History of the Crystal Palace (part 2)

A New Palace

The Crystal Palace was removed from Hyde Park in the autumn of 1852 and the components taken to Sydenham. Paxton took this opportunity to enhance the building by adding further tiers and increasing the height and width of the central transept. Two smaller transepts were added to preserve proportions, and the nave was given a barrel vault. The length of this new palace was 1,608ft(240ft shorter than the original), the width 312ft and the height of the central transept 168ft. The construction was similar to the Hyde Park building, but the transept ribs were now of iron.

The development of the grounds and gardens consumed considerably more money than the re-erection of the building. A series of fountains was constructed which in turn necessitated the building of two 284ft high water towers, designed by Brunel, at either end of the palace. The Sydenham Crystal Palace was opened by Queen Victoria in June 1854, and became an established venue for major exhibitions, balloon ascents, concerts and sporting events.

During the evening of 30 November 1936, the Crystal Palace was totally destroyed by fire, the cause of which has never been ascertained. Brunel's water towers were spared, but were to stand for just four more years before being demolished during the Second World War.

The Site Today

The palace may have been gone for many years but there are still many reminders of the halcyon days. The terraces and steps remain as do the sphinxes and some statues. The bust of Paxton by W.F. Woodington, still in excellent condition, overlooks Crystal Palace Park from its position on the Centre Walk. The retaining wall of the lower terrace is still there but in serious need of restoration. The vaulted subway beneath Crystal Palace Parade, which used to link the Palace with the High Level railway station, is a listed building but is closed to the public.

The Crystal Palace Museum is housed in the former Crystal Palace School of Engineering, a building dating from the 1870s. Adjacent to the museum is the base of Brunel's south tower which was taken down brick-by-brick during the Second World War. At the other end of the site, the base of the north tower is partially covered by vegetation and part of the aquarium, including reservoir tanks and the tiled floor, are visible.

In the lower part of Crystal Palace Park many features still survive. The prehistoric animals (nationally listed at Grade I) and modelled by Waterhouse Hawkins still lurk menacingly on islands within the lake, and one of the original fountain basins survives. The Low Level railway station is still in use and has been largely been renovated. A new entrance, a Crystal Palace transept in miniature, was built in the late 1980s.

(This article written by David Lancaster appeared in The Valuer magazine in October 1988). Updated in 2012 by Melvyn Harrison