm., Minutes, 8 Dec. 1873.
  • 8. B.N. 29 Oct. 1875, p. 489.
  • 9. 18th–20th Report of Science and Art Department (1870–2).
  • 10. H.C.C. 3, Cole to Probyn, 2 Oct. 1875: H.C.D. 16 Aug. 1875.
  • 11. N. Pevsner, Berkshire, 1966, p. 212.
  • 12. H.C.D. 20 April 1877.
  • 13. E.W.C. Sandes, The Military Engineer in India, vol. 11, 1935, pp. 271–3.
  • 14. Information kindly supplied by Lt.-Col. F. T. Stear, Head Librarian, R.E.
  • 15. H.C.D. March 1873-June 1874 passim.
  • 16. Ibid., 3 Dec. 1873, 16 Jan., 10 March 1874.
  • 17. Ibid., 4 July 1873: R.C.M., Minute Book of National Training School for Music, 18 Dec. 1873.
  • 18. The Graphic, 22 Jan. 1876, p. 78.
  • 19. R.C.M., Minute Book, ut supra, 1 April 1874.
  • 20. H.C.D. 2 July, 3 Dec. 1873: 1851 Comm., Letter Book, April 1873-Dec. 1874 (Cole to Hunt, 11 July 1873).
  • 21. B. and B.N., ut supra: Royal Albert Hall, Minute Book 2 (Council, 12 July 1873): H.C.D. 22 June 1876.
  • 22. R.C.M., Minute Book, ut supra, memo. 31 March 1874.
  • 23. Keith Spence, 'Ornate Setting for Organists', in Country Life, 20 Dec. 1973, p. 2107.
  • 24. The Graphic, 22 Jan. 1876, p. 78.
  • 25. H.C.D. 23 Feb. 1875.
  • 26. B., ut supra: H.C.D. 16 Oct. 1873.
  • 27. H.C.D. 23 June 1874.
  • 28. B., 10 Jan., 18 July 1874, pp. 27–8, 599–600: H.C.D. 4 Dec. 1873.
  • 29. Sixth Report of the Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851, 29 July 1878, pp. 29, 102.
  • 30. Ibid., p. 29.
  • 31. Sir Sidney Lee, King Edward VII, vol. 1, 1925, pp. 192–4: H.C.D. 13 March 1882.
  • 32. Seventh Report of the Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851, 23 July 1889, pp. 22–4.
  • 33. H.C. Colles, The Royal College of Music. A Jubilee Record 1883–1933, 1933, pp. 2–3: The R.C.M. Magazine, vol. 4, no. 1, p. 12.
  • 34. Royal College of Organists, lease 22 Oct. 1903: programme of inauguration ceremony, 5 July 1904: information kindly supplied by Mr. K. B. Lyndon, Clerk to the College.