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Cole, Sir Henry

Cole, Sir Henry (1808–82). English industrial designer, museum director, and art-adminis-trator of genius. He reformed the Public Record Office (1823–38), helped to introduce the Penny Post (1838–42), and commissioned (1843) John Calcott ‘Clothes’ Horsley (1817–1903) to design the first commercial Christmas card. Under the pseudonym ‘Felix Summerly’ he wrote children's books, tourist guides, pamphlets on many subjects, and articles, and in 1846 designed the Felix Summerly Tea Service, made by Herbert Minton (1793–1858) in his ceramic factory, which was such a success that Cole established (1847) Felix Summerly's Art-Manufactures with the object of improving industrial design (and the execrable taste of the general public) by commissioning work from artists. Soon Cole was to realize that the teaching in the Government Schools of Design was not up to much, and prompted a Select Committee of the House of Commons to look into the matter (1848) whilst airing the problem in the Journal of Design and Manufactures (1849–52). Through the Royal Society of Arts he met Prince Albert, and in 1850 was entrusted with the organization of the Great Exhibition of 1851: the result was a triumph, and was the first of a series of major C19 exhibitions. After this success Cole was made head of the newly-created Department of Practical Art, and he also established a museum containing various exhibits shown in 1851, to provide suitable models for students as well as raising the level of public taste. Almost immediately his department was called upon to design the funeral-car and bier for the exequies of the Duke of Wellington in 1852: with men of the calibre of Semper at his side, the result was another triumph. When Cole began his stint as General Superintendent of what in 1853 became the Department of Art and Science, there were only 36 provincial art schools, but by 1861 there were 91, and there is no question he had a huge impact on design throughout the Kingdom (and therefore throughout the Empire). So successful had the Great Exhibition been, even in terms of profit, that Cole's department was able to move to new premises in South Kensington, and in due course became that great institution, the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1899. He was adviser to the London exhibition at South Kensington of 1862, and was the proposer of a huge hall to be erected as part of the National Memorial to Prince Albert (who had died in 1861). Cole threw himself with his customary energy into realizing the scheme, and the foundation-stone of what was to become the Royal Albert Hall was laid in 1867 (the building, designed by Fowke and H. Y. D. Scott, opened in 1871). He was active in starting the National Training School for Music which opened in 1876 and formed the basis of the Royal College of Music (it was designed by his son, Henry Hardy Cole (1843–1916), and later became the Royal College of Organists: its extraordinary sgraffito decorations were by F. W. Moody (1824–86) ).


Bonython & and Burton (2003);
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004);
P&D (1973);
Sheppard (ed.) (1975);
Jane Turner (1996)

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