Wednesday, April 27, 2011

May 1, 1851 --- To the Crystal Palace

With a flourish of trumpets, "The Great Exhibition of The Works of Industry of All Nations" opens in Hyde Park. Designed to give "a living picture of the point of development at which the whole of mankind has arrived," the Exhibition is the brainchild of Prince Albert. On display are examples of industry and craftsmanship from around the world, from awesome new locomotives to a steam-powered hammer that can crush stone or crack your morning egg, all - in the words of the official program - "pregnant with incalculable benefits for all classes of humanity."

The greatest single attraction, however, proves to be the sprawling edifice housing it all, the spectacular Crystal Palace. When Exhibition organizers first proposed a massive brick structure in Hyde Park, the outrage was immediate. Enter Joseph Paxton, chief gardener for the Duke of Devonshire, who designed, in effect, a huge greenhouse. Erected in four months, the "Palace" is 1800 feet long by 400 feet wide with a transept towering some 100 feet; large enough to encompass several huge trees which it was deemed impolitic to remove. The finished product is stunning: the dyspeptic Ruskin is one of few fault-finders, calling it a "cucumber frame between two chimneys," the late-Victorian arts-and-craftsman William Morris - then just 17 - found it "wonderfully ugly" and Disraeli labeled it "an enchanted pile."

Charlotte Bronte commented on the well-behaved crowds, "The day I was there, not one loud noise was to be heard ... The living tide rolls on quietly, with a deep hum like the sea heard from a distance." On opening day, the Queen confides in her journal that her first sight of the "Palace" produced "a sensation I shall never forget." She adds graciously that the day belongs to "My beloved husband the creator of this great 'Peace Festival'...A day to live forever. God bless my dearest Albert, and my dear Country which has shown itself so great today."

The Exhibition closed in mid-October having made a profit of £86,000. Six million people attended, 14% of whom made use of something new to London - the pay toilet. The final report from the Commissioners suggested that such facilities be more commonplace in the great city to alleviate "the sufferings which must be endured by all, but more especially by females, on account of the want of them."

No comments:

Post a Comment