'Dearest Albert's name is for ever immortalized.'
'IT WAS the happiest, proudest day in my life, and I can think of nothing else,' the Queen wrote of 1 May 1851. 'Albert's dearest name is for ever immortalized with this great conception, his own, and my own dear country showed she was worthy of it.'1
At the beginning of the previous year, the Prince, as President of the Royal Society of Arts, had presided over the first meeting of the Commissioners for the Great Exhibition which had been conceived as a means of demonstrating that the progress of mankind depended upon international cooperation, that the prosperity of one country depended upon the prosperity of others, and that Britain's mission was 'to put herself at the head of the diffusion of civilization'.
The idea had been discussed in the summer of 1849 at a conference in Buckingham Palace attended by, amongst others, Thomas Cubitt, the builder, John Scott Russell, the civil engineer, who was Secretary of the Royal Society of Arts, and the versatile Henry Cole, soon to be the Society's Chairman. Cole was a remarkable and astonishingly versatile man. At one time or another an assistant keeper of the Public Record Office, closely concerned with the inauguration of the penny post, exhibitor at the Royal Academy, newspaper and magazine editor, writer of children's books, associated with the establishment of schools of music and cookery, ceramic designer, Secretary of the Anti-Corn-Law League, friend of the novelist Thomas Love Peacock, whose collected works he edited, and of W. M. Thackeray, Cole was a man not only of extraordinary