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Prince Albert used photography to document exhibitions and works of art

Marlborough House, 1854

After the success of the Great Exhibition of 1851, the Treasury provided a grant of £5,000 for a new Museum of Manufactures to be established at Marlborough House, a royal residence in Pall Mall, London. Henry Cole (1808-82) was appointed its Director. Cole was also in charge of the Government School of Design, founded at Somerset House in 1837, which also moved to Marlborough House in 1852. The Museum of Manufactures opened to the public in 1852, with the aim that it should be a ‘schoolroom for everyone’, educating the public on the principles of good design. In 1853, Cole asked Francis Bedford (1816-94) to document works of art in the museum and Queen Victoria (1819-1901) and Prince Albert acquired an album of these photographs. Many of the objects depicted in this album are now part of the Victoria and Albert Museum collection, while a selection of them remain in the Royal Collection. By 1854, the Museum of Manufactures was at capacity in its current space, leading Henry Cole and Prince Albert to work together to establish a permanent museum in South Kensington.