Wednesday, June 29, 2011

July 4, 1850 --- Col. Sibthorp's Defeat

The proposed Great Exhibition survives a showdown vote in the House of Commons.

Plans for the elaborate "Crystal Palace," three times as long as St. Paul's, to be built in Hyde Park had been leaked to the Press and drew immediate fire. Prince Albert, the force behind the whole effort, bears the brunt of the attacks. In Punch for example: "
Albert! Spare those trees, Mind where you fix your show;
For mercy's sake, don't please, Go spoiling Rotten-Row.

The anti-Exhibition effort is led by Col. Charles Sibthorp, in Dickens' opinion - "quite unintentionally, the most amusing person in the House." His antics are regularly noted in Punch under the heading - "Our Gallant Colonel." Opposed to all change or improvement - he disapproved of indoor plumbing - Sibthorp leads the effort to block any use of Hyde Park. His typically intemperate speech is interrupted as much by jeers as
cheers. He calls the Exhibition "the greatest trash, the greatest fraud, the greatest imposition ever attempted to be palmed upon the people of this country." It would attract "all the bad characters at present scattered over the country" and, worse, London will be invaded by foreigners, all speaking gibberish and carrying stilettos. He concludes by warning all the West End to lock away their silver, and their women too, while they're at it!

By now, the good Prince is frantic. Enter the Prime Minister, Lord Russell who argues it is too late to tamper with "deeply matured arrangements." Sibthorp's motion is voted down 166-46. It's not the first clash for the Colonel and the Royal Family. In 1840, prior to the royal wedding, he fought to cut the proposed annuity for Prince Albert, leading the Queen to vow never to set foot in Lincoln as long as Sibthorp was the city's M.P.

The colonel retained his detestation for the Crystal Palace. When, after the Exhibition, the Palace was disassembled and relocated in Sydenham, Sibthorp bellowed, "I consider it a duty to my fellow-creatures not to go into the place. The very sight of it almost sickens me."

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