Chorley Historical and Archaeological Society

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Apr 2014

Tue 08 Apr 2014
David Hill - The Crystal Palace and The Great Exhibition.

David’s opening statement was of his admiration of the Victorians’ certainty in their world and of their great achievements. The Crystal Palace was just one of them and he set out to explain why it came about and how it became, in his words, the world’s first ‘leisure centre’.
Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, was president of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) that included men like John Scott Russell and Henry Cole. In the mid 1840s Russell and Cole had visited Paris to see an exhibition that displayed goods and crafts from around the French empire.
They had the idea to put on a much bigger exhibition that promoted the best of Britain and its empire. It was planned for 1851 to show ‘art, culture and civilization’ without the support of any public money. A royal commission was set up to plan the event that included the prime minister, Robert Peel, Russell and Cole..

David Hill

Designs for the exhibition hall were invited and amongst them was one from a Joseph Paxton. Without formal education he had risen to the post of head gardener at Chatsworth House. He had designed bridges and buildings and had become a brilliant engineer.
His successful design was created in 2 weeks and was of a building that was 1,851 ft long (it was actually 1,848 ft long). It consisted of over 3,000 standard sections in cast and wrought iron and included 290,000 panes of glass.
It was constructed in Hyde Park and builders were on site on 31 July 1850 and it was completed in 9 months, an engineering achievement as well as architectural.

The Crystal Palace
and the opening of the Great Exhibition
by Queen Victoria 1851
(Source Wikipedia)

The original Crystal Palace (Source Wikipedia)

The exhibition was opened on 1 May 1851 by Queen Victoria was scheduled to stay open until mid- October. All London’s police and troops were put on standby for the duration of the exhibition, which caused traffic chaos.
The organisers wanted the exhibition’s aims to include education, learning and improvement, not just fun. Consequently, they wanted as many people as possible to visit it so there was a range of ticket prices.
It closed on 11 October 1851 after 6 million people had visited it and was £180k in profit.
However, it had to come down and it was dismantled and re-assembled on a 200 acre plot on Siddenham Hill, south London.
It opened on 10 June 1854 and Queen Victoria agreed to open it again. It became venue for all sorts of events that included boxing, brass bands, scouts and shows. Unfortunately, over the years it began to lose money and the company running it went bankrupt in 1909. After that London County Council ran it through a trust company.
It was on 30 November 1936 that the Crystal Palace was destroyed by fire and its remains were sold for scrap.
David concluded his highly interesting and enjoyable talk by restating that the Victorians’ achieved fantastic things that included the Great Exhibition and the Crystal Palace. All present could not but agree with his statement.

Peter Robinson
April 2014