Great Exhibition

Construction in iron and glass

Photograph of the interior view of Crystal Palace at Sydenham 1872

Photographer: H.N. King.
Copyright: RIBA Library Photographs Collection


The interior of Crystal Palace reveals how its designer, Joseph Paxton, had previously designed and built glasshouses. As Head Gardener at Chatsworth in Derbyshire he designed the Lily House (1849-50), the arched panel of which acted as the model for the basic exterior unit of Crystal Palace.

Construction of the iron and glass building began in August 1850, following a period of fundraising. Although the exhibition had royal support it did not receive government funding. Private subscriptions were sought instead, a popular type of financing scheme used in the Victorian Age.

The colossal structure covering almost 19 acres was built by Fox and Henderson & Co. in just nine months. Building components came from all over the United Kingdom, including cast iron girders and columns from Dudley (which doubled as rainwater pipes), and over 300,000 panes of glass produced in Birmingham.

Relocation to Sydenham

This photograph shows Paxton’s masterpiece in Sydenham, south London. The venue of Hyde Park was always intended as temporary, however due to the building’s success Crystal Palace was moved and re-erected on top of Sydenham Hill in 1854. Under Paxton’s supervision many alterations were made to the structure. There it remained as a cultural centre for south London until fire destroyed the building on 30 November 1936.