NameCole; Sir; Henry (15 July 1808-18 April 1882); FRSA; English civil servant, inventor and chief organiser for the construction of the Royal Albert Hall
AliasFelix Summerly
Dates15 July 1808-18 April 1882
Place of Birth/OriginBath, England (born)
RelationshipsSon of Captain Henry Robert Cole (1st Dragoon Guards) and Lætitia Dormer
Husband of Marian Fairman Bond
BiographySir Henry Cole was an English civil servant and inventor who facilitated many innovations in commerce and education in 19th century Britain. Cole is credited with devising the concept of sending greetings cards at Christmas time, introducing the world's first commercial Christmas card in 1843. He began his career at the age of 15 at the Public Record Office, where he became Assistant Keeper and was instrumental in reforming the organisation and preservation of the British national archives. From 1837 to 1840, he worked as an assistant to Rowland Hill and played a key role in the introduction of the Penny Post. Henry Cole was appointed the first General Superintendent of the Department of Practical Art, set up by the government to improve standards of art and design education in Britain with reference to their applicability to industry. In this capacity he was instrumental in the development of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Cole oversaw its move to its current site, and became first director of what was initially called South Kensington Museum from 1857 to 1873. In 1974 a part of the museum that was once known as the Huxley Building was renamed the Henry Cole Building; today it forms the Henry Cole Wing of the V&A.

Henry Cole was a great innovator in the fields of design, commerce and education, and had worked with Prince Albert on several exhibitions, before they collaborated on the Great Exhibition. It was Cole who kept Albert's dream of a large hall dedicated to the arts and sciences alive, after the Prince's death in 1861. Cole oversaw the design and construction of the Royal Albert Hall, basing it upon the Roman Amphitheatres he had see in Arles and Nimes, (still evident in the Hall today in the use of the names Arena, Amphitheatre, and Loggia) and he was determined that the principles of the Great Exhibition, that it should be accessible to all, should be enshrined in the Hall and other institutions of 'Albertopolis', (the South Kensington museums area). This was outlined in one of his early fundraising prospectuses, that the Hall would be a 'new and beneficial attraction especially to thousands of artisans whom seek their evening amusements in debasing pursuits and temptations.' As little public money was forthcoming Cole looked to finance the building by means of selling seats to private investors at £100 each on a 999 year lease. Two of the first buyers were Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales. Eventually 1,300 seats were sold

Cole was personally interested in industrial design, and under the pseudonym Felix Summerly designed a number of items which went into production, including a prize-winning teapot manufactured by Minton. As Felix Summerly, he also wrote a series of children's books, including The home treasury (1843-1855); A hand-book for the architecture, sculpture, tombs, and decorations of Westminster Abbey (1859); Beauty and the beast: an entirely new edition (1843); An Alphabet of Quadrupeds (1844); and The pleasant history of Reynard the Fox, told by the pictures by Albert van Everdingen (1843).

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