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Going strong after 163 years

hjgArchivist Caroline Lam explains why every Society President sits on a commission set up in 1851...

The Royal Commission for the Great Exhibition was the body charged with overseeing the organisation of the world’s first ever trade fair, which opened in Hyde Park in the specially constructed ‘Crystal Palace’ on 1 May 1851.

The Commission consisted of members of all political parties as well as individuals prominent in the fields of art, science, agriculture and architecture – including, ex officio, the presidents of the Geological Society, Institution of Civil Engineers and the Chair of the East India Company. Other Society Fellows served as members of the sub-committees and on the medal-awarding juries, including Henry Thomas De la Beche under his hat as Director of the Geological Survey. The Archives still hold the medal certificate awarded to De la Beche in recognition of his services, signed by Prince Albert who was appointed President of the Royal Commission (and who was also, coincidentally, a Fellow of the Geological Society).


So successful was this ‘Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations’, that the Commission became a permanent body on 2 December 1851 to administer the substantial profits from the event and specifically, to use them ‘to increase the means of industrial education and extend the influence of science and art upon productive industry’. Initially this saw the purchase of 87 acres of land in South Kensington which helped establish the Victoria and Albert Museum, Science Museum, Natural History Museum, Royal Albert Hall and Imperial College, as well as the Royal College of Art and the Royal College of Music.

However, after ‘Albertopolis’ was nearly complete, enough money remained for the Commissioners to found an educational trust that still operates today. The current presidents of GSL and ICE still serve on it, and grants are available for research in science and engineering, industry and industrial design.

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