In 1851 Great Britain was arguably the leader of the industrial revolution and feeling very secure in that ideal. The Great Exhibition of 1851 in London was conceived to symbolize this industrial, military and economic superiority of Great Britain. Just representing the feats of Britain itself would have excluded many of the technological achievements pioneered by the British in its many colonies and protectorates, so it was decided to make the exhibit truly international with invitations being extended to almost all of the colonized world. The British also felt that it was important to show their achievements right alongside those of “less civilized” countries. The prevailing attitude in England at the time was ripe for the somewhat arrogant parading of accomplishments. Many felt secure, economically and politically, and Queen Victoria was eager to reinforce the feeling of contentment with her reign. It was during the mid-1850s that the word “Victorian” began to be employed to express a new self-consciousness, both in relation to the nation and to the period through which it was passing.
The exhibition was also a triumph for Victoria’s German husband, Albert, whom she had married in 1840. Despite outbursts of opposition to Albert by the press the family life of the Victorian court began to be considered increasingly as a model for the whole country. Albert had appreciated the achievements of Prime Minister Robert Peel’s political and military advances and publicly advocated the advancement of industry and science. These facts began to sway opinion in his favor as respectable foundations of family life and industrial supremacy were becoming rapidly acquainted with the monarchy of Victoria and Albert. Conceived by prince Albert, the Great Exhibition was held in Hyde Park in London in the specially constructed Crystal Palace. The Crystal Palace was originally designed by Sir Joseph Paxton in only 10 days and was a huge iron goliath with over a million feet of glass. It was important that the building used to showcase theseCrystal Palace Construction achievements be grandiose and innovative. Over 13,000 exhibits were displayed and viewed by over 6,200,000 visitors to the exhibition. The millions of visitors that journeyed to the Great Exhibition of 1851 marveled at the industrial revolution that was propelling Britain into the greatest power of the time. Among the 13,000 exhibits from all around the world were the Jacquard loom, an envelope machine, tools, kitchen appliances, steel-making displays and a reaping machine from the United States. The objects on display came from all parts of the world, including India and the countries with recent white settlements, such as Australia and New Zealand, that constituted the new empire. Many of the visitors who flocked to London came from European cities. The profits from the event allowed for the foundation of public works such as the Albert Hall, the Science Museum, the National History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
This “bigger and better” building was divided into a series of courts depicting the history of art and architecture from ancient Egypt through the Renaissance, as well as exhibits from industry and the natural world. Major concerts were held in the Palace’s huge arched Centre Transept, which also contained the world’s largest organ. The Centre Transept also housed a circus and was the scene of daring feats by world famous acts such as the tightrope walker Blondin. National exhibitions were also staged within its glass and iron walls, including the world’s first aeronautical exhibition (held in 1868) and the first national motor show, plus cat shows, dog shows, pigeon shows, honey, flower and other shows.
The Crystal Palace itself was almost outshone by the park in which it stood, which contained a magnificent series of fountains, comprising almost 12,000 individual jets. The largest of these threw water to a height of 250ft. Some 120,000 gallons of water flowed through the system when it was in full play.
The park also contained unrivaled collections of statues, many of which were copies of great works from around the world, and a geological display which included a replica lead mine and the first attempts anywhere in the world to portray life-size restorations of extinct animals, including dinosaurs. Crystal Palace park was also the scene of spectacular Brock’s fireworks displays.
After the Great Exhibition closed, the Crystal Palace was moved to Sydenham Hill in South London and reconstructed in what was, in effect, a 200 acre Victorian theme park. The new Crystal Palace park atCentral Hall Sydenham was opened by Queen Victoria on June 10th, 1854.
In 1911, the year of King George V’s coronation, the Crystal Palace was home to the Festival of Empire. Three-quarter size models of the parliament buildings of Empire and Commonwealth countries were erected in the grounds to contain exhibits of each country’s products.
In later years, the Crystal Palace became very closely associated with the development of television when John Logie Baird established his television company here. Based in the south tower (which also served as an aerial), the Palace itself and other buildings in the grounds, from June 1934 the Baird Television Company had 4 fully equipped studios at Crystal Palace. In 1935 transmission of 120 line pictures were demonstrated and a high definition picture of 500 lines was also shown. In 1937 Baird even demonstrated the color television, using a radio link from the south tower to the Dominion Theatre in London. The picture was clear on a 12ft by 9ft screen.
Today it is sport with which the name of Crystal Palace is most closely connected, but this is not a modern development. Important sporting events were staged there from the Palace’s very early days. The Crystal Palace was built at a time when sporting activity was becoming more popular and more formally organized. Though Paxton’s original design did not include any accommodation for sports, it was not long before all kinds of sports were being played in the name of Crystal Palace. As early as 1857 an area in the lower park had been designated as the cricket ground.
The first Crystal Palace football team was reportedly formed in 1861 and a representative from Crystal Palace was presentUnited States Prescence at the meeting which formed the Football Association in 1863. Crystal Palace were among the 15 teams which took part in the first FA Challenge Cup competition in 1872. The highlight of Crystal Palace football history was the 20 FA Cup finals which were played in the grounds between 1895 and 1914. Crowds in excess of 100,000 watched teams such as Aston Villa, Newcastle and Tottenham.
A motor racing circuit was laid down in the park in 1936-37 and the first race meeting saw cars circulating at the fastest speed of 57 m.p.h. Race meetings were halted by the War and did not restart until May 1953, from when they continued until 1972. In modern times, it is athletics with which the name Crystal Palace is probably most widely associated Inside Viewthroughout the world, but the Crystal Palace Athletics Club was formed as long ago as 1868, its members contributing to the purchase of dumbbells and other gymnastic equipment. Numerous other sports, such as polo, rugby, cycling, archery, fishing, croquet, quoits, ice skating, gridiron and even roller hockey have taken place at Crystal Palace over the last 140 years and continue to do so today, with the National Sports Centre being a key element of the modern Crystal Palace Park.
The Crystal Palace itself was destroyed by fire on November 30th 1936, following which the area lost much of its focus and began to decline. But many of the most important events in the history of the Crystal Palace took place in the grounds, which retain much of their overall layout today and are a Grade II listed historic park. Thus, for 140 years, Crystal Palace park has been the scene of innumerable contributions to the nation’s social, scientific and sporting history.
The London Borough of Bromley, who own the park today, together with the Crystal Palace Foundation, have recently submitted an outline proposal the National Heritage Lottery Fund to restore much of the park to its former glory. The proposals covered by this application aim not only to improve the park as an amenity, but also to restore a number of its major heritage features. This will include restoration of the Grand Central Walkway, which originally ran the length of the park, the preservation and restoration of the terraces, and the restoration of the geological islands.
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Link will appear as Hanson, Marilee. "The Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace" https://englishhistory.net/victorian/crystal-palace-exhibition/, January 12, 2022