(or at least a bit of it!)

(or 'pcpcp'!)

Lecture by John Greatrex 26 Feb 2004

How to rebuild the Crystal palace
The Crystal Palace Corner

Ladies and gentlemen good afternoon. I should like to thank Dulwich Picture Gallery for the opportunity to talk to you on the subject How To Rebuild The Crystal Palace.

I don't mean the Crystal Palace football club. I don't mean the township just south of Southwark (a mile beyond the toll-gate) that bears the name of a famous building that stood on the hill for 82 years.

Nor is my subject any of the structures proposed for the top-site since the building burned down 67 years ago. To all the architects and enthusiasts currently proposing schemes for the top-site in the 'style and spirit of the original Crystal Palace' to them all I extend my best wishes.

No, what I mean is Paxton's Crystal Palace.

I mean Paxton's Crystal Palace in the same way that on the northern edge of this ancient borough, by the banks of the River Thames, we don't have any Tom, Dick or Harry's Globe, we have Shakespeare's Globe.

We have the jewel of our First Elizabethan Age rebuilt. Like Paxton's Crystal Palace it too burned down and it took an American, almost four hundred years later, to give us back this important part of our heritage.

I remember as a pupil at Alleyn's well over 30 years ago, sitting in St. Barnabas Parish Hall in the village listening to Sam Wannamaker (Sam Sam Wanna Make A Theatre Man.) He was trying to persuade us that 'Rebuild The Globe' was a challenge worth attempting.

What he would have given in those early days to have been in possession of a set of detailed architectural plans of Shakespeare's original theatre.

Yet this is exactly what we do have for another building that burned down - Paxton's Crystal Palace - the flower of our Victorian Age.

And we have an original copy of the plans right here in the exhibition. It's in the first display case in the first room.

This book, produced in 1852, states in the opening paragraph:

'The object has been to produce a work so correct and complete as to enable an architect or engineer to erect a similar building if necessary.'

These drawings and instructions would have been of immediate help to those, who after dismantling the original building in Hyde Park, re-erected the enlarged Crystal Palace at the top of the hill. As the writer states at the end of the introduction:

'easy to erect………any required size'

I would recommend its use today for anyone wishing to reconstruct even the smallest part of Paxton's Crystal Palace, let alone anyone suggesting a permanent imposing structure for the top-site in the 'style and spirit of the original', which any building must be, according to the 1990 Act of Parliament.

Now I don't know if there will ever be a 21st century Crystal Palace constructed on the top-site or any other site in the UK or beyond...

I do know that any future Crystal Palace will require at least all these four Ls: Land, Law, Loot and Locals.

Land - agreed use of the Metropolitan Open Land
Law - planning permission
Loot - lots of lolly and crucial to this particular site
Lots of Local Support

To all those setting out to conquer these four mountain peaks - good luck - may the fours be with you!

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A Crystal Palace Corner

As I said this book would also be of fantastic assistance to anyone wishing to reconstruct even the smallest part of Paxton's Crystal Palace - even for example a corner of the Crystal Palace - taking up an area of ground half the size of an 8 ft square.

A Crystal Palace Corner - like the one temporarily erected in Hyde Park in 2001, on the site of the first Crystal Palace for the BBC series 'What The Victorians Did For Us.'

This one stayed up for less than a day. It rested on a firm grass and earth base and was weighed down at ground level with a lot of heavy weights.

So how was it achieved? For the first time in almost 150 years, for a few hours at least, a full size cast iron corner of the Crystal Palace was allowed to grace the site of the Great Exhibition

For this part of the 'Rebuild The Crystal Palace' story we must travel up the M40 to Oxford and return to the year 1850.

At the same time that Mr. Henderson and Mr. Fox were mass producing their Paxton designed Crystal Palace Parts for Hyde Park they were also contracted to construct a new railway station at Rewley Road, Oxford. They used the same Crystal Palace designed columns and roofing for this building.

In 1951 the old station had been replaced with a more modern construction nearby. The old building, in a sad state of disrepair, was being used a shed to store old car tyres.

In the 1990s Oxford University, as landowners of the site decided it was time for redevelopment. Conservationists protested at its imminent destruction. Eco-warriors squatted in the building. A deal was struck whereby the old station was carefully dismantled, transported and re-erected in its former glory as the centrepiece of Buckinghamshire Railway Centre. This took place at Quainton near Aylesbury under the watchful eyes of Lance Adlam, the project director.

Many of the original cast iron pieces had rusted beyond repair. The Barr and Grosvenor Iron Foundry, with its excellent reputation for restoration work, was given the challenge of casting new sections. Patterns were made from the original pieces.

While the restoration at Quainton was well underway plans were also being laid elsewhere for events to commemorate the forthcoming anniversary in 2001 of the Hyde Park Crystal Palace.

As 2001 was also the 100th anniversary of the death of Queen Victoria the BBC created a two part drama 'Victoria and Albert' which included a whole sequence about the Great Exhibition with Richard Briars playing the part of Joseph Paxton: "What Paxton proposes, Paxton disposes!'

The BBC was also in the process of filming a series about the Victorians with the historian Alan Hart-Davis. I was lucky enough to meet the producer in early January 2001 to discuss Crystal Palace matters. We met over a pub lunch at the Paxton's Head, Knightsbridge, which had been used as a watering hole by those erecting the Crystal Palace in the park just opposite.

Early 2001 coincided with the nationwide outbreak of foot and mouth disease and the programme makers were as a result being forced to reschedule their filming in April because certain parts of the countryside they had intended to visit were now off limits.

I was able to put them in touch with amongst others the Curator of the Crystal Palace Museum and the Directors of Barr and Grosvenor Iron Foundry.

It was a pleasure three months later to watch Ken Kiss and Alan Hart-Davis humorously marking out the perimeter of the Great Exhibition Crystal Palace and the following day see Dominic, with the help of a few friends, put up the Crystal Palace Corner.

It took a crew of ten hard-hatted folk to lift the columns from the lorry across the sands of Rotten Row avoiding all the four footed traffic!

A small crane was used along with scaffolding. It took most of

the day to erect - But in the end I believe it was worth it.

It's an iconic shape. It's a reminder of an important moment in our national history. Just being able to stand beside those tall columns was a real privilege. It made me feel literally in touch with the past. I had the same feeling years before standing at Stonehenge.

I'd like us all to share that feeling. I'd like you to share the dream of a Crystal Palace Corner on the Crystal Palace foundations!

Where the place? - upon the ridge - where Lewisham and Lambeth walk with Croydon and Southwark greets with Bromley on Parade upon the very rock of its foundations the palace corner waits to be relaid.

And when? This year. Why not? It's already very later in coming. I'd like to see everyone who's still alive and saw the palace burn, be to able to visit the re-erected Crystal Palace Corner; to be able to stand with their children and grandchildren and even great-grand children and tell them about the palace of their childhood.

This 150th anniversary year is a very good year to make this happen.

So, if I may refer to one of the paintings in this Gallery. The one in which Horatius stands on the bridge guarding Rome. And to slightly misquote him:

"Who'll abide on either side and keep the ridge with me?"

I'd like us all to pull together and get Paxton's corner up on the ridge by early June as part of the anniversary celebrations.

How to rebuild the Crystal palace
The Crystal Palace Corner

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29/3/04 Last Updated 29/3/04

Lecture by John Greatrex 26 Feb 2004
(Alleyn's School, Dulwich 1959-1967)
(Founder: Crystal Palace Foundation 1979)
Phone: 01778 347657