Category:The Great Exhibition (1851)

From The Brighton Toy and Model Index
(Redirected from The Great Exhibition (1851))
Jump to navigationJump to search

The Great Exhibition

Nowadays the Great Exhibition is chiefly remembered for the Crystal Palace, the large glass and metal building designed by Joseph Paxton that was the public face of the exhibition, and created specially for it.

The Crystal Palace

Originally constructed in Hyde Park and then dismantled and moved to Sydenham, the Crystal Palace was a pioneering early example of a prefabricated or mass-produced building using a deliberately-restricted set of standardised and interchangeable parts. Essentially the Palace was a huge example of a Meccano-style metal building construction set, which allowed it to be put up in Hyde park very quickly, modified on-site to respond to undocumented quirks of the location (specifically the height and spread of some of the trees in the park), and then dismantled at the end of the exhibition and reassembled at a new location.

This modular approach to industrial design was not entirely new (and large greenhouses had obviously already made much use of repeated geometrical patterns in their designs), but the Crystal Palace took the modular and interchangeable theme to a new level, probably partly because the need to disassemble and reassemble the structure meant that it couldn't be guaranteed that the same pieces would end up at the same locations in the reassembled version of the Palace.

It's not always obvious from looking at older iron-frame buildings that appear to have duplicated structures how much of the "duplicated" framework is actually custom – for instance, when conservators scanned and computer-modelled Ironbridge, it was found that no two of the identical-looking spans were actually the same – the spaces had been measured individually one the ends of the bridge had been built, and the moulds had been adjusted for each span to produce a custom fit. With a building the size of Crystal Palace with its vast number of parts and the need to build it twice, this sort of individual "tweaking" of components wasn't an option.

Great Planners

Being a review of the events which led up to the Great Exhibition, and an appreciation of the Great and Noble Men who made this magnificent concept a reality.

Great Schemes, important innovations, are frequently attended at their inception by doubts, criticisms and petty obstructions; and none can have been more so than this Great Exhibition of 1851. Here was an idea, a concept, of unparalleled grandeur.

All the Great Nations of the World were to be gathered together in a friendly spirit of mutual admiration. To learn, each from the other, about their trades, crafts, industries and arts; it was to be, unlike Mr. Cobden’s airy peace proposals and unfortunate prophecies, a solid advance towards World Peace. Yet this wondrous scheme was assailed by every minor critic and by every major newspaper. It was deplored in the House and ignored in the country. Such is the national reaction to new ideas!

However, under the patronage of our beneficent Queen, and by the noble exertions of our Prince Consort, the Great Exhibition of Industry of All Nations has proved to be a glorious success. In retrospect, it is strange to think of the fears and alarms expressed on all sides during the mounting of the exhibition. For, despite such forbidding prophecies, the populace of London has not been eaten up, the Thames has not been set on fire and, except that the streets are full of people, there are no particular symptoms abroad. Indeed, in the important opening weeks – which we were assured would be fraught with every kind of imaginable danger – there were fewer accidents and riots than are experienced at a crush at one of the playhouses or notorious Bals Masques.

In the early stages of preparation, we remember persons going about asking “What good will come of it?” as if the answer lay in a monosyllable. If the Exhibition answered no other purpose than that of affording knowledge, that one thing would be sufficient: but in this annus mirabilis of 1851 we have a more complete and satisfying achievement. The Exhibition seems to use to have achieved everything its originators claimed for it. The small beginnings of the palace of wonders which now regales the assembled populace in Hyde Park were two private exhibitions held by a committee of the Society of Arts in 1845 and 1846. The secretary of the Society, Mr. Francis Wishaw, persuaded his friend, Mr. W.F. Cooke, to propose formally that the Society should forthwith hold a periodical National Exhibition of commerce, manufacture and the arts. This was adopted by the Society. At the annual visit of its President, Prince Albert, to present the Society’s prizes, the secretary took the opportunity to inform His Royal Highness of the resolution. The Prince Consort asked to see more plans when they were more fully matured.

A sub-committee of the Society was appointed, and it was suggested that Hyde Park would be an excellent site for a temporary building. Despite the munificence of Mr. Robert Stephenson, the distinguished engineer, who donated £1,000 to an Exhibition Fund, the manufacturers, whose goods were to have been displayed, were disinterested and actively hostile. Temporarily the attempt was abandoned, but it was then suggested that larger prizes should be offered. Mr Henry Cole, an Assistant Keeper at the Public Record Office, was introduced as a consultant. As a result of his inspiration and the hard work of the Society, the exhibition held in 1849, just two years ago, was a great success, and plans for a great national exhibition to be held in 1851 were revived.

But also two years ago, Mr. Cole visited the French National Exhibition at Paris and returned with a vision, a dream, of an International Exhibition. He went to the Palace and was received by Prince Albert, who immediately, and with intuitive sagacity, appreciated the value of such an Exhibition. Then and there, the noble scheme was launched on its journey.

The Society of Arts undertook to foster the Exhibition. It became obvious that a Royal Commission was necessary. While the Prince Consort approached the government, members of the Society ardently visited manufacturers to ascertain their reactions and enlist their support.

Gallantly, two contractors, the Messrs. Munday, agreed to provide all the needed funds and take the whole financial risk of the enterprise, no small contribution at this early and critical stage. However, on the third of January of last year the Royal Commission was appointed and the Society of Arts relieved of its responsibility. Under these circumstances Messrs. Munday agreed to withdraw. The Commission, as the reader will no doubt remember, included the Prime Minister and other noted politicians, amongst whom were Sir Robert Peel and Mr. W.E. Gladstone.

Although some measure of success had by this time attended the venture, problems, difficulties and setbacks began to flow in and, indeed, threaten to engulf the plans. The most trenchant opposition was encountered with regard to the site of the proposed Exhibition. All London, we well remember, was agog with this dispute, which stretched from the meanest alehouse to the House of Lords itself.

The Society of Arts had agreed that for such an important exhibition as this, Hyde Park was the evident choice. But there were many others who felt strongly and bitterly about what they were then willing to call the desecration of London’s most famous park. Reading the newspaper reports of a year ago, especially those of The Times, which carried out a most ardent and vociferous attack on the use of the park, is a highly curious and – may we say it? – humorous diversion in the light of subsequent events.

The learned and far-sighted editors threatened that Hyde Park would be turned into “the bivouac of all the vagabonds of London.” In the Commons, Colonel Charles L. Waldo Sibthorp, M.P., took it upon himself to become the champion of the anti-park party. In the Lords, Lord Brougham fulfilled a similar office. Typical of Colonel Sibthorpe’s unwavering opposition to the Exhibition is this example of his rhetoric: “As for the object for which Hyde Park is to be desecrated, it is the greatest trash, the greatest fraud, and the greatest imposition ever attempted to be palmed upon the people of this country.”

The great debate in the Commons followed two days after the death of the great Sir Robert Peel, and perhaps because of his unspoken support, or perhaps because of the Members’ good sense, the day was won and Hyde Park was accepted as the site for the showplace of the Nation.

The Royal Commission had invited entries for a competition for the design of the building of this first International Exhibition, and 233 were received. But the Commission recommended none for erection: Instead, they presented a plan of their own. This design was approved and a representation of it published in the Illustrated London News, a move which startled the public out of its complaisance. The design was quite evidently in no way suitable to the great occasion.

Meanwhile, fortunately, Mr. Joseph Paxton had heard from friends of his about the unsatisfactory nature of the Commission’s design and he commenced to develop an idea of his own, based on a glass and iron structure, such as, on a smaller scale, he had utilised in the lily-house he had built at Chatsworth. His design, when completed, was sent with Mr. Robert Stephenson’s support before the Royal Commission: but whilst they were still considering, Mr. Paxton took the daring step of appealing to the country direct through the Illustrated London News. His design was received in most quarters with enthusiasm and the Royal Commission at last adopted it. Then, it was termed by critics “Mr Paxton’s cucumber frame;” this year, at the opening, we found The Times retracting its own words and recounting that “It hardly seemed to be put together by design or to be the work of human artificers.”

Now it became a question of time. Could Paxton’s “Crystal Palace” be ready for the planned opening?

Building was started on September 27th and the wondrous fairy palace was miraculously complete by the first of February!

To-day, as the Exhibition draws to its close, it is fitting that were remember these few great men, among whom it would be invidious to enumerate more than His Royal Highness and Mr. Cole, who with untiring exertion, laboured to overcome prejudice, lack of imagination and ignorance. After a Gallant struggle, our noble and talented Prince Consort, together with his fine band of helpers, thus brought to a triumphant and glorious conclusion their visionary plan.

— , -, , Great Exhibition guidebook, , 1851

External links


This category currently contains no pages or media.