If you loved the movie, Victoria and Abdul, starring Dame Judi Dench as Queen Victoria, and can't wait for the next season of the TV's, Victoria, starring Jenna Coleman as the young queen (season 2 is due to air in the US on PBS on 14th Jan), then you must come to London and see the iconic sights and attractions which tell the story of Queen Victoria's long and fruitful life.
Princess Alexandrina Victoria was born on 24th May 1819 at Kensington Palace, the only child of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn (the fourth son of King George III), and Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. Kensington Palace and its gardens are open to visitors and a marble statue of Victoria in her coronation robes, designed by her daughter Princess Louise, the Duchess of Argyll, in 1893, stands outside.
At the age of just 18, the young princess became queen after her uncle, King William IV, died with no children. At her own request, the name Alexandrina was dropped and she was named Queen Victoria. Just over a year later, her coronation took place on 28 June 1838 at Westminster Abbey. The procession to and from the ceremony was attended by unprecedented crowds of 400,000 people, thanks to the new railways, which helped people travel from around the country to the capital. The ceremony cost £79,000 (£6.41 million as of 2015) and was widely considered to be a great success, despite a few minor mishaps during the ceremony inside the Abbey, owing to lack of a rehearsal. Westminster Abbey is open to visitors throughout the year.
Queen Victoria married her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, in the Chapel Royal of St James's Palace on 10 February 1840 and in her diary referred to it as "the happiest day of my life!" Unfortunately St James's Palace is not open to visitors today because it is still used as the official home of several members of the Royal Family and their household offices. Visitors can admire the palace from outside the outer walls (where the above picture was taken), or from within them if you're lucky enough to attend one of the many charity receptions held there each year.
Buckingham Palace became the principal royal residence on Queen Victoria's accession to the throne (her uncle, William IV, having died before it was completed) and the young queen became the first monarch to reside there. While the state rooms were designed and decorated at great expense, covered with gilt and colour, much of the palace was poorly designed. The chimneys were said to have smoked so badly that the fires could not be lit, and the ventilation was so poor that the whole place smelled foul. Upon moving in to the palace with his new wife, Prince Albert concerned himself with eliminating the faults and reorganising the lax and lazy household staff. When their family grew, he also instructed the building of a new wing, which today is the East Front facing the Mall, featuring the main balcony used in events to acknowledge the public.
The Victoria & Albert Museum, or V&A, was founded in 1852 and officially opened by Queen Victoria in 1857. It is the world's largest museum of decorative arts and design, with a permanent collection of more than 4.5 million objects on display. It is located in the Brompton district of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, in an area that has become so stongly associated with Prince Albert that it is known locally as 'Albertopolis'. The museum's origins were a result of the Great Exhibition of 1851 which was co-organised by Henry Cole, the museum's first director, and Prince Albert. It was intended that the museum's displays should have an emphasis on practical and functional design, as opposed to 'high art', in a bid to help inspire and encourage productivity and design in Britain. To this end, the museum introduced new 'late night openings', made possible by the use of gas lighting, in a bid to enable people from the working classes to visit the museum after working hours. Today the V&A museum is a world-renowned free museum, with a diverse and fascinating programme of displays and exhibitions, which stay true to the museum's original purpose.
Similar to the V&A Museum nearby, The Science Museum was founded in 1857 to display surplus items from Prince Albert's Great Exhibition. Its original collections included machinery and patented items and was first named the Museum of Patents, before being renamed the Science Museum later in 1885. Today the Science Museum holds over 300,000 items, including world-famous and pioneering inventions such as Stephenson's Rocket (the world's first steam locomotive), the world's first jet engine, and a genuine Apollo space capsule. Prince Albert was known to be a passionate advocate of progress in science and machinery, at a time when many were still sceptical about it. Today the Science Museum is free to visit and showcases many new creations by young designers and inventors, which can be seen as a tribute to Albert's legacy. It also features fantastic interactive displays designed for children.
The Royal Albert Hall was originally intended to be called the Central Hall of Arts and Sciences, and was a key part of Prince Albert's wish to create a permanent series of facilities for the enlightenment of the public. However Albert sadly died of typhoid in 1861, six years before its completion, and it was renamed in his honour by Victoria upon laying the Hall's foundation stone. Queen Victoria was so devastated by Albert's passing that she permanently wore black thereafter and rarely left her palace in Windsor to visit London. At the official opening ceremony for the Royal Albert Hall in 1871, she is said to have been unable to give a speech because she was so overcome with emotion. Today, the Royal Albert Hall hosts a wide range of classical, pop, opera, comedy events and performances, as well as offering regular tours.
The Albert Memorial stands in Kensington Gardens, opposite the Royal Albert Hall. It was commissioned by Queen Victoria in memory of her late husband, whom she was besotted with. When Albert died, there was much discussion as to what memorial would be created in his honour, with ideas of a university or international scholarhips amongst the suggestions. However, Victoria wanted a memorial "in the common sense of the word". It was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, in the Gothic Revival style, and consists of an ornate canopy beneath which is a bronze cast statue of Albert in a seated position, facing south looking toward the Royal Abert Hall and over his 'Albertopolis' area of enlightenment. Such was the great popularity of Prince Albert that there are several memorials around the country which were built in his honour. Guided tours of the Albert Memorial, taking you beyond the railings and up-close are available.
The Victoria Memorial stands at the end of The Mall, in front of her family home, Buckingham Palace. It was designed and built by sculptor Sir Thomas Brook, and was unveiled in 1911, ten years after Victoria's death at the age of 81 in 1901. The ceremony was presided over by her grandson, King George V, and was attended by the royal family and a large number of members of parliament and the armed forces. In his then role of Home Secretary, the text for the speeches for the ceremony were carried by a young Winston Churchill.