It was a world first. A clever way to entice visitors into the South Kensington Museum, as the V&A was known then, to experience all the cultural delights on offer.
What do you think I’m talking about? Huge sculptures? Breathtaking art?
Actually, Henry Cole, the founding director, made sure the first thing visitors in the 1860s saw was the museum restaurant.
According to the V&A website:
When entering the Museum from the garden, the public were greeted not by galleries but by three arches with glass screen doors that led to a trio of refreshment rooms. Henry Cole’s concept of a museum restaurant was seen as a way of encouraging people to come and enjoy culture. Cole had learnt about visitors’ needs (tea and a bun or a hot meal) while managing the Great Exhibition in 1851. Most other museums did not invest in catering until the 20th century.
The “refreshment rooms” still lure people from all over the world who come to visit. It was so busy in there on Wednesday afternoon, I would have avoided it had it not been for a tip from Dawn.
I actually stopped in my tracks with an “oh, wow” when I first saw The Gamble Room. Its opulence is a stark contrast to the plain food serving area. I was desperate to get in and have a closer look but there wasn’t a space to be had – and the same with the other ornate rooms. So I just stood amid the chatter and clatter of forks on plates and admired it for a minute or so.
If you’re interested, you can find out more about the world’s first museum cafe here.
I enjoyed wandering the collections and especially a fascinating free lunchtime lecture, entitled Fashioning The Consumptive Chic – Beauty And Disease In Early Victorian England (it sounds weird but it was brilliant) by Carolyn Day.
However, what really enchanted me were the museum buildings. It was like they were in competition with the collections they house and my poor little brain couldn’t take it. I could have spent all day just taking photos of hallways and ceilings.
It was my first visit to the V&A but it won’t be my last. We had such a lovely day in London.
What have you been up to this week?