Little Bits of History

Crystal Palace

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 30, 2014
Crystal Palace burns

Crystal Palace burns

November 30, 1936: The Crystal Palace burns. The Crystal Palace was built in Hyde Park, London to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. The cast-iron and plate-glass building contained over 990,000 square feet of space and housed more than 14,000 exhibitors from around the world. Displayed within were examples of the latest technology developed during the Industrial Revolution. Sir Joseph Paxton designed the building which was 1,851 feet long with an interior height of 128 feet. Cast plate glass methodology had only been developed in 1848, making the building a marvel of its time. It was the most glass seen in one building up to that time and was astonishing to see. After the Great Exhibition, the building was rebuilt even larger at Penge Common next to Sydenham Hill with construction complete in 1854.

Playwright Douglas Jerrold wrote in the July 13, 1850 issue of Punch magazine about the proposed palace of very crystal and the oft repeated phrase became the name of the building which had not even been approved yet. The Crystal Palace’s construction began in July 1850. Timber used to rough in the building was eventually used for the flooring. More than 1,000 iron columns supported 2,224 trellis girders and 30 miles of guttering. There were 4,000 tonnes of iron in all. Up to 2,000 navvies worked on the building at any one time with over 5,000 employed during the entire construction period. After the transept was installed, a team of 80 glaziers placed more than 18,000 panes of glass in a week. The building was complete in just five months.

The Great Exhibition lasted only six months and the building was doomed to destruction. Instead, a group of eight businessmen formed a holding company and had the building moved. Construction of the new building began in 1852 and it was quite different from the original being even larger and grander. Queen Victoria held opening ceremonies in 1854. The original palace had cost £150,000 (about £14.3 million in today’s currency) and the move cost another £1.3 million (about £115 million today). The debt was never fully repaid even though the venue was opened on Sundays beginning in 1861. That first Sunday had 40,000 visitors. Three decades later, the popularity of the Palace as well as its state of disrepair led to its decline.

The board declared bankruptcy in 1911 and in 1914 the Earl of Plymouth purchased it. Eventually, the country bought it back and Sir Henry Buckland began the job of restoration. Visitors were coming back and the Palace made a small profit. Improvement continued. On this day, a fire started and within hours, the entire Palace had been destroyed. A small office fire had started after an explosion in the women’s cloakroom. Two men had attempted to put out the fire, but help was called. In all, 89 fire engines and over 400 firemen worked to put the blaze out, but high winds spread the fire and soon the Crystal Palace was no more.

In a few hours we have seen the end of the Crystal Palace. Yet it will live in the memories not only of Englishmen, but the whole world. – Henry Buckland

This is the end of an age. – Winston Churchill

One size of glass was chosen and this in turn determined the size of the repetitive units. Paxton’s prefabricated modular design enabled a low cost and quick build. – architecture.com

It stood to remind us that we did contribute something to the pioneer efforts of the Modern Movement – J.M. Richards

Also on this day: I’ll Take Television for $200, Alex – In 2004, Ken Jennings finally lost at Jeopardy! after winning over $2.5 million.
100 Miles Per Hour – In 1934, the Flying Scotsman reached a speed of 100 mph.
Lucy – In 1974, Australopithecus was discovered.
Penal Reform – In 1786, the death penalty was outlawed for the first time.

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