About the Crystal Palace

The Sydenham Crystal Palace was opened in 1854 as a ‘museum to receive, instruct, amuse and interest’. It was owned by a group of speculators calling themselves the Crystal Palace Company. The Crystal Palace had originally been in Hyde Park and was built for the Great Exhibition of 1851. After that finished, there was great public outcry about what should happen to the building (not unlike recent controversy about the Millenium Dome, now the O2 Arena). Like the Millenium Dome, the eventual decision was to sell to private enterprise. The Crystal Palace Company reassembled the Palace (bigger and better) in South London. They wanted it to be a museum of the world: in the park you could see dinosaurs in the lake (they’re still there today) and inside exhibitions of the history of industry, the flora and fauna of the Empire and the great art of past civilisations. These past civilisations were all gathered together in the Fine Arts Courts and the Pompeii Court was a part of this. The real interest of all the Fine Arts Courts for us though, is that none of the exhibits were ‘real’: they were all reproductions, casts and models. The Company thought that these replicas would be the best way to bring together the world’s knowledge for the poor who couldn’t travel the world to see these things for themselves and that their reconstructed models would offer a much better insight into the past than the sad ruins of the real monuments.

Creating an attraction that worked equally as a profitable entertainment and education centre was a central tenet of the Crystal Palace ethos. The Palace tried to cater for a diverse audience with fine dining for the gentry and beer tents for the workers. In the building, the different classes were supposed to mingle as they appreciated the fine arts. Some people, like Lady Eastlake, were pleasantly surprised at the behaviour of the working class attendees, others, particularly the clergy, were outraged that the working classes might be spending their Sundays drinking beer and ogling naked Greek and Roman statues.

2 Responses to “About the Crystal Palace”

  1. Maggie Secara Says:

    “the clergy, were outraged that the working classes might be spending their Sundays drinking beer and ogling naked Greek and Roman statues.” Which is why, of course, the Palace was closed on Sundays.

    I have a number of books on the Crystal Palace, some with wonderful amounts of detail. But I can’t seem to find their operating hours. Was it open in the evenings? Closed on Christmas Day? I’m currently writing a novel that takes place in and around the Sydenam site, and I like to be accurate about these things, if they’re known.

  2. Shelley Hales Says:

    Hi again Maggie,

    I suspect that most authors are hedging their best on the basis that the opening times changed so often during the Palace’s long career. As for Sundays, there was a long debate played out across the press about Sunday opening and there was a series of public meetings of London workers to lobby for it. Eventually it did open on Sundays. Off the top of my head I don’t know the daily hours though it seems likely that these fluctuated over time and seasonally too – I will look into it.

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