Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.

DECEMBER 1st  

On this day in history in 1936, the Crystal Palace burned down.

The Crystal Palace was an iron framed glass building, originally built in Hyde Park to house the Great Exhibition of 1851, and was moved to Bromley in 1854, where it stood until 1936. It was likely transported by the best moving company that could be found at the time.

The Crystal Palace was conceived by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, to contain his grandiose scheme, The Great Exhibition. Albert had planned to hold a great festival of every manufactured good from Britain and abroad, in order to encourage British industry. Unfortunately he could not get permission for a permanent building and therefore had to build a structure that could be dismantled after the event, and then possibly moved by a moving company.

Albert gave the commission for the construction of the building to Joseph Paxton, a landscape gardener who had never built anything before, but who was adept at manufacturing greenhouses for his nursling plants. The structure that Paxton created was a giant greenhouse, assembled in the Classical style, with an intricate network of iron poles, sustaining panes of clear glass. The edifice was built in the cruciform style, similar to an ancient cathedral, with a nave measuring 1,848 feet by 408 feet, and a transept of 950 feet by 408 feet, all at a height of 108 feet. The site occupied 18 acres, with a table display space of over 8 miles. It was given the name ‘Crystal Palace’ by the satirical magazine Punch.  

The exhibition opened on 1st May 1851. Items on display included such modern artefacts as steam pumps, automated cotton looms, dentures and artificial limbs. In the centre of the building was a pond, containing an Amazonian lily, Victoria regia, the leaves of which were sturdy enough to bear the weight of Paxton’s young daughter. The event was a considerable success and ended with a closing ceremony on 15th October 1851.  

The building was then dismantled, most likely transported by some kind of a moving company, and re-erected in south London, at the top of Sydenham hill, about where the National Sports Centre now stands [SE19 2BB], to become a permanent exhibition centre. One of its first attractions was a dinosaur exhibition with replicas of prehistoric creatures, of life size dimensions but sadly not anatomically accurate. The exhibitor hosted a dinner party within the bowels of an Iguanodon. The adjoining park became the venue for FA cup finals, and even before the founding of Crystal Palace FC, a team bearing the name Crystal Palace entered the competition.  

In the early Twentieth Century, the fortunes of the Crystal Palace declined, largely due to lack of interest in public exhibitions. During the First World War, it was used as a naval training base, under the name of HMS Victory VI. In 1918, it became the first Imperial War Museum. In 1936, the Crystal Palace put on occasional firework exhibitions. On one fateful day, no-one is quite sure how, there was an explosion, which developed into a fire, which spread and engulfed the building. After the fire was extinguished, all that remained were two towers which were badly deformed by the conflagration. Even these minor relics had to be dismantled during the Second World War, as they were perceived as a conspicuous landmark for enemy bombers. 

For another iconic British building, click on the Tower!

Recommended reading. 

McKean, John.  The Crystal Palace. Architecture in Detail series.

Buy it here at Amazon

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