Design: Albert returns in all his glory

Click to follow
The Independent Online
PRINCE Albert has languished in a black bin liner since 1990 when the scaffolding went up on Kensington's Albert Memorial. The first to get a sneak preview of the restoration work will be Chancellor Kohl of Germany during the ASEC Summit for European and Asian Heads of State. He's in for a big surprise.

Queen Victoria's beloved husband, two and half times taller than life size, is gold plated once again, while the blown glass cabochons in ruby and turquoise on the orb and cross atop the monument sparkle in the sunshine.

The memorial to Albert, who died young of typhoid in 1861, is, as English Heritage project manager Alasdair Glass put it, "the British equivalent of the Taj Mahal, a love story in Portland stone and iron".

Gilbert Scott designed the shrine to the Prince Consort like a tiered wedding cake, spired to nearly 200 feet, and vaulted with flying buttresses in true Gothic revival style.

John Foley's statue of Albert depicts him in his Knight of the Garter outfit, which is rather Blackadder-ish, with pantaloons and ruffles. His forefinger marks a page in the catalogue of the Great Exhibition of 1851 which Albert inspired. The money raised was spent on the nearby South Kensington museums.

Restoration work only began in earnest in 1994 when English Heritage chairman Jocelyn Stevens became involved, thundering that it was scandalous to let go to ruin such a "gloriously extrovert piece of sculpture".

English Heritage committed pounds 2 million towards the restoration, and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport pounds 8.2m. Ready a year ahead of schedule, the project has come in nearly pounds 3m under budget at pounds 11.2m, with pounds 750,000 sponsorship already in the bag and a further pounds 250,000 sought.

A combination of time and London's dirt served Albert badly. Lead wrapped around the over-engineered cast iron structure, caused it to corrode dramatically. Fine craftsmanship has been helped by new technology to restore it. The waterless sponge jet system, pioneered for the nuclear power stations,was used on the iron, and the first laser cleaner installed in this country for the lead.

Restored to its former glory, Gilbert Scott's Gormendghast fantasy and Prince Albert's pragmatism in patronage are in step with the spirit of our times. Chancellor Kohl would call it "zeitgeist".