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The Crystal Palace, Sydenham Hill and Hyde Park, London

See Also - The Albert Palace, Battersea


The Crystal palace at Sydenham Hill after 1854

Above - The Crystal palace at Sydenham Hill after 1854


Cutting from 'The Builder' August 7th 1852Beyond the High Street the main Beckenham Road leads to Penge and the Crystal Palace Grounds. Until the middle of the last century the urban district of Penge, which includes Anerley and a part of Upper Norwood, was a rural hamlet famous for its woods and fine trees. In those days people came here who wanted to live right out in the country, but after the removal of the Crystal Palace to this district from Hyde Park in 1854, and the opening of the railway from London Bridge Station, it became a popular residential suburb. The principal shops are situated on the main Beckenham Road, leading up to the southern entrance to the Crystal Palace grounds, and in Anerley Road.

Right - Cutting from 'The Builder' August 7th 1852

The Crystal Palace, constructed mainly of glass and iron, was originally the home of the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park. Designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, it was then intended merely as a temporary building, but a very general desire on the part of the general public to preserve the Crystal Palace on its original site found expression in two public meetings held in April 1852, and later at a crowded meeting held at Exeter Hall, at which the Earl of Shaftesbury took the Chair. Certain alterations and extensions were then proposed by Sir Joseph Cutting from 'The Builder' August 7th 1852Paxton, with a view to converting it into a winter garden and adapting it to other scientific purposes. Finally the building was purchased by a private company, who re-erected it on its present site at Sydenham Hill. The first pillar was erected there on Thursday, 5 August 1852, by Mr Samuel Laing, and the building was opened on 10 June 1854 by Queen Victoria.


Arthur Lloyd is known to have performed at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham in 1867 1888

From Punch, July 7th 1888. Click to go to Arthur Lloyd's biographyErected at a total cost Of £1,500,000, the Crystal. Palace was without doubt the most magnificent and costly building of its particular kind that has ever been built; the upkeep of it has cost as much as £60,000 a year. The main building, exclusive of wings and colonnades, was 1,850 feet long, and was composed of 9,642 tons of iron and twenty-five acres of,' glass. When the Crystal Palace was removed to Sydenham the central transept was made much higher, and the north and south transepts and the two towers were added. The towers were each 282. feet high, Or 77 feet higher than the Monument and 107 feet higher than Nelson's column in Trafalgar Square. When erected in 1856 these towers were considered a most extraordinary engineering feat, but the first attempt to construct them proved a failure and involved the company in a great loss. When all but completed they were found to be insecure, and would neither carry the weight intended for them nor sustain the vibratory shock of the ascending and descending water, and therefore they had to be pulled down again. The fountains used to rise to a height of two hundred feet, and surpassed those of Versailles.

Cutting from 'The Builder' October 9th 1852Before the first World War the Crystal Palace, like so many other undertakings of this kind, was in danger of insolvency and public subscriptions were raised for it. Largely as a result of the efforts of the Earl of Plymouth the palace became the property of the nation in June 1920 The Festival of Empire Exhibition of 1911 was held in the grounds of the Crystal Palace, and in 1914 it was taken by the Admiralty as a recruiting and training centre for the Royal Naval Volunteers and other units. Here over 125,000 men were trained, and at the conclusion of that war the building was utilized as one of the great centres for demobilization.

Left - Cutting from 'The Builder' October 9th 1852

Sir George Grove and Sir August Manns did much to foster good music at the Crystal Palace, and from 1857 onwards the Triennial Handel Festival was held in the central transept. The palace was a great attraction at holiday time, and was also a centre for Dog Shows, Brass Band Contests, and various exhibitions. Amongst its permanent attractions were a cinema, a weekly programme of dirt-track cycling, and on Thursdays during the summer months a display of fireworks. Before the opening of the Wembley Stadium the Cup Final was played here.

Unhappily the Crystal Palace was destroyed on the night of 1 December 1936 in the most spectacular fire seen in Britain for many years. (See image below) This started about eight o'clock in the evening near the Egyptian Room and spread with such amazing rapidity that within half an hour the great building was ablaze from end to end. Only the two towers escaped destruction. Ninety engines and five hundred firemen were engaged in flighting the flames, which rose to a height of three hundred feet. The cause of the fire was never discovered. Only the two towers escaped destruction but these were taken down in 1941 because they afforded a conspicuous landmark to enemy planes. The site has long since been cleared of its ruins and the trustees of the Crystal Palace have lately sold the estate to the London County Council who will restore the ground & and eventually erect a new permanent building.

The grounds cover an area of two hundred acres and were laid out with terraces, flower beds, and boating-lakes, and considered a fine example of landscape gardening. During the second World War they were requisitioned for the armed forces and have since reverted to a wild state, but the scenery is very pleasant.

The Palace on the day after the fire in December, 1936There is a beautiful sheet of water flanked by woods where fishing is permitted. The grounds were partly re-opened to the public in 1948.

Right - The remains of Crystal Palace after the fire of 1st December 1936

Text and images from 'The Face Of London' by Harold P. Clunn 1956

For the latest news on Crystal Palace Park and the various attempts to build on the site of the Crystal Palace see the Website of the Crystal Palace Campaign.