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The Great Exhibitor

Price: £35.00

By Elizabeth Bonython and Anthony Burton.

This first full length biography of Henry Cole, extraordinary larger-than-life ‘eminent Victorian’, visionary civil servant, and accomplished spin doctor, whose pioneering ideas created the magnificent museum which is now the V&A.

By the end of his life Henry Cole was recognised as a national institution, ‘Old King Cole’, though he was treated with caution as a ‘playful monster’. He was a lifelong Civil Servant, in a period when Civil Servants could be buccaneering reformers rather than impassive mandarins. Described as ‘a clever agitator, and a public spirited fellow’, he waged many campaigns, moving from the Public Records to the Penny post, to railway expansion, to patent law revision, to art and design reform.

With Prince Albert, he created the great Exhibition of 1851, and kept on organising exhibitions for the rest of his life. He was in charge of a nationwide system of art and science education, and, again with Prince Albert, developed the South Kensington area as the intellectual quarter of London, The Victoria and Albert Museum, of which he was founding Director, remains as his best-known memorial, and is a symbol of his mission to educate through exhibiting.

This book gives a rounded picture of this extraordinary man. He is portrayed not only as exhibitor, museum director and educationalist, but as a galvanic force administering salutary shocks over wide areas of Victorian life:
Children’s books, hackney cabs, public lavatories, choral singing, cookery, sewage disposal, to name only a few. In his own time he aroused admiration and antipathy in equal measure. For today’s readers, his energy and creativity will mark him out as an inimitable Victorian phenomenon.

328 pages hardback 57 Illustrations