The Archive

Records of the Commission Since 1849

About our Archive Collection

The Archive of the Royal Commission for the Exhibition 1851 dates from 1849 when the Society of Arts and its president, Prince Albert, the Prince Consort, conceived the idea of holding a Great Exhibition in London in 1851. The archive covers all aspects of the organisation of the Exhibition including the granting of the Royal Charter, appointment of Commissioners, choice of the Hyde Park site and Joseph Paxton’s “Crystal Palace”, the organising of local and national Committees and the logistics of running the exhibition. It includes correspondence to and from Prince Albert and the Commission, minutes, plans, prints, reports and catalogues of the exhibits.

Under a supplemental charter extending its existence in perpetuity, the Royal Commission used the £186,000 surplus from the exhibition to purchase an estate in South Kensington. The Commission’s Archive includes material relating to the purchase of this land, the design of various buildings for the site, the development of the area and the running of the estate. It includes work by Gottfried Semper, J. Pennethorne, Thomas Donaldson and C.R.Cockerell. There is material relating to the various institutions who have resided on the estate, including the Royal Albert Hall, South Kensington Museum (which became the V&A) and Imperial College.

The Commission has been awarding fellowships and scholarships to ‘increase the means of industrial education and extend the influence of science and art upon productive industry’ since 1891. The Archive contains material relating to these various schemes as well as to the students who have held these prestigious awards. Previous award holders include 13 Nobel Laureates.

The Crystal Palace and the Great Exhibition by Hermione Hobhouse celebrates 150 years of the Commission’s work, fired by the “application of art and science to productive industry”, a story of some success and permanent record, yet a pilgrimage not without its episodes of dissension and controversy.  The book can be purchased online ISBN 9780826478412.


Enquiries can be made by email.  Visits are by appointment only.

Other sources of information are:

The Victoria and Albert Museum
Royal Society of Arts
National Archives
Crystal Palace Foundation

Outside the Crystal Palace, Dickinson's Comprehensive pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851. The Royal Albert Hall from the Horticultural Gardens 1871 1 & 2 Lowther Gardens, 1876 (the Commission’s offices 1920 – 1987)