The Great Exhibition of 1851

Old and New London: Volume 5. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.

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'The Great Exhibition of 1851', in Old and New London: Volume 5, (London, 1878) pp. 28-39. British History Online [accessed 19 April 2024]

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"Anon, out of the earth a fabric huge
Rose like an exhalation."—Milton.

Previous Exhibitions of a somewhat similar Character—The Marquis d'Aveze's projected Exhibition—Various French Expositions—Competitive Exhibitions in England—Prince Albert's Proposal for holding an Industrial Exhibition of All Nations—His Royal Highness becomes Chairman of the Royal Commission—Banquet at the Mansion House—Lecturers and Agents sent all over the Country, to Explain the Objects of the Exhibition—Reception of Plans and Designs—Mr. Paxton's Design accepted—Realisation of one of the Earliest Poetical Dreams in the English Language—General Description of the Building—Opening of the Exhibition by Her Majesty—Number of Visitors—Removal of the Building—The National Albert Memorial.

That portion of Hyde Park, between Prince's Gate and the Serpentine, running parallel with the main road through Knightsbridge and Kensington, is memorable as having been the site of the great Industrial Exhibition of 1851, wherein were brought together, for the first time, under one spacious roof, for the purposes of competition, the various productions of the inventive genius and industry of nearly all the nations of the earth.

Before proceeding with a description of the building and an epitome of its principal contents, it may not be out of place to take a brief glance at some previous exhibitions of a similar character, which had been held in France, at various times, within the preceding hundred years. As far back as the year 1756—about the same time that our Royal Academy opened to the public its galleries of painting, engraving, and sculpture—the productions of art and skill were collected and displayed in London, for the purpose of stimulating public industry and inventiveness; and although these exhibitions were, to a certain extent, nothing more than would now be termed "bazaars," they were found to answer so successfully the ends for which they were instituted, that the plan was adopted in France, and there continued, with the happiest results, even long after it had been abandoned in England. When the first French Revolution was at its height, the Marquis d'Aveze projected an exhibition of tapestry and porcelain, as a means of raising funds for relieving the distress then existing among the workers in those trades. Before, however, he could complete his arrangements, he was denounced, and on the very day on which his exhibition was to have been opened, he was compelled to fly from the vengeance of the Directory. So firm a hold, however, had the idea taken on the public mind, that it was not allowed to die out. A few years afterwards, on his return to Paris, the marquis resumed his labours, and in 1798 actually succeeded in opening a National Exposition in the house and gardens of the Maison d'Orsay. The people flocked in great numbers to view the show, which altogether proved a complete success. In that same year, too, the French Government organised its first official Exposition of national manufacture and the works of industry. It was held on the Champ de Mars, in a building constructed for the purpose, called the Temple of Industry. Three years later a second Exposition took place, and more than two hundred exhibitors competed for the prizes offered for excellence. In the following year a third Exposition was held on the same spot, the number of exhibitors increasing to upwards of four hundred. So great was the success of these several shows, that out of them arose an institution similar to our Society of Arts, called the Société d'Encouragement, a society to which the working classes of France are largely indebted for the taste which they have acquired for the beautiful in art, and for the cultivation of science as a handmaid to industry. In 1806 the fourth French Exposition was held in a building erected in front of the Hôpital des Invalides; this was even more successful than its predecessors; for while the previous Expositions had each remained open only about a week, this one was kept open for twenty-four days, and was visited by many thousands of people. The number of exhibitors rose from about five hundred to nearly fifteen hundred, and nearly every department of French industry was represented. At different periods between the years 1819 and 1849, seven other Expositions were held in France, the last of which was restricted to national products. The Industrial Show of 1855, however, was, like our own Great Exhibition of 1851, international.

During all this time there had grown up in England exhibitions, consisting chiefly of agricultural implements and cattle, together with local exhibitions of arts and manufactures. In Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Dublin, and other great centres of industry, bazaars, after the French pattern, had been successfully held from time to time. The one which most nearly approached the idea of the French Exposition, in the variety and extent of the national productions displayed, was the Free Trade Bazaar, held for twelve days, in 1845, in Covent Garden Theatre—an exhibition which excited considerable public interest, and doubtless did much to make the London public acquainted with many arts and manufactures of which they had hitherto had but a very confused and imperfect knowledge.

Roused from their remissness by the success that had attended the various French Expositions, the English people, during the years 1847 and 1848, re-opened their exhibitions, chiefly at the instigation and by the aid of the Society of Arts, by whom the plan had been revived. So great was now the importance of these industrial displays, that they became a subject of national consideration; but it was felt that something more was necessary than France or England had as yet attempted to give them their proper development and effect.

At this point, an idea was entertained by the late Prince Consort of gathering together into one place the best specimens of contemporary art and skill, and the natural productions of every soil and climate, instead of the mere local or national productions of France and England. "It was to be a whole world of nature and art collected at the call of the queen of cities—a competition in which every country might have a place, and every variety of intellect its claim and chance of distinction. Nothing great, or beautiful, or useful, be its native home where it might; not a discovery or invention, however humble or obscure; not a candidate, however lowly his rank, but would obtain admission, and be estimated to the full amount of genuine worth. It was to be to the nineteenth what the tournament had been to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries—a challenge at once and welcome to all comers, and to which every land could send, not its brightest dame and bravest lance, as of yore, but its best produce and happiest device for the promotion of universal happiness and brotherhood." (fn. 1)

The undertaking received Her Majesty's royal sanction on the 3rd of January, 1850; on the 11th of the same month the Royal Commissioners held their first meeting; and on the 14th of February Prince Albert sat as Chairman of the Commission. On the 21st of March the Lord Mayor of London invited the mayors of nearly all the cities, boroughs, and towns of the United Kingdom to a banquet at the Mansion House to meet the Prince, and upon that occasion his Royal Highness lucidly explained the object of the proposed undertaking.


The Exhibition, it was announced, was to belong exclusively to the people themselves of every nation, instead of being supported and controlled by their respective governments; and in order that nothing might be wanting in its character as a great competitive trial, the sum of £20,000 was set apart for the expense of prizes, which were to be awarded to the successful competitors. At first, the real magnitude and the great difficulties of the project were not fully perceived; and the proposal was scarcely made public by the Society of Arts, of which Prince Albert was at the head, before impediments began to rise up in their way, and for more than a year they were beset with difficulties. At first, many manufacturers and merchants in foreign countries were exceedingly averse to the proposed Exhibition; but, as was the case with those at home, discussion and better information led to more enlightened views. Prince Albert, in his speech at a banquet held at York, said, in the name of the Royal Commission:—"Although we perceive in some countries an apprehension that the advantages to be derived from the Exhibition will be mainly reaped by England, and a consequent distrust in the effects of our scheme upon their own interests, we must, at the same time, freely and gratefully acknowledge, that our invitation has been received by all nations, with whom communication was possible, in that spirit of liberality and friendship in which it was tendered, and that they are making great exertions, and incurring great expenses, in order to meet our plans." Upon the same occasion, Lord Carlisle, one of the most enlightened men of the age, expressed a hope that "the promoters of this Exhibition were giving a new impulse to civilisation, and bestowing an additional reward upon industry, and supplying a fresh guarantee to the amity of nations. Yes, the nations were stirring at their call, but not as the trumpet sounds to battle; they were summoning them to the peaceful field of a nobler competition; not to build the superiority or predominance of one country on the depression and prostration of another, but where all might strive who could do most to embellish, improve, and elevate their common humanity."


At a meeting held in Birmingham, Mr. Cobden, in speaking of the advantages that might be expected to flow from this Exhibition, said, "We shall by that means break down the barriers that have separated the people of different nations, and witness one universal republic; the year 1851 will be a memorable one, indeed: it will witness a triumph of industry instead of a triumph of arms. We shall not witness the reception of the allied sovereigns after some fearful conflict, men bowing their heads in submission; but, instead, thousands and tens of thousands will cross the Channel, to whom we will give the right hand of fellowship, with the fullest conviction that war, rather than a national aggrandisement, has been the curse and the evil which has retarded the progress of liberty and of virtue; and we shall show to them that the people of England—not a section of them, but hundreds of thousands—are ready to sign a treaty of amity with all the nations on the face of the earth."

Lecturers and competent agents were now sent throughout the country to explain the objects of the Exhibition, and the advantages likely to arise from it; besides which, the subject had been proclaimed in every country far and wide—in fact, a challenge had been given, such as men had never heard, to an enterprise in which every nation might hope to be the victor. It was arranged that the great competition should be opened in London on the 1st of May, 1851; but as yet a place for the accommodation of the specimens and the spectators had to be erected. The directors of the Exhibition were for a time perplexed, for they found, on calculation, that no building on earth would be sufficiently large to contain a tithe of its contents. After many expedients had been proposed and rejected, Mr. (afterwards Sir Joseph) Paxton, the celebrated horticulturist at Chatsworth, came forward with a simple plan, which effectually solved all the difficulty.

The number of plans and designs sent in to the Committee appointed by the Royal Commission amounted to nearly two hundred and fifty, including several foreigners; but none of these appeared to be satisfactory. Accordingly, the Committee set to work and perfected a design for themselves, from the various suggestions afforded by the competing architects, adding, as a contribution "entirely their own," a dome of gigantic proportions. This dome at once became so unpopular with the public, and the contest about its site grew so fierce, that the whole scheme of the Exhibition seemed at one time likely to have collapsed. At "the eleventh hour," however, Mr. Paxton, as we have stated above, came forward with a plan, which he considered would meet all the requirements of the Committee, and avoid all the objections of the public. "It was not," said Mr. Paxton himself, at a meeting of the Derby Institute, "until one morning, when I was present with my friend, Mr. Ellis, at an early sitting in the House of Commons, that the idea of sending in a design occurred to me. A conversation took place between us, with reference to the construction of the new House of Commons, in the course of which I observed, that I was afraid they would also commit a blunder in the building for the Industrial Exhibition; I told him that I had a notion in my head, and that if he would accompany me to the Board of Trade I would ascertain whether it was too late to send in a design. I asked the Executive Committee whether they were so far committed to the plans as to be precluded from receiving another; the reply was, 'Certainly not; the specifications will be out in a fortnight,. but there is no reason why a clause should not be introduced, allowing of the reception of another design.' I said, 'Well, if you will introduce such a clause, I will go home, and, in nine days hence, I will bring you my plans all complete.' No doubt the Executive thought me a conceited fellow, and that what I had said was nearer akin to romance than to common sense. Well, this was on Friday, the 11th of June. From London I went to the Menai Straits, to see the third tube of the Britannia Bridge placed, and on my return to Derby I had to attend to some business at the Board Room, during which time, however, my whole mind was devoted to this project; and whilst the business proceeded, I sketched the outline of my design on a large sheet of blottingpaper. Well, having sketched this design, I sat up all night, until I had worked it out to my own satisfaction; and, by the aid of my friend Mr. Barlow, on the 15th, I was enabled to complete the whole of the plans by the Saturday following, on which day I left Rowsley for London. On arriving at the Derby station, I met Mr. Robert Stephenson, a member of the Building Committee, who was also on his way to the metropolis. Mr. Stephenson minutely examined the plans, and became thoroughly engrossed with them, until at length he exclaimed that the design was just the thing, and he only wished it had been submitted to the Committee in time. Mr. Stephenson, however, laid the plans before the Committee, and at first the idea was rather pooh-poohed; but the plans gradually grew in favour, and by publishing the design in the Illustrated London News, and showing the advantage of such an erection over one composed of fifteen millions of bricks and other materials, which would have to be removed at a great loss, the Committee did, in the end, reject the abortion of a child of their own, and unanimously recommended my bantling. I am bound to say that I have been treated by the Committee with great fairness. Mr. Brunel, the author of the great dome, I believe, was at first so wedded to his own plan that he would hardly look at mine. But Mr. Brunel was a gentleman and a man of fairness, and listened with every attention to all that could be urged in favour of my plans. As an instance of that gentleman's very creditable conduct, I will mention that a difficulty presented itself to the Committee as to what was to be done with the large trees, and it was gravely suggested that they should be walled in. I remarked that I could cover the trees without any difficulty; when Mr. Brunel asked, 'Do you know their height?' I acknowledged that I did not. On the following morning Mr. Brunel called at Devonshire House, and gave me the measurement of the trees, which he had taken early in the morning, adding—'Although I mean to try to win with my own plan, I will give you all the information I can.' Having given this preliminary explanation of the origin and execution of my design, I will pass over the question of merit, leaving that to be discussed and decided by others when the whole shall have been completed."

Notwithstanding that Sir Robert Peel and Prince Albert strongly favoured Mr. Paxton's scheme, it was at first but coldly received by the Building Committee, who still clung to their own plan. Nothing daunted, Mr. Paxton appealed to the British public; and this he did by the aid of the woodcuts and pages of the Illustrated London News. Everybody but the Committee was at once convinced of the practicability, simplicity, and beauty of Mr. Paxton's plan, which, in fact, was but a vast expansion of a conservatory design, built by him at Chatsworth for the flowering of the Victoria Lily. The people and the Prince were heartily with him; and, thus encouraged, Mr. Paxton resolved to make another effort with the Building Committee. It happened that the Committee had invited candidates for raising their edifice to suggest any improvements in it that might occur to them. This opened a crevice for the tender of Mr. Paxton's plan as an "improvement" on that of the Committee. After some discussion, the result was that the glazed "palace" was chosen unanimously, not only by the Building Committee, but by the Royal Commissioners also. Mr. Paxton's design, as everybody knows, was that of a huge building in the style of a garden conservatory, in which iron and glass should be almost the sole materials, wood being introduced only in the fittings. This method was at once adopted, and the result was a building in Hyde Park, nearly twice the breadth and fully four times the length of St. Paul's Cathedral. The edifice—which was appropriately called the "Crystal Palace"—covered nearly twenty acres of ground, and contained eight miles of tables. It was erected and finished in the short space of seven months. "With its iron framework, that rose towards the sky in dark slender lines, and its walls of glittering crystal, that seemed to float in mid-air like a vapour, it appeared, indeed, an exhalation which a breath of wind might disperse—a fata morgana that would disappear with a sudden shift of sunshine. But on looking more nearly it was seen to be a solid edifice, the iron pillars of which were rooted deep in the earth; while within the combination of light and lofty arches, with ribs forming a graceful metallic net-work, gave strength and security to the edifice." It is a curious fact that the edifice realised the conceptions of one of the earliest poetical dreams in the English language; and one would almost believe that when Chaucer, four centuries and a half ago, wrote the following lines in his "House of Fame," he was endowed with a prophetic as well as a poetic faculty:—

"I dreamt I was
Within a temple made of glass,
In which there were more images
Of gold standing in sundry stages,
In more rich tabernacles,
And with jewels, more pinnacles,
And more curious portraitures,
And quaint manner of figures
Of gold-work than I saw ever.
* * * * *
"Then saw I stand on either side
Straight down to the doors wide
From the daïs many a pillar
Of metal that shone out full clear.
* * * * *
"Then gan I look about and see
That there came ent'ring in the hall,
A right great company withal,
And that of sundry regions
Of all kinds of conditions,
That dwell in earth beneath the moon,
Poor and rich.
* * * * *
"Such a great congregation
Of folks as I saw roam about,
Some within and some without,
Was never seen or shall be more!"

The superintendence of the construction of the building was entrusted to Mr. (afterwards Sir) Matthew Digby Wyatt, and the construction itself was undertaken by Messrs. Fox, Henderson, and Co., of Birmingham. The ground-plan of the building was a parallelogram, 1,851 feet long—a fact worthy of mention, seeing that the number corresponds with the date of the year in which the Exhibition was held—by 456 feet wide in the broadest part, with a transept upwards of 400 feet long and 72 feet wide intersecting the building at right angles in the middle. The side walls rose in three stages: the outer wall rising from the ground twenty-four feet, the second twenty feet higher, and the third twenty feet higher still, or sixty-four feet from the bottom of its supporting pillars, giving within the building a great central avenue or nave seventytwo feet wide, and on each side of it three avenues twenty-four feet wide, and two of forty-eight feet; the transept, having a semi-circular roof, being 108 feet high, to give ample room for three or four trees in the Park which remained enclosed under it. The edifice was a trifle longer than Portland Place. "I walked out one evening," says Sir Charles Fox, "and there setting out the 1,848 feet upon the pavement, found it the same length within a few yards; and then considered that the Great Exhibition building would be three times the width of that fine street, and the nave as high as the houses on either side."

As no brick and mortar were used, and all the proportions of the building depended upon its iron pillars and girders, nearly all the materials arrived on the spot ready to be placed and secured in their destined positions. Yet vast operations were necessary even then in its construction, and called forth the most admirable display of scientific ingenuity, systematic arrangements, and great energy. Hardly any scaffolding was used, the columns, as they were set up, answering their purpose. Machines for performing all the preparatory operations required to be done on the spot were introduced in the building, and some of them invented for the occasion; such, for instance, as the sash-bar machine, gutter-machine, mortisingmachine, painting-machine, glazing-machine, and other ingenious contrivances for economising labour.

Throughout the progress of the building it was visited by many of the most distinguished persons in the country; and the contractors finding that the numbers who flocked to it impeded in some degree their operations, determined to make a charge of five shillings for admission, the proceeds of which were to constitute an accident-relief fund for the workmen. A very considerable sum was thus raised, though the number of accidents was very small, and the nature of the accidents not at all serious. During the months of December and January upwards of 2,000 persons were employed upon the building.

Whatever wonders the Exhibition was to contain, the building itself, when completed, was looked upon as the greatest wonder of all. Shortly before it was opened to the public, the Times observed that, "Not the least wonderful part of the Exhibition will be the edifice within which the specimens of the industry of all nations are to be collected. Its magnitude, the celerity with which it is to be constructed, and the materials of which it is to be composed, all combine to ensure for it a large share of that attention which the Exhibition is likely to attract, and to render its progress a matter of great public interest. A building designed to cover 753,984 superficial feet, and to have an exhibiting surface of about twenty-one acres, to be roofed in, and handed over to the Commissioners within little more than three months from its commencement; to be constructed almost entirely of glass and iron, the most fragile and the strongest of working materials; to combine the lightness of a conservatory with the stability of our most permanent structures—such a building will naturally excite much curiosity as to the mode in which the works connected with it are conducted, and the advances which are made towards its completion. Enchanted palaces that grow up in a night are confined to fairy-land, and in this material world of ours the labours of the bricklayer and the carpenter are notoriously never-ending. It took 300 years to build St. Peter's at Rome, and thirty-five to complete our own St. Paul's. The New Palace of Westminster has already been fifteen years in hand, and still is unfinished. We run up houses, it is true, quickly enough in this country; but if there be a touch of magic in the time occupied, there is none in the appearance of so much stucco and brick-work as our streets exhibit. Something very different from this was promised for the great edifice in Hyde Park. Not only was it to rise with extraordinary rapidity, but in every other respect is to be suggestive of 'Arabian Nights' remembrances."

The decoration of the building, both in design and in execution, was entrusted to Mr. Owen Jones', about 500 painters being employed upon the work. The under sides of the girders were painted red, the round portions of the columns yellow, and the hollows of the capitals blue, in due proportions. All the stalls were covered with red cloth, or pink calico; by which means not only was the unsightly woodwork concealed, but a warmth of colouring was given to the whole ground area of the building, which, combined with the mass of blue overhead, and the yellow stripes of the columns, produced a most harmonious effect, which was further softened by covering the roof and south side with unbleached calico, to prevent the glare of light which would necessarily take place in a building whose roof and sides were chiefly of glass. Mr. Jones also displayed great knowledge in his profession by the judicious distribution of various large articles and groups of articles, with a view to their effect upon the general internal aspect of the Exhibition.

The first column of the edifice was fixed on the 26th of September, 1850, and by the middle of January, 1851, notwithstanding various alterations in some of the details of the plan, little of the exterior of the vast structure remained to be finished, and by the 1st of May everything was complete; the contributions from all nations were in their places; and the Exhibition was opened by Her Majesty Queen Victoria in person, attended by her Royal Consort, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Her Majesty's ministers and great officers of state, the foreign ambassadors and ministers, the Royal Commissioners, &c. The opening ceremony took place with a punctuality which was the source of much congratulation. A chair of state had been placed upon a daïs of three steps, on the north of the centre facing the south transept, and over it was suspended, by invisible rods, a canopy of blue and silver. In front, in the centre of the transept, was a large glass fountain, and on either side, a little in the rear, were equestrian statues of Her Majesty and the Prince Consort. The doors of the "Crystal Palace" were opened on the morning of that eventful day at nine o'clock for the admission of the purchasers of season tickets, of which about 20,000 had been sold. The visitors were so judiciously sprinkled over the different parts of the building, by the tickets assigning to every person the staircase or section he was to repair to, that there was nothing like crushing in any part of the building, with one temporary exception of a rush of persons beyond the barriers before the platform, which was soon set right by a party of sappers. The following particulars of the opening ceremony we here quote from the Gentleman's Magazine:—"The Queen left Buckingham Palace in state at twenty minutes before twelve, accompanied by Prince Albert and their two eldest children, the Prince and Princess of Prussia, Prince Frederick William of Prussia, and their respective suites. They were conveyed in nine carriages. Some time before Her Majesty entered, the heralds in their tabards, the officers of state, Her Majesty's ministers, the foreign ambassadors, and the officers of the household troops, in their full costumes, with the Executive Committee and other functionaries of the Exhibition, the architect and contractors in court dresses, and the Lord Mayor and Aldermen in their robes, had assembled round the platform, and the 'beef-eaters' were ranged behind. At length a flourish of trumpets announced the Queen's arrival at the north door of the building, and Her Majesty and her Royal Consort, leading by the hand the Prince of Wales and the Princess Royal, appeared before the vast assemblage of her subjects, and 'the crystal bow' rang with enthusiastic shouts, overpowering the sound of the cannon discharged on the other side of the Serpentine. It was a moment of intense excitement. In the midst of the grandest temple ever raised to the peaceful arts, surrounded by thousands of her subjects and men of all nations, was the ruler of this realm and its vast dependencies, herself the centre of the great undertaking. Her emotions, as she gracefully and repeatedly acknowledged her people's gratulations, were very evident. The Prince Consort having conducted Her Majesty to the throne, the National Anthem was sung by a choir of near a thousand voices, accompanied by the organ of Messrs. Gray and Davidson." Prince Albert then quitted the Queen's side, and, advancing at the head of the Royal Commissioners, over whose deliberations he had indefatigably presided, delivered in an emphatic tone of voice the report of the completion of their labours, from which it appears that the number of exhibitors whose productions it had been found possible to accommodate was about 15,000, of whom nearly one-half were British. The remainder represented the productions of more than forty foreign countries, comprising almost the whole of the civilised nations of the globe. In arranging the space allotted to each, the report stated that the Commissioners had taken into consideration both the nature of its productions and the facilities of access to this country afforded by its geographical position. The productions of Great Britain and her dependencies were arranged in the western portion of the building, and those of foreign countries in the eastern. The Exhibition was divided into four great classes, viz.:—1. Raw Materials; 2. Machinery; 3. Manufactures; 4. Sculpture and the Fine Arts. With regard to the distribution of rewards to deserving exhibitors, the report went on to state that the Commissioner had decided that they should be given in the form of medals, not with reference to merely individual competition, but as rewards for excellence, in whatever shape it might present itself. The selection of the persons to be so rewarded was entrusted to juries, composed equally of British subjects and of foreigners, many of whose names were a guarantee of the impartiality with which the rewards would be assigned. Her Majesty's reply to the address was followed by a prayer, offered up by the Archbishop of Canterbury; and that finished, the majestic "Hallelujah Chorus" burst forth, its strains reverberating through the arched transept and "long-drawn aisles" of the building. "The state procession was then formed, and passed down the northern avenue of the west nave. The spectators were arranged on either side, and as Her Majesty passed along, the cheers were taken up in succession by the whole of the long array, and seconded with waving of hats and handkerchiefs from the galleries. Her Majesty and the Prince acknowledged these gratulations by continual bowing. The various objects of interest around were for a time almost disregarded, but the effect of the whole upon the eye, as the Sovereign and her attendants threaded their way between the living throng, and the lines of statuary and other works of art, and the rich assemblage of the products of industry, was exceedingly impressive; and the ovation of industry far outshone all the splendours of old Rome, with no fettered captives in the rear, or wailing widows and orphans at home to dim its lustre. The Duke of Wellington and the Marquis of Anglesey (who joined the procession as Commander-in-Chief and Master-General of the Ordnance), united arm-inarm in this triumph of peace, were the objects of much attraction. When the procession reached the west end, the magnificent organ by Mr. Willis, with its 4,700 pipes, commenced playing the National Anthem, which was heard to the remotest end of the building. The procession returned by the south side to the transept, round the southern part of which it passed, amidst the cheers of the people, the peals of two organs, and the voices of 700 choristers, to the eastern or foreign division of the nave, where the French organ took up the strain, and the delicate lady, whose tempered sway is owned by a hundred millions of men, pursued her course amongst the contributions of all the civilised world. As she passed the gigantic equestrian figure of Godfrey de Bouillon, by the Belgian sculptor, Simonis, which seems the very impersonation of physical strength, we could not but be struck by the contrast, and by the reflection how far the prowess of the crusader is transcended by the power of well-defined liberty and constitutional law. The brilliant train having at length made the complete circuit of the building, Her Majesty again ascended the throne, and pronounced the Exhibition opened. The announcement was repeated by the Marquis of Breadalbane as Lord Steward, followed immediately by a burst of acclamations, the bray of trumpets, and a royal salute across the Serpentine. The royal party then withdrew; the National Anthem was again repeated; and the visitors dispersed themselves through the building, to gratify their curiosity without restraint."



It would be impossible, and indeed superfluous, within the space at our command, to attempt to give anything even like a résumé of the multifarious articles here brought together; suffice it to say, that the Exhibition comprised most of the best productions in the different branches of art, manufactures, &c., from all parts of the civilised globe, and that it became properly enough called the "World's Fair," for it attracted visitors from all parts of the world. We have already mentioned the glass fountain in the transept; that object, from its central position, was invariably fixed upon as the rendezvous, or meeting-place, by family groups or parties of visitors, in case of their losing sight of one another in the labyrinth of tables and articles which thronged the building. Another object, which we cannot well pass over, was the famous Koh-i-noor, or "Mountain of Light," which had been specially lent by Her Majesty. This royal gem—the value of which has been variously stated at from £1,500,000 to £3,000,000—appeared to be one of the greatest curiosities of the Exhibition, judging from the numbers congregated around it during the day. The Exhibition was open for 144 days, being closed on the 11th of October. The entire number of visitors was above 6,170,000, averaging 43,536 per day. The largest number of visitors in one day was 109,760, on the 8th of October; and at two o'clock on the previous day 93,000 persons were present at one time. The entire money drawn for tickets of admission amounted to £506,100; and after all expenses were defrayed, a balance of £213,300 was left over, to be applied to the promotion of industrial art.

At the time when the Exhibition was over, so firm a hold had the fairy-like palace obtained upon the good opinion of the public, that a general desire for its preservation sprung up. Application was made to Government that it should be purchased and become the property of the nation; but it was ruled otherwise. The building was, however, not doomed to disappear altogether, for a few enterprising gentlemen having stepped forward, it was rescued from destruction. It was decided that the building should be removed to some convenient place within an easy distance of London, and accordingly it was transferred to Sydenham, where a fine estate of three hundred acres had been purchased, on which the edifice was raised again in increased grandeur and beauty, and where, under the name of the Crystal Palace, it soon became one of the most popular places of recreation in or near the metropolis.

The whole building was removed from Hyde Park before the close of 1852; and in the following year it was proposed to place upon the site a memorial of the Exhibition, to include a statue of Prince Albert—the originator of this display of the industry of all nations. The spot ultimately chosen for the memorial, however, is somewhat to the west of the ground covered by the Exhibition building; in fact, it is just within the southeastern enclosure of Kensington Gardens, directly opposite the centre of the Horticultural Gardens, and looking upon the South Kensington establishments, in the promotion of which the Prince Consort always took so deep an interest. The memorial, which took upwards of twenty years before it was completed, and cost upwards of £130,000, was erected from the designs of Sir Gilbert Scott. It consists of a lofty and widespreading pyramid of three quadrangular ranges of steps, forming, as it were, the base of the monument, which may be described as a colossal statue of the Prince, placed beneath a vast and gorgeous Gothic canopy, about thirty feet square, supported at the angles by groups of columns of polished granite, and "surrounded by works of sculpture, illustrating those arts and sciences which he fostered, and the great undertakings which he originated." The memorial partakes somewhat, in the richness of its colours, decorations, and mosaics, of the Renaissance Gothic style; and its whole height from the roadway is 176 feet. The first flight of granite steps, forming the basement, is 212 feet wide, with massive abutments of solid granite. At the four corners of the second flight of steps are gigantic square masses of carved granite, occupied with colossal groups of marble statuary, emblematical of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, and executed respectively by Messrs. Macdowell, Foley, Theed, and Bell. Above the topmost flight of steps rises the memorial itself, the podium or pedestal of which is carved with nearly 200 figures, life-size, and all more or less in high relief. They are all portrait-statues of celebrities in the different walks of art, literature, science, &c. At the four corners of this, again, as on the base below, are allegorical groups of statuary—one of Commerce, by Thornycroft; one of Manufactures, by Weekes; one of Agriculture, by Marshall; and one of Engineering, by Lawlor. The statue of the Prince—which was not completed till early in the year 1876—is richly gilt, and rests upon a pedestal fifteen feet high; it represents the Prince sitting on a chair of state, and attired in his regal-looking robes as a Knight of the Garter. This great work was entrusted to Mr. Foley. The roof of the canopy is decorated with mosaics, representing the royal arms and those of the Prince on a ground of blue and gold. At the angles of the four arches above the canopy are marble figures, life-size. The spandrils of the arches above the trefoil are filled in with rich and elaborate glass mosaics on a gilt ground, portraying Poetry, Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture. One of the main features of the whole design is the beautiful spire, in which every portion of the metal surface is covered with ornament; the surface in many parts is coated with colours in enamel, with coloured marbles and imitation gem-work; and up to the very cross itself, which surmounts the whole, there is the same amount of extraordinary detail and finish, as if each part were meant for the most minute and close inspection.


  • 1. "Comprehensive History of England," vol. iv., p. 798.