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    Report of meeting held
    on Thursday, 18th March 2010

image of March 2010 poster

A talk with slides (mainly from the archives of the London Illustrated News)

“The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry” was the first international exhibition of manufactured goods and was based on French national exhibitions which were hugely successful.

It was Prince Albert’s project. He persuaded the government to set up a royal commission to oversee the setting up of the exhibition. The commission first met on 11 Jan 1850, with the opening date set as 1 May 1851. The site decided upon was Hyde Park – turned down were part of Somerset House and Leicester Square.
The government refused financing (country couldn’t afford it), private subscriptions would have to be the way to go. £230,000 was underwritten by the commissioners and others and all expenses, apart from policing and the like, would have to come from exhibition funds.

245 plans were submitted, all rejected. Lots of objections to the site, loss of space, fresh air. Also the elm trees had to remain.

With 10 months to go before the opening date, no progress had been made apart from deciding the site.

Joseph Paxton, who had become head gardener at Kew by the age of 23, and had designed the greenhouse there met Henry Cole whilst visiting London. Cole asked why Paxton had not submitted any plans. In response to this Paxton produced 5 plans in 9 days and on 26 July 1850 one of these was accepted. The building would be constructed of steel and glass and was basically a giant greenhouse made from interchangeable pieces. Moreover it was designed so that the elm trees fitted inside.
It was to be built as a temporary structure.

2000+ labourers were employed to construct what was now generally known as “The Crystal Palace”

During construction 100,000 people per day turned up to watch.

When completed the building was 1848 feet long and 408 feet wide, six times the area of St Paul’s Cathedral. 4000 tons of iron and 900,000 feet of glass were used, with 202 miles of bars holding the whole thing together.

The building was ready on time and within budget. Admission tickets had been sold in advance and on the opening day, the scheme was already in profit. Some of this cash was used to buy land in South Kensington where several museums were built, including the forerunner of the present V & A. The Albert Hall and Exhibition Way followed.

The exhibition, which ran until 15 October 1851,had 17,000 exhibitors (from all of the main countries of the world, with the exception of China, who refused to send anything), and 6 million paying visitors. With the exception of the Prussians, no heads of state or royalty attended – fears of a glass building collapsing or cracking kept them away!

The Crystal Palace was dismantled when the exhibition finished and was relocated and rebuilt at Sydenham in South London. That area then became known as Crystal Palace. The structure became a great tourist attraction until destroyed by an accidental fire in 1936.


Report written by Stan Dynne.

Last Revised: 29-Mar-2010

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