11 May 2010

Falling for London: The great escape.

I can't remember how I first learnt about Crystal Palace, but ever since I found out it existed, I've wanted to go and see the dinosaurs. After two years in London I decided one brisk sunny day in March it was about time.
The world's first prehistoric sculptures were designed by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins under the guidance of Professor Richard Owen, who invented the word 'dinosaur'. They were based on contemporary ideas of what dinosaurs looked like. Hawkins held a New Year's Eve dinner party inside the Iguanodon at which famous scientists ate pigeon pie. The park opened in 1854 when the Crystal Palace was re-erected there after the 'Great Exhibition of the Works of the Industry of all Nations', conceived by Prince Albert (1819-1861) and held at Hyde Park, London in 1851. The dinosaurs were refurbished in the early 21st century. - From Science & Society
Owen and Hawkins set out to create 33 life-size replicas of pre-reptile animals, a time trail and a lead mine. The models represented not only dinosaurs but also amphibians, crocodiles, marine reptiles, flying reptiles and early mammals. They used fossils from the Natural History Museum and compared them with the bones of modern animals. It is said that this was the first time a 'controversial' theory proclaimed that such animals did exist millions of years ago, pre-dating Darwin's The Origin of Species (1859).
Reading about the site beforehand and seeing the dinosaurs from a passing train a few times, I imagined my very own Jurassic Park in which I would come face-to-face with the creatures. I'm not ashamed to admit I even daydreamed (extensively!) about having my Christmas portrait taken atop a dinosaur, with flowing curls and a miniature tree in hand. Upon arrival I realised the closest I could get was with my zoom! Though I wasn't as lucky as the kids in 'Our Mother's House' (1967, clip below) to ride through the magical world in a boat, I grinned ear-to-ear nonetheless.
You could spend the better part of a day at Crystal Palace - once you've seen the dinosaurs you can follow the paths around the grounds to the stadium, the sports complex, the ruins and the maze (!).
The maze marks the spot where, in 1909, a small group of girls dared to attend a Scouts' Rally and approach Sir Robert Baden-Powell, requesting that he set up ‘something for the girls’. Baden-Powell founded the Girl Guides a few months later.
I want to make another trip to Crystal Palace once the leaves of the maze have grown in. It was actually a really difficult and frustrating maze, but we made it in the end.
The 990,000 square foot Crystal Palace itself was built in Hyde Park as a place for more than 14,000 exhibitors from around the world to gather and celebrate the progress of the industrial revolution and the might of the empire.
The 'Palace', originally designed by Joseph Paxton, who had been gardener at Chatsworth, in Derbyshire, was subsequently relocated to Sydenham, to the area now known as Crystal Palace. Many of the sculptures and flourishes were relocated with it, and whilst the palace itself burned down in 1936, some of the other elements remain and the Sphinx still stands guard at the entrance, keeping watch to check who accesses the empty terraces where a palace once stood.
So I didn't have my shot with the dinosaurs, but I was able to lie atop the Sphinx for a short rest -- dork alert.
Overlooking the grounds you can only begin to imagine all the wonderful, magical things that went on in the Palace. From bee-keepers to balloon enthusiasts and vegetable champions, there were surely lots of smiles. It's a great escape.
All historic images are from the Science and Society Picture Library. You can see full captions on my flickr. And p.s., thank you so much for your sweet comments on my last post - it means the world to me.


Love_Again said...

fantastic post. i love all the vintage postcard images.

broom people said...

This looks like so much fun.. imagine if the palace were still there! It reminds me of a fairy park near where I grew up, with statues and little houses and giant mushrooms and all sorts of great stuff. I'm sure as an adult I wouldn't even be able to fit into their tiny bedrooms.

(Also: great coat!)

puncturedbicycle said...

Great post! Love the old photos and dinosaurs. Brought back memories of a zoo in NJ which had a big cold concrete turtle I loved to climb on when I was little. I can still remember what it felt like.

I've had my own Home Office issues in the past, now sorted. Hope you are able to work it out. Happy to commiserate if it is any use to you: outrightingrate (at) yahoo (dot) com

Good luck.

Phoebe said...

Jess this is such a great post - I was there too one of those sunny days last month (that now seem to have vanished!) showing Duncs the dinosaurs! Did you go into the little museum? It used to have a fantastic gift shop selling old posters for 20p, run by an old lady. Now it seems a bit smarter but I don't know what they did with all that ancient stock. I've never seen the maze though! Will seek it out. You know my grandfather saw the palace burning across London... imagine if it was still standing! x

Darling L said...

I didn't know about that place! I'll visit it for sure on my next trip to London, so awesome! :)

jessica said...

Thank you all!

I try to mainly use my own photographs or scans but for this particular post found the addition of archival images invaluable.

Punctured bicycle - I might just email you to see if you have any advise!

Phoebs - Let's do a picnic when it's warmer! The museum was closed that day. x

and Darling L, it's definitely one not to miss.

Frances said...

I've just stumbled across your blog and, as a Crystal Palace dweller, love this post! It's great to see the place again through someone else's eyes - and loved the filmclip too, I'd never seen that before (despite numerous visits to the museum!).

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