A group of extinct Irish elk from the Ice Age – part of a series of models of extinct animals created by sculptor and fossil expert Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins and Professor Richard Owen, founder of the Natural History Museum, in the 1850s for the park surrounding the reconstructed Crystal Palace, known as Crystal Palace Park. Built for the Great Exhibition of 1851 by Joseph Paxton, the palace had been relocated from Hyde Park to Sydenham, in what was Kent (and is now south London), following the exhibition’s closure. The series of life-sized extinct animals, initially just mammals but later expanded to include dinosaurs, underwent extensive restoration in 2002 and were given Grade I listed status in 2007. There’s a free audio guide you can download while visiting the dinosaurs. PICTURE: Neil Cummings/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0.

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Sir Joseph Paxton was one of the pre-eminent landscape gardeners and architects of the Victorian age, although his name is remembered today in great part because of his role in creating one of the most famous buildings of the era – London’s Crystal Palace.

Joseph Paxton ILNThe palace opened 165 years ago this year – it was built for the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. But before we get to that, we have to go back a few years to the origins of its designer.

Paxton was born to a large Bedfordshire farming family on 3rd August, 1803 (although the year has been a matter of dispute at times, apparently because, wanting to appear older than he was, early on in his career he claimed that he had been born in 1801).

He attended school locally before venturing into the gardening profession (a number of other family members were already involved in gardening), taking on a number of gardening-related jobs before his first break came in 1823 when he was admitted by the Horticultural Society of London to work as a student gardener in the experimental gardens of Chiswick House in London’s west – then leased by the society from the Duke of Devonshire.

His work was soon noticed and, in 1826, the duke, with whom Paxton would come to have a close friendship, was apparently so enamoured that he appointed him to the position of head gardener at Chatsworth House, his family pile in Derbyshire.

It was something of a dream job for the then still young Paxton, who, over the ensuing years would be responsible for designing gardens as well as fountains (including the Emperor Fountain, named after Emperor Nicholas I of Russia), an arboretum, a model village, a conservatory of unprecedented size – known as the Great Conservatory, and a lily house, the latter featuring a design based on the leaves of the giant Victoria amazonica water lily.

Paxton’s ties to Chatsworth were strengthened further when he married the niece of Chatsworth’s housekeeper, Sarah Bown, in 1827. They would have eight children, six of whom survived.

Chatsworth became the most famous garden in England under Paxton’s watch but for many, it is his instrumental role in the Great Exhibition pavilion which stands out as his greatest achievement.

His involvement was really that of an opportunist – all of the original 245 plans for the main exhibition hall had been rejected when Paxton, on hearing of this while in London on business with regard for his role as a director of the Midland Railway, delivered his own design.

Inspired very much by the lily house he had designed (and which had yet to be completed) at Chatsworth, the design was innovative for a number of reasons, including its modular and prefabricated nature and the copious amounts of glass it used (only possible due to recent technological developments concerning the use of iron and glass).

Following its acceptance (this despite the fact it apparently breached the design competition’s rules), it took some 2,000 men eight months to build the 500 metre long building which, despite some criticism, was such a success at the Great Exhibition that in October of 1851 – some five months after its opening – Paxton was knighted by Queen Victoria. (For more on the Crystal Palace, see our earlier entry here).

Following the Great Exhibition, the building, with Paxton’s aid, was relocated to Sydenham in south London after the exhibition where it remained until it burned down in 1936.

Paxton, meanwhile, returned to his post as head gardener at Chatsworth (a role he fulfilled until 1858), but he is also credited with numerous other projects including the design of public parks in places as far afield as Liverpool and Glasgow, and the design of the London Road Cemetery in Coventry.

He was also involved in the commission charged with improving the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and designed numerous residences, the most famous being Mentmore Towers which he designed for Baron Mayer de Rothschild (among his other contributions to the world of design was a plan for an ‘atmospheric railway in London’ which was never built – for more on that, see our previous post here).

Paxton, who also acted as a Liberal MP for Coventry for the last 11 years of his life and was for many years involving in publishing various gardening-related magazines, general newspapers and writing a couple of books, became wealthy by speculating on the growing railway industry.

He died on 8th June, 1865, at his home, Rockhills, in Sydenham and was buried in St Peter’s Churchyard at Edensor on the Chatsworth Estate. His wife Sarah continued to live at Chatsworth until her death in 1871.

PICTURE: Via Wikimedia Commons.

Fresh from the success of designing The Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851 (see our earlier post here), in 1855 Sir Joseph Paxton came up with the idea of building a covered elevated railway “girdle” which would circle parts of central and west London and alleviate traffic congestion.

Great-Victorian-WayThe proposed 10 mile long, eight track railway – which would feature trains propelled by air pressure (an “atmospheric” system) rather than conventional steam engines and included  “express” trains which would only stop at select stations – was to be constructed inside a vast, 108 foot high glass covered arcade which would also contain a road, shopping and even housing.

The trains would travel at such a speed that to get from any one point on the “girdle” to its opposite point would only take 15 minutes.

Paxton presented his proposal to a Parliamentary Select Committee in June 1855 – he had already shown it to Prince Albert whom, he said, “gives it his approval”.

He estimated the cost of his proposal – which he thought would carry some 105,000 passengers every day – at some £34 million – a figure which parliament, which had initially been supportive of the idea, found a little hard to stomach.

This was especially thanks to the fact they were already dealing with the costs of Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s vast sewer system (see our earlier post here), created as a result of the ‘Great Stink’ in 1858 when the smell of untreated human excrement and other waste in the Thames became so strong, parliament had to act.

As a result, the project – which would have crossed the Thames three times, once with a spur line that ended near Piccadilly Circus – never eventuated but the Underground’s Circle Line today follows roughly the same route Paxton’s railway would have.

This former fixture of Leicester Square featured a giant globe containing in its innards a detailed physical relief map of the earth’s surface.

The-Great-GlobeThe globe was the brainchild of James Wyld (the Younger), a Charing Cross cartographer and map publisher as well as an MP and Geographer to Queen Victoria, who originally planned on exhibiting it at the Great Exhibition of 1851.

At more than 60 feet high, its proposed dimensions, however, meant it would be too big to be housed inside the Crystal Palace being erected in Hyde Park (besides which, Wyld did want to use the globe to promote his map business, something which was frowned upon by the exhibition’s organisers).

So he turned to Leicester Square and, after a rather complicated series of negotiations with the owners of the gardens, was granted permission locate the globe there for 10 years. An exhibition hall large enough to house the globe – and the globe itself – was hastily constructed in time for the Great Exhibition (and the increased visitor numbers it would draw). It opened on 2nd June, 1851, one month after the Great Exhibition.

Inside the gas-lit interior of the globe – entered through four loggias – were a series of galleries and stairways which people could climb to explore the concave surface of the earth depicted – complete with plaster-of-Paris mountain ranges and other topographical details, all created to scale – on the inner side of the great orb.

Initially a great success (visitor numbers are believed to have topped a million in its first year), its appeal faded after a few years amid increasing competition from other attractions such as Panopticon of Science and Art (more of that in an upcoming post) and Wyld was obliged to introduce other entertainments to keep the public satisfied. Wyld himself was among those who gave public lectures at the site.

When the lease expired in 1862, the exhibition hall and the globe were both demolished and the globe sold off for scrap. Wyld, meanwhile, apparently didn’t keep his promise to return the gardens to a satisfactory state but after much wrangling over their fate, they were eventually donated to the City of London.

 PICTURE: The Great Globe in cross-section from the Illustrated London News, 7th June, 1851 (via Wikipedia).

Where is it?…#57

February 15, 2013

Where-is-it--#57

Can you identify where in London this picture was taken (obviously out of season!)? If you think you can, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!

Well done to Mike, Visiting Houses and Gardens and Roberta Stimson (via Facebook) – this is indeed the Great Conservatory at Syon Park – London home of the Duke of Northumberland – located on the banks of the Thames in west London. The magnificent structure was commissioned by the third duke, Hugh Percy, and designed by architect Charles Fowler in 1826. Constructed of gunmetal, Bath stone and glass, it is said to have inspired Joseph Paxton in his designs for the Crystal Palace. For more on Syon Park, see www.syonpark.co.uk.

Given our current series on great London projects of the Victorian age in honour of the Tube’s 150th birthday, it’s only fitting that we should take a look at the Crystal Palace, a wonder of the age which once adorned the grounds of Hyde Park.

The-Crystal-PalaceBuilt as the centrepiece to the Great Exhibition (more properly known as the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations) of 1851 – an event enthusiastically supported by Prince Albert, the Crystal Palace (pictured left in an image published in 1854) was a vast cast-iron and glass exhibition hall which took its nickname (apparently first mentioned in Punch magazine) from the enormous amount of glass used in its creation.

Designed by gardener and architect Sir Joseph Paxton (his designs were chosen after an international competition failed to come up with anything suitable), the enormous and innovative structure, located just south of the The Serpentine, owed its design inspiration to his previous work on glasshouses.

Measuring 1,848 foot (563 metres) long, it was completed in just five months. The building, which needed no artificial lighting during the day due to its massive expanses to the glass, was so large that full-sized elm trees already growing in the park could be enclosed within it.

More than six million people visited the building during the Great Exhibition, held from 1st May to the 15th October, 1851. As well as hosting 14,000 exhibitors, the building also housed the first major installation of public toilets in which George Jennings had installed his ‘monkey closet’ flushing lavatory. While the structure was only meant to be temporary, such was its appeal (Paxton was knighted for his design efforts) that following the closing of the exhibition, it was purchased by the Crystal Palace Company.

A massive feat of logistics saw it dismantled and relocated to a site on what was then Penge Common at Sydenham Hill in south London where it was rebuilt (albeit to a different, much larger, design). It reopened in 1854 and contained a series of courts, illustrating art from various periods of history as well as other exhibits and performance spaces.

The grounds, meanwhile, were decorated with gardens and fountains designed by Edward Milner which drew water from two water towers designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. There was also a maze (still there) and also featured some terrific life-sized statues of dinosaurs created by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (these Grade I-listed specimens, the first of their kind in the world, are still located in Crystal Palace Park).

Interestingly, the fountains were later grassed over and one was used as a sports stadium, famous for hosting the first 20 FA Cup Finals. The site also became home to the Crystal Palace School of Art, Science, and Literature and later, the Crystal Palace School of Practical Engineering.

The Crystal Palace remained in use for various purposes – including as a TV studio for John Logie Baird – until late in 1936 when it was destroyed by fire, the origins of which apparently remain somewhat mysterious.

The name Crystal Palace has remained, however, as well as being given to Crystal Palace Park – the actual site where the building once stood – it also continues to lend itself to the area in which the structure once stood.

There’s also now a foundation – the aptly named Crystal Palace Foundation – which works to “keep alive the memory of the Crystal Palace and its major role in the story and social development of Victorian and Edwardian England” and a small museum, The Crystal Palace Museum, housed in a building constructed around 1880 as a classroom for the Crystal Palace Company’s School of Practical Engineering. Plans for building a replica of Crystal Palace have been mooted but there’s no sign of it rising once more at this stage.

PICTURE: Wikipedia.

For more on the Crystal Palace, see Patrick Beaver’s book, The Crystal Palace: A Portrait of Victorian Enterprise.

Twickenham was only a new ground when, in 1910, a England played Wales in what was the first international to be played at the ground – part of the first of what later became officially recognised as the Five Nations competition.

The game played on 15th January, 1910, was only the second to be played in the competition and followed Wales defeat of France in Swansea earlier in the month. A crowd of about 18,000 watched as England defeated Wales 11-6 (England went on to win the competition, winning three matches and drawing the match they played against Ireland).

Twickenham, meanwhile, had only hosted its inaugural match the year before when local sides the Harlequins and Richmond played (the Harlequins won, 14-10). The Rugby Football Union had purchased 10.25 acres of land in Twickenham – previously a market garden – after witnessing the crowds at international rugby contests held at Crystal Palace in south-east London in 1905 and 1906 and decided they needed a ground of their own.

The pitch was raised to prevent flooding and covered stands were build on the east and west side of the pitch, a terrace at the south end and an open mound at the north along with space f0r 200 automobiles or carriages.

The ground – the pitch of which was used for grazing animals in World War I – was developed further in the following years until World War II when it was used as a civil defence depot.

The next major development occurred in the late 1970s/early 1980s when the south terrace was controversially replaced with the South Stand. A new North Stand followed in 1991, a new East Stand in 1993 and a new West Stand in 1995. What was then known as the Museum of Rugby, based at Twickenham Stadium, was opened to the public the following year.

The most recent work has again been on the South Stand which was reopened in 2006 and brought the capacity of the ground to 82,000.

Other landmark games among the many played at Twickenham include the 1959 Twickenham Jubilee celebration match between England and Wales versus Ireland and Scotland (England and Wales won, 26-17) and the final of the 1991 Rugby World Cup (Australia defeated England 12-6). Twickenham will also host the final of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

There are regular tours of the ground (it’s advised to book these in advance) with highlights including the England dressing room, royal box, hospitality suites, medical room, player’s tunnel onto the pitch, a panoramic view of the arena from the top of the stand and a walk pitchside.

The tour also includes a visit to the World Rugby Museum (it’s possible to just buy tickets to the museum). Located in the East Stand (and known between 1996 and 2007 as the Museum of Rugby), the museum is home to some 25,000 artefacts – everything from a 1910 England v Ireland programme to pieces of kit worn by players from the earliest days of the game, a ceremonial wahaiki (or war cleaver) presented to the RFU by New Zealand Maoris in 1989, and the Calcutta Cup – dating from 1878 and made from the melted down silver coins (the savings of the now defunct Calcutta Rugby Club), it is presented to the winners of annual England versus Scotland match played as part of the RBS 6 Nations Championship.

The museum also houses the Twickenham Wall of Fame, described as “a celebration of the best players from all over the world that have ever played at Twickenham Stadium”. There are also a series of blue plaques around the stadium celebrating some of the best players.

WHERE: Twickenham Stadium, Whitton Road, Twickenham (nearest station is Twickenham); WHEN: Museum is open 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Saturday/11am to 5pm Sunday; Tours are run at select times Tuesday to Sunday – check website for details including scheduled closures; COST: £7 an adult/£5 concessions for museum only; £15 and adult/£9 concessions/£45 family ticket; WEBSITE: www.rfu.com/twickenhamstadium.

The Olympic Torch Relay arrived in London last Friday night and has been moving around the capital ever since. Here are some of the highlights so far (all images are courtesy of LOCOG)…

Day 63 (20th July): A Royal Marine, believed to be Martin Williams, is carrying the Olympic Flame as he abseils from a helicopter into the grounds of the Tower of London.

Day 64 (21st July): Swimmer Natasha Sinha holds the Olympic Flame on the Meridian Time Line outside the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.

Jaco-Albert Van Gass carries the Olympic Flame through Greenwich.

Day 65 (22nd July): Student explorer Amelia Hempleman-Adams poses with the Olympic Flame on top of a London Eye pod.

Sailor Aaron Reynolds carries the Olympic Flame on a London Fire Brigade Boat.

Day 66 (23rd July): Sprinter Marlon Devonish carries the Olympic Flame at Crystal Palace stadium in south London.

Tennis player Andy Murray carries the Olympic Flame at Wimbledon.

For more on the Torch Relay, see www.london2012.com/torch-relay/

ALL PICTURES: LOCOG.

This year marks the 160th anniversary of the transfer of the care of the Royal Parks to the government (meaning the public was freely able to enjoy access for the first time). To celebrate, over the next weeks we’ll be taking a look at the history of each of them. First up is the 142 hectare Hyde Park, perhaps the most famous of all eight Royal Parks.

Formerly owned by Westminster Abbey, King Henry VIII seized the land in 1536 for use as a private hunting ground. He had it enclosed with fences and the Westbourne Stream, which ran through the park – it now runs underground – dammed.

It remained the king and queen’s private domain (Queen Elizabeth I is known to have reviewed troops there) until King James I appointed a ranger to look after the park and permitted limited access to certain members of the nobility in the early 17th century.

The park’s landscaping remained largely unaltered until the accession of King Charles I – he created what is known as the ‘ring’ – a circular track where members of the royal court could drive their carriages. In 1637, he also opened the park to the public (less than 30 years later, in 1665, it proved a popular place for campers fleeing the Great Plague in London).

During the ensuring Civil War, the Parliamentarians created forts in the park to help defend the city against the Royalists – some evidence of their work still remains in the raised bank next to Park Lane.

After King William III and Queen Mary II moved their court to Kensington Palace (formerly Nottingham House) in the late 1600s, they had 300 oil lamps installed along what we know as “Rotten Row’ – the first artificially lit road in the country – to enable them and their court to travel safely between the palace and Westminster.

The natural looking Serpentine – the great, 11.34 hectare, lake in the middle of Hyde Park (pictured) – was created in the 1730s on the orders of Queen Caroline, wife of King George II, as part of extensive work she had carried out there. It was Queen Caroline who also divided off what we now know as Kensington Gardens from Hyde Park, separating the two with a ha-ha (a ditch).

The next major changes occurred in the 1820s when King George IV employed architect and garden designer Decimus Burton to create the monumental park entrance at Hyde Park Corner – the screen still remains in its original position while Wellington Arch was moved from a parallel position to where it now stands (see our previous posts for more on that). Burton also designed a new railing fence and several lodges and gates for the park. A bridge across the Serpentine, meanwhile, was built at about the same time along with a new road, West Carriage Drive, formally separating Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.

While the basic layout of the park has been largely unchanged since, there have been some additions – among them, the establishment in 1872 of Speaker’s Corner as a place to speak your mind in the north-east corner of the park (near Marble Arch), the creation in 1930 of the Lido for bathing in warm weather, and, more recently, the building of the Diana, Princess of Wales’ Memorial Fountain (unveiled in 2004), and the 7 July Memorial (unveiled in July 2009).

Other sculptures in the park include Isis (designed by Simon Gudgeon, located on the south side of the Serpentine), the Boy and Dolphin Fountain (designed by Alexander Munro, it stands in the Rose Garden), and a monumental statue of Achilles, a memorial to the Duke of Wellington designed by Richard Westmacott, near Park Lane. There are also memorials to the Holocaust, Queen Caroline, and the Cavalry as well as a Norwegian War Memorial and a mosaic marking the site of the Reformer’s Tree (the tree was burnt down during the Reform League Riots of 1866).

The park has been integral part of any national celebrations for centuries – in 1814 a fireworks display there marked the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the Great Exhibition – with the vast Crystal Palace – was held there in 1851 and in 1977 a Silver Jubilee Exhibition was held marking Queen Elizabeth II’s 25 year reign. Cannons are fire there on June 2nd to mark the Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation and on 10th June for the Duke of Edinburgh’s birthday.

Facilities these days include rowing and pedal boats, tennis courts, deck chairs, a restaurant and cafe (the latter based in the Lido) and, of course, some Boris bikes. There is a heritage walk through the park which can be downloaded from the Royal Parks website.

WHERE: Hyde Park (nearest tube stations are that of Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner, Lancaster Gate, Knightsbridge and South Kensington); WHEN: 5am to midnight; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/Hyde-Park.aspx?page=main

PICTURE: Courtesy of Royal Parks. © Indusfoto Ltd