The Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, from the north east ( pub. Dickinson Bros 1852)
1886 engraving from Cornelius Brown's book, True Stories of the Reign of Queen Victoria
It was a fairytale place surrounded by gardens, fountains, amusements, a maze, and many statues, including 33 life-size images of prehistoric dinosaurs and extinct creatures, and flanked by two giant water towers to supply the many fountains. There were concerts and exhibitions, a menagerie and firework displays, and popular entertainments.
The dinosaurs survive today and are very popular. They were moulded in concrete by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, a natural history artist who had worked on the 1851 Exhibition, and were based on scientific knowledge of the time. They are now Grade I listed and undergoing a full conservation programme (and see cpdinosaurs.org)
One late Victorian writer remembers the Park's glories from his childhood, including the living animals on display:
" Several following years of early childhood were spent at Norwood, with the Crystal Palace an entrancing playground. In the early 'seventies the place was rich with the scent of the beds for tropical vegetation, stale buns, and new paint; and in the more rapturous end - where the parrots were kept - came unmistakable gusts and shrieks from the monkey-house, entrancing to the infantile mind, but deemed unhealthy and too exciting by parents and governess alike. "
Pop-up Christmas card, Benjamin Sulman 1873 © the Crystal Palace Foundation
" The Crystal Palace was at that time a paradise for children and one of the most comprehensive art museums in the world (this I knew later); it was also the home of music in England of that decade, with daily concerts, a small local opera, crashing brass bands, great Saturday classical concerts, and huge Handel Festivals. The place was not only an appeal to the imagination, from the toy stalls to great intimidating groups of statuary, it was a world full of sound. The loud strains of a symphony might burst from the closed concert-room, interrupting the musical whiz and purring of a top spun by a toy-stall assistant; simultaneously would come the scarlet cries of a cockatoo and the persistent cadences of a popular valse played by a mechanical piano, and, most delightful of all, the tinny sounds of clockwork toys, which moved if a penny were dropped into them by an indulgent elder. Thereupon glass waterfalls would trickle in landscapes of Virginian cork; whilst a train, with cotton-wool smoke, darted over a Lilliputian bridge, and small Swiss peasants valsed, all too briefly, to the sound of a tired musical box."
Self Portrait Charles Ricketts, 1866-1931
The grand May opening by Queen Victoria was delayed
until June, but this Stevens' silk commemorative
bookmark is part of the Crystal Palace Foundation's
museum collection. © Crystal Palace Foundation