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People of the Palace

Price: £12.00

by John Craddock

Much has been written about the Crystal Palace at Sydenham – its vast building, contents and grounds, its exhibitions and important visitors. However, comparatively little is known about the people who were employed by the Company and Trust over the century of their existence.

This book tells the story of the men who purchased the Palace, the workmen who lost their lives erecting the building and the directors, secretaries, managers, engineers and instructors of the Crystal Palace Company and their struggle to make the enterprise a going concern.

Sir Joseph Paxton was the presiding genius who got his wish of a larger building than its Great Exhibition parent. Set in 200 acres, Paxton designed impressive and vastly expensive water-works that were intended to rival those at Versailles. The water-towers however, were judged to be inadequate for the task so Isambard Kingdom Brunel was invited to re-design them.

As a result of this and other problems the required capital kept rising and Committees of Investigation recommended changes to the running of the Palace. After being defrauded by the Company registrar, instituting the post of general manager, the suicide of his successor, litigation with a rogue refreshments contractor and two bankruptcies, the Palace was ‘Saved for the Nation’ in 1914. After serving as ‘HMS Crystal Palace’ during the Great War, it was then put back on the road to prosperity by Henry Buckland who was knighted for his achievement. Then, in 1936, after the Palace had been thoroughly renovated it was destroyed by fire.

That was not the end of the story since the Trustees kept the enterprise going for another fifteen years when control of the site was handed over to the London County Council. Today the site is protected but, whatever the future has in store, the People of the Palace with an appendix listing hundreds of Palace personnel offers almost limitless possibilities for further investigation.

103pp A4 paperback, 112 portraits