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The Great Exhibition—The Crystal Palace

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Over the next several months, I’m going to take some time to share details and tidbits I’ve learned while researching the era and events of 1851 for the Great Exhibition series. Mostly, it’s a chance to share all the wonderful pictures I’ve been collecting over the past couple of years.

So, let’s start with the Crystal Palace.

As we learned in the scavenger hunt over the weekend . . .

After reviewing and rejecting dozens of potential designs for the building to house his exhibition, Prince Albert had all but given up. But then he received a rough sketch on a scrap of paper from Joseph Paxton, the man who had designed the state-of-the-art greenhouses at Chatsworth. Prince Albert not only liked the innovative design, but appreciated the fact that the greenhouse design would allow them to build around the existing ancient elms and oaks in Hyde Park instead of cutting them down. Because of its glass-and-iron construction the building came to be known as the Crystal Palace.

Exterior view of the Crystal Palace from Dickinson’s Comprehensive Pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851 (published 1854).

Construction on the Crystal Palace began in August 1850 and was predominantly finished in January 1851. “All these Commissioners and the Executive Committee etc. who had worked so hard and to whom such immense praise is due, seemed truly happy, and no one more so than Paxton, who may feel justly proud. He rose from an ordinary gardener’s boy! Everyone was astounded and delighted” (Queen Victoria).

Half front/half back elevation and partial floor plan
drawn by Joseph Paxton

The Crystal Palace was enormous, covering over 830,000 square feet—about 1,850 feet long and 450 feet wide, with the majestic glass transept in the center soaring about 100 feet (about ten stories) into the sky. “The impression when you get inside is of bewilderment. It looks like a sort of fairyland. Far as you can look in any direction, you see nothing but pillars hung about with shawls, carpets, canopies…” (Lewis Carroll).

Image from

  1. Rheta Ellis permalink
    Tuesday, September 11, 2012 10:19 pm

    Dear Kaye,

    Hi I think that the drawings are amazing!And that they could build they way the did with what they had.Without the big lifting machines that we have now.They were quite impressive.I hope you have put some mention of the building in the book a bit, that way the readers can see it in their mind’s eye.Thanks for putting it on the blog.

    Rheta Ellis


  2. Tuesday, September 11, 2012 11:45 pm

    I am looking forward to reading more about your research. Very interesting!


  3. debraemarvin permalink
    Wednesday, September 12, 2012 5:38 am

    I’m looking forward to more, also. Learning where it was (what footprint if any is left), and how you incorporate details into your stories. I’ve recently learned a bit about the grand ‘fair’ in Buffalo NY for their centennial – the site of Wm McKinley’s assassination. I think it’s just as interesting to be where it ‘used to be’ and let the imagination run.

    That was the Pan-American Exposition in 1901 I think….
    I really enjoyed the Scavenger Hunt, Kaye.


  4. Thursday, September 13, 2012 11:35 am

    What a wonderful post, I love the pictures they are awesome. Thank you for sharing. God bless you.

    Glenda Parker



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