It’s difficult for me to figure out if anyone ever knew what the Imperial Institute was for exactly. Possibly Edward, the Prince of Wales whose idea it was had a good idea. So although it was opened in 1893 when his mother was still on the throne you could call it an early instance of that Edwardian fantasy we’ve looked at in other posts. I’ve been looking at images of the Institute but not for once of its exterior and that strange tower which has survived longer than the rest of it but of its more interesting and far stranger interior.
The Grand Staircase hangs in the air as though it belonged to a fictional castle tower or a Piranesi engraving.
At dizzying heights, almost too far away to see barely identifiable mythological and classical figures are depicted.
So let’s enter. The door is closed. Two lithe big cats guard the stairs behind us.
Ahead of us is a long high corridor. At the far end light streams in through a window.
You can search all these rooms without finding a sign of inhabitants. There is a J G Ballard story about a seemingly empty and endless space station. The Institute looks a little like that in these pictures.
There is no one in the empty conference hall.
Or this room with its elaborate ceiling.
Some of those rooms are decorated in the style of the countries of the empire.
There are some spaces filled up with objects.
So have we entered a museum?
It looks a little more like a nation’s attic.
There are some signs of life here:
It looks like a deserted gentleman’s club.
But in this gloomy room the scattering of papers shows some evidence of the activity within:
And this room is waiting for a meeting but for how long will it wait?
Head downstairs and there are even hints of recreation.
Have we been here before?
After sixty years or so of inconclusive activity the rooms were empty again. You might have seen one diffident stranger in the distance…
But you could have imagined it. And now all the halls and rooms are gone.
Some of these pictures are described as ink photos. I imagine that this is some process involving inking over a photograph to create an image which was easier to print in a magazine. But really I just don’t know and if anyone can enlighten me I’d be grateful.