The Crystal Palace
Architect: Joseph Paxton (1851)
Engraving: from The Builder, vol. 12, 1854 June 10, p. 307
Source: RIBA British Architectural Library
The Great Exhibition (1851) was the spectacle of the century. Open for just five months, in that short time over six million people visited, thanks to the railways. And they came not just to wonder at the fabulous array of objects from around the world, but at the building itself.
With its acres of glass, it’s not surprising that the building’s designer, Joseph Paxton (1801-65), was best known for his conservatory designs. But this was a greenhouse on an unprecedented scale, a cathedral of glass. Indeed, sections were named after cathedral architecture: for example, the cross wings were called transepts. It was completely prefabricated; its glass and cast iron were factory-made in the Midlands and the North. In less than eleven months the designs were approved and the building completed, over 560 metres long, 120 metres wide and 33 metres high.
This image dates from 1854, after the Crystal Palace had been re-erected at Sydenham, and used to display a mixture of ancient and exotic art, along with botanical specimens from around the world. No longer in Hyde Park, it was still easily accessible by railway, becoming a popular day trip destination, as this engraving depicts.