The Crystal Palace

The Crystal Palace

The Crystal Palace was a cast-iron and glass building originally erected in Hyde Park, London, England, to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. More than 14,000 exhibitors from around the world gathered in the Palace's convert|990000|sqft|m2 of exhibition space to display examples of the latest technology developed in the Industrial Revolution. Designed by Joseph Paxton, the Great Exhibition building was convert|1850|ft|m|0 long, with an interior height of convert|108|ft|m|0.cite web |url = | title = The Crystal Palace of Hyde Park|accessdate=2008-04-04]

After the exhibition, the building was moved to a new park in a high, healthy and wealthy area of London called Sydenham Hill, an area not much changed today from the well-heeled suburb full of large Victorian villas that it was during its Victorian heyday. The Crystal Palace was enlarged and stood from 1854 until 1936, when it was destroyed by fire. It attracted many thousands of visitors from all levels of society. The name "Crystal Palace" (coined by the satirical magazine "Punch") [The 1850-11-02 Punch issue is credited with bestowing the "Crystal Palace" name on the design by cite book | title = Nineteenth-Century European Art: A Topical Dictionary | first = Terry | last = Strieter | isbn = | page = 50 | isbn = 031329898X | year = 1999 (And cite web | url = | title = Crystal Palace | quote = The term 'Crystal Palace' was first applied to Paxton's building by Punch in its issue of 2nd November 1850 | publisher = BBC | accessdate = 2007-11-21.) Punch had originally sided with "The Times" against the Exhibition committee's own proposal of a fixed brick structure, but featured the Crystal Palace heavily throughout 1851 (for example in cite web | title = Punch Issue 502 | url =
included the article "Travels into the Interior of the Crystal Palace" of February 1851). Any earlier name has been lost, according to cite web | year = 2003 | title = Everything2 "Crystal Palace" Exhibition Building Design #251| url =
] was later used to denote this area of south London and the park that surrounds the site, home of the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre.

Original Hyde Park building

The huge, modular wood, [cite book | isbn = 0485115751 | year = 2002 | first = Hermione | last = Hobhouse | title = The Crystal Palace and the Great Exhibition | page = 34 | quote = It was essentially a modular building of iron, wood and glass, built of components which were meant to be recyclable. The prefabricated parts were constructed in the manufacture's ironworks and sawmills (page 36).] glass and iron structure at the top of Sydenham Hill was originally erected in Hyde Park in London to house The Great Exhibition of 1851, embodying the products of many countries throughout the world.cite web |url=|title= The Great Exhibition of 1851|accessdate=2007-07-30 |publisher= "Duke Magazine"|date= 2006-11]

The Crystal Palace's creator, Joseph Paxton, was knighted in recognition of his work. Paxton had been the head gardener at Chatsworth, in Derbyshire. There he had experimented with glass and iron in the creation of large greenhouses, and had seen something of their strength and durability, knowledge that he applied to the plans for the Great Exhibition building. Planners had been looking for strength, durability, simplicity of construction and speed—and this they got from Paxton's ideas. The project was engineered by Sir William Cubitt.

Full-size, living elm trees in the park were enclosed within the central exhibition hall near the convert|27|ft|m|0|sing=on tall Crystal Fountain. Sparrows became a nuisance; Queen Victoria mentioned this problem to the Duke of Wellington, who offered the famous solution, "Sparrowhawks, Ma'am".

The Crystal Palace was built by about 5,000 navvies (up to 2,000 on site at once). [The peak figure of 2,000 workers daily is given in: cite book | isbn = 0485115751 | title = The Crystal Palace and the Great Exhibition | page = 34 and by the University of Virginia's cite web | url = | title = Modeling the Crystal Palace | year = 2001 project: cite web | url = | title = "The Crystal Palace Animation" Exterior and Interior | accessdate = 2007-11-20]

The ironwork contractors were Fox and Henderson. The 900,000 square feet (84,000 m²) of glass was provided by the Chance Brothers glassworks in Smethwick, Birmingham. They were the only glassworks capable of fulfilling such a large order, and had to bring in labour from France to meet it in time.

The Crystal Palace also featured the first public conveniences, the "Retiring Rooms", in which sanitary engineer George Jennings installed his Water Closets. During the exhibition, 827,280 visitors paid one penny each to use them, and for this they got a clean seat, a towel, a comb and a shoe shine. This is the origin of the euphemism "to spend a penny".


The life of the Great Exhibition was limited to six months, and something then had to be done with the building. [cite web | url = | title = Crystal Palace history "Leaving Hyde Park" October 1851] Against the wishes of Parliamentary opponents, the edifice was erected on a property named Penge Place that had been excised from Penge Common atop Sydenham Hill. It was much modified and enlarged so much that it extended beyond the boundary of Penge Place, which was also the boundary between Surrey and Kent. Within two years, Queen Victoria again performed an opening ceremony.

The new site hosted concerts, exhibits, and public entertainment.

Several localities claim to be the area to which the building was relocated. The street address of the Crystal Palace was Sydenham SE26, but the actual building and parklands were in Penge. At the time of relocation most of the buildings were in Croydon, as were a majority of the grounds. In 1899, the county boundary was moved, transferring the entire site to Penge Urban District in Kent. The site is now within the Crystal Palace Ward of the London Borough of Bromley.

Two railway stations were opened to serve the permanent exhibition, Crystal Palace rail station and Gypsy Hill rail station. The Low Level Station is still in use at Crystal Palace railway station, and part of the High Level Station, from which a subway gave access to the Parade area, can also still be seen, with its Italian mosaic roofing. This subway is a Grade II listed building.

The South Gate is served by Penge West Railway Station. For some time this station was on an atmospheric railway. This is often confused with a 550-metre pneumatic passenger railway which was exhibited at the Crystal Palace in 1864, which was known as the Crystal Palace pneumatic railway.

There is an apocryphal story, popular among local schoolchildren, that Crystal Palace High Level Station was closed because a commuter train was trapped by a tunnel collapse and remains there to this day. In reality, the closure was a scheduled part of the decline of the railway network in the 1950s. This may have arisen as a result of the experimental pneumatic railway 1864, to which a similar story is attached. See below, and also Thomas Webster Rammell, the engineer behind the project.

Water features

Joseph Paxton was first and foremost a gardener, and his layout of gardens, fountains, terraces and cascades left no doubt as to his ability. One thing he did have a problem with was water supply. Such was his enthusiasm that thousands of gallons of water were needed in order to feed the myriad fountains and cascades which abounded in the Crystal Palace park. The two main jets were convert|250|ft|m|0 high.

Initially, water towers were constructed, but the weight of water in the raised tanks caused them to collapse. Isambard Kingdom Brunel was consulted and came up with the plans for two mighty water towers, one at the north and the other at the south end of the building. Each supported a tremendous load of water, which was gathered from three reservoirs, at either end of and in the middle of the park.

Two years later, the grand fountains and cascades were opened, again in the presence of the Queen, who got wet when a gust of wind swept mists of spray over the Royal carriage.


While the original palace cost £150,000, the relocation to Sydenham cost £1,300,000—burdening the company with a debt it never repaid, [cite web | url = | title = Crystal Palace history" The Building" 1852 - 1854| accessdate = 2007-11-21 These amounts are in successive years, and partly reflect the extension to five stories made at Sydenham. The £150,000 cost of the Hyde Park Crystal Palace includes the (re-usable) component material cost, so the extent to which the reconstructed Palace had an (unexpectedly) higher construction cost is even greater than the comparison of totals implies.] partly because admission fees were depressed by the inability to cater for Sunday visitors: many people worked every day except the Sabbath, [cite web | url = | title = Memorial from the National Sunday League on the Sunday opening of the British Museum | quote = working men and their families [...] worked long hours and all day Saturday. Many could not afford a day's unpaid leave to come to the Museum. ] when the Palace had always been closed. [The Great Exhibition was always closed on Sunday, see: cite web | title = Crystal Palace - On a hot summer's day "Facts and Figures" | url = | quote = No Sunday opening was allowed, no alcohol, no smoking and no dogs. The Crystal Palace at Sydenham continued the observance, opening only to shareholders on Sundays: cite web | url = | title = Crystal Palace History "Open again" | quote = neither the building nor grounds were open on Sundays] No amount of protest had any effect: the Lord's Day Observance Society (as today) held that people should not be encouraged to work at the Palace or drive transport on Sunday, and that if people wanted to visit, then their employers should give them time off during the working week. This, naturally, they would not do.

However, the Palace was open on Sundays by May 1861, when there were 40,000 visitors on a Sunday alone. [ [ Google Books: Palace of the People: The Crystal Palace at Sydenham 1854-1936] ]

In 1911, the Festival of Empire was held at the building to mark the coronation of George V and Queen Mary. The building fell into disrepair and two years later the Earl of Plymouth purchased it, to save it from developers. A public subscription quickly re-purchased it for the nation.

During World War I, it was used as a naval training establishment under the name of HMS "Victory VI", informally known as HMS "Crystal Palace". At the cessation of hostilities it was re-opened as the first Imperial War Museum. Sir Henry Buckland took over as General Manager, and things began to look up, many former attractions being resumed, including the Thursday evening displays of fireworks by Brocks.

Destruction by fire

Despite attempts to revive The Crystal Palace, on 30 November 1936 came the final catastrophe, fire. Within hours the Palace was destroyed; the flames lit up the night sky and were visible for miles. Just as in 1866, when the north transept burnt down, the building was not adequately insured to cover the cost of rebuilding.

The South Tower had been used for tests by television pioneer John Logie Baird for his mechanical television experiments, and much of his work was destroyed in the fire.cite web|url=|title=Baird's independent television|last=Glen|first=Richard E|date=2003-04-05|accessdate=2008-05-29|publisher=Transdiffusion Broadcasting System] cite journal|last=Herbert|first=Ray|year=1998|month=July|title=Crystal Palace Television Studios|journal=Soundscapes|volume=1|issue=4|publisher=University of Groningen|location=Groningen, The Netherlands|issn=1567-7745|url =|accessdate =2008-05-29] Winston Churchill, on his way home from the House of Commons said, "This is the end of an age".

"Life" ran a three-page photo article on the fire, titled "London's Biggest Fire...", in the 21 December 1936 issue.

All that was left standing were the two water towers, and these were taken down during World War II. The reason given was that the Germans could have used them to navigate their way to London. The north one was demolished with explosives in 1941;cite journal|date=1941-04-28|title=War's Worst Raid|journal=TIME|url=,9171,765495,00.html|accessdate=2008-05-29] cite journal|last=Pescod|first=David FRS|title=Correspondence|date=2005-02-10|journal=The Linnean|volume=21|issue=2|pages=36|publisher=Linnean Society of London|location=London|url =|format =PDF|accessdate=2008-05-29] the south tower was dismantled due to its proximity to other buildings. After the war, the site was used for a number of purposes. Between 1953 and 1973, a motor-car racing circuit operated on the site, and some of the race meetings were supported by the Greater London Council.


Over the years a number of proposals for the former site of the Palace have failed to come to fruition. Currently, there are two rival plans. The London Development Agency wants to spend £67.5 million on developments to the park, including new houses and a regional sports centre. Recently, a private consortium has announced plans to rebuild Crystal Palace and use it to house galleries, a snow slope, music auditorium, leisure facilities and a hotel. In 2009 Bromley Council have given the go ahead for the 1st Crystal Palace Film Festival which will be launched around June 2009 within the park , its the 1st official crystal palace film festival to be held on the old crystal palace location , the festival will be screening shorts and features from in and around UK , its set to be an annual event each year created by local feature Film producer Johnnie Oddball from oddballchallenge in conjuction with Movieum of London & Straight curve film workshops in Beckenham they are looking to inspire local film makers from around the Borough to produce shorts which would be screened within the festivals each year and hopefully bring new film productions to the local area. [ [ Will Crystal Palace rise again? | News ] ]


The Crystal Palace was the prototype for several other buildings, including the New York Crystal Palace of 1853, the Glaspalast in Munich of 1854, and the Palácio de Cristal in Porto of 1865.

The New York Crystal Palace was built for the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations for the 1853 World's Fair on a site behind the Croton Distributing Reservoir, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues on 42nd Street (today's Bryant Park). The building was shaped as a Greek cross by the architects George Carstensen and Charles Gildemeister. The New York Crystal Palace was crowned by a dome convert|100|ft|m|-1 in diameter and consisted of iron and glass only. It burned down in 15 minutes on 5 October 1858.

Only three years after The Crystal Palace in London, the German Glaspalast in Munich was opened for the Erste Allgemeine Deutsche Industrieausstellung on 15 July 1854. The Glaspalast, ordered by King Maximillian II of Bavaria and designed by August von Voit, hosted the biggest art exhibitions and international trade fairs before it burned down in 1931. The fire in the Glaspalast damaged more than 1,000 paintings and sculptures and destroyed more than 110 artworks from the early 19th century including many paintings from Caspar David Friedrich, Moritz von Schwind, Karl Blechen and Philipp Otto Runge.

Oxford Rewley Road railway station of 1851 used the same construction technology. The design of the Crystal Palace has also inspired many latter-day construction projects, such as the Dallas, Texas-based Infomart and the Eaton Centre shopping mall in downtown Toronto, Canada.

The Crystal Palace Foundation was created in 1979 to preserve its memory and consider its future.

In popular culture

The Crystal Palace made a strong impression on visitors coming from all over Europe, including a number of writers. It soon became a symbol of modernity and civilization, hailed by some and decried by others.

*Robert Baden-Powell organized a meeting of Boy Scouts there in 1909, when he first noticed how many girls were interested in scouting, leading to the founding of Girl Guide and Girl Scouts.cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 1997 | url = | title = Baden-Powell and the Crystal Palace Rally | format = | work = Baden-Powell Photo Gallery | publisher = Pinetree web| accessdate = 2007-01-22] cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 1997 | url = | title = History of the Girl Scouts Movement | format = | work = | publisher = Girl Scouts of the Philippines| accessdate = 2007-01-22]
* French author Valéry Larbaud left a short text describing his impressions of the Crystal Palace.
* The Crystal Palace appears as a full chapter in the Edward Rutherfurd novel "London" where it is a pivotal part of the book's sub-plot in that chapter.
* In "What Is to Be Done?", Russian author and philosopher Nikolai Chernyshevsky pledges to transform the society into a Crystal Palace thanks to a socialist revolution.
* Fyodor Dostoevsky implicitly replied to Chernyshevsky in "Notes from Underground". The narrator thinks that human nature will prefer destruction and chaos to the harmony symbolized by the Crystal Palace.
* Following damage during World War II, the replacement for the East window in St John the Evangelist in Penge High Street features an idyllic view of the local landscape at the time the church was built, including the Crystal Palace.
* The Crystal Palace serves as the location in the finale of the fantasy book "Ptolemy's Gate".
* The Crystal Palace is the name of a nightclub run by Chrysalis in the Wild Cards fictional shared universe.
* Italian writer Alessandro Baricco incorporated the Crystal Palace into his novel "Land of glass" using a mixture of fiction and fact.
* German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk uses the Crystal Palace as a metaphor for the European project.
* Contemporary artist Tori Amos mentions the Crystal Palace in her song "Winter", singing, "Mirror mirror, where's the Crystal Palace? But I only can see myself."
* Having previously appeared in at least one "Doctor Who" comic strip (printed in the "Radio Times"), the Great Exhibition was properly featured as the setting for one of the audio adventures of Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor in 2005: "Other Lives", which also featured as a character in the drama a contemporary figure associated with events, the then-aged Duke of Wellington.
* Famed children's author E. Nesbit made many references to the Crystal Palace in her work, most notably in the short story "The Ice Dragon," which commences with the child protagonists watching the Crystal Palace fireworks display from their backyard.
* The Crystal Palace Restaurant in the Walt Disney World Resort (Magic Kingdom, Main Street, USA) is inspired by the Crystal Palace.
* In book 3 of The Invisible Detective series by Justin Richards, the finale takes place at the Crystal Palace and it is the final destruction of the Ghost army that causes the fire that destroys the palace.
* In the Book The Death Collector, the Crystal Palace Gardens and Large Dinosaur statues contain a secret which leads to the solving of the mystery in the book.
* In September 2007 the Anglo-Dutch martial neoclassical music group, H.E.R.R., released a mini-album concerning the rise and fall of the Crystal Palace, entitled .
* When Queen Victoria's avatar is on-screen in the computer game "Civilization IV", the palace can be seen in the background.
* There is a scene in the 1979 Sean Connery movie The First Great Train Robbery wherein Connery's character strolls around outside the Crystal Palace whilst a fireworks display is being held. The Palace is a miniature used in a foreground projection shot.
* In the VeggieTales episode "The Star of Christmas" (which takes place in 1882 London) Larry the Cucumber's character Millward Phelps was going to drive a "rocket carriage" through the Crystal Palace to avoid being late for the church Christmas pageant. (His fellow passengers quickly dissuaded him from this idea.)
* NORAD headquarters in the movie "WarGames" is called "The Crystal Palace".
* The Crystal Palace appears in both The Adventures of Luther Arkwright and its sequel Heart of Empire.
* The final section of Katsuhiro Otomo's steampunk movie "Steamboy" takes place in the 1866 Great Exhibition and the Crystal Palace is used in a number of scenes.

See also

* List of buildings – See for other famous or notable buildings
* Crystal Palace pneumatic railway
*Glass Pavilion


Further reading

* "Dickinson's Comprehensive Pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851", Dickinson Brothers, London, 1854.
* Kate Colquhoun - "A Thing in Disguise: The Visionary Life of Joseph Paxton" (Fourth Estate, 2003) ISBN 0-00-714353-2
* George F Chadwick - "Works of Sir Joseph Paxton" (Architectural Press, 1961) ISBN 0-85139-721-2
* Ian Leith: "Delamotte's Crystal Palace", London, 2005
* Jan Piggott: "Palace of the People", London, 2004

External links

* [ Historic images of Crystal Palace, dating back to the 1850s, held by the National Monuments Record, the public archive of English Heritage.] Search on Crystal Palace to view.
* [ Crystal Palace Museum]
* [ Crystal Palace Park] – map of the park as was until recently
* [ The Crystal Palace, sources from]
* [ Eddie Richardson's page] on Sir Joseph Paxton – includes photographs
* including Victorian maps showing the palace
* [ Russell Potter's Crystal Palace Page, with information on the Baird Television studios]
* [ Crystal Palace] – at "Citizendium"; includes images.
* [ A 3D computer model of the Crystal Palace with images and animation]
* [ History of The Crystal Palace]
* [ The destruction of The Crystal Palace @ "Ward's Book of Days"]
* [ 1936 Crystal Palace Fire - London Fire Journal]
* [ Park hosts Crystal Palace replica] - BBC News May 31, 2008

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • The Crystal Palace — en Hyde Park en 1851. The Crystal Palace (literalmente palacio de cristal) fue una enorme construcción erigida en Londres en 1851 para albergar la Gran Exposició …   Wikipedia Español

  • The Crystal Palace (novel) — Infobox Book | name = The Crystal Palace title orig = translator = image caption = First edition cover, November 1988 author = Phyllis Eisenstein illustrator = cover artist = country = United States language = English series = Book of Elementals… …   Wikipedia

  • Live at the Crystal Palace — Infobox Album | Name = Live at the Crystal Palace Type = Live album Artist = Cake Released = Recorded = Genre = Alternative rock Length = Label = Upbeat Producer = Cake Reviews = Last album = B Sides and Rarities (2007) This album = Live at the… …   Wikipedia

  • Conquest of the Crystal Palace — Cover art Developer(s) Quest Publisher(s) Asmik Corporation of Americ …   Wikipedia

  • Crystal Palace National Sports Centre — The National Sports Centre The National Sports Centre at Crystal Palace in south London, England is a large sports centre and athletics stadium. It was opened in 1964 in Crystal Palace Park, close to the site of the former Crystal Palace …   Wikipedia

  • Crystal Palace transmitting station — Crystal Palace Height of mast 219 metres (719 ft)[1] Built 1956 BBC region …   Wikipedia

  • Crystal Palace and South London Junction Railway — Lordship Lane Station, an intermediate station on the Crystal Palace and South London Junction Railway, by Camille Pissarro. Overview Type …   Wikipedia

  • Crystal Palace (London) — Crystal Palace ist ein Wohnbezirk in Südlondon, England, der nach dem ehemaligen Wahrzeichen Crystal Palace[1], benannt wurde, welcher von 1854 bis 1936 auf diesem Areal stand. Der Bezirk befindet sich 12 km südöstlich vom Charing Cross und… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Crystal Palace Park Cricket Ground — Crystal Palace Park Carst Posthuma (left) and W. G. Grace in front of the pavilion, at Crystal Palace in 1901 Ground information Location Crystal Palace, London …   Wikipedia

  • Crystal Palace (circuit) — Crystal Palace circuit Location London, United Kingdom Major events Formula One Formula Two London Grand Prix BTCC British F3 Sports car racing Length 3 km (2 mi) Lap record at 103.39 mph ( …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.