The importance of honouring Prince Albert

By Eddie Small

The idea of inviting the British Association for the Advancement of Science to hold their annual meeting in Dundee in 1863 was first mooted by Dundee’s Sheriff Ogilvy at a Forfar County Procurement Meeting held in Forfar on 19th December 1861.[1] The attending audience, which included MP Sir John Ogilvy, Bart, and Dundee’s Provost Parker were very supportive, and the idea reflects the growing confidence in the city, in its industrial wealth and burgeoning sense of importance. It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the British Association at the time, and its (exclusively-male) membership included Royalty, aristocrats, politicians, ministers of religion and eminent scientists from Britain and abroad. The same meeting in Forfar provided the first opportunity for the group to acknowledge and mourn the death of Prince Albert, and it was noted that, at some time in the future, consideration might be given to some physical token of remembrance.

On June 25th 1862 a committee of five was appointed ‘with the view of getting the members of the British Association to hold their 1863 meeting in Dundee’. The committee Chair was named as Mr Renny, then President of the Chamber of Commerce in Dundee. It was considered that a guarantee of £1000 would be required which would be’ easily’ raised and that ‘schoolrooms would provide the accommodation for the various sections, and the Town Hall and Guild Hall would be placed at their disposal’.[2] The view generally held in Dundee was that the bid was ‘likely to succeed’, and Mr Robert Sturrock was asked to make contact with the British Association.[3]

A deputation was duly sent to the Association’s 1862 meeting in Cambridge which included Sir John Ogilvy. Once there, they learned of other bids from Birmingham, Newcastle, Bath and Nottingham. On October 7th it was announced that Dundee had accumulated 3 votes of 99 and that the 1863 meeting would be held in Newcastle (53 votes). It was pointed out that accommodation for the events, and the members, played a large part in the decision.[4] In November of that year the newly-formed Albert Institute Committee reported that ‘the movement for the erection of the Albert Institute goes on vigorously. It grew out of the proposal to invite the British Association to Dundee…as that may be expected in 1865’. The need to construct a building for the Association’s visit, and the desire to put up a memorial to Albert became one and the same vision, abetted by the fact that Sir David Baxter and others were on both committees. It was decided that no practical steps in construction could take place until the ‘whole of the £20,000 is subscribed’[5]

In September 1864 George Griffith of the British Association wrote to J.A Gloag, Secretary to the Committee of Invitation to the British Association. The letter explained that Griffith ‘trusted’ that the Association would convene in Dundee in 1867, and congratulated Dundee in that ‘on the whole you have acted wisely[6] this alluded to Dundee’s decision to provide a suitable building which would also honour the memory of Prince Albert. Creating the Albert Institute would achieve four particular aims, viz. it would demonstrate to the Queen and country Dundee’s loyalty and depth of respect for the monarchy; it would provide a venue for the British Association for the Advancement of Science’s 37th meeting; it would serve as a permanent visual and cultural hub for the town, housing a Free Library and space for exhibitions and lectures; it would rid the centre of Dundee of the  ‘motley group of buildings in the Meadows and erect upon it an elegant structure’.[7]

The Albert Institute Committee bought the ground from the town in February 1864, at which point all the ‘motley buildings’ occupants were given six months’ notice to vacate. Despite concerns, the Albert Institute did open, at least partially, in time for the British Association’s meeting in September of 1867. It preceded the Albert Memorial Hall in London by almost four years, and only conceded its status as the world’s largest memorial to Prince Albert when the London building opened.

[1] The Dundee Courier & Argus  (Dundee, Scotland), Friday, December 20, 1861; Issue 2608.
[2]  The Dundee Courier & Argus (Dundee, Scotland), Thursday, June 26, 1862; Issue 2769.
[3] The Dundee Courier & Argus (Dundee, Scotland), Friday, August 15, 1862; Issue 2812
[4] The Dundee Courier & Argus (Dundee, Scotland), Wednesday, October 08, 1862; Issue 2858
[5] The Dundee Courier & Argus (Dundee, Scotland), Friday, November 13, 1863; Issue 3202
[6] The Dundee Courier & Argus (Dundee, Scotland), Tuesday, September 13, 1864; Issue 3463
[7] The Dundee Courier & Argus (Dundee, Scotland), Friday, November 13, 1863; Issue 3202

Published on 09 February 2018