(B.3) Brief History of the Crystal Palace

The Crystal Palace was originally created by Joseph Paxton to house the Great Exhibition of 1851, in Hyde Park, London

When the Great Exhibition closed its doors after six months, six million people had visited it. Joseph Paxton was knighted and public opinion clamoured for the Crystal Palace to remain in Hyde Park, but without success. Fortunately six gentlemen of means came to the rescue by purchasing the complete structure from Fox & Henderson, the contractors who had erected and owned the building.

Sir Charles Fox (1810-1874), engineer. His firm Fox, Henderson & Co., undertook the contract for the Crystal Palace. Fox was a gifted engineer and had introduced the use of the switch on railway tracks in place of the sliding rail. He was knighted for his work on the Crystal Palace. He was said to have resented Paxton's knighthood but was soothed by receiving his own.

Go to Sir Charles Fox - notes

Portrait from "Victorian Taste" by John Gloag, pub: David & Charles Reprints which references "The Crystal Palace and its Contents" (London, 1852, page 32)

In the summer of 1852 a new site was found for the now redesigned Crystal Palace at Sydenham Hill in south east London and reconstruction commenced.

Reopened in 1854, the Crystal Palace provided a national centre for entertainment and enlightenment of the people. The building featured courts depicting the history of art and architecture, as well as industrial and natural history exhibits.

The grounds of the Palace contained magnificent fountain displays, an unrivalled collection of statues, many fine specimens of trees and models of prehistoric animals which were to become world famous as the first attempt to reproduce life size replicas of extinct creatures.

Later, funfairs, firework displays, football cup finals many other events took place there.

On 30th November 1936 this unique building perished in a spectacular fire, but its memory is today kept alive in the Crystal Palace Museum. It is housed in the only surviving building constructed by the Crystal Palace Company, built in 1872 as a school for practical engineering.

The Crystal Palace Museum is an independent charitable trust and is staffed entirely by volunteers. It tells the story of the Crystal Palace with displays and exhibits including numerous photographs and artefacts of the great building and the events that took place there.

There is also a shop selling books and souvenirs relating to the Crystal Palace.

Top of Page

History of Crystal Palace Park

In 1800 Penge Common was thickly wooded, with a few cottages and farmhouses. One of the houses built in the next few years on the newly enclosed common was Penge Place, owned by Leo Shuster, set in a park of 280 acres. Shuster sold the land at the bottom of his estate to the London Brighton and South Coast Railway, one of London's first railways, of which he was a director.

When the original Palace in Hyde Park was closed in 1852 Paxton bought the building for his Crystal Palace Company and also the estate of Penge Place where he proceeded to re-erect and extend his building.

Despite its popularity the Palace was losing money. In the 1880's land was sold off for the building of Crystal Palace Park Road and by 1909 one third of the land had gone to developers and there were plans to sell the rest for housing. In 1911 the bankrupt company put the entire site and the Palace up for sale. The Duke of Plymouth, wanting to save it from the developers, bought the whole concern but he was re-imbursed by the King Edward National Memorial fund started by the Lord Mayor of London. The site was finally bought for the nation in 1913.

The Crystal Palace was destroyed by fire in 1936 (see previous articel - above). Top of page

The 200-acre park was then managed by the London County Council succeeded by the Greater London Council. In 1950 most of the statues were sold off and the transmitting station and TV mast were built.

The 1951 Crystal Palace Act gave the responsibility for the site to the LCC and required them to develop the site for purposes of education and recreation and the furtherance of commerce, art and industry. The High Level Station was demolished three years later.

In 1961 the National Recreation Centre was planned, to be paid for by the GLC and covering 36 acres. It opened in 1964. In 1981 the GLC restored the terraces.

The park passed into the hands of Bromley Borough Council when the GLC was disbanded in 1984 and now consists of 90 acres of open space. The Museum was opened in 1987 by the Crystal Palace Foundation in the former Palace School of Engineering, the only surviving building constructed by the Crystal Palace Company.

The park should be guarded by three layers of protection. It is a Grade II listed site i.e. it is entered in the English Heritage Register of Historic Parks and Gardens as being of special historic interest. It is also designated as Metropolitan Open Land, that is, an open green space of significance to the whole greater metropolis. It also abuts onto the Crystal Palace Conservation area.

(Article from Crystal Palace Campaign Newsletter No. 1 Oct 1998)

Top of Park History
Top of Page
Return to Background Index

Last updated: 8/4/99;4/11/00(title);23/03/02;4/9/03(added Fox portrait reference)