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.
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 (!).
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. 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.