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The Crystal Palace, Sydenham Hill and Hyde Park, London

Arthur Lloyd at The Crystal Palace

See Also - The Albert Palace, Battersea


The New Crystal Palace at Sydenham - From the Illustrated London News 21st of August 1852

Above - The New Crystal Palace at Sydenham - From the Illustrated London News, 21st of August 1852


A Postcard showing the Crystal Palace at Sydenham.Beyond 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.

Right - A Postcard showing the Crystal Palace at Sydenham.

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.

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 Paxton, 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.

A Postcard showing the Crystal Palace at Sydenham.Erected 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.

Left - A Postcard showing the Crystal Palace at Sydenham.

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...


The site of the original location of the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park - Courtesy B.F. 2011.

Above - The site of the original location of the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park - Courtesy B.F. 2011.


The Crystal palace at Sydenham Hill after 1854...Before 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.

Right - The Crystal palace at Sydenham Hill after 1854 - From 'The Face Of London' by Harold P. Clunn 1956.

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 Palace on the day after the fire in December, 1936The 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.

There is a beautiful sheet of water flanked by woods where fishing is permitted. The grounds were partly re-opened to the public in 1948.

Left - The remains of Crystal Palace after the fire of 1st December 1936 - From 'The Face Of London' by Harold P. Clunn 1956.

The above Text is 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.


Arthur Lloyd at the Crystal Palace

Arthur Lloyd is known to have performed at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham in 1867 and 1888. A piece in the ERA of the 21st of July 1867, kindly transcribed by Martin Hitchcock reads:-

The Crystal Palace Sydenham


Here a great many celebrities of the Music Halls, sang inside the Hall and joked outside with the public, to their intense amusement. All kinds of practical fun was going on here, and on the "Parade," if the term may be applied to the Hall of Momus, every one tried their hardest to propitiate the visitors.

There was Mr Arthur Lloyd playing the clarinet in the most distracting manner, Mr F. French in a gorgeous suit, bound with the Belgian colours, the Great Vance, and many other shining stars, of the comic singing brotherhood. At one time the well-dressed crowd in the front, had a wig hurled at them, with a request from one of the paraders to note the reality of the hair, and larking was the rule in this department of the general exhibition.

The public were indulged with two songs for their shilling, and Mr W. T. Critchfields "I've a soft place in my head" otherwise the song of a thoroughbred yokel — and Mr George Leybourne's "Champagne Charlie," seemed to be the fairest possible exchange, for the price of admission.

The time we attended the Hall of Momus, some gentleman threw in an imitation of Mr Buckstone. The following singers gave their valuable services:-- The Great Vance, Arthur Lloyd, Jolly Nash, W. Randall, W. Lingard, Fred French, W.R. Jusan, Fred Laroche, Robert Fraser, W.H Barry, G.W.Ross, W.T.Critchfield, Mrs W.Randall, Miss Dunning, Miss Seagrave, Accompanists, Messrs. J.Caulfield, J.W.Handley, Cornelius C.Smith.

The above Transcription is from the ERA, 21st of July 1867, and was kindly sent in by Martin Hitchcock whose great great grandparents were Frederick and Madame Laroche, mentioned in the piece, and who also toured with Arthur Lloyd for two years.