The Crystal Palace, not to be confused with the London football team of the same name, is a grand cast iron and plate glass architectural masterpiece that has a place in the history of London over the past 160 years. While the building was originally built in Hyde Park and gave the name to the area of South London where it was moved after the Great Exhibition for which it was originally erected in 1851.
When it moved to its permanent home in Sydenham Hill, the Crystal Palace was greatly enlarged and set in a landscaped park. However, it was subject to a series of unfortunate events that brought the great building low and left it in a state of dereliction.
Hyde Park beginnings
Like the Eiffel Tower in Paris and many other structures around Europe, the Victorian era’s World Fairs saw the development of the Crystal Palace as a centre to show off all that was great about Britain and its industrial creativity.
Designed by Sir Joseph Paxton to show off the latest technology developed in the Industrial Revolution, the grand structure used the newly invented cast plate glass method for making window panes and resulted in a truly impressive structure made almost entirely from iron and glass.
The Expo took place between May and October 1851 and saw the Crystal Palace offer a temporary home to some of the world’s greatest treasures. The Koh-i-Noor diamond, the world’s biggest diamond at that time, was exhibited alongside 8th century jewellery and gold and silver enamelled handicrafts from Sindh in what is now Pakistan.
Alongside these treasures were some of the greatest technological advances of the time including some of Samuel Colt’s earliest firearms and some of the earliest public conveniences for which visitors to the Expo were charged one penny per visit.
The big move
After the close of the Great Exhibition, the Crystal Palace was carefully dismantled and taken piece by piece to Sydenham Hill where it was reconstructed in a form that was even bigger than the grand building that stood in Hyde Park. Completely rebuilt by 1854, Queen Victoria herself presided over the re-opening of the permanent exhibition centre so large that it straddled the border between Surrey and Kent.
Through the latter part of the 19thcentury, the centre saw a great many ground-breaking exhibitions and conferences including the world’s first ever aeronautical exhibition and the first national motor show
.Sadly, the Palace eventually fell into decline. The enormous costs of the initial build and later move of the structure to Sydenham Hill saddled the construction and management company with debts it could never clear. As the building fell into disrepair, catastrophe struck when a small office fire turned into a roaring inferno that even 400 firemen could not contain. The Crystal Palace was destroyed by fire on 30 November 1936 and has lain in ruin ever since.
Looking to the future
Through the 20th century a number of plans have been proposed to redevelop the site where the Palace stood. Crystal Palace Football Club, which obviously has a strong connection to the area, has put forward a plan to move there and build a new 40,000 seater stadium. However, those plans have been thrown into doubt this year by an announcement in the summer that a Chinese development company has entered talks with the London Mayor to redevelop the Crystal Palace itself along with regeneration of the park.
The Crystal Palace site and the park in which it stands are full of local history and plans for the future. Whatever ends up taking the place of the long-demolished Palace itself, the history of the Crystal Palace will remain.