Birds’ Eye Views

I wonder if the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) had a little-known sub-section devoted to pigeon fanciers.  A branch, perhaps (or a wing)? How else to explain the preponderance of interesting  features high up on old buildings that are indistinct at street level but – presumably – clear as bread crumbs to passing pigeons?

I was mulling this over yesterday as I squinted at the figures and details of The Treasury’s Whitehall pediment, and then again while attempting to make out the features on one of Imperial College’s older buildings, just around the corner from the Science Museum.

Relief of the globe on the old Chemistry building of Imperial College

Relief of the globe on the old Chemistry building of Imperial College (Doug Millard, 2010)

Albertopolis, as this corner of South Kensington has often been referred to, is awash with such elevated and hard-to-make-out architectural treats. Yesterday I was struggling to read the inscriptions on the other Albert Memorial, the one round the back of the Albert Hall and at the top of the steps (where Michael Caine fought Oliver MacGreevey in ‘The Ipcress File’).

Memorial to Albert and the Great Exhibition of 1851

Memorial to Albert and the Great Exhibition of 1851 (Doug Millard, 2010)

It’s a hugely important monument, commemorating as it does the Great Exhibition of 1851 – the proceeds of which paid for many of the buildings of Albertopolis (the educational institutions, the museums and, of course, the Hall) – and the man behind it, Albert Francis Augustus Charles Emanuel, The Prince Consort.

Harrison's Power Loom, 1851

This loom can be seen in the Science Museum's 'Making the Modern World' gallery but was first displayed in the 'Machinery in Motion' part of the Great Exhibition in 1851 (Science Museum/Science&Society)

But the exhibition itself was in Hyde Park and save passing references to its location on the maps at the Park entrances there is no monument at or near to where Paxton’s gigantic ‘Crystal Palace’ once stood.

Site of the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park

Site of the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park (Doug Millard, 2010)

I wonder if, with the recent dry weather revealing ancient disturbances of the ground, it is the pigeons that once again are best placed to appreciate, I would argue, the under-recognised site of one of London’s most significant cultural events.

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