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A brief tour of Albertopolis


Words by Jake Russell

How Prince Albert helped to create the cultural hub of Kensington

Named after the royal spouse

Albert Place is a quiet cul-de-sac to the south of Kensington Gardens. The street is lined with stucco-fronted semi-detached houses, mostly built between 1841 and 1845. Originally called Albert Road, it was constructed by the builder William Hoof on land belonging to the Vallotton family.

Albert Road was named after the new royal spouse, Prince Albert. It leads directly onto Victoria Road, named after the other half of the royal couple. This street likewise belonged to the Valloton estate, and was also lined with semi-detached villas, most of them dating from the 1840s.

During this period, much of the area south of Kensington Gardens was being developed into an area called ‘Kensington New Town’. The streets were often given aspirational names to attract members of the upper middle classes. In some cases, aristocratic names were chosen: De Vere Gardens referenced the Earls of Oxford, who once owned the ancient manor of Kensington. Otherwise, the names of historic cities might be chosen: Cambridge Place, St Albans Grove. A third option was to name a road after a member of the royal family, in particular the new queen and her consort.

The wedding of Victoria and Albert, 1840

The wedding of Victoria and Albert, 1840

Albert Place, 1870

The wedding of Victoria and Albert, 1840

The wedding of Victoria and Albert, 1840

Albert Place, 1870

The birth of Albertopolis

Queen Victoria was born in 1819 and ascended to the throne in 1837, at the age of eighteen. In 1840 she married her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, but he was initially unpopular among the British public. Many shared a widespread anti-German feeling, while others viewed him as a penniless aristocrat from a minor family. However, later that year the royal couple were shot at while riding in their carriage by a man named Edward Oxford, and in the wake of this failed assassination, Victoria’s popularity soared. Meanwhile, her husband was praised for his composure and calm during the crisis.

Albert was also heavily involved in the Great Exhibition, which took place in Hyde Park in 1851. Such was the success of the exhibition that he proposed creating several permanent facilities near the park for the public to enjoy. Thanks to the money raised by the exhibition, the royal commission responsible for organising the event was able to purchase the land south of the park. Albert hoped it would become a campus of museums, colleges and educational institutions that promoted the arts and sciences.

This area was originally an unfashionable part of town known as Brompton. After being purchased by the royal commission, many people adopted the nickname ‘Albertopolis’. This was a half-satirical reference to the Prince Consort’s role in the country’s cultural life, but he never lived long enough to see his dream realised.

The Great Exhibition, 1851

The vision became reality

Albert died in 1861 at the age of 42. Victoria was devastated, spending much of her remaining life mourning her lost husband. Soon after his death, work began on a monument to the prince on the southern side of Kensington Gardens, formally opened by the Queen in July 1872.

The memorial sits opposite the Royal Albert Hall, which had been opened the previous year. Originally named the Central Hall of Arts and Sciences, this was changed in memory of the dead consort.

The same thing happened with Victoria and Albert Museum, which was founded the year after the Great Exhibition and opened on its current site in 1857. Originally called the South Kensington Museum, in 1899 the name was also changed out of respect for the royal couple.

By this point Albert had been dead for three decades, but his vision was becoming a reality. Now, this part of Kensington is one of the city’s cultural and educational centres, home to several world-renowned venues. As well as the museum and concert hall, the neighbourhood contains the Natural History Museum, Imperial College London, the Science Museum, the royal colleges of music and art, and the Royal Geographical Society.

A little corner of Albertopolis

In the twentieth century the nickname Albertopolis fell out of use. However, it was re-adopted in the 1960s by those who wanted to preserve the neighbourhood’s grand Victorian architecture from Modernist town planners. Prince Albert is now associated with this vision for public education in culture and science, and his presence in the neighbourhood lives on thanks to the memorial, the museum, the concert hall, and the street that carries his name.

Albert Place is a short walk away from these cultural venues. The street itself is quiet and calm, although exceptionally well connected. From here, the park is close, High Street Kensington too, and there are several local schools, including the celebrated Thomas’s. In other words, this little corner of Albertopolis contains everything a family could need.

Albert Place, present day


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