The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 awards some 25 postgraduate Fellowships and Scholarships a year, for advanced study and research in science, engineering, the built environment and design. It also makes a small number of Special Awards to support projects consistent with its overall aims. Many of these are focused on raising the awareness of the young to the opportunities presented by science and engineering. The total annual disbursement is some £2m a year, funded from the Commission’s investment portfolio. Report of the Board of Management 2015.
The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 was established in 1850 by Her Majesty Queen Victoria to organise the first world trade fair: The Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations. Prince Albert was appointed President and took personal charge of the whole complex operation. In just sixteen months a site was chosen in Hyde Park, the iconic Crystal Palace (the largest covered structure on earth at that time) was designed, manufactured and erected and 100,000 exhibits assembled so that the Great Exhibition opened on time on 1 May 1851.
It was an enormous success, attracting more than 6 million visitors and made a substantial profit. When the Exhibition closed in October 1851, the Royal Commission was then established as a permanent body to spend the profits in realising Prince Albert’s ambition to “increase the means of industrial education and extend the influence of science and art upon productive industry”. To this end the Commissioners purchased 87 acres of land in South Kensington stretching from Kensington Gore to Cromwell Road. Here they aided the establishment of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Royal Albert Hall and Imperial College as well as the Royal College of Art and the Royal College of Music.
This extraordinary legacy, a unique cultural estate, became known as Albertopolis and to this day the Commission still acts as landlord for much of the site. It plays an active part in the estate and its continuing development including through the Exhibition Road Cultural Group.
When this huge undertaking was largely complete, there remained sufficient funds for the Commission to set up an educational trust to perpetuate its aims. Starting with the award of Science Research Scholarships from 1891, the emphasis switched to the support of individuals, although the Commission also made occasional awards to promote other educational ventures of national importance including the British School at Athens and the British School at Rome, the Commonwealth Institute and the National Physical Laboratory.
“The Royal Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851”
By Henry Wyndham Phillips (1820-1868)
Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum
HRH The Princess Royal
Mr Bernard Taylor
Professor Sir Michael Brady
Professor Sir Richard Brook
Sir William Castell
Mr Stuart Corbyn
Professor Dame Kay Davies
Jim Eyre Esq
Professor Sir Christopher Frayling
Professor Lynn Gladden
Professor Lord Mair
Sir John O’Reilly
The President of the Council
The First Lord of the Treasury
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
The Secretary of State for Business
The Secretary of State for the Environment
The President of the Institution
The President of the Geological Society