New Crystal Palace at Sydenham – 1852 – First Look

“The New Crystal Palace at Sydenham,” The Illustrated London News, 21 August 1852.

In August 1852, The Illustrated London News published a first look at the new Crystal Palace attraction at Sydenham. This included a design vision for the revised glasshouse and the pleasure gardens in which that glasshouse would sit. It also included a general ground-plan or floorplan. These illustrations were accompanied by a text description identifying some of the key attractions within the overall project.

Summer 1852 was a moment of transition. The 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park was designed to be a one-season event. After it closed, the glasshouse was sold to the newly formed Crystal Palace Company and removed. It was being dismantled in 1852. The new Crystal Palace and Park opened in 1854 at Sydenham.

The Illustrated London News covered this transformation in detail, with articles about the Sydenham project – promoted as a “Palace of the People” – on 22 May (page 414), 05 June (page 440), and 07 August (page 94) . The detailed plans presented in August 1852, in effect, were the starting gun for publicity in the march towards a grand opening. On-going coverage kept the embryonic re-development project in the public eye, e.g., 30 October (volume 21, issue 587, page 360) and 06 November (volume 21, issue 588, page 380).

In some areas, the difference between the 1852 plan and the 1854 delivery is substantial. The visitor guide to Crystal Palace and Park offers an overview for what was delivered. More specialist handbooks to the different courts offer evidence for how expert visions translated into visitor reality. 

Another London glasshouse also was in the news in August 1852: the Palm House in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Design Vision

Design vision. The New Crystal Palace at Sydenham, The Illustrated London News, 21 August 1852.
Design vision. “The New Crystal Palace at Sydenham,” The Illustrated London News, 21 August 1852 Supplement, volume 21, number 575, p. 152. Click for full panorama.


Ground-plan. The New Crystal Palace at Sydenham, The Illustrated London News, 21 August 1852.
Ground-plan. “The New Crystal Palace at Sydenham,” The Illustrated London News, 21 August 1852 Supplement, volume 21, number 575, p. 152. Click for full image.

The New Crystal Palace at Sydenham (article)

Full text of article. Citation is: “The New Crystal Palace at Sydenham,” The Illustrated London News, 21 August 1852 Supplement, volume 21, number 575, p. 150. Content in [square brackets] are interventions by ProfJoeCain.

Reference to previous coverage in the magazine is to the article, “The New Crystal Palace” (volume 21, issue 572, pages 94-95).

Reference also should have mentioned the 14 August article, “The New Crystal Palace” (page 113), which included an illustration of the ceremony surrounding the placing of the first pillar on site described in the article on 07 August. The article immediately preceding that 14 August article in the issue was an update on the dismantling of the “Old Crystal Palace,” authored by “the ghost of the Exhibition of 1851” (volume 21, issue 573, pages 111-112).

The New Crystal Palace at Sydenham

In our Journal of August 7, we described the external character of the New Crystal Palace, and glanced at the interior arrangements. We are now enabled to give an outline of the plan of illustration of objects in Natural History, a large portion of which the Directors of the Crystal Palace Company propose to place before the public on the 1st of May, 1853.

One of the most conspicuous and attractive sections will be that of Ethnology. No museum has yet ever attempted to show models of the different varieties of the human race, together with their national costumes, their domestic and agricultural implements, their armour, their dwellings, their modes of conveyance, and other characteristic objects appertaining to them. But, under the guiding direction and personal superintendence of such an eminent ethnologist as Dr. Latham [Robert Gordon Latham (1812-1888)], no fears are entertained that all these will one day ornament the compartments of this noble building, and that a very large proportion of a complete collection will be ready by the opening.

It is intended to arrange the growing plants in such a manner as to show what are the peculiarities which mark the Flora of different parts of the world. To this end the surface of our globe will be divided into regions, or natural provinces, which are each characterised by particular races of animals and vegetables, and all the arrangements of natural objects will tend towards the due illustration of the “countries” (as it were) which nature has mapped out upon our earth, and which she has peopled with the subjects of her three kingdoms.

The ethnological specimens will therefore appear near the plants of the region to which they both belong. Close by them will be placed specimens of the most characteristic quadrupeds, birds, reptiles, fishes, mollusca, and insects, which are to be found in the same part of the world. All these will be shown in the attitudes most natural to them, and best exemplifying their peculiar habits and dispositions; for which purpose the assistance of the exhibitor of the most life-like stuffed specimens in the Great Exhibition will be obtained. The fish will be preserved on a plan not hitherto tried, that of making them appear to be swimming, in very large glass vessels containing a sufficient quantity of some preservative fluid having the appearance of water. The mollusca will be represented, not by their shells only, but by shells containing models of the animals crawling or swimming in the localities peculiar to them; and in all cases the soil or situation which all these creatures inhabit will be imitated and represented as closely as possible. So that a visitor will find himself surrounded, wherever he goes, by groups of objects, taken from all the three kingdoms of nature; not placed, like museum specimens, “all in a row,” but artistically arranged so as to exhibit individual habits and peculiarities to the best advantage; and so associated as to give an accurate idea of the Fauna and Flora of the region they are designed to illustrate. The selection of characteristic examples of the zoological portion has been kindly undertaken by Professor Edward Forbes [Edward Forbes (1815-1854)], Mr Waterhouse [Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1807-1894)], and Mr Gould [John Gould (1804-1881), whose attainments as naturalists are too well known to need comment; and the whole will form an extensive series of small collections, illustrating in a manner never hitherto attempted, the physical geography of the whole world. Such an exhibition, while it cannot fail to be amusing, will be at the same time replete with instruction of the soundest character, and afford a clearer insight into the subject of the distribution of plants and animals on the surface of the earth than many months of reading.

It is ultimately intended to exhibit a series of geological illustrations, corresponding to those of physical geography, on a scale which no geological museum can attempt, for want of space. Not only will the external appearances of the earth’s crust at different places be shown, but also the geological strata of particular portions. Models will be prepared to illustrate mining and quarrying, to show the action and results of volcanoes and earthquakes, and to exhibit geology in its practical bearings with reference to well-sinking, the supply of water[,] tunnelling, &c. The name of Professor Ansted [David Thomas Ansted (1814-1880)] will be a sufficient guarantee for the accuracy of execution of these details.

For the present, however, the principal endeavours of the Company are concentrated in bringing out as complete a collection as possible of life-sized restorations of those colossal extinct animals and birds, which we now only know of by their fossil remains. Under the direction of Dr. Mantell [Gideon Mantell (1790-1852)], it is confidently belived [sic] that a museum of such creatures will be formed which will excite the wonder of every one, and afford little opportunity for disapprobation, even amongst the most scrupulously particular anatomist.

Reference must also be made to another section of the natural history department, which is likely to prove the most useful and commercially-valuable portion of the exhibition; though, perhaps, not one of the most attractive. We allude to the collection of raw produce, which is designed to show all the various articles taken from the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms, and applied to ornamental and useful purposes by the skill of man. With this view, the directors invite the assistance of all, in the way of contributions of raw products, either now in use or likely to be brought into use, in the arts and manufactures; and they may reasonably look forward at no distant period to being able to show such a collection of raw materials, conveniently arranged and tritely labelled, as shall not only convey an immense amount of useful instruction to the mass, but give a far greater impulse to improvement amongst the manufacturers of Europe than was imparted even by the Great Exhibition of 1851.

We also Engrave the ground-plan of the building, in which the parts marked A A are intended for offices; B and C are for refreshment rooms – one of which will be fitted up in the style of the Alhambra, and the other in the Pompeian style. At the left side of the plan we have placed four diagrams, explanatory of the various ways in which the tints employed are carried out in the Engravings, to denote the different divisions of the plan; all the portions being tinted to agree with these diagrams.

No. 1 shows the spaces allotted to plants; 2, spaces for the exhibition of manufacturer articles; 3, the staircases; 4, ornamental pieces of water, in which will be fountains. There are also in the plan four semi-circular spaces, filled with small dots, which denote spaces reserved for birds. [end]

Full page in The Illustrated London News

Full page. The New Crystal Palace at Sydenham, The Illustrated London News, 21 August 1852.
Full page. “The New Crystal Palace at Sydenham,” The Illustrated London News, 21 August 1852 Supplement, volume 21, number 575, p. 152. Includes design vision for the glasshouse and gardens. Also ground-plan for the glasshouse. Page 152 is the back page of the issue. A related article appears on page 150 of the same issue. Click for full page.