Open again, 1854

The Crystal Palace - open again 1854

It was intended to open the building on 1st May 1854 but because of constructional and financial problems it opened over a month late on 10th June. Another significant problem that contributed to the late opening was the fact that dozens of male statues throughout the building had to have their private parts removed or covered by stone fig leaves. This did not satisfy all the delicate Victorian sensibilities so all statues in the building had to be inspected and draped where required. This work went on for the rest of the year.

The Crystal Palace at Sydenham, or the 'Palace of the People' as it became known, was the world's first 'theme park' for mass entertainment and for a few pence it offered a whole day's education and entertainment of a kind which hitherto had only been within reach of the well off. But unfortunately neither the building nor grounds were open on Sundays (except to shareholders) because of the strict Lord's Day Observance lobby existing at the time. So while the working man was able to visit he could only do so evenings or Bank holidays. Between 1854 and 1884 attendances averaged 2 million visitors a year and as a result of the huge visitor numbers another railway station was constructed by the London, Chatham & Dover Railway on Crystal Palace Parade - connected to the Crystal Palace by a brick-built subway. The subway still exists beneath the Parade, nationally listed as Grade II. The station became known as Crystal Palace (High Level).

The popularity of Crystal Palace was maintained by the ever-increasing frequency of the many different shows and exhibitions - flower, pigeon, poultry, goat, rabbit, cat, dog, cattle and bird shows, electrical, art, aeronautical, mining, photographic and transport exhibitions. These were held amidst the courts and permanent attractions of the Palace itself. The building also became the meeting place for massed meetings of societies and organisations of every description; The National Temperance League, Scottish Athletes, German Gymnasts, Salvation Army, Police, Army, Firemen, Oddfellows, Foresters, religious organisations and thousands of others. There were concerts, massed bands, circuses, and pantomimes. Handel Festivals were popular for many years and there was a concert room with over 4,000 seats. In the central transept was the 4,000-piece Grand Orchestra built around the 4,500-pipe Great Organ.

In 1868, the Palace had the first public showing of moving pictures using a Zoetrope. Every Thursday night from 1865 was reserved for Brocks benefits fireworks displays until they ceased in 1935. On the occasions of the Grand Displays over 5 tons of material was consumed and, in a set piece, over seven miles of quickmatch was used. The standard price of admission to the Palace and grounds was 1/- (5p) but on special days admission prices varied enormously - on one day 30,000 visitors paid one guinea each (£1.05p) to visit a flower show and the admission price to a dramatic event was 2/6d (12½p). Visitors could also purchase season tickets for various periods, and in 1859 a lady could purchase an eight-month ticket for 10/6d (52½p)

Royalty loved the place. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were regular visitors. Napoleon III went in 1855, the Sultan of Turkey (1867), the Khedive of Egypt (1869), the Shah of Persia (1873), Tsar Alexander II (1874) the Sultan of Zanzibar (1875), the King and Queen of Greece (1876), and the Kaiser in 1891. As well as these notables, hundreds of other lower-ranking royalty visited the Palace during its 82-year life.

Copyright Crystal Palace Foundation 2024
Compiled By Melvyn Harrison, Chairman