England / History / International

The Crystal Palace: Home to the Great Exhibition of 1851

Crystal Palace, Joseph Paxton, London, 1851

The Crystal Palace, London

As I had discussed in my post concerning suspension bridges from the nineteenth century, new materials were starting to gain popularity amongst construction of the newer architectural designs. In London, architects experimented with the implementation of a structure made entirely of iron and glass – the Crystal Palace.

It’s main function was to serve as the gathering point for a great world fair known presently as The Great Exhibition of 1851 – where countries from all over the world came to showcase their most prized products from their lands. It was conceived to symbolize the industrial, military, and economic sense of superiority felt by the British during the Industrial Revolution.


Joseph Paxton was not only a architect, but a master gardener (known for his work at the Chatsworth House). His idea for this grandiose palace of glass grew from his knowledge of a greenhouse. The plan of the structure shows entryways to the greenhouse where these massive arches and crux of the space is where people could circulate – there were displayed pavilions sent by various nations.

The rumor why the ceiling was curved was that there was a row of trees that had belonged to the Queen that people did not want to be destroyed. They were significantly tall elm trees that attracted some unwelcome guests – sparrows. Queen Victoria gather Sparrow-hawks to correct this nuisance.

One of the main historical points of the exhibition was the demonstration given by the United States. Britain was at this time, a great world power. As the industrial revolution made its way across to the US, it was becoming evident that they were moving at a faster pace.  When the United States was announced as the winner of the whole fair, it symbolized a symbolic passing of the torch.

The Crystal Palace was relocated after the six months of displaying The Great Exhibition of 1851 – it was modified and expanded in it’s new location and was used for other events (in example, the first cat show). However, although this edifice had great beauty and history attached to it, nothing could have prevented it’s destruction. In 1936 the Crystal Palace was to suffer from a catastrophic fire that had originated as a small fire, but rapidly spread by the dry wood flooring. The Crystal Palace has not been rebuilt but it was a devastation occurrence and will always be remembered for it’s world history and architectural advancements.

In a few hours we have seen the end of the Crystal Palace. Yet it will live in the memories not only of Englishmen, but the whole world” – Sir Henry Buckland

This is the end of an age” – Winston Churchill on the Crystal Palace fire

Crystal Palace, Madrid

Today, one building still stands today from the nineteenth century that was inspired by the Crystal Palace of London (1850s). It is also known as the Crystal Palace but is located if Madrid, Spain. It was designed in 1887 by Ricardo Velázquez Bosco and would function to house exotic plants Span has acquired from the Philippines. It is one of Spain’s greatest examples of iron and glass architecture and it gives a strong impression of what the Crystal Palace of London may have been like for an observer.

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