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Crystal Palace

You are in: London > History > Crystal Palace > Crystal Palace: A History

Crystal Palace

The Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace: A History

BBC London's Gary Holland goes back to the year 1854 to find out all about the Palace and the people behind this amazing south London site

The Crystal Palace was a huge glass and iron structure originally built in 1851 for the Great Exhibition held in London's Hyde Park.

Prince Albert, head of the Society of Arts, had the idea of an exhibition to impress the world with Britain's industrial achievements.

Penge Palace

Penge Palace, Sydenham

 Countries including France, the United States, Russia, Turkey and Egypt all attended with exhibits falling into four main categories - Raw Materials, Machinery, Manufacturers and Fine Arts.

The Palace was designed by Sir Joseph Paxton and after the Great Exhibition finished in October 1851 he had the idea of moving it to Penge Place Estate, Sydenham as a 'Winter Park and Garden under Glass'.

Penge Place, now called Crystal Palace Park, was owned by Paxton's friend and railway entrepreneur Leo Schuster.

August 1852 saw the rebuilding work begin and in June 1854 Crystal Palace was re-opened in its new location by Queen Victoria.

The whole building was enormous - 1,848 feet long and 408 feet wide including two huge towers and many fountains with over 11,000 jets rising into the air.

WG Grace playing cricket

Cricketer WG Grace at the Palace in 1899

The palace and the grounds became the world's first theme park offering education, entertainment, a rollercoaster, cricket matches, and even 20 F.A. Cup Finals between 1895 -1914.

The site attracted 2 million visitors a year and was also home to displays, festivals, music shows and over one hundred thousand soldiers during the First World War.

Part of the gardens included a prehistoric swamp complete with models of dinosaurs. They were the first prehistoric animals ever built and came only around 30 years after dinosaurs were discovered.

 The dinosaur park has recently re-opened after a £4m refurbishment project.

However, the Palace fell into financial ruin and a series of fires spelt the end of this historic building.

"This is the end of an age"

Sir Winston Churchill, 1936

Crystal Palace was cursed by bad luck and financial crisis. In 1861 the Palace was damaged by strong winds and on Sunday 30th December 1866 a fire broke out destroying the North End of the building along with many natural history exhibits.

In 1892 one person died from a hot air balloon accident and eight years later another was trampled to death by an escaped elephant.

Although the palace saw many successful years and millions of visitors financial problems plagued the Palace. Its sheer size meant it was impossible to maintain financially and it was declared bankrupt in 1911.

 A trust was set up and they soon employed Henry James Buckland as Manager of Crystal Palace.

The aftermath of the fire

After the fire in 1936


However, it was the night of 30th November 1936 that saw the most devastation. Henry Buckland and his daughter Crystal, named after his love of Crystal Palace, were out walking their dog and noticed a small fire at the Palace.

This soon escalated and a huge fire broke out across the building. By morning most of the Palace was destroyed. There had been 88 fire engines, 438 officers, men from 4 fire brigades and 749 police officers on duty that historic night.

Some of the original remains that can still be seen today are classed as Grade II* listed. They include terraces, sphinxes and the huge bust of Sir Joseph Paxton.

Other fascinating features include sets of stairs, remains of the aquarium and the base of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's south water tower.

Hampton Court Palace


Thursday 22 September - Thursday 24 November 2005

A warm, funny and sometimes moving ten-part series filmed over a year with the conservation teams inside Britain's Historic Royal Palaces: Hampton Court, The Tower of London, Kensington Palace, The Banqueting House and Kew Palace.

last updated: 09/04/2008 at 14:56
created: 27/07/2004

Have Your Say

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

Richard Harcourt
We at the Crustal Palace Foundation have an interview with Crystal Buckland where she told us about the night the fire started. She and her father took an evening walk in the park. She said that her father saw the flickering light of the fire and told her to run through to warn a choir at the south end of the palace. She did so and noticed out of the side of her eyes a blue flash running along the floor near her. We also have a letter from the gas company warning of a gas leak inside the building! To learn more I suggest a visit to the museum would be helpful. The museum is open Sunday mornings and Bank holidays.

Amy Woollard
I'm doing a project on the Crystal Palace and I have found the information on the page very useful many thanks!!!!

There is so much info about crystal palace.I bet everyone uses it for homework

No one really knows how the fire started, it was to beleived to have started in the admin office. It took about 6 months to build and like 2,000 men.

Sheila Wilson
Thank you for this report.My husband Ken Wilson used to give talks on the Crystal Palace Ghost Train, and while researching the project we met Eric Hills (designer of the post office codes). He was dowsing trying to find the railway that was built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and exhibited there, showing how atmospheric railway worked.

doing this for school any one know how long it took?


i know that the man built the place for his wife that is what they tell u wen you go on a toure of the place but it still has to be said why would you call it Crystal palace when its not made of crystel and it never looked like it was in any book or websit but they could have called it glass palace

I am a visitor to Sydenham and staying in London for only four days. I am impressed with the information from this site. I visited the park today. I am reading Johnson's book tonight. Lesley

barry puttock
The first ever pedestrian car fatality happened on Crystal Palace Parade the victim being a lady visitor on a day out to the Crystal Palace,

The great water tower is mentioned in the piece above. Infact this survived the fire in 1936 and remained a impressive landmark up until the out break of The Second World War. Unfortunately it was deemed to be too much of a landmark at that time and was pulled down at the beginning of the war, as it was believed it would be an easy marker for enemy bombers to navigate onto.

Maurice and Molly bennett(Morribees stained glass)
So Pleased to see this site, we have talked about crystal palace for the last 10 years in our talks on 'the history of glass and stained Glass'or as we call it 'A LOOK THROUGH MY WINDOW'wonder if your readers know that it was here that the first Flush Loo was demonstrated! it was designed for the palace by Thomas Crappe ( always gets a giggle!)Also this building was built using mainly Horse power and man power, very few electric tools were around then It was completed in One year!, in our eyes it makes the millenium dome with its plastic roof a pretty poor effort for the time . It would be a magnificent tribute to our people today and could also house a museum for the young to exhibit their art/ideas/ work/and bring a wealth of new talent, we know there is so much out there but our young people often find it hard to have anywhere to show their work. thankyou for this site We shall enjoy watching it develope.

I herd about the Great Fire Of London. It was said that that the crystal palace site had been broken down and was rebuilt later that year

Julius Kimuli
What a shame for history to have been destroyed that way!!! I had no idea there was ever a Crystal Palace as a landmark for the City. Any hopes of putting it back together again?

My grandparents lived in Southend on Sea, Essex but my grandfather worked in London. He often told us, as children, how he could see the glow from the fire almost all of the way home on the train from London. When visiting the sight after the fire, he picked up and kept a piece of cooled molten glass from a street gutter. Later our family moved close to Crystal Palace and we often went to the remaining park to visit the stone dinosors and the childens zoo. During the 1950's/60's we could often hear the sound of car & motor bike racing coming the race track at Crystal Palace.

how did the fire start

I now live in the USA,and was thrilled to find this site.I used to take my daughters to the park all the time, and have a photo of my husband standing in front of one of the dinosors holding our daughters. Much appriciate the all around view,feels like youre there.

jack stimpson
this is useful

thank u for putting this web site out about the crystal palace.

Eloise Fleet
I thought it was very interesting especially the fact that Henry Buckland called his daughter Crystal. Does anyone know how the fire started in 1936?

Elizabeth Vineall
I thourght that it was brilliant there was lots of information, but some of the language is too difficult for young people for example me an 8 year old. I think that there should have been more information about the great exhabition because i want to know more information about it.

Just returned from Caravan Park there and found the remains fascinating and such splendid views.

Laura Tuddenham
At my school we have a revision sheet about the Victorians. Can you help me????

Roy Mallinder
My grandfather was driving a train which had to stop because of the 1936 fire. We had a piece of molten glass in the sideboard which he had recovered on the night.

Suzanne Nagle
I wonder if your readers are aware of a plan to rebuild the Crystal Palace. It is a firm proposal with anchor tenants, contractors and private funding in place. It would also provide ongoing funding through a charitable trust for the park. You can learn more about it at There will also be an exhibition about it at 28-30 Church Road, SE19 2ET from 2nd to 16th Feb 12-3 and 6-8 weekdays and 12-5 weekends.

I never knew there was so much history about that site.Interesting to read more about this wonderful contruction

Very good explanations and detail. Shame about what happened to it. This is a fab site!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

emily moran
I have some lovely post cards of Crystal palace thay belonged to my nan she lived in Penge in the 1920

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