The Great Exhibition–Inside the Crystal Palace
Let’s return to 1851 and the Crystal Palace, shall we?
A short walk from the [Victoria & Albert Museum] is Hyde Park, the original site of the Crystal Palace. The Crystal Palace was 563 metres long, 139 metres wide and over 30 metres high. Pre-fabricated parts meant the building went up in only 22 weeks. Work started in August 1850. First, the whole site was enclosed with hoardings. Trenches were dug, then the concrete foundation was laid. Underground iron pipes formed the base for the columns.
By the end of October, workmen were raising 200 columns a week. At the same time, girders were added to support the galleries and roof. The most difficult part of the job was hoisting the main ribs for the transept roof. All 16 were fixed in one week. The height of the roof was designed to leave the trees undisturbed. The roof for the main part of the building was added. Glazing wagons ran in grooves in the gutters, and in one week 80 men put in over 18,000 panes of glass. The boards from the hoardings were used to make the floor. The interior was painted red, yellow and blue.
“First sketch for the Great Exhibition Building by Sir Joseph Paxton. Museum no. E.575-1985.
First sketch for the Great Exhibition Building showing two elevation sketches of the
building with an attached telegraphic despatch or telegram below dated 15th July, 1850.”
“The Transept of The Crystal Palace, 1851 by Louis Haghe. Museum no. CIS 19604. The interior of the transept of The Great Exhibition of Crystal Palace of 1851, showing a vast exhibition area with large trees, surrounded by a wrought iron gate. On the ground floor is a large number of people, men, women and children, in dress of the period looking at sculptures of classical figures, satyrs, angels, and taking tea and being served refreshement by waiters.”
1 May 1851
This day is one of the greatest and most glorious of our lives… It is a day which makes my heart swell with thankfulness… The Park presented a wonderful spectacle, crowds streaming through it, – carriages and troops passing… The Green Park and Hyde Park were one mass of densely crowded human beings, in the highest good humour… before we neared the Crystal Palace, the sun shone and gleamed upon the gigantic edifice, upon which the flags of every nation were flying… The sight as we came to the centre where the steps and chair (on which I did not sit) was placed, facing the beautiful crystal fountain was magic and impressive. The tremendous cheering, the joy expressed in every face, the vastness of the building, with all its decoration and exhibits, the sound of the organ… all this was indeed moving.
From the Journal of Queen Victoria
From Victoria & Albert, 2001, A&E Television Networks & British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
Transept of the Crystal Palace. (Getty Images)