The rebuilding at Sydenham, 1852-1854
The Hyde Park Crystal Palace building was purchased by the Crystal Palace Company for £70,000 (over £3.5 million today) from Fox & Henderson and on 5th August 1852 rebuilding began. During a time of high unemployment the project provided jobs for over 7,000 workmen. On Monday 15th August 1853 a serious accident occurred when tons of scaffolding supporting the centre transept collapsed and killed twelve construction workers.
The company hired dozens of experts to work on the project. Amongst these were Matthew Digby Wyatt and Owen Jones who travelled the world making plaster casts of the best statuary and to design a series of historical fine art courts for the new building. Each court illustrated a particular period in the history of art. Augustus Pugin's Mediaeval Court from the Great Exhibition was there together with courts illustrating Egyptian, Alhambra, Roman, Renaissance, Chinese, Pompeian, and Grecian art and many others. These were arranged in chronological order around the outside of the building. Raffaele Monti was hired to design and build much of the external statuary around the fountain basins, and the urns, tazzas and vases.
Edward Milner designed the grounds constructing the Italian Garden and fountains (opening two years late) consisting of nearly 12,000 jets, water temples and cascades and three lakes to feed them, the Great Maze, and the English Landscape Garden. The fountains were far to costly too run and were only used on special occasions, requiring over 7 million gallons of water for one display, so they became rusty and abandoned. The two largest were grassed over in 1894 and the south basin was converted to a football stadium in 1895 and was used for FA Cup Finals until 1914. Messrs Loddiges of Hackney were contracted at prodigious cost to supply the plants and ferns for the building and grounds. Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins constructed the world's first life-size models of dinosaurs (now nationally listed Grade I), and Isambard Kingdom Brunel stepped in to design and build the two 46ft-diameter, 284ft-tall brick water towers after Wild's design had failed.
Considerable extra work and material was required to construct the new building. It had five storeys instead of the original three and, because of the additional length, north and south transepts were added to the centre or main transept to give balance the building. The floor area was nearly half as much again as the original. The original building in Hyde Park was constructed for little more than £150,000 (over 7.5 million today) but the much-enlarged Sydenham building, combined with the huge expenditure required on the grounds, all but used up the original £500,000 before the building was even half finished. The balance was raised with various share issues and resulted in a final bill of nearly £1,300,000 (over £50.5 million today) - some £800,000 (over £40 million today) over budget! In the 82 years of its life the Crystal Palace never shook off this debt or the resultant problems and only rarely made the very smallest of profits.
Copyright Crystal Palace Foundation 2012
Compiled By Melvyn Harrison, Chairman