Henry Cole’s own knighthood did not come for another three years after that of Sir George Gilbert Scott but he must have derived considerable pleasure from the fact that his great hall, although not started until three years after work had begun on the memorial across the road, was opened in March 1871, four years before the statue of the Prince was finally installed. The Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences, as the Queen declared that she wished it to be called, took less than four years to build. It can accommodate 10,000 persons and its cost of about £200,000 was raised entirely by the sale of seats, without any charge to the taxpayer. Both Scott and Cole knew that this great feat of speed and economy would have been almost impossible if Scott had been retained as the architect of the hall.
In December 1862, along with their memorial proposals, the seven competing architects each sent their design for a hall to the Queen. Digby Wyatt, the only architect of the seven in Cole’s circle, submitted a proposal for a round building which is perhaps significant in view of the final form of the hall. Scott says that he made designs for, what he calls, a ‘Hall of Science’, in three alternative styles; round-arched Byzantine, Byzantine and Gothic, as well as ‘a sketched variety of the main design with pointed arches’. But he seems to have regarded the hall as something of an afterthought as it was only in late September 1862, with the design of the memorial settled, that he turned his attention towards it. On 25 September, he and Irvine set off on a three week tour of France during which they met George Gilbert junior, John Oldrid and Richard Coad. They travelled as far south as Angouleme and Perigueux. No doubt the purpose of the tour was to visit what he had called ‘the celebrated domical churches of Perigord and Angoumois’, with a view to using the ideas that they represented in style and structure for the hall. With his preoccupation with domes, Scott would have been able to see how he could use a domed structure and yet incorporate Gothic arches into the design. Scott says that he designed the hall during the tour ‘making it a completion of the idea of St Sophia’. He explained that he thought that the great church of St. Sophia in Istanbul was ‘not carried out to completion’ as it has only two half-domes on either side of the main dome and he was proposing that his hall should have half-domes on all four sides.
When it became clear that there would be no funds available for the hall because of Scott’s elaborate memorial design, instead of letting matters drop Cole, always ready for a challenge, started thinking of something even grander.
Sheppard, F. H. (ed.), Survey of London, The Museums Area of South Kensington and Westminster, volume XXXVIII (Athlone Press, London 1975), pp. 178-9, 185, 190-1.
Scott’s Recollections, III 265-6.
Royal Commission for Historic Monuments (South), Scott Notebook, MSS 104p.
Scott, G., Sir, Lectures on the Rise and Development of Medieval Architecture delivered at the Royal Academy (John Murray, London, 1879), vol. I, p. 76, vol. II, p. 250.
Royal Albert Hall, second design, City of Westminster
Cole proposed that the hall should be a massive affair, seating 15,000 people, financed by the sale of debentures entitling free admission. He had a scheme drawn up showing a straight-sided amphitheatre surrounded by flats, shops and galleries to generate income. Cole discussed this with Scott in March 1864 and suggested that Scott should design the exterior and become a member of a committee to design the interior.
This was not an arrangement that Scott would have relished. Nevertheless, in June 1864, he produced a design in the Gothic style of his first Government Offices design showing a rectangular block of offices surrounding, but somewhat detached, from the amphitheatre. He then discovered that Cole wanted to limit the offices to the front facing the memorial and that the rest of the building would be designed by Fowke. Scott made three attempts before producing a design which Cole felt was good enough to show the Prince of Wales and Cole must have been delighted when, in late 1864, he discovered that his scheme to sell seats was so successful that there was no need for the office block. Cole, like many of Scott’s clerical clients, had used Scott’s name to promote his scheme and in February 1865, after its success, his name disappeared from the prospectus.
Captain Fowke assumed responsibility for all aspects of the design of the hall but in the summer of 1865 his health collapsed, presumably from overwork. He died the following December at the age of forty-two and the hall passed to his superior, Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Young Darracott Scott of the Royal Engineers. Scott was not even considered after Fowke’s death and he seemed to be expressing some regret when he says that, ‘My design for the Albert Hall was I think worthy of more consideration than it received’. But with the likelihood of Cole constantly yapping at his heels, Scott seems to have had a lucky escape from what has been called the ‘Cole-hole’.
Sheppard, F. H. (ed.), Survey of London, The Museums Area of South Kensington and Westminster, volume XXXVIII (Athlone Press, London 1975), pp. 179-83.
Scott’s Recollections, III 263-4.
Bayley, S., The Albert Memorial, The Monument in Its Social and Architectural Context (Scolar, 1981), p. 30.