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Record of historical events

Victoria and Albert collected photographs that documented the political and military events that defined a period of global expansion

United Kingdom

The period of Prince Albert’s (1819-61) active life in the United Kingdom saw a fundamental change in social welfare, university education, the structure of government and parliament, and in diplomatic relations with the rest of the world. In 1848, the United Kingdom was hit by a recession. Working-class political consciousness was channelled into support for The Chartist movement (1838-1848). Named after the People’s Charter, a bill drawn up for the London Working Men’s Association (LWMA) by William Lovett (1800-77) and Francis Place (1771-1854) in 1838, the Charter had six aims. These were universal manhood suffrage, vote by secret ballot, annually elected Parliaments, constituencies of equal size, payment of members of Parliament, and the abolition of property qualifications for membership.

The movement’s third and final petition was presented to Parliament on 10th April 1848, following a vast meeting on Kennington Common that was photographed by William Edward Kilburn (1818-91). The resulting two daguerreotypes by Kilburn are considered to be the first photographic depictions of a crowd. One of the daguerreotype plates was the source of an engraving of the rally that was distributed extensively in the press, including in the Illustrated London News. The acquisition of both daguerreotypes by Prince Albert reflect his early belief in the potency of photography as a historical record. Albert’s concern for social welfare was demonstrated by his role as President of the Society for Improving the Conditions of the Labouring Classes.