Merry old soul of Victorian cultural reform

16th May 2003 at 01:00
The Great Exhibitor: the life and work of Henry Cole. By Elizabeth Bonython and Anthony Burton. Vamp;A Publications. pound;35.

Henry Cole, who died in 1882 after, as the title of his autobiography asserts, Fifty Years of Public Service, was one of those extraordinary 19th-century colossi who took carefree, crime-ridden, roaring Regency England by the scruff of its recalcitrant neck and forced it through the wringer of self-examining, self-improving, do-gooding Victorian values.

Chief architect of the Great Exhibition of 1851, Cole parlayed his authority from that huge success to bring into being the great museums in Kensington, Imperial College, the Albert Hall, the Royal College of Music and the Albert Memorial as well as involving himself in a national school of cookery, army reform, London cabs, music teaching and publishing. For 20 years he ran the Department of Science and Art. Yet he left school early, with few skills.

How did he do it? As this fascinating, incident-packed biography reveals, his success was a mixture of vision and will - with a dash of luck. He had, said one friend, "the heart of a boy with the mind of a man in the vigour of life".

Tellingly, Cole remembered crying for the moon at the age of two. His parents promised it to him, but he was not pacified.

His vision lives on in the institutions he created, all of which aimed to enhance society. For Cole was a radical. His stroke of luck was to meet John Stuart Mill and the "philosophic radicals" in his first job at the Public Records Office. This fired him with the conviction that public life could and should be made better. He was the man to do it: so he did.

Victoria Neumark

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number

Comments

The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now