(B.7) Crystal Palace - On a hot summer's day

by Mrs Karen Pender-Gunn, September 1999 - Blackburn, Victoria, Australia

About the author - her words: "Developed an interest in the Crystal Palace before a trip to the UK in 1995, visited the site and was hooked. We don't have buildings with any of this sort of history here in Australia. Being library trained I went straight to the London Times and started my research. This is very much a work in progress! Hope to write a book someday on the CP." - Karen Pender-Gunn

Ed. This work is, by the author's own admission "work-in-progress" - it will be changed or corrected as more information becomes available - it records her own views and research. Nevertheless, it has so much interesting material in it, that I thought it was worth publishing here. It certainly shows that the interest in the deceased Crystal Palace and the fortunes of the Park extend beyond our shores. If you, reader, have any comments, corrections, additions etc. please let us know. Use the contact-message form (see the end of the article) and refer to this work by (B.7).


On a hot summer's day
Talking of exhibitions
Crystal Palace
Facts and Figures
Total receipts
The Beginnings of Crystal Palace
The Exhibition
After the Exhibition
Official Publications
Key to the Ground Floor Plan
The Opening (Sydenham)
The Fountains
The Water Towers
Fire at Crystal Palace 1866
Yum Yum
The end of the Crystal Palace
Crystal Palace Departments
Crystal Palace Gardens

On a hot summer's day in August 1995 (England was going through the hottest summer since recorded history), Ian and I travelled by train to a distant, outer suburb of London. After looking around the park and admiring the huge sports centre, we climbed to the top of the hill.

Standing at the bottom of a set of ancient, cracked marble stairs, I fulfilled a dream of mine. I was standing on the final resting place of the Crystal Palace - the enormous glass edifice that had been built for the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Not a great deal is left. There is several sets of old marble steps, parts of statues, three sets of stairs with a sphinx either side and the occasional short pillar. Most Brits don't seem to care one way or the other for this building, there is so many older and more impressive buildings left around the country, why should they care for some old ruins? To me, this was sheer wonder. I could close my eyes and imagine the glass ceiling stretching out above me. Standing at the bottom steps, the building would have stretched outside of my field of vision.

I don't know why this place held so much wonder for me. It could have something to do with the dinosaur statues that still exist on an island lower down on the Crystal Palace site. It could also have something to do with the fact that our Exhibition buildings here in Melbourne were also designed to be a short- use building - ours just didn't burn down. It could have something to do with the majesty of such an undertaking. I don't know.

Perhaps we already know all there is to know about Crystal Palace, yet it returns to fascinate. Clearly there is something miraculous, even magical, about it. It simply cannot be a glass box.

If you would like to know more about this building, the exhibition and all the various other bits and pieces I found out, please read on. Top of page

'Talking of Exhibitions, world fairs and what not', said the old gentleman, 'I would not go round the corner to see a dozen of them nowadays. The only exhibition that ever made or ever will make any impression upon my imagination was the first of the series, the parent of them all, and now a thing of old times - the Great Exhibition of 1851, in Hyde Park, London.'

* * * * *

It was announced when the distribution of prizes was made by H.R.H. Price Albert at the Society of Arts in June last [1849] that the Society hoped to be enabled to organise a great exhibition of manufacturers in 1851.

The Times, Monday 27th August 1849. Top of page

Crystal Palace , a large building with central hall, 1600 ft long, built entirely of iron and glass, with towers at either end 282 ft high at Sydenham, London. Designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, and reconstructed in 1854 from the building used for the Great Hyde Park Exhibition of 1851. From the top of the north tower on a clear day it is possible to see eight counties. It is used for musical festivals, and possesses a large organ. At one period the final of the Football Association Cup was held in the grounds. In 1920-23, it housed the Imperial War Museum. Now it is used as an amusement centre, with a weekly display... From the Modern World Encyclopaedia from 1935... pity it actually burnt down in November 1936 ... I missed it by just a few years... Top of page

Facts and Figures

The full official title of the Exhibition was "The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations, 1851".

The term 'Crystal Palace' was first applied to Paxton's building by Punch in its issue of 2nd November 1850. It immediately became the popular and permanent pseudonym for both the original building Hyde Park Exhibition and the Sydenham building.

Possession of the site was taken on 30th July 1850.
The whole building was completed in January 1851.
The concrete foundations still remain under the turf in Hyde Park.
The building covered about 19 acres, on a site of some 26 acres.

The actual site of the exhibition building was in the large open space on the south side of Hyde Park. It stretched from the present bowling green to opposite Hyde Park Barracks Riding School.

The main building was 1,848 ft long by 408 ft wide. On the north side was an extension of 936 ft long by 48 ft wide, making the maximum width of the Crystal Palace 456 ft. Nearly every measurement in the building was a dividend or multiple of 24. The Crystal Palace was three times the length of St. Paul's Cathedral - 515 ft long.

Height of the nave was 63 ft, the Transept was 108 ft high.

There were three entrances, seventeen exits, and ten double staircases to the galleries. The principal entrance was on the south side, opposite the Prince of Wales Gate.

293,655 panes of glass were used in the building. 4,500 tons of iron, and 600,000 cubic ft of timber.

The largest number of men employed on the construction of the building at one time was in December 1850 when 2,260 were employed.

The colour scheme inside was red, light blue, yellow and white. Most of the vertical surfaces were blue, the rounded parts yellow, and the underside of girders were red.

Three large elm trees were left to grow inside the building and the arched transept was extended to cover them. Smaller groups of trees were also left in two of the restaurants. None of the trees survive today.

Number of exhibitors : 13,937. British Isles and Empire : 7,381, Foreign : 6,556.
Amount of space occupied by exhibits : 338,714 square feet horizontal, 653,143 square feet vertical.
Number of exhibits : over 100,000.
Estimated value of contents : about £ 2,000,000 (excluding the Koh-i-Noor diamond).
The Exhibition was open to the public from 1st May to 11th October 1851. It wasn't open on Sundays.
Total number of visitors : 6,039,195.
The average attendance per day was 42,831.
The largest attendance in one day was on the 7th October when 109,915 people passed through the entrances.
The greatest number of people in the building at one time was 93,244 on the 7th October.
Total number of season tickets sold : 25,605 - 13,494 men and 12,111 women.
No Sunday opening was allowed, no alcohol, no smoking and no dogs.
The Restaurant sold 1,092,337 bottles of soft drink 934,691 bath buns and 870,027 plain buns.

Total expenditure : £ 335,742 - including the building and fittings
Total receipts : £ 522,179

Profit : £ 186,437

Top of page
Total receipts at 25th September 1851

(From the Official Catalogue 4th ed. 25th September 1851)


£ 67,205 8s 10d

Season tickets

£ 67,610 14s

Door receipts

£ 304,018 12s 6d

Catalogue contracts

£ 3,200

Refreshment contracts

£ 5,500

Retiring rooms

£ 2,104 5s 10d

Wash places

£ 396 2s 2d

Umbrella care

£ 573 17s 6d


£ 658 15s 10d

Weather charts sold

£ 5 5s 8d


£ 451,272 2s 4d

The Great Exhibition building was taken down during the summer of 1852 and re-built at Sydenham. It was opened by the Queen in 1854, and was burnt to the ground on 30th November 1936.

Visible reminders of the Exhibition in London are : The Coalbrookdale Gates (which were in the north transept) now divide Kensington Gardens from Hyde Park ; Exhibition Rd ; The Paxton's Head public House at Knightsbridge : Prince Albert's model dwellings now erected at Kennington ; the memorial to the Exhibition behind the Albert Hall ; a commemorative mosaic on a pediment in the quadrangle of the Victoria and Albert Museum ; a catalogue of the Exhibition grasped in the Prince Consort's right hand in his statue on the Albert Memorial. Top of page

"I find I am used up by the Exhibition. I don't say there is nothing in it : there's too much. I have only been twice, so many things bewilder one. I have a natural horror of sights, and the fusion of so many in one, has not decreased it. I am not sure I have seen anything but the fountain, and the Amazon".

Charles Dickens.

The Beginnings of Crystal Palace
The Hyde Park site

Prince Albert was not popular. His sense of humour and manner was not suited to aristocratic life. As head of the Society of Arts, he had an idea for an industrial exhibition.

The design finally accepted was by Joseph Paxton. He had no training as an engineer but he had a eye for beauty of form and line and proportion. He had in the past designed some very lovely and innovative greenhouses for the Duke of Devonshire. He also had the instinct for knowing by the look of a thing whether or not it would work. Paxton and his staff had worked day and night for seven days to get the plans done in time. The Illustrated London News of 6th July 1850 published a copy of the design. Douglas Jerrold of Punch suggested the slogan 'The Crystal Palace'. This had the effect of turning a dull industrial exhibition into a cockney fairy tale.

Put together Chatsworth and Kew the Botanic and Zoological gardens in Regents park, the Jardin des Plantes, the subterranean orangery at Versailles, and the cloisters of the convert, and the aggregate will almost make up what Mr Paxton would give us in Hyde Park. - The London Times. 27th June 1851, p. 5.

Only three weeks elapsed between the publication of the design in the paper and the adoption of the design by the commissioners. Messrs. Fox and Henderson were contacted to complete the building by 1st January 1851, 22 weeks to enclose a space of 18 acres. Fox and Henderson offered to erect the whole thing for £79,800 if they could have the materials afterwards. Chance Brothers were the only glass manufacturers in England who were capable of producing the quantity of glass Paxton needed. Paxton had to include the transept to retain several elms, these trees were to become the Exhibition's most distinguishing feature.

Money prizes had been dismissed very early in the piece, and so artists of all countries were encouraged to compete for designs for the reverses of three bronze medals, for which they would receive a prize of 100 pounds for the first prize and 50 pounds each for the two others. The medal of Hyppolyte Bonnardel of Paris showed Britannia standing on a platform with outstretched arms, and a crown in each hand. Mr Wyon's design represented Britannia seated and in the act of placing a laurel wreath upon the head of a figure representing Industry. Mr Adam's medal presented a gracefully modelled group of Fame crowning Industry, and Commerce looking on with an approving eye.

On July 30th the Commissioners took possession of the site and enclosed it with a hoarding. During August the foundations of concrete were laid. the building was to be constructed of iron, glass and wood, without the use of any materials like plaster or mortar. On September 26th the first upright column was put in place. Over 200 visitors a day came to wander around the building site, the contractors were obliged to issue tickets of admission at 5 shillings a head to check the demand for sightseeing. The proceeds were allotted to a workmen's fund. Towards the beginning of December the roof was going up. The glass panes were of the largest size yet manufactured, the glass was 49 by 12 inches, and Chance Brothers supplied the 300,000 panes in a few weeks. By December a start had been made on the flooring. On December 5th the first of the sixteen great semi-circular ribs of the transept were raised into position. The strength of the building was tested by having 300 workman jump up and down on the flooring and troops of Sappers and Miners march around the bays.

During the entire progress of the building, Mr Fox was present daily at the works, to assign each part as it arrived upon the site and into its proper position.

* * * * *

With the completion of the glass roof over the transept, a genial warmth suffused the bright interior of the building The elms put out their leaves early. The sparrows flocked inside, they nested, they performed their natural function with their usual nonchalance. They began to be a bore ; they rapidly became a nuisance. Hundreds of men working underneath were hourly anointed. Unwelcome tributes showered upon the exhibits. It was impossible to shoot the birds. Paxton was baffled, Fox and Henderson were baffled. The Queen knew there was only one thing to be done : she sent for the Duke of Wellington. The Duke attended : very nearly stone deaf, he heard from the Queen's own lips of the awful problem.

"Try sparrow-hawks, ma'am" he said.

Queen Victoria : "The sight of the Crystal Palace was incredibly gorgeous, really like fairyland." 18th February 1851 : "From the galleries the effect is quite wonderful. The sun shining in through the transept gave the building a fairy-like appearance. The building is so light and graceful, in spite of its immense size." Top of page

The Exhibition

"The vastness of the structure, the extent of the arrangements, the variety of objects displayed, all go to make a complete whole" London News May 1851.

The Board of Customs and Excise agreed to admit all goods to the Exhibition duty free.

Three refreshment rooms of different classes were provided, Messrs Schweppes won the contract - 1,092,337 bottles of non-alcoholic beverage were sold. A plate of ham was 6 pence, bread and butter 2 pence and Schweppe's Soda Water was 6 pence.

At the intersection of the nave and transept was Osler's crystal fountain, it stood 27ft high, and used 4 tons of glass. It stood till the very end in a pool of goldfish at Crystal Palace. The south transept was lined with statuary, the largest of the elms that had been left growing projecting through the roof of the south entrance hall.

Foreign exhibits were placed in the east half of the building and classed under respective countries. British exhibits filled the west half.

France was allotted 50,000 square feet, the United States 40,000, Austria 22,000, Belgium 15,000. Germany was there, as was Russia, Turkey, Holland, Spain and Portugal, Switzerland, Italy, Sweden and Denmark, Greece and Egypt. Machinery was on the north side, adjacent to the steam pipes.

Exhibits were to be divided into four large categories - Raw Materials, Machinery, Manufacturers and Fine Arts - with divisions within these categories. It all came down to a simple principle, excellence was to be awarded in whatever form it presented itself. Awards were made with a Council medal, and Prize Medal and an Honourable Mention being awarded in each class.

Thackeray - Ode on the Opening

A palace as for a fairy prince

A rare pavilion, such as man

Saw never since mankind began

Abuilt and glazed.

The Exhibition opened the 1st May 1851 - a Thursday. The Queen, Albert The Prince Consort and the Prince of Wales were there to officially open the Exhibition just after noon. The Archbishop of Canterbury invoked the blessing of Heaven upon the enterprise. There were upwards of half a million people in the park. The doors opened at 9 o'clock.

August Reichensperger writes in the Ecclesiological " its magical, I almost said intoxicating. The incessant and never ending motley of forms and colours, the transparency on every side, the hum and buzzing in every direction, the splashing waters of the fountains and heavy measured beat and whirl of machinery, all together combine to form a spectacle such as the world will scarcely behold again".

The Koh-i-Noor diamond, recently acquired by the East India Company, was displayed with the rest of the contents of the Treasury of Lahore, in a large gold bird-cage in the east nave. Some foreigners formed a plan to steal the diamond. One of the women was to faint in front of the cage, and the others were to rush to her assistance. It was given away by a servant at their lodgings. The cage was made by Chubb and the jewel was lowered into its massive pedestal at night.

The exhibition was open for 140 days and just over six million people visited it. Almost all the schools in southern England were brought up to see it. The charges of admission dropped steadily from a pound to a shilling. £356,000 pounds were taken at the door. The Queen visited the Exhibition every other day for 3 months.

Three petticoats, two bustles, three pincushions and 12 monocles were lost and never claimed.

The German critic Lothor Bucher : "to say that the spectacle is incomparable and fairy-like is the soberest understatement. It is like a fragment of a midsummer night's dream seen in the clear light of day."

Twelve pickpockets were found in the act of stealing a total of 4 pounds, 5 shillings and 3 pence.

Among the most popular exhibits were an astronomical telescope and two sculptures - "The Amazon" by Professor Kiss from Berlin and "The Greek Slave" by the American Hiram Powers.
Industrial marvels on show included Nasmyth's steam hammer, which could deliver a blow of 500 tons or lightly to crack an egg ; a vertical printing press that had an output of 10,000 pages an hour ; and a copying telegraph which delivered facsimiles at the other end of the line. Goodyear displayed a variety of goods in the new vulcanised India rubber, and Mr Macintosh exhibited garments waterproofed with the same material. Much interest was sparked among military men by Krupp's large-steel cannon, and the American made Colt revolver.
Exhibits in bookbinding and printing section included Braille books for the blind, a machine that could turn out 2700 folded envelopes an hour and a roll of paper 2.4 km long made by Spicers.
Reader's Digest Life through the Ages. Edited and designed by the Readers Digest Association Ltd. c1992. p. 276-277.

* * * * *

Nobody died and only one person was born in the building.

The Exhibition closed with a simple ceremony on the 15th October. Paxton was knighted and awarded £5,000. Top of page

After the Exhibition

"It was just a glorious show. It did not bring international peace, nor did it improve taste." Mr Hobhouse.

The Closing on the 12th October 1851 - from the Times Obituary of the 13th October.

Let the reader fancy what it must have been to comprehend with one glance 50,000 assembled under one roof in a fairy palace within wall of glass and iron ... not only the days, but minutes of the Great Exhibition were numbered ... the Concourse of people for a long time remained massed together ... the galleries and the eastern and western naves had now been completely cleared, but a dense body still clung to the crystal fountain ... the police and Sappers appeared on the scene, first in small knots, and then, when they had moved people on a little, in extended line. By gently pressing on them they at last induced them to go, but it was dark, and half past six o'clock before the building was completely cleared.
Top of page

* * * * *

As soon as our dilatory foreign allies have carried off some acres of packing cases that now encumber the floor, and released the Custom-house officer's from their troublesome duty, the Crystal Palace will be put in decant trim and opened to the public. It has not yet been seen in that state which best exhibits its vastness and beauty, finished but unoccupied. As for its durability, we only refer to conservatories which have lasted for generations, one at Chatsworth we believe 120 years, and the woodwork of which is now as good as the day it was made.

The London Times. 14th November 1981, p. 4.

* * * * *

Presents given to the police in charge of the Crystal Place building:

Switzerland - 6 silver watches
Russia - 1 diamond pin
Zolliverein - wooden snuffbox
Great Britain - 1 shawl, 4 bonnets, 1 penknife, 1 china cup and saucer, 1 silver watch, 12 silver teaspoons, 1 metal teapot.
France - 1 bronze ornament, 2 silver snuffboxes.
America - 4 silver watches, 9 silver pencil cases, 4 Russian leather pocketbooks.

These were distributed to 11 sergeants and 73 constables.

* * * * *

The Crystal Palace may at last said to be cleared out, and in the course of the week every package will be gone ... we venture to predict that, though entirely empty and left to itself for its attractiveness, the Crystal Palace will provide an immense and favourable impression on the minds of every visitor.

The Times, 12th January 1852.

* * * * *

In small and large matters the Great Exhibition had its effects on the British economic history, as on other aspects of life. British business men seized the opportunities which it revealed - it was the first great venture in mass provision for the safety and amusement of the masses. The Exhibition marked an important stage in the evolution of modern British travel.

The surplus of £150,000 from the Exhibition was used to establish the South Kensington Museum, which in 1909 became the Victoria and Albert Museum. Exhibits to the value of £91,000 had been left behind in the Crystal Palace as free gifts, these went to the South Kensington museum. It also helped establish other museums in the area - the Royal College of the Arts, the Imperial College of Science, the Geological, the Natural History and the Science museums.

* * * * *

From the London Times, 3rd March 1852, p.8.

Sale of Interior fitting by public auction : purchasers were admitted by the price of a catalogue (6d). Where curiosity is excited people are not slow to avail themselves of an opportunity and the sale of catalogues, which on the first day amounted to 200, now, after the interval of a week, reaches 1,500. Business men attend in sufficient numbers, and the details of the auction-mart are animated to a degree : so much so, indeed, that the first lot was bought at a price about twice its original value. But it is almost unnecessary to say that a very small proportion of the catalogues are disposed to persons anxious to avail themselves of them, and the majority buy them as a pretext to see the interior of the building. 3,000 to 4,000 people were there yesterday, and wandered over the specious interior with feelings of gratification and delight.
Top of page

The Crystal Palace at Sydenham

There is no denying that much more information exists concerning the Crystal Palace when it completed its life on Sydenham Hill (now called Crystal Palace Park, in the London Borough of Bromley). For a start, it stood for many more years at this site and was used for much more than the Hyde Park building ever was. This was its glory, it ended its days as a sad old dame who had outlived her usefulness. Such a pity. 


Length, including wings : 3,476 ft. or, about three-quarters of a mile from end to end. It was 1,628 ft longer than the Palace in Hyde Park.
Greatest width : 384 ft.
General width : 312 ft.
Area including wings: 843,656 sq. ft.
Height of Nave from ground floor : 110 ft 3in
Area of galleries : 261,568 ft
Height of centre transept from ground floor : 174 ft.

The width of the central flight of steps : 96ft., which is also the width of the grand central walk.

The lower terrace is 1,664ft long and 512ft wide. The total length of the garden front wall of the lower terrace, which was formed into alcoves was 1,896ft.

The great success of the Exhibition raised the issue of whether to keep the Crystal Place in Hyde Park. Despite sympathy for the schemes proposed, it was decided to stand by the original undertaking and dismantle it. This was done in the summer of 1852.

There were still many people who were determined to preserve the building even if it had to be taken down and re-erected elsewhere. The "Crystal Palace Company" was formed, which bought it from Fox and Henderson for £70,000. A site was purchased at Sydenham of 349 acres, comprising the summit and east slope of Sydenham Hill for £167,000. The new Crystal Palace had been raised and fitted out at a cost of nearly a million and a half pounds sterling. The new enterprise had no connection with the 1851 Commissioners.

A part of the gardens was devoted to educational purposes. Geological specimens were constructed and a prehistoric swamp was designed with casts of Brontosaurus and Pterodactyl. (more of this later)

For a time the Crystal Palace enjoyed an enormous popularity and was the most important centre of life in London. Over the next eighty years there took place musical festivals, fireworks displays, dog shows, balloon ascents and other forms of entertainment.

14th May 1852 : The purchase of the Crystal Palace was finally completed by the payment of £70,000 to the contractors. The nominal purchaser was Mr Francis Fuller, a member of the executive committee of the Great Exhibition. The real proprietors were the chairman and some of the directors of the Brighton Railway Co. The formation of the Crystal Palace Company and issue of shares followed soon after.

* * * * *

It is to be placed in the midst of a park of 150 acres, which is to be planted with specimens of every tree that can be grown out of door in England. The palace itself is to contain a winter garden of 18 acres in extent, filled with the choicest plants and flowers.

The Times, 18th May 1852.

At some points 40 miles off it will be a conspicuous object in the distant horizon : it will be visible from its present site, and will be the first sign of this metropolis that meets the eye of many foreigners arriving from Germany or France.

The Times, 23rd June 1852.

* * * * *

5th August 1852: The first column was raised by the Chairman of the Company. The Coldstream and Royal Artillery bands contributed to the entertainment. Under the column was a bottle containing coins of the realm and a paper commemorating the placing of the pillar.

25th August 1852 : The Palace (at Hyde Park) was now a desolate blank, and in a few days every portion of the upper part was taken away, hundreds of vans being engaged in the transfer of materials to Sydenham.

14th September 1852 : From the London Times : Already the site has been cleared, the foundations to a great extent prepared. The percentage of glass destroyed in the transfer was remarkably small. Each department has been entrusted to the ablest men that could be found. The section of natural history is entrusted to the joint care of Professor Edward Forbes, Mr Waterhouse and Mr Gould.

7th January 1854 : the decoration of the Pompeian house was almost completed.

23rd May 1854 : The Cologne Choral Union inspected the facilities, and in gratification and enthusiasm sang "Rule Britannia" in the Central Nave.

1st June 1854 : Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent, accompanied by the Duke and Duchess de Nemouras, visited the palace in the morning.

7th June 1854 : The building was tested by 400 policemen who traversed the floors and galleries.

10th June 1854 : Official Opening.

Present at the opening were Her Majesty the Queen, the Prince Consort, the Royal family, the King of Portugal, the Duke of Oporto, Foreign ministers, Members of the Administration, the Royal Commissioners of 1851, the Royal Commissioners of the New York Exhibition, the Committee of the Dublin Exhibition, representatives of the Imperial Commission for the French Exhibition, General Morin, Count Lesseps, M. Arles Dufour, Peers and Members of the House of Commons with their families, Mayors of various towns, Presidents and Vice-Presidents of learned societies and 40,000 spectators.

Soon after 1 o'clock the majority of visitors had assembled. On the north side the semicircular orchestra swarmed with celebrities of the musical world. The members of the Diplomatic Corp., in their official costumes, were on the right of the throne. On the left of the throne were Ministers of State and the Head of the Church. In front were the directors and chief officers of the Crystal Palace in Court dress. Close to the directors were seated the Lord Mayor of London, with the Mayor of Dublin on his right and Lord Mayor of York on his left. The alderman and sheriffs and other mayors were grouped behind. The ground floor of the great transept on the south side was filled with the friends of the directors, with shareholders and their families. At either corner, leading to the nave, special seats were reserved for Eastern princes. The lower galleries of the great transept, on the south side, were occupied by the members of the Legislature and their families, the House of Commons being on the left, and the House of Lords on the right. The rest of the space was left open to season ticket holders, the ladies sitting in the front.

In declaring the Crystal Palace open Queen Victoria said : "It is my earnest wish and hope that the bright anticipations which have been formed as to the future destiny of the Crystal Palace may, under the blessing of Divine Providence, be completely realised ; and that this wonderful structure, and the treasures of art and knowledge which it contains, may long continue to celebrate and interest as well as delight and amuse the minds of all classes of people."

The building was quite different in appearance from the Hyde Park original. There were now three transepts, a barrel vault over all the nave, two water towers and various other changes to its shape. One result of all this outlay was, amongst other things, the creation of the most prominent feature of the Palace in the shape of a series of Fine Art courts - Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Alhambra, Byzantine, Romanesque, Medieval, Renaissance, Pompeian and Chinese.

Top of page

The Crystal Palace Official Publications

Guide Book to Palace and Park by Samuel Philips.
The Egyptian Court, described by Owen Jones and Samuel Sharpe.
The Greek Court, described by G. Scharf jn.
The Roman Court, described by G. Scharf jn.
The Alhambra Court, described by Owen Jones.
The Byzantine Court, by M. Digby Wyatt and J.B. Waring.
The Renaissance Court, by M. Digby and J.B. Waring.
A Handbook to the Italian Court, by M. Digby and J.B. Waring.
The Assyrian Court, described by A. Il. Layard, Esq. M.P.
The Pompeian Court, described by G. Scharf, jn.
The Portrait Gallery, by Samuel Philips.
Handbook to the Courts of Modern Sculpture, by Mrs Jameson.
Geology and Inhabitants of the Ancient World, by Professor Owen.
Ethnology and Zoology, by Dr. Latham and Professor Forbes.

The names of the authors of these handbooks guaranteed the best value of their contents. Professor Owen, in a threepenny publication, explained the geology and inhabitants which were reproduced in the park of the Palace. Mr. Layard, in a sixpenny work, not only described the Assyrian Court but gave an account of Assyrian architecture generally, as well as the writing that had only recently deciphered by Dr. Hinches and Colonel Rawlinson. Mr Philips wrote a general handbook to the whole collection of modern sculpture with an account of the 500 individuals whose busts form the portrait gallery that adorns the central transept.

The Guide to the Palace and Park was 1 shilling.

Key to the Ground Floor Plan of Crystal Palace

A and B : Caster and Pollux Monte Cavallo groups by Phidias and Prasrteles
C : The Choragic Monumeny of Lysicrates
D : The Equestrian Statue of Coleoni
E and F : Castor and Pollux Colossal Equestrian Bronze Groups by San Giorgio
G : Farnese Hercules
H : Farnese Flora
I : Rubens
K : Duquesne
L : Tora Farnese
M : Model of the Aboo Sirabel Tomb
N : Model of the Parthenon
O : Niobe Group
P : The Elgin Marbles
R : Model of the Forum at Rome
S : Model of the Coliseum at Rome
T : Montis Fountains
U : The Agina Figures
V : The Crystal Fountain
W : The Colossal Statue of Lessing
X : Colossal Statue of Huskinsson
Y : Colossal Statue of Lord Chathem
Z : Colossal Statue of Dr Johnson
1 : Poneian House
2 : Sheffield Court
3 : Mineral Manufacture
4 : Furniture
5 : Carpets
6 : Birmingham Court
7 : Paper Hangings
8 : Hardware
9 : Furniture Court
10 : Stationery
11 : English and German Sculpture
12 : Roman and Greek Sculpture
13 : Egyptian Court
14 : Greek Court
15 : Roman Court
16 : Alhambra Court
17 : Niveveh Court
18 : Byzantine Court
19 : Medieval Court
20 : Renaissance Court
21 : Italian Court
22 : Medieval and Renaissance Sculpture
23 : French and Italian Sculpture
24 : French Court
25 : Mixed Fabrics Court
26 : Printed Fabrics Court
27 : Musical Instruments
28 : Refreshment court
29 : Aboo Simbel Tomb and Colossal Figures

The Opening

12th June 1854 : In the first two hours after the doors opened Mr. Mechi, the well known agriculturalist, cutler and dressingcase manufacturer (who had two stands in the building and paid a heavier rent than any other single exhibitor) sold enough to cover a week's expenses. At this point a considerable amount of space was still for let. There was little more than a nucleus for an exhibition of manufactures.

17th June 1854 : A morning fete was given by the directors and shareholders of the company to the representatives of foreign governments and other distinguished guests who had honoured the opening of the Palace with their presence, about 700 people in all.

23rd June 1854 : Thus far the average daily receipts amounted to upwards 500 shillings. It was found that, on average, every visitor spent 9 pence on refreshments.

6th July 1854 : The Queen and Prince Albert, accompanied by two of the Royal children paid an early and unexpected visit to the Palace. This was the first visit which the Queen had paid since opening the building in June.

14th July 1854 : The Prince of Wales and Prince Albert visited the Palace.


Though it was never designed to accommodate musical performance, the Crystal Palace at Sydenham ... quickly established itself as the most important single location for public music-making in the UK. For almost 50 years the orchestral concerts conducted by August Manns provided weekly performances which set new standards and introduced a range of new repertory (not least British) unparalleled anywhere in its time. Numerous other musical activities served a range of musical, social and educational functions well into the 20th century, which the unique physical context of the Palace itself helped to shape - Michael Musgrave The Musical life of Crystal Palace, 1995


30th December 1854 : The amount of capital expended up to this date was 1,132,388 shillings.

20th April 1855 : The French Emperor Napoleon III with his consort, Eugenie, visited the Palace.

4th May 1855 : The Queen and Prince Albert along with the Princess Royal, the Princess Alice, the Princess of Hohenlohe Langenburg, the Princess Adelaide and Feodore and Prince Victor of Hohenlobe all visited the Palace.

2nd June 1855 : The fountains were turned on to full power, on the occasion of a fete and Flower show by the Horticultural Society. 30,000 people attended. The display extended the whole of the building, including the front corridors fronting the terrace gardens.
Top of page

* * * * *

The Fountains : A series consisting of six basins adorned the extent of the second terrace, with the great circular fountain in the centre and smaller one at either side, in all, 9 fountains. Beyond these were the iron Water Temples. The first six fountains, which adorned the Italian Garden on the second terrace, could throw their water sprays to 90 ft. The great circular fountain could attain a height of 150ft. The works were designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, and carried out and under the supervision of Mr F.W. Shields, the resident engineer of the company. The Great Water Towers, one at each end of the building, were erected for the purpose of raising the tanks from which the great fountain gained its water. The towers were 284 ft high, with 400 steps to the top. The reward was a view of six counties : Surrey, Middlesex, Kent, Essex, Bedfordshire and Bucks. You could also see the Tower of London.
Top of page

* * * * *

6th July 1855 : The anniversary of the Booksellers' Provident Institution was celebrated at the Palace. The festival was attended by most of the leading publishers, including Mr. Longman, Mr H.G. Bohn and Mr Murray.

May 1856 : at the end of the Crimean War, was the unveiling ceremony of the Peace Trophy and Scutari Monument by the Queen, Prince Consort and other royal family.

19th June 1856 : The Queen, Prince Consort, Prince Regent of Baden and Prince Frederick William of Prussia, toured the building with Sir Joseph Paxton.

Between the 10th June 1854 and 30th June 1855, 1,322,008 people visited the Palace.

26th June 1856 : A concert to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Mozart was held, with a full range of works.

9th May 1856 : Inauguration of the monument in honour of the Crimean heroes and the Peace Trophy by the Baron Marochetti. The Queen and Prince Albert attended, with a guard of honour of returned servicemen. A medal was struck by a machine in the Palace to mark the occasion. 12,000 people attended.

16th May 1856 : A concert by the Royal Italian Opera company, with vocalists and instrumentalists.

* * * * *

The general manager had a salary of 700 shillings a year.

* * * * *

24th May 1856 : The first flower show of the season. The Royal National Tulip Society had a display and the fountains played in the afternoon.

June 1856 : The first Handel Festival at the Palace to commemorate the centenary of the composer's death. The festival became triennial, and was repeated until 1883.

18th June 1856 : The fountains and waterworks were for the first time brought into complete operation. Her Majesty, Prince Albert and the princes and princesses all attended. There were 11,788 jets of water playing. The quantity of water displayed was about 120,000 gallons a minute.
Top of page

* * * * *

The Water Towers

At 300 feet high, they supported a body of water of about 2,000 tons. The towers were polygonal and 46 feet in diameter. They were constructed of a series of cast iron columns and girders. The height was divided into tiers, each of which could be reached by a winding staircase. The tank on each tower supplied the major jet in the tower series of fountains. The jets rose to 280 feet. From the base of the towers were pipes laid conducting the water to all the fountains of the upper and lower series - 10 miles in all. The largest pipe could have allowed several people to walk arm in arm..
Top of page

* * * * *


12th July: The waterworks were on display for the first time since the inauguration ceremony. Nearly 11,000 people came to watch. Prince Albert, the Prince and Princess of Prussia and their daughter came for a look.

26th July: For the third time, there was a display of the grand system of waterworks, watched by 11,500 people.

4th August: An anniversary dinner of the Society of Odd Fellows was held with about 300 members and friends sitting down to dinner.

16th August: The whole system of waterworks was again on display. Some 9,000 people were present to see this display, starting at 4 in the afternoon.


15-16th September : A comet was noticeable from the grounds and terraces. A party of astronomical observers spent hours in observations on top of one of the water towers.

25th October: A fete to commemorate the Battle of Balaclava was held. All troops who had received the Crimea medal or Victoria Cross were invited.

5th November : A fete to commemorate the anniversary of Inkerman was held. The bands of the Fusileer and Coldstram Guards played. A trophy was erected.

22nd November: The first bird show on an extensive scale was held.

4th December : A concert was held to commemorate the death of Mozart.


25th January: Burns Commemoration - the centenary anniversary of the poets birth. A prize of 50 quines for an ode to Burns was won by Ira Craig.

26th March At a concert the opera Fidelis was performed to one of the largest audiences ever assembled in the concert-room.

11th June: The Metropolitan Schools Choral Society Festival, with over 6,000 singers, was held.


4th May : The inauguration of a colossal statue of Mendelsson gave occasion for a grand performance of 'Elijah', by over 3,000 singers and players.

29th May: The Porter's Benevolent Association held its annual festival, with a cricket match and other sports.

2nd June : The Yorkshire Choral Union, with over 200 voices, sang at the Palace.

7th July : Mr Rarey gave an exhibition of horse taming.

10th July: The Great Brass Band Contest was held with 2,000 performers and 115 bands.

25th July : The Grenedier Guards celebrated their 200th anniversary of the formation of the regiment with a dinner for 2,000. Mr Cixwell carried some visitors aloft in his balloon.

13th September : A fete in aid of the funds of the Licenced Victualler's Asylum was held. M. Bloudin crossed the central basin on a tightrope with his feet in baskets. A dinner was held for 150 inmates of the asylum.

29th August : Madame Clara Novello, an singer of the times, gave two farewell performances.

22nd October: A balloon race was held between "Mars", "God of War" and the "Queen".


31st January: Mr J.H. Pepper held interesting and instructive lectures on electricity and Professor Wheatestone's new alphabet telegraph was on display.

23rd February: Mr Henry Leslie's new cantata "Holyrood" was performed for the second only time.

1st May: The committee of the Sacred Harmonic Society held a great festival performance of "The Creation", with 200 violas and violins, 90 violoncellos and double bases and 2,5000 voices.

25th May: The first appearance of the National Choral Society, established by Mr. G.W. Martin, with 1,000 voices.

1st June: M. Blondin made his first appearance before an English audience on a rope stretched across the top of the transept, 180 ft from the ground, and 320 ft in length.

20th July : A great fancy fair and fete in aid of funds of the Royal Dramatic College was held.

23rd July : The great National Brass Band Contest was held with more than 12,000 people present. The 3rd West York Volunteers won the first prize.

29th July : The Cabmen's Friendly Society, with 300 people, dined in the South dining room.


13th June : Mr Thomas Baring MP, one of the commissioners of the International Exhibition, gave a fete to the jurors and foreign visitors.

26th July: A concert of Welsh melodies, sang in Welsh, by 300 voices, accompanied by 20 harps, was held.

5th August : The annual Odd Felloes fete was attended by 45,674 persons, twice the number of the previous year.

8th August: The National Temperance League annual fete was held.

13th August: The mammoth balloon, constructed by Mr Coxwell for the experimental assent by the British Association, ascended into the grounds.

5th September : The 15th annual Vegetarian Society meeting was held, with about 100 people attending.

23rd September : Mr Strange's annual fete with Blondin on the high rope, Leotard on the trapeze, a balloon ascent by Mr Coxwell, Rocky Mountains Wonders, bands and gymnasts.


In January : the Crystal Palace company took a lease for 99 years on 35 acres of land belonging to Dulwich College for use as a carriage drive.

3rd January: Don Jose Manual's first appearance at the Palace on the slack wire.

By February: More than 2/3 of the gallery flooring had been laid, as well as 1/2 the ground floor. Some of the staircases had been commenced.

The chief musical event at the Palace was the production of Mendelsson's 'Athalie'.

10th June: The Crystal Palace was visited by more than 1,000 members of the Society of Arts and representatives of the Literary, Scientific and Mechanic's Institutes as well as various Mayors and others.

11th July: M. Thalberg gave his farewell performance, with 5 of his most popular compositions.

15th August: At 2.30pm the scaffolding intended to raise the remaining ribs of the main transept gave way, throwing workmen 150 ft to the ground. 13 men were killed and 17 injured, two horses were also killed. 25 tons of wood fell. The following Thursday 8 of the workmen were buried in the churchyard of New Sydenham church. The day was a holyday and all work on the Palace ceased for the day.


7th January : A model of the Acropolis, by Mrs Avramioti, which took three years to build at 100-th scale, was on display.

27th February : The contract for the supply of refreshments passed to Mr's Bertram and Roberts.

16th April : General Garibaldi visited the Palace for a public reception and demonstration, and presentation of a sword from the Italian Reception committee.

13th June : The 10th anniversary of the opening of the Palace. Mr Coxwell made his second ascent in his high-level balloon. A chimpanzee, the only one in London, was sent for the tropical department. 

Fifteen and a quarter million people had visited in the 10 years.

15th June : A great choral concert was held by the metropolitan schools with 5,000 voices.

19th December : General Tom Thumb and his wife visited the Palace with his miniature carriages and footmen.


30th March : A collection of Chinese gems, relics, state emblems and works of art, originally from the summer palace of Yuen-ming-Yuen, was on display.

12th July : 59th anniversary festival of the Licenced Victualler's school, with 1,600 subscribers and friends present.

3rd August : The Emir Abd-el Kader, with his entourage, and the french consul at Damascus, M. Hecquard, visited the Palace.

4th September : Queen Emma of the Sandwich Islands, with lady Franklin, visited the Palace.

12th September : The Princess of Wales paid her first visit to the Palace.

2nd October : Mr Pulleyn's Great day when all the attractions were open for only 1 shilling. The Chinese giant Chang, Haines the champion skater and Pattos the one legged dancer were on show.
Top of page

Fire at the Crystal Palace


30th December 1866 : Sunday afternoon. The whole of the north end of the building, except for part of a low narrow wing, was destroyed by fire. All that remained of the northern transept was a few broken arches and the two Eygptian statues, 65ft tall.

The collection of tropical plants, its natural history collection, its Alhambra, Assyrian and Byzantine courts, its royal apartments, printing offices, reading room, the Gallery of Naval Architecture, the extensive collection of Indian curiosities and library were all destroyed. Large numbers of birds, monkeys, and other animals perished. The damage was estimated at £200,000 - 300,000.


16th July : The Palace is visited by the Sultan of Turkey and a grand concert held

18th July : His Imperial Highness Youssouf Izzendin Effindi, eldest son of the Sultan of Turkey, visited the Palace.

11th November : Under the auspices of the London Westminster Working Men's Constitutional Association, 2,000 members of metropolitan and provincial associations dined together in celebration of the passing of the Reform Act.

June : A Grand Festival Benefits concert was held in aid of the North Transept.


4th January : The optical illusions produced by the scientific toy called the Zoetrope - or "Wheel of Life" - were on display, by permission of the London Stereoscopic Company, which held the patent. The figures were 16 times normal size.

February : The North Wing was opened just in time for a reception for H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh.


29th June : : A fete in honour of the visit of the Viceroy of Egypt was held with a music festival with 4,000 performers, a display of the fountains and a fireworks display. The prince and Princess of Wales also attended.


8th October 1870 : A collection of Egyptian antiquities, made in Egypt, and collected by the late M. Robert Hay was open to the public. Several specimens of mummies, bronze, stone, wooden and terracotta objects of worship, amulets, papyri, vases and furniture. Al were purchased 40-50 years previously. There were 1,300 objects on display.


21st March : 40,000 Londoners celebrated the occasion of the Royal Wedding and the cessation of the war in France by holding a grand fete with a choir of 7,000 singing.

28th June : A special fete was given in honour of his Imperial Highness the Grand Duke Wladimir of Russia.

13th July : The first cat in Britain was held, with 150 cages of cats. One wild cat from Scotland was exhibited by the Duke of Sutherland, several tailless Manx cats, some weighing as much as 18 and 20 pounds, and one tortoiseshell tom were also exhibited.

15th July : The Emperor of Brazil visited the Palace.

15th August : A National Scottish fete was held to celebrate the Centenary of Sir Walter Scott's birth.


18th February : An exhibition of Australian, New Zealand, Tasmanian and other Pacific island curios was held. Mr H.E. Pau spent 28 years collecting canoes, spears, masks, carvings, shells, insects, eggs, snakes, and such like.

10th June : A monument to Sir Joseph Paxton was unveiled as part of a grand commemorative fete attended by Queen Victoria to celebrate the 19th anniversary of the opening of the palace. It stood in the centre space between the two flights of stairs from the terrace and in a position at the heads of the great board walk.

30th June : The Palace was visited by the Shah of Persia.

27th September : The Automaton Chess Player - represented as a Turk, was displayed. It was later found to have a youth inside.


9th May : Donkey and Mule show, with the Archbishop of Canterbury and a Baron winning prizes for displays.

16th May : The Palace was visited by Czar Alexander II of Russia.

10-11th August : American base-ball players demonstrated the game, a new one in the UK.

27th August : A collection of 1,100 Chinese curiosities, owned by Archdeacon Grey Chaplain to the British Consulate and collected over 20 years, went on display.


The Palace was visited by the Sultan of Zanzibar.

26-27th July 1875 : The first annual Goat show in Britain was held.


19th July : The Palace was visited by the King and Queen of Greece.


31st March : A concert got the 50th anniversary of Beethoven's death.

15th June : US Ex-President Grant visited with his wife.

26th December : Experiments were carried out with the telephone using a wire a mile in length.


31st May : An exhibition of articles made by tin-plate and wire workers - clock cases, photo frames, iron holders, working model of a coal mine, kettles, utensils, stands and much more.

1st June : Visit by the Maharajah of Kuch Behar.

14th August : Mr and Mrs Chippendale and Company began a series of English comedies in the Opera House.


The Duke and Duchess of Connaught visited the Palace.

28th June : The Duke and Duchess of Connaught visited the Palace for the first time since their marriage. A grand fete had been held in their honour the Saturday before but due to a death in the family they had been unable to attend.


One of the water tanks burst.


2nd June : The Duke and Dutchess of Connaught opened the first of a series of international exhibitions connected with various industries, this exhibition being devoted to wool, woollen manufactures and allied industries.

9th June : The centenary of Stevenson's birth was celebrated by an exhibition of railway appliances.

11th June : The first showing of M. Maju's "distorting views" in the open air, with pictures of celebrated buildings and scenery. This was a lantern projector with slides shown on a screen.


2nd January : The Electric Light and Power Generator company made a successful commencement at the north end of the nave, with 18 Western arc lights.

14th January : A series of experiments as to its fire proofing capabilities was carried out on asbestos paint by the United Asbestos Co. of British Columbia.

17th January : The first public exhibition of the Edison Electric light was carried out in the concert room with 250 incandescent lamps.

Richard Wagner made his triumphant entry into the palace with the prelude to his 'Parsival'. The Electrical Contrivance exhibition was held.


An exhibition on Potatoes was held.


The Arts, Manufactures, Scientific, Agricultural and Industrial Products Exhibition was held.


Summer (June) : Myer's Hippodrome - a travelling zoological collection, comprising attractions from Regent's Park, with performances by Astley and Sanger Circus, played to crowds at the palace.

* * * * *

By the beginning of the period - 1875 - 1885 - the company could boast that the Palace had already been visited by 38,271,877 persons ; that is , 7,000,000 in excess of the entire population of the UK and Ireland.

* * * * *


Midsummer Day : The Crystal Palace Company gave a monster fete in honour of the Colonial and Indian representatives at the South Kensington Exhibition. Another Exhibition on Potatoes was held.


The price and Princess of Wales visited the Palace.


A Photography exhibition was held.


27th January : The 13th Stanley Cycle Club exhibition was held, with 1,5000 cycles of various designs and types, and 230 exhibitors.

15th February : the 27th annual exhibition of canaries and British and foreign cage birds, with 2,579 entries, the largest ever.

8th March : The Duke of Westminster presented a statue of Hugh Lupus, the first earl of Chester, to the Palace.

15th March : The third annual exhibition of photography, contained upwards of 2,400 exhibits from 534 exhibitors.

13th May : The Marquis of Hartington was entertained at a banquet by the Unionist Party, about 1,100 ladies and gentlemen sat down to dinner.

23rd May : Princess Louise, Marchioness of Lorne, distributed the prizes to the successful students at the London Scholls of the Girl's Public Day School Company.

18th June : The Earl of Stanhope presided over the triennial distribution of prizes for the best scholars in scripture knowledge at the London Scholl Board fete.

28th June : The Conservative and Unionist fete was held in celebration of the coronation day.

15th July : The 25th anniversary of the Salvation Army was celebrated with a crowd of 100,000 or more with visitors from Holland, Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden and Norway.

28th July : The International Exhibition of Mining and Metallurgy. The NW exhibits covered an area of 15,000 square feet and occupied the south transept. Also there with exhibits was South Australia, South Africa, Tasmania, Mexico, Norway, Sweden and the USA. A machinery hall was built outside the northern end of the Palace. The exhibition was opened by Lord Thurlow.

5th September : The British Fruit-Grower's Association conference was held in the south saloon.

11th October : The Mining exhibition closed.

21st October : The 22nd national cat show was held, the largest cat show at the Crystal Palace, with entries numbering 547.


3rd March - 21st March 1891 : A horticultural exhibition was held, with conservatories, greenhouses, tents, pavilions, seats, lawn mowers, seeds, bee hives, aviaries, manures, insecticides, earthenware and tools.

The German Emperor and Empress visited the Palace.

27th March : A private viewing of a gliding railway, by Mr A. Barre, was held. The railway was worked by hydraulic power and glided on plates of metal, kept apart by a thin film of water. 

18th May : A show of trained wild beasts - lions, tigers, cheetahs, leopards, bears and boars - trained by Herr Carl Hagenbeck.


9th January : The Electricity exhibition opened, celebrating a decades progress in electrical engineering.

19th May : For the 27th year running, Messers C.T. Brook and Co, presented the fireworks at the palace.

29th June : A shocking balloon accident resulted in the death of Captain Dale and serious injury to his son and two others. A rent in the balloon caused the balloon to crash. This was the first such accident in the Palace's history.

2nd July : The Electricity exhibition closed.

18th October : At the annual cat show, a cat from Tibet and two kittens from Iceland, were exhibited for the first time.


21st January : The first National Cycle Show under the auspices of the Cycle Manufacture's Trade Association was held. 300 exhibitors, showed 1,400 cycles.

The standing attractions in 1893 included a panorama of the siege of Paris, a maze and switchback railway.

11th July : A Sports and Pastimes Exhibition was held with carriages, cricket, golf, yachting, cycling, photography, hunting, natural history, and poaching on show.

7th September - 3rd October : Anti-Burglar and Fire Exhibition. Top of page

* * * * *

Yum, Yum

Crystal Palace Refreshment Department offered the following delicacies for the patrons enjoyment :

Cold meat with cheese and bread at 1/6, Veal pie at 1/6
Jelly at 6d
Sandwiches at 6d
Champagne and 7/6d
Coffee with biscuit at 6d and tea at 6d. Top of page

* * * * *


18th May : The Africa Exhibition started. A village and its inhabitants from Somaliland was transported to the sports oval, with 70 natives, 25 native horses, 20 dromedaries, 6 lions, 6 ostriches, cheetahs, puma, leopards, sheep and birds. The exhibition in the Grand Nave contained ivory, tusks, weapons, dress and diamonds.


Horse and Horseless Carriages Exhibition was held.


The Imperial Victorian Exhibition was held, forming a feature of the Golden Jubilee Celebrations.


The International Exhibition of Photography was held.


6th May : A display of motor cars and a demonstration of such. There were motor cycles, dogcarts, broughams, wagonettes, victorias, phaetons and commercial cans on display.

30th May : The Article Club arranged an Industrial exhibition. On display was frozen lamb from New Zealand, beef from Queensland, locks and keys from Chubb and Sons, and electrical engineering by Siemens Brothers and Co. Provincial towns showed a variety of goods.

24th June : The 161st anniversary festival of the Royal Society of Musicians was celebrated by a gigantic performance of Handel's "Elijah".

31st July : The fountains, which had been out of use for several months, were brought back into operation, with new machinery installed. All the illumination was now from below the water. The height of the water jets was now 200 feet, 50 feet higher than the old fountains. The work was done by Mr. F.W. Darlington of Philadelphia.

The cafe at the Palace was called "Cafe Chantant"

2nd August : A bicycle display was given by 40 ladies, with a musical ride and lance drill.

14th-19th August : The National Co-operative Festival, with an exhibition of products from labour co-operatives all over England - bakers, housing, dairy, etc.


13th January : 2000 trout eggs, presented to the newly formed Society of Experimental Fish culture, hatched.

18th February : Just before 4 o'clock, two elephants from Lord George's menagerie escaped, ripping down walls and doors. One man was tampled to death and one elephant was shot.

28th April : The first attempt at holding a specialist pony show, was held by the London Polo Club.

10th May : International Advertisers exhibition with posters and play-bills on display.

19, 20 and 21st June : Handel Triennial festival.

20th July: Bicentenary of the introduction of the sweet pea to the UK with a flower show and conference.

4th August : The Reno Inclined elevator, the first in the country, was installed to take patrons from the ground to the galleries. This sounds like an escalator.


23rd May : The Jubilee of the Original Crystal Palace was celebrated by the Naval and Military Exhibition.

9th August : A medal was struck by the directors of the Crystal Palace company to commemorate the Great Exhibition of 1851, with the late Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and the Crystal Palace.

21st September : A Patriotic fete was held in aid of the Soldier's and Sailor's Family Association, with entry free to all those holding a Crystal Palace medal.

2nd December - 1st February 1902 : A children's exhibition with pictures, photos, school and toy books, music primers, dolls and other toys. Queen Victoria's doll house was on display.

14th December : An International Gas Engineering Exhibition, under the auspices of the Gas Institute, Institute of Gas Engineers, councils and other gas companies.


2nd June : America Exhibition.

23rd June : The maiden trip of the airship Mellin (A British navigable balloon) with Mr Stanley Spencer aboard.

1st August : A "Topsy-turvey" railway which loops the loop was built for the holiday visitors to an American design - essentially a roller coaster.


30th January : Exhibition of automobiles promoted by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, with the Wolseley Company represented.

25th April : The first meeting of the Aero Club, when two balloons were sent up.

16th June : for six weeks, a Pianoforte and Music Traders exhibition was held.

28th August - 12th September : Food, grocery and allied traders exhibition.


15th December 1903 - 16th January 1904 : Gas lighting, heating and hygiene exhibition.

16th March - 27th April : International exhibition of dress, clothing and textile industries, under the patronage of the Princess Christian and Princess Henry of Battenberg.

14th May - 31st August : International sports exhibition, with exhibits including cricket bats and balls from 1770.

10th June : The Jubilee of the Crystal Palace with 125,000,000 visitors between 1854-1904.

22nd September : The 40th anniversary of Messrs C.T. Brook and Co Palace fireworks with scenes "A Trio of Peacocks", "The Blazing Sun" and a battle with 10 warships.

11th October : The first exhibition of potatoes held by National Potato Society. 120 growers sent in exhibits.


12th May : The Colonial and Indian Exhibition was a display of products and manufactures of British possessions in almost every quarter of the globe - New Zealand, Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad, British Central Africa and many more.


7th April : International Food, Health and Hygiene exhibition.


The All British Fair connected with the "Festival of Empire" and "Pageant of London" was held.

At the end of the century it had become rather dilapidated and the gardens fell into disorder. Nearly half the land was sold for building estates.

28th November : The Crystal Palace , Sydenham was to be sold at auction at the Estate room, 20 Hanover Square at 2 o'clock by Howare Frank of Knight, Frank and Rutley and John Roy Lancaster of Horne and Co. A beautiful prospectus was put out got the event.


Just before the first World War a public subscription was raised to buy the building for the Nation, the purchase was completed in 1913. During the war it was used as a naval depot. In 1920, the much needed work of restoration was carried out and it opened in that year by King George V and Queen Mary. After this restoration there were concerts, organ recitals, dog shows, baby shows, revivalist meetings, and brass band championships. Outside was a dirt-track race course, a maze, a jungle, and a dance hall. Every Thursday night in summer there was a fireworks display.

The Crystal Palace was one of the largest places of business in or near the Metropolis, giving daily employment to several hundreds of hands. Top of page

The end of the Crystal Palace

30th November 1936 - Sir Henry Buckland, went out to post a letter at 25 past 7. Across the road he noticed a red glow in the administration office of the Palace. A string wind from the north-east fanned the flames. Sir Henry's first act was to warn an orchestra who were practising at the other end of the building. Shortly after 8, the transept was burning to its full height. The pillar of fire was visible for miles around. At 25 to 9, the arched roof of the transept fell in and the flames shot up to a height of 300 feet. In the morning nothing remained but the two water towers and a tangled jungle of molten glass and twisted iron. The rest had fallen through the floor into the deep basement. The Crystal Foundation stood unharmed. The towers that survived were finally demolished in 1941 because they were deemed a dangerous landmark for incoming German bombers.

1st December 1936 : From the London Times : The greater part of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham and nearly all that was in it perished in flames last night. The fire was still burning at a late hour this morning, and even after 2 am crowds were still arriving to watch the spectacle.

About 7.30 last night an outbreak of fire was seen in the central part of the building : three hours later more than two-thirds of the great structure was a flaring mass of ruins on the ground, and the fire was burning relentlessly, against a fresh wind, through the remaining wing.

The scene along the Parade was awe-inspiring. The flames roared up the entire height, perhaps 150 ft, to the top of the central transept, and along the whole length of this and the south-west wing. Masses of glass dropped continually, and section by section the huge skeleton of ironwork visibly bent and twisted and fell with heavy crashes and in immense showers of sparks : the glare spread far beyond the Parade, and shone on the faces of thousands of people ranked along the railway line below.

At the north-eat end the flames worked steadily against the wind and soon caught the low brick building in front of the Palace proper, part of which was used as a post office, and then spread to the remaining wing.

Hundreds of birds from the aviary within the central arch were released from their cages before the collapse of the roof. They fluttered through the smoke to nearby trees, and most escaped.

2nd December 1936 : From the London Times : Yesterday, except for a gaunt frame-work of brown glass and smouldering beams at the north end, there was nothing left of the Crystal Palace to show a stranger that a vast structure architecturally proportionate to the two towers had existed 24 hours earlier. Only in the far north-west corner of the man building did a few intact statuary and king's tombs remain : elsewhere there was a mass of twisted steel and rubble, with sporadic fires smouldering underneath.

The two main features of the fire which chiefly mystified the public have been its origin and the speed with which the flames tore through the building.

Although the building was, in virtue of its construction, a natural flue for any flame, three previous fires had been extinguished with little difficulty. This time the high wind blowing over Sydenham was strong enough to carry large pieces of glass to the shore of the lake 150 yards away.

Once started, the fire had far more wood to feed on than generally known. Apart from floors, chairs, tables and the like, there was wood in the walls and roof which had not been replaced by steel.

Venus and a faun in plaster, still intact on the edge of the chaos, gazed across at the equally intact fountain with the bronze nymphs and the blackened (but still swimming) gold-fish. Effigies of the Kings of England on their tombs were surrounded by debris, and a small chapel, with a sagging floor and one end destroyed, irresistibly recalled Madrid. Towards the centre and southern end the confusion was less romantic, more like the aftermath of war in its formlessness. Blackened but unbroken retorts were littered in the storeroom of the television laboratory, while two of Baird's workmen were looking hopefully for their bag of tools near a barely recognisable lathe.

3rd December 1936 : In the grounds of the Palace the first sod was cut for a road race track. The two mile track was expected to be finished by the next March. The cost was estimated at £20.000.

7th December 1936 : Lloyd's Underwriter's paid a cheque for £120,000 to the Trustees of the Crystal Palace. The organ had been insured for £10,000.
Top of page


Crystal Palace Departments

Alhambra Court - Under the care of Mr. Owen Jones.

Handbook : The Alhambra Court in the Crystal Palace. Described and erected by Owen Jones.

The court was 120ft long, 50ft wide and 40 ft high. It was erected from designs by Mt James Fergusson, assisted by Mr. Layard.

It was a reproduction on a small scale of the famed Court of Lions, the Tribunal of Justice, the Hall of the Abencerrages, and the Divan of the fortress-palace of the Alhambra which was the palace of the ancient Moorish kings of Granada, at the base of the Sierra Nevada. It was situated on a hill above the city. Passing through the central archway, a fountain was seen supported by lions that gave the court its name and through the archway opposites the stalactite roof of the Hall of Abercerrages. The Court of Lions, in Mr Owen Jone's reproduction, was 75ft long, or two thirds the length of the original. The columns were the same length and size as the originals.

Aquarium : "A sea aquarium is in the course of being erected by a separate company, and its size may be gathered from the fact that 700 tons of sea water will be used in different classes, and steam engines will be constantly employed in keeping the water in motion. This ambitious and interesting project is expected to be son finished and is under the superintendence of Mr Lloyd." The Times, 22nd March 1871. P. 12.

In the aquarium were cod, plaice, skate, a large octopus. A handbook was produced. 3,000 sea anemones, half a dozen sea urchins and star-fish. 

The Marine Aquarium : had 38 tanks.

Assyrian Court

Byzantine Court - Under the care of Mr Digby Wyatt.

St John the Lateran ; in the centre the fountain of Heislerback in Derbyshire marble.

Was a restored copy of a cloister of the church of Santa Maria at Cologne. The roof was beautifully decorated with Byzantine ornaments, and at one end was a recumbent figure of Richard Coeur de Lion from Rouen. In the centre stood a marble fountain, an exact copy of one at Heislerbach, on the Rhine. Recumbent effigies of Henry II and his queen Eleanor, Richard I and Isabella, wife of King John, copied from those of Fontainbleau Abbey, the burying place of the Plantagenets, were also present.

Egyptian Court - Under the care of Mr. Owen Jones.

Greek Court - Under the care of Mr. Owen Jones.

Industrial Court

Handbook : The Industrial Directory of the Crystal Palace. Crystal Palace Library and Bradbury and Evans. London, 1854.


Stationary and Fancy Goods Court
Birmingham Court
Sheffield Court
Mineral Manufactures Court
Hardware Court
Furniture Court
Mixed Fabric Court
Printed Fabrics Court
Musical Instruments

Around the Palace were various departments. These included : Precious metals, Substances used as food, Fine linens and damasks, Clothing, Stained glass, perfumery, leather, india-rubber, philosophical instruments, printed books, china and glass, and carriages. In the basement was the department for machinery.

Library : The library was originally formed for public use, to serve as a reference for the five arts and sciences exemplified in the courts and collections. It was destroyed in the fire that broke out in Tropical department in 1866. There were upward of 7,000 volumes, including the works used by Sir M. Digby Wyatt and Mr Owen Jones in designing and arranging the collections. By 1876, 6000 volumes had been obtained, catalogued and arranged.

Medieval Court - Under the care of Mr. Digby Wyatt.

Handbook : The Medieval Court in the Crystal Palace. Described by M. Digby Watt and J.B. Waring.

On the exterior entrance from the nave were statues of St. Peter, St. Paul and St. John from the church of Langen in Germany. Further on was a statue of the Virgin from the Academy at Nuremburg and the colossal statue of St. Peter from Cologne Cathedral. On the left were a statue of the Virgin from the church of Langen, a bust of Christ from Winchester Cathedral and figures from Wells Cathedral.

Inside were copies of tombs : William Longespee, Earl of Salisbury, from Salisbury Cathedral ; a recumbent effigy of Henry III from Westminster Abbey and Bishops Kilkenny and Northwold from Ely Cathedral. Effigies included that of Bishop Poer from Salisbury Cathedral and Phillippa, wife of Edward III from Westminster Abbey.

The German Gothic court included examples of the works of Peter Vischer and Adam Krafft - the great Nuremberg Door and effigies of the Archbishop Electors of Mainz.

The English Medieval Court had an entrance formed by a doorway of the west front of Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire. The rest of the facade was from Guisborough Abbey, Yorkshire.

Natural History Collection - Under the care of Mr. Thompson.

Handbook : The Natural History Department of the Crystal Palace described - Ethnology. By Dr R.G. Latham. Zoology and Botany. By Edward Forbes. Crystal Palace Library and Bradbury and Evans. London, 1854.

The court was arranged geographically, with the visitor intended to place themselves in the same relation as to a map of the world - north in front of him, east to the right, west to his left. The groups on the right belonged to Europe, Asia and Africa, those on the left, to the Americas.

Figures included : The Tibetan, East Indians, Sumatrans, Javanese, Dyaks of Borneo, Islanders of the Louisiade Archipelago - Papuans and Australians, Danakil and Negro of the Eastern Coast of Africa, Southern Africans - Zulus and Bushmen, Indians of the Amazon, Indians from British Guiana, North Americans and Greenlanders.

Exhibits in the Zoology and Botany sections included a boar-hunt, which was a relic of the Great Exhibition of 1851. The Old World Court was devoted to African and Asiatic exhibits. Central Asia was represented by a yak and Ovis Ammon. India was represented by a tiger hunt.

Pompeiian House - Under the care of Mr. Digby Wyatt.

The original intention in constructing the Pompeian court was to use it for the refreshment hall. The original design was made by Mr Digby Wyatt at Naples, and in conjunction with Mr Owen Jones, his companion in the tour for the collection of works of art for the decoration of the Crystal Palace generally, he arranged for Signor Abbate, the official draughtsman to the King of Pompeian excavations, to come to England the following spring in order to decorate the building.

The decorative painting of the building was entirely under the management of Signor Abbate, with Mr Parris Jn. acting as his deputy. They had 30 assistants, 10 of whom were English.

Each part was copied from some existing authority. The outer walls were supposed to be a street with the court forming a detached building. The tiling was copied from The House of the Female Musician. The entrance at the Nave was flanked by statues copied from the back entrance of a building excavated in 1834. The inlaid marble on the threshold, representing a dog, was copied fro the House of the Tragic Poet. The walls and ceilings of the rooms aside the entrance were imitated from the House of the Second Fountain.

The broad central space, the Tablinum, was wholly copied from the Tablinum of the House of Apollo.

Renaissance Court - Under the care of Mr. Digby Wyatt.

Roman Court - Under the care of Mr. Owen Jones.

School of Physical Culture : established in November 1899 and under the direction of Mr Eugene Sandrow. The room was located in the neighbourhood of the north tower. There were separate departments for ladies and gentlemen. Every branch of athletic endeavour and physical culture (except weightlifting) was available.

Technological Museum - Dr Price.

Stuffed Animal Collection - 1,500 specimens.

Victoria Cross pictures by Chevalier L.W. Desanges.
Top of page


The Crystal Palace Gardens

In August 1857, 146 gardeners were employed.

North Tower gardens - contained a water chute, rapids, electric canoes, and a topsy-turvy railway (a roller coaster). Top of page


The Crystal Palace Dinosaurs

These are what I came to see at the Crystal Palace site : the dinosaurs.

After the Great Exhibition and the reconstruction of the Crystal Place at Sydenham, it was decided that the grounds should be decorated with replicas of the newly discovered prehistoric beasts. A sculptor, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, was given the task and worked closely with Sir Richard Owen.

Hawkins created the illusion that modern man knew more about these creatures than in fact he did. Some of the concrete replicas looked suspiciously like overgrown frogs and turtles.

The models included : Megaceros (or Irish elk - an extinct deer), Megatherium (ground sloth), Pterodactylus (winged reptiles), Hylaeosaurus (armour plated plant eater), Megalosaurus (big meat eater), Dicynodonts (mammal-like reptile), Labyrinthodonts (early amphibians), Ichthyosaurus (marine reptiles), Plesiosaurs (long-necked marine reptiles), Teleosaurus (sea-going crocodile), Iguanodon (placid plant eater), Mosasaurus (gigantic lizard), Palaeotherium (ancestor of the elephant), and Anoplptherium (extinct group of carnivorous animals). From a pamphlet bought from the park.

The completion of the specimens was celebrated by a dinner-party of 22 distinguished men of science and letters, which took place in the stomach of the partly completed Iguanodon on December 31, 1853. Invitations were inscribed on simulated wing bones of a Pterodactyl. The revellers saw in the new year with toasts of "Saurians and Pterodactyl's all! dream ye ever, in your ancient festivities, of a race to come, dwelling above your tombs...dining on your ghosts".

The exhibit was opened to the public later that year, and the Victorians came in droves.

An Irish visitor, having drunk himself into a stupor at one of the Temperance Festivals at the Palace, returned to his senses in the early morning on the shores of the Prehistoric Lake and never drank again.
Top of page



Author's Notes

Do you know that... that the Crystal Palace dinosaurs were in the Making of "Walking with Dinosaurs"

On the sphinxes: They were cast from one preserved in the Louvre, one one side of the shoulder the name "Pthalomen Miotph" was written, on the other in hieroglyphics, if the name of Shishak 1.

Comments see Contact Message.
Top of page; Return to Background Index

10/11/99 Last updated
5/12/99 - added "Author's NOtes