Many of us have heard of the Great Exhibition held in London in 1851. It was suggested by Prince Albert the husband of Queen Victoria as a way to show what was great about Great Britain and the colonies.
The exhibition included all the best produce manufactured in Great Britain. It had machinery, including several full sized steam locomotives. It also had exhibits from the colonies including huge diamonds, guns, historic artefacts, new technologies such as the jacquard loom which used punch cards to make intricate patterns in fabrics, scientific instruments including telescopes and even the first pay toilets (1p a pee, which in today’s terms is over £9, which makes the 20p they charge today cheap). In total there were around 13000 exhibits as well as fountains and fully grown trees.
The Great Exhibition was opened by Queen Victoria on the 1st May 1851 and ran until the 11th October 1851. During this time it is estimated that around 6 million people visited the exhibition. In the 6 months it was opened the exhibition actually turned a profit of £186,000. This money was used to build the Victoria and Albert Museum, The Natural History Museum and the Science Museum.
The idea to hold the Great Exhibition was announced in 1850 with hundreds of designs being put forward. The winning entry was submitted by the head gardener of the Duke of Devonshire’s home Chatsworth House. Joseph Paxton drew his idea on some blotting paper and submitted it to the committee. It was chosen due to its unique design and the speed it could be built in. His design drew much on his previous works at Chatsworth. In 1836 Paxton had designed and built a fully heated glass building for growing bananas especially the Cavendish banana which is the most grown banana still today. Paxton also designed the Emperor fountain in 1844. This fountain is fed by gravity from a huge lake above Chatsworth House. The pressure built up on the way to the fountain allows the jet to reach 90m at full pressure.
Work started on the Crystal Palace in 1850. At its height there were over 5000 men working on the construction with up to 2000 onsite per day. One individual managed to install over 100 panes of glass in one day. The building itself was immense. When completed it was 3 times larger than St Paul’s Cathedral. During the construction over 1000 iron girders were used as well as over 5500m2 of timber, 293,000 panes of glass, 30 miles of guttering and 4000 tonnes of iron. The building was 563m long, 124m wide and 33m high with 2 floors. In total the building cost £79,800 which in today’s terms is £7,510,700, and took 8 months to complete.
The building stood in Hyde Park until 1852. After the exhibition ended it was unsure what was to become of the building. It was decided that the building would be dismantled and moved to Sydenham Hill in London where it was used as an exhibition centre of sorts and held concerts and even a circus. The new crystal palace was not exactly the same as the original and it eventually reopened by Queen Victoria in June 1854. Over the years the palace declined and was not well maintained and eventually the owners were declared bankrupt. In the 1920’s the new owners set about restoring the building and bringing it back to its former glory.
The new palace met with an untimely end on the 30th November 1936. A small fire started after what was believed to be an explosion in the ladies toilets. The fire tore through the building fuelled by the wood in the construction and a gusting wind. There were over 400 firemen and 89 fire engines in the battle to save the building but it was a battle which was lost. The site was eventually cleared and the grounds have been used as a motor racing circuit and the site for a transmitter. Today is an open space which has been used for open air concerts and a park.
There has been talk over the years about rebuilding the Crystal Palace and having another Great Exhibition. I don’t think it would work, but just seeing the building would be fantastic, a true glimpse into the past.
Hello and thank you for taking the time to read my Family History Ramblings on genealogy and history in general. I hope you find it informative and hopefully funny!