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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
Victoria and Albert Museum

(London SW7)
Familiarly known now as the V&A, the museum was conceived in the aftermath of the *Great Exhibition and was partly built from the profits. The intention was to improve standards of industrial design by displaying the art and technology of past centuries. Founded in 1852, it moved to its present site in 1857, being known then as the South Kensington Museum. As the collection grew, rapidly and randomly, galleries and wings were added in similar manner. The main building, on Cromwell Road, was designed by Aston *Webb; the foundation stone was laid in 1899 by Queen *Victoria, who then gave the museum its present name. The scientific collection was increasingly administered as a separate department, and it 1909 it became independent as the *Science Museum.

The original educational purpose of the V&A is clearly seen in the Cast Court, with plaster casts of famous works of sculpture or relief (including even the massive *Trajan's column). But at the same time original masterpieces were being gathered in. The Renaissance sculptures are particularly fine, as is a permanent loan from the royal collection – the *Raphael cartoons. Splendid oddities such as the *Great Bed of Ware or *Tippoo's Tiger are perennially popular. But the real value and endless fascination of the collection is as the world's largest display of the decorative arts, with extensive coverage of all fields from metalwork to costumes.

The museum's library is the National Art Library. In 1983 the important collection of prints and drawings was rehoused in restored buildings on Exhibition Road – known now as the Henry Cole Wing, in honour of the man who was in charge of the museum in the early years (and who has also earned himself a place in history as the inventor of the *Christmas card). The V&A administers several outposts, including *Apsley House, the *Bethnal Green Museum and the *Theatre Museum.

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