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Palace at the Palace

Price: £24.99

by Peter Manning

The Crystal Palace Company was formed in 1852 to own and manage the Crystal Palace and to arrange its move from Hyde Park to Sydenham and this is the first fully detailed and comprehensive history of the company. The book contains hundreds of references to annual reports from many local and national newspapers and magazines.

The largest building in the world during the second half of the 19th century, the Crystal Palace was hampered from the start by massive debt, incurred by profligate overspending, as it became the world’s first theme park. The Palace had to attract nearly two million visitors a year just to pay its way and to do that it constantly had to come up with new and innovative ideas to keep the paying public coming through its turnstiles. As a result the Palace became the scene of many World and British ‘firsts’, some of which are still well known and others which have been lost to history or never recognised until now.

Drawing on nearly 1,000 newspaper and archive references, the milestones covered by eye-witness reports include:

* The first modern Olympic Games, held at the Crystal Palace in 1866, 30 years before the 1896 Athens Olympic Games

* The World’s first Aeronautical Exhibition in 1868

* The recording of the first music in England in 1878, only two months after Edison had patented his phonograph

The Crystal Palace Company also wanted to encourage the profitable use of its 200 acres of parkland, starting with the ‘elegant and healthy recreations’ of archery in 1856 and cricket in 1857.

Cricket was the major social sport of the day and, as was often the case with the more serious Victorian cricketers, the Crystal Palace Cricket Club went on to found a Crystal Palace Football Club in 1861, to enable its cricketers to keep fit over the winter months.

As the Crystal Palace Company sank into financial distress, a young manager named Henry Gillman had the idea of filling in the, by then, dilapidated Great Fountains in 1895 and turning the site into a Sports Arena, which included England’s first dedicated national football stadium. This stroke of genius provided the Company with a financial lifeline as the Palace hosted 20 F.A. Cup Finals from 1895-1914, that became so nationally popular they were treated as an unofficial bank holiday.

The Sports Arena was the site of more momentous English ‘firsts’, hosting:

* The first motor cycle race in England in 1899,

* England’s first motor car race on a circuit, held at the Crystal Palace in 1901,

* England’s first Rugby international against the All Blacks in 1905,

* England’s first American Football game in 1910

The book closes with the Crystal Palace passing from the bankrupt Crystal Palace Company, into the hands of their saviour, the Earl of Plymouth and then to the nation, with the new Trustees allowing the Crystal Palace to close in 1915 to be used as a Naval training depot for the duration of the First World War.

There are many extracts of company reports from 1854 to its bankruptcy in 1909 and of the Crystal Palace Trustees during World War One. 

This is the complete story of the Crystal Palace Company’s financial roller-coaster ride, the legal and political wrangling and its successes and failures until its final demise, as told by the people who were there.

Paperback 476 pages, 55 illustrations