Top Questions About New Year’s Eve Dinner in Iguanodon at Crystal Palace

Dinner in the Iguanodon Model, at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham

Crystal Palace Company was good with its publicity for the grand opening of Crystal Palace and Park in June 1854. They worked hard to create a narrative that combined continuity (with the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park) and expansion (more glasshouse, more gardens, more special features). They finely balanced the virtues of cultural worth, improvement, and amusement. They had strong support from Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who visited Sydenham several times during the site’s development. They even saw the moulds and completed sculpture in the Model-Room.

One of the best-remembered events in the Company’s publicity drive was the New Year’s Eve dinner in the Iguanodon, which took place in the afternoon on 31 December 1853 on-site in Crystal Palace Park. That banquet was immortalised in the engraving that appeared in the following week’s issue of the popular magazine, The Illustrated London News. In that scene, about two dozen men dressed in dinner jackets squeezed into the sculpture of the extinct beast. That idea alone was sure to create an eye-catching image.

In another article, I examine coverage in The London Illustrated News about the New Year’s Eve dinner. I also have written about two famous Punch cartoon, “The Effects of a Hearty Dinner After Visiting the Antediluvian Department at Crystal Palace” and “A Visit to the Antediluvian Reptiles at Sydenham“. In this article, I answer some of the most frequently asked questions about the New Year’s Eve dinner in Iguanodon. This offers a deep dive into the nitty-gritty historical detail.

Forgotten today was how lucky Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins was to hold his dinner celebrations when he did. A heavy winter snowstorm, with gale force winds, passed through London in the following week (“Great Snowstorm.” Times, 05 Jan. 1854, p. 6 and clipping from The Times 07 January in Sydney Herald 15 April 1854). This caused damage to projects in and around the glasshouse, and it caused considerable problems in the gardens.

Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins circa 1854. Photographed by Maull and Polyblank. Courtesy Wellcome Collection 12880i.
Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins circa 1854. Photographed by Maull and Polyblank. Courtesy Wellcome Collection 12880i.

Who Attended?

We don’t have a list of names for those who attended or a list of who was invited. Most reports claim twenty-one people – all men – attended. These men covered into three categories.

One group was press men. This was a publicity event, and press coverage would be critical for the attraction in the coming year. Courting their favour was a priority.

A second group was executives of the Crystal Palace Company. They were there to engage the press. They also were there to be impressed. Waterhouse Hawkins was spending a good deal of their money on his sculptures. Likewise, spending on the landscaping project – on islands in the Tidal Lake and on the companion geological illustrations – was costing more than expected. An elaborate event in an exclusive setting surely was part of the patron-cultivation work familiar to a seasoned freelance artist like Waterhouse Hawkins.

The third group of invitees was gentlemen scientists. The Crystal Palace Company hired many experts to serve as consultants for sections of their project. For example, Robert Gordon Latham (1812-1888) consulted for ethnology. Edward Forbes (1815-1854) consulted for zoology. David Thomas Ansted (1814-1880) consulted for the geological illustrations. Famously, Richard Owen (1804-1892) consulted for palaeontology. Other examples were the celebrity engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859), and the celebrity landscape designer and architect, Joseph Paxton (1803-1865). The amount of work each man actually put into shaping elements at Crystal Palace varied considerably. Far more important for the project, I think, they were hired for use on the marquee. Men of science added authenticity and respectability. By their very presence at the New Year’s Eve dinner, they helped Waterhouse Hawkins certify the sculptures as part of modern science rather than as part of ancient fantasy.

From several sources, I can give a partial list of attendance:

  1. Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins [all]
  2. Professor Richard Owen (positioned at the head of the table) [all]
  3. Mr Francis Fuller (Managing Director of the Crystal Palace, positioned at the hind end of the table) [2,3,4]
  4. Professor Edward Forbes (positioned to the right of Fuller) [2,3,4]
  5. a musical friend of Mr Fuller, remembered by Waterhouse Hawkins [2]
  6. Mr Joseph Prestwich (1812-1896) [2, invitation survives]
  7. Mr John Gould (1804-1881) [2]
  8. Mr Herbert Ingram (1811-1860) (editor, The Illustrated London News)  [3,4]
  9. Mr Matthew Digby Wyatt (1820-1877) [4]
  10. Mr Thomas Newman Farquhar (1808-1866) [4]
  11. Mr Day [4]
  12. Mr Belshaw, Superintendent of the Park [5]
  13. Mr. Millan, “who has the direction of gardening operations” in the absence of Joseph Paxton [5]

The Illustrated London News also noted “Directors and officers of the Company” present for the dinner, but they were not named. Most other reports noted “other gentlemen” present at the dinner.

I’ll grow this list as I get more information.


[1] The Illustrated London News, 07 January 1854

[2] Waterhouse Hawkins 1872 drawing

[3] Waterhouse Hawkins letter to Trimmer, 27 August 1862

[4] The Ipswich Journal, Saturday, 07 January 1854 Issue 5983. The same information is provided by The Morning Chronicle, Wednesday, 04 January 1854; Issue 27155

[5] “A Novel Dinner Party,” The Lady’s Newspaper and Pictorial Times, Saturday, 07 January 1854, number 367, page 4.

Joseph Prestwich’s Invitation to Dinner in the Iguanodon Mould for New Year’s Eve
Joseph Prestwich’s Invitation to Dinner in the Iguanodon Mould for New Year’s Eve, 31 December 1853. Source: Geological Society of London.

Invitations drawn by Waterhouse Hawkins

Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins created an elegant invitation card for the event.

The first version of the invitation featured an image of a colossal Iguanodon statue adjoined to a long ladder. Inside the statue are some guests. In front of the scene, a pterodactyl sits with wing outstretched. On the wing is the text of the invitation:

“Mr Waterhouse Hawkins requests the honour of — at dinner in the mould of the Iguanodon at the Crystal Palace on Saturday evening December the 31st at five o’clock 1853 An answer will oblige.”

The final version of the invitation kept the pterodactyl in the foreground but turned Iguanodon to face forward and added a plesiosaur, whose long neck helped boost a celebrant. The scale remains exaggerated. (Another invitation is viewable through Natural History Museum (NHM).)

The Illustrated London News reported these invitations went out quite late in the month, implying hasty planning and quick shifting by “all to whom it was possible to accept, at such short notice, this singular invitation. Many have to regret the rapidity of executing this novel idea, at a season when almost all have a plurality of engagements.” (ILN 24(662): 22)

What Did They Eat?

A “Bill of Fare” (=menu) survives from the evening, and the dinner was later described as “luxurious and elegantly served”. We don’t know what in fact was placed in front of the guests, but the surviving Bill offers a a sumptuous offer over eight courses.

  1. Soups: Mock Turtle, Julien, Hare
  2. Fish: Cod and Oyster Sauce, Fillets of Whiting, Turbot à l’Hollandaise
  3. Removes: Roast Turkey, Ham, Raised Pigeon Pie, Boiled Chicken and Celery Sauce
  4. Entrées: Cotolettes de Moutonaux Tomates, Currie de Lapereaux au riz, Salmi de Perdrix, Mayonnaise de filets de Sole
  5. Game: Pheasants, Woodcocks, Snipes
  6. Sweets: Macedoine Jelly, Orange Jelly, Bavaroise, Charlotte Russe, French Pastry, Nougat à la Chantilly, Buisson de Meringue aux [Confiture ?]
  7. Dessert: Grapes, Apples, Pears, Almonds and Raisins, French Plums, Pines, Filberts, Walnuts &c, &c
  8. Wines: Sherry, Madeira, Port, Moselle, Claret
The Lady’s Newspaper and Pictorial Times reported the meal was catered by Mr Higginbottom of Anerley Tavern [possibly =Anerley Arms] (07 January 1854, page 4), who also catered other celebrity events in Crystal Palace before the in-house facilities were ready.
Standing Iguanodon on Secondary Island in Crystal Palace Park prior to restoration in 2014. Photo: ProfJoeCain
Standing Iguanodon on Secondary Island in Crystal Palace Park prior to restoration in 2014. Photo: ProfJoeCain

What Did They Do?

The Leader and Saturday Analyst gave the event detailed coverage, as did The Illustrated London News.

Of course, there was a dinner to eat.

Formal toasts followed. The Illustrated London News described the sequence as “the usual routine of loyal toasts were duly given and responded to”. These included toasts to The Queen, Prince Albert, and the Royal family. 

Thereafter, Mr. Francis Fuller, Managing Director of the Crystal Palace Company, spoke about the “great interest evinced and approbation expressed by H.M. the Queen and H.R.H. the Prince, on their recent visit”.

Professor Richard Owen gave a speech about the project, stressing its scientific foundations. “Professor Owen adding that it had been a source of great pleasure to him to aid so important an undertaking, by assisting with his instruction and direction a gentleman who possessed the rarely-united capabilities of an anatomist, a naturalist, and a practical artist…. The learned Professor then briefly commented upon the course of reasoning by which Cuvier, and other comparative anatomists, were enabled to build up the various animals of which but small remains were at first presented to their anxious study…” (ILN 24(662): 22)

Additional detail was provided in coverage in The Morning Chronicle. “In a brief and eloquent address,” Owen reportedly

“alluded to the rapid development of the science of geology, and the great progress which had been made in it within the last fifty year, greatly exceeding the most sanguine expectations of the earliest of the labourers in this interesting and extensive field of inquiry. The learned professor pointed out how the researches of Cuvier had led him to those wonderful conclusions which had enabled his followers to construct from a single fossil bone the entire structure of an extinct animal, and how the untiring investigations and great anatomical knowledge of John Hunter had confirmed the theories of Cuvier. He described the patient and persevering exertions of Dean Conybeare, who from a few bones, discovered at distances far apart, had constructed that most wonderful of animals which his name would ever be associated, which was half a crocodile, half a fish, half a dolphin, and had a graceful neck of a swan. Poor Buckland, too – he who from a single tooth had constructed that most cantankerous of all animals, the Meglysaurus [sic] – received an eloquent and well-merited eulogy. Finally, the honoured list of names was concluded by that of Algernon Mantell [sic], the discoverer of the beast in the model of which the company had just dined. The memory of Mantell would ever be associated with that noble disregard of self with which he pursued his favourite study, and that porcupine-like jealousy which he always displayed lest any person should sacrilegiously dare to cut off an inch of the tail of the monster which he had constructed from a single fossil tooth. Professor Owen, at the close of his remarks, proposed ‘The memory of Mantell, the discoverer of the Iguanodon,’ a toast which was responded to in mournful and appropriate silence.” (Source: “Crystal Palace, Sydenham. Dinner to Professor Owen in the Iguanodon,” The Morning Chronicle, Wednesday, 04 January 1854; Issue 27155)

The Lady’s Newspaper and Pictorial Times reported Owen’s comments about Mantell in more charitable fashion, quoting Owen saying, “that gentleman was accurately exact in the anatomical proportions and general features of the animals he had produced; and, if he were not precisely exact in reproducing the animals as they once lived, sure he was there was no palaeontologist in existence who could point out where he was wrong.” (page 4) They also noted that Professor Forbes testified to the skill and veracity of Waterhouse Hawkins, and “he and other gentlemen took occasion to allude to the educational advantages which must be derived by the public form this and other departments of the Crystal Palace…” (page 4). 

Professor Edward Forbes “also bore testimony to the truthful care and study with which these great models were produced”.

In 1872, Waterhouse Hawkins recalled the occasion also included song from “a musical friend of Mr Fuller” whose name he had forgotten but “whose delightful singing greatly increased the pleasure of a memorable evening”. What was sung? Unfortunately, we don’t have a playlist. Several sources cite the party singing parts of a poem written by Edward Forbes. It was published in full first in Routledge’s Guide to the Crystal Palace and Park at Sydenham (1854), pages 20-22. I transcribe it here in full. 

Source: Edward Forbes. 1853. “A thousand ages underground”. First published in Routledge’s Guide to the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, pp. 21-22.
Source: Edward Forbes. 1853. “A thousand ages underground”. First published in Routledge’s Guide to the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, pp. 21-22.

“A thousand ages underground
His skeleton had lain;
But now his body’s big and round,
And he’s himself again!
His bones, like Adam’s, wrapped in clay,
His ribs of iron stout,
Where is the brute alive to-day
That dares with him turn out?
Beneath his hide he’s got inside
The souls of living men,
Who dare our Saurian now deride
With life in him again?”

“The jolly old beast
Is not deceased,
There’s life in him again.”
(A roar.)

“In fairy land are fountains gay,
With dragons for their guard:
To keep the people from the sight,
The brutes hold watch and ward!
But far more gay our founts shall play,
Our dragons, far more true,
Will bid the nations enter in
And see what skill can do!
For monsters wise our saurian are,
And wisely shall they reign,
To spread sound knowledge near and far
They’ve come to life again!”

“Though savage war her teeth may gnash,
And human blood may flow,
And foul ambition, fierce and rash,
Would plunge the world in woe.
Each column of this palace fair
That heavenward soars on high,
A flag of hope shall on it bear,
Proclaiming strife must die!
And art and science far shall spread
Around this fair domain,
The People’s Palace rears its head
With life in it again.”

Source: Edward Forbes. 1853. “A thousand ages underground”. First published in Routledge’s Guide to the Crystal Palace at Sydenham: With Descriptions of the Principal Works of Science and Art, and of the Terraces, Fountains, Geological Formations, and Restoration of Extinct Animals, Therein Exhibited (London: George Routledge and Co.), pp. 21-22. (Listen to a recent rendition of the first verse of song.)

Writing to a colleague in 1862, Waterhouse Hawkins explained, “The roaring chorus was so fierce and enthusiastic as almost to lead to the belief that the herd of lguanodons were bellowing”. The Routledge Guide (1854, page 21) exaggerated the report in The Illustrated London News to proclaim, “”…the ‘roaring’ chorus being taken up by the company in a manner so fierce and enthusiastic, as almost to lead to the belief that a herd of iguanodons were bellowing from some of the numerous pit-falls in Penge Park, in which they had been entrapped…”

Many newspapers reported the event in the following days. All press accounts followed the tongue-in-cheek spirit of holiday celebrations. For example, Punch reported “Fun in a Fossil” (1854 volume 26, page 24),

“The world of scientific gastronomy will learn with interest that Professors Owen and Forbes, with a party of other gentlemen, numbering altogether 21, had an exceedingly good dinner, the other day, in the interior of the Iguanodon modelled at the Crystal Palace at Sydenham. We congratulate the company on the era in which they live; for had it been an early geological period, they might perhaps have occupied the Iguanodon’s inside without having any dinner there.”

Waterhouse Hawkins said the proceedings lasted well past midnight. The Lady’s Newspaper and Pictorial Times reported he “was obliged to retire in consequence of indisposition. He could walk to his home at Fossil Villa, 22 Belvedere Road, Anerley (SE19 2HW). The Illustrated London News reported an “agreeable party of philosophers returned to London by rail”. In another article, I speculate how a famous Punch cartoon might comment on impacts on guests that night.

Close-up of diners. Dinner in the Iguanodon Model, at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham
Close-up of diners. Dinner in the Iguanodon Model, at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham. This image appeared in The Illustrated London News, volume 24, number 662, page 22. Published 07 January 1854.

How Did Everyone Fit?

Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins invitation for New Year's Eve dinner in Iguanodon, Crystal Palace Park, Sydenham
Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins first invitation for New Year’s Eve dinner in Iguanodon, Crystal Palace Park, Sydenham

They didn’t. Reports said 21 men attended. The Illustrated London News engraving shows an extension built outside the starboard side of the Iguanodon model, creating a T-shape to the overall table. Men are shown sitting at the table of that extension. At its head was rumoured to have been Waterhouse Hawkins. (In 1872, Waterhouse Hawkins positioned himself inside Iguanodon and middle portside.)

The drawing Waterhouse Hawkins created when recalling the event two decades later is slightly different. It shows 21 men inside Iguanodon. No extension. No additional people. He names some men in specific locations around the table.

The Illustrated London News engraving and Hawkins’ 1872 drawing are not compatible. Based on the overall weight of evidence, I suspect either Hawkins was misremembering some of the finer detail of the evening with recollecting twenty years later. Or, he is using artistic license to create a better image. Or, both images are faithful representations but for different moments of the evening. Perhaps when dining, the extension was used. After service was cleared, or some of the guests left, perhaps all those remaining moved into Iguanodon for toasts, songs, and jollity. Waterhouse Hawkins shows a tight fit regardless.

A brief notice in The Examiner added a twist to the guest list.

“At the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, on Saturday, a dinner was given to Professor Owen in the model of the Iguanodon. The company numbered eight-and-twenty, of whom twenty-one were accommodated in the interior of the great Plesiosaurus [sic], and seven at a side table, on a platform raised to the same level.” (The Examiner, 07 January 1854, issue 2397, page 11. Ignore the obvious mistake about which animal model was involved.)

The same information (without the Plesiosaurus mistake) was reported by The Manchester Guardian on 04 January 1854, page 2. The Ipswich Journal on 07 January 1854 also reported a configuration of twenty-one men “were accommodated in the interior of Iguanodon”  and seven were sat at a side table. A different report claims “Eleven guests could sit inside the belly; ten more places were prepared on a table alongside.”

I don’t know how to reconcile the discrepancy of numbers in attendance other than to suggest someone made a counting error (I don’t think this is the case) or people counted guests at different times (neither do I accept this). I suspect “people who counted” were counted. As the purpose of the event was to promote certification by scientists and intelligentsia, only men included in that category were counted. Company men were ancillary, going unnamed in press coverage.

What’s the Best Image for the Dinner?

Sketch of Dinner in Iguanodon Model as remembered by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, 1862.
Sketch of Dinner in Iguanodon Model as remembered by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, 1862. Source: Letter from Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins to Edward James Alfred Trimmer, 27 August 1862, British Library Add MS 50150 f215. Photo: ProfJoeCain.

Three illustrations provide our best visual records about the New Year’s Eve dinner.

  1. The Illustrated London News engraving: “Dinner in the Iguanodon Model, at the Crystal Palace, at Sydenham”. Illustrated London News, volume 24, issue 662, page 22. Published 07 January 1854.
  2. Waterhouse Hawkins 1872 drawing: “The Dinner in the Mould of the Iguanodon Given by Mr. B. Waterhouse Hawkins”. Dated 1872. This is hand drawn illustration with text. Source: Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins Album, ANSP-Coll-0803. Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. (Full page of source available via Racing Nelly Bly)
  3. Hawkins sketch in a letter to Trimmer. Dated 27 August 1862. This is a letter from Waterhouse Hawkins to Edward James Alfred Trimmer (1827-1904), Secretary, Royal College of Surgeons. British Library Add MS 50150, f215.

The Illustrated London News engraving shows more detail, though we must refrain treating it as a photograph. In it, a platform surrounds Iguanodon. Servers also have room to move on the ground around the platform. The scene is wrapped in a decorative tent, possibly faithful and possibly imagined by the illustrator.

Plaques hang over the scene. These celebrate four giants in vertebrate palaeontology: Georges Cuvier, William Buckland, Richard Owen, and Gideon Mantell. (However, The Ipswich Journal, 07 January 1854, and The Morning Chronicle, 04 January 1854, reported the signs as “banners” and added the names William Conybeare (1787-1857), Edward Forbes, and “other scientific persons”.) The names were chosen by Waterhouse Hawkins, and they had purpose in the moment. The plaques are meant to flatter Owen, adding to his celebrity power in the evening. Mantell’s connection to Iguanodon would be known to all around the table. He was first offered the consultancy for Crystal Palace Company but declined owing to terminal health problems. Buckland’s contributions to British palaeontology also would have been known to all present, as would his association with another sculpture in the project, Megalosaurus. Cuvier was the one non-British, non-English selection. He was the indisputable hero-mentor for English anatomists and naturalists. Owen craved the accolade, “the British Cuvier”. Waterhouse Hawkins purposefully included some of Cuvier’s reconstructions in his set of finished sculptures.

A close inspection of this engraving for The Illustrated London News will reveal two vertical blank lines dividing the image into thirds. These lines are present on the original as it appeared in the magazine. These are not fold lines. They are edges to pieces of plate used in the printing process.

The Dinner in the Mould of the Iguanodon Given By Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. Drawn by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. Source: Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.
The Dinner in the Mould of the Iguanodon Given By Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. Drawn by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins in 1872 mimicking the engraving from The Illustrated London News. Location: Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.

Waterhouse Hawkins’ 1872 Illustration

Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins drew “Dinner in the Mould of the Iguanodon” in 1872 for unknown purposes. His caption identified several of the guests and their location in the mould.

The Dinner in the Mould of the Iguanodon Given by Mr. B. Waterhouse Hawkins

To Prof R Owen, Prof Edward Forbes, Mr Joseph Prestwich and 18 other Scientific and literary gentlemen at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham on the 31st of December 1853[.] The Restoration of the Iguanodon was one of the largest and earliest completed of Mr Waterhouse Hawkins’ gigantic models measuring thirty feet from the nose to the end of the tail, of that quantity the body with the neck contained about fifteen feet which when the pieces of the mould that formed the ridge of the back were removed the body presented the appearance of a wide open Boat with an enclosed arch seven feet high at both ends.

The arch in the head of the animal was occupied by Prof R Owen the celebrated Palaeontologist who with Prof Edward Forbes liberally aided Mr Waterhouse Hawkins with counsel and scientific criticism during the whole time occupied by his unique, arduous and successful undertaking. The wider arch at the opposite end was filled by Mr Francis Fuller the Managing Director of the Crystal Palace with Prof Edward Forbes on his right and a musical friend on his left whose delightful singing greatly increased the pleasure of a memorable evening.

The two sides contain nine seats each that in centre of left was occupied by Mr Hawkins as host and Chairman, was supported on his right by Mr Joseph Prestwich one of his earliest pupils & constant friend during the previous twenty five years. Mr John Gould FRS was on his left. [end]

This caption was transcribed by Valerie Bramwell (2008, page 25), copied here with my corrections.

Source: Valerie Bramwell and Robert McCracken Peck. 2008. All in the Bones: A Biography of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (Philadelphia: Academy of Natural Sciences). ISBN 9780910006651. This is hand drawn illustration with text. Source: Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins Album, ANSP-Coll-0803. Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.

Which Iguanodon Did They Dine Inside?

One frequently asked question about the New Year’s Eve dinner is “Which sculpture did they use and precisely where in the park did they have the dinner?”

The park currently has 33 sculptures. 10-15 were finished by the time of the New Year’s Eve dinner according to The Lady’s Newspaper and Pictorial Times. Visitors to the park today see two Iguanodon sculptures. One is standing. One is sitting. Both are original to 1854, and each is in its original position and orientation. In the narrative of the site, the Iguanodons are found on geologically timed “Secondary Island” together with two other dinosaurs, Megalosaurus and Hylaeosaurus. These three are the only true dinosaurs on the site. Also on the island are two groups of pterodactyls and several ammonites. Rocks on the island have geological significance, too, including petrified wood placed immediately behind Megalosaurus. This is described in detail in Owen’s guidebook to the site, Geology and Inhabitants of the Ancient World.

The Lady’s Newspaper and Pictorial Times reported Waterhouse Hawkins had already completed work on the sitting Iguanodon sculpture and that he had work underway on the clay model for the standing Iguanodon when he decided to host the dinner. This matches the scene in the engraving from the Illustrated London News, “‘The Extinct Animals” Model-Room”.

It’s the standing Iguanodon that was used for the New Year’s Eve dinner. Knowing this isn’t enough, however. The dinner was held while construction was underway. Each statue went through four stages. When people ask which Iguanodon was used, sometimes they are asking about which stage was the one used.

Maquette of Iguanodon (Standing) by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. The original is thought to be lost. Authentic duplicates, cast from the original by Waterhouse Hawkins and craftsmen under his license, can be found in many natural history museums in Britain.

Diversion To Get The Vocabulary Right

To discuss the four stages, it’s helpful to clarify a bit of vocabulary associated with this type of sculpture making:

  • maquette – a scaled representation of the finished work. This might serve as a draft design or practice piece for the artist; it might serve as a replica after completion. Waterhouse Hawkins created maquettes for some of his sculptures. These were drafts, and he referred to them when consulting experts, such as Owen. After their use in production, his maquettes were copied and sold for educational use and museum display. In America, they were sold through the Ward catalogue in 1866 (see Davidson 2005 for additional research).  Views of the standing Iguanodon are widely available. 3-D digital forms also are available.
  • model or mould (mold)– the object crafted by the artist that serves as the exact likeness to be created in the finished work. Models are transitional pieces. Waterhouse Hawkins made models from clay. The original clay model does not survive.
  • cast – the casing that holds an impression of the model. It is used to give shape to fluid materials used when creating the final product. Casts also are transitional pieces. The original casing for standing Iguanodon does not survive. 
  • sculpture – the finished object we observe. The Iguanodons in Crystal Palace Park today are sculptures.

The whole process of creating this type of finished sculpture is called “casting”. (Empyrean gives a 21m demonstration of the process on YouTube.) This is distinct from “sculpting,” which refers to the act of carving and shaping a form directly from source materials. Technically, Waterhouse Hawkins sculpted the clay models. He then made casts of the models. He then moved the casts to site and positioned them as he wanted the complete sculptures to stand. Once re-assembled in place, he used the process of casting to pour in fluid materials that, when hardened, resulted in the finished sculptures. (I find this vocabulary quite confusing, but locking it down helps understand what is used in this story.)

Remember, the process just described is schematic. It gives far too much credit to just part of the work involved in creating finished pieces. For one, Waterhouse Hawkins did not work alone. Sadly, we know almost nothing about the craftsmen and other workers he employed. For another, the artistic elements of his project worked hand-in-glove with engineering. Sculptors must work out how elements of a piece will hold together given factors such as weight and strength, or stress and load. Waterhouse Hawkins had problems on this front, but that’s a story for elsewhere. Generally speaking, models and casts don’t need so much engineering.

Standing Iguanodon in Crystal Palace Park (2014)
Standing Iguanodon sculpture on Secondary Island in Crystal Palace Park. This photograph was taken after restoration work was completed in 2014. Photo: ProfJoeCain

Back to the Question: Which Thing Did They Dine Inside?

The more precise vocabulary improves this analysis. We know the New Year’s Eve dinner was held in the standing Iguanodon. But was it in the maquette, the model, the cast, or the sculpture?

Answer: The dinner was held the model of the standing Iguanodon. The model was in the studio. The studio was at the southwest corner of the site (now it’s the site of Crystal Palace Park Farm, Capel Manor College).

Maquette? No

The maquette is approximately two feet in length. It can rest on a small table. It simply cannot be a candidate.

Close-up of casting piece. Dinner in the Iguanodon Model, at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham.
Close-up of cast piece. Dinner in the Iguanodon Model, at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham. This image appeared in The Illustrated London News, volume 24, number 662, page 22. Published 07 January 1854.

Cast? No

The cast alone was unsuitable. Casts tend to have a rough exterior and hard-to-decipher interior. Casts on the scale of Iguanodon were created in segments of finished work. This allows for disassembly and transported to the site of installation. A piece of cast is shown on the floor in The Illustrated London News in the lower right corner.

Sculpture? No

The sculpture visitors see today was not the location of the dinner. First, the site was unsuitable. Secondary Island was a muddy mess of a building site in December 1853, as shown by Delamotte’s photographs from early 1854. The effort involved in creating the event, and moving people onto and around that spot, would have been prohibitive.

Second, there was not enough ground around the standing Iguanodon to allow for the platform, the working space around the sides, and the tent with its supports.

Third, there was not enough room inside the open sculpture to place a table, seating, and people sufficient to make much of the occasion. The engineering took up too much interior space, and the additional volume required for 21 men and their supper simply wasn’t there. The lower number reported for men sitting inside the statue is 11. That’s a more plausible number, but that number only appears in one source.

Fourth, in addition to the platform for guests, flooring around the entire visiting space would have been required to lift visitors and serving staff above the mud. The Illustrated London News remarked the event was hastily organised, so the time required to prepare the dinner site likely was short.

Finally, The Illustrated London News engraving shows an additional table extending out the starboard side of Iguanodon. This would add capacity, to be sure, and it solves the problem of space. However, if the dinner took place on Secondary Island, that extension and servicing area would have to be placed well over the island’s edge and over the water. Similarly, the The Illustrated London News engraving shows a partition in the upper left far corner of the tent. This suggests transit of service staff through that space. Exit from the tent at that spot would lead someone to a 2m drop into the lake without addition platform. While not impossible, this would add considerably to the effort and expense of the evening. It is something that, perhaps, would have merited notice in press coverage.

Philip Henry Delamotte. Models of Extinct Animals, the Iguanodon. c. 1854. (British Library Shelfmark: Tab.442.a.5, Item number: 66. From LL/40201.)
Philip Henry Delamotte. Models of Extinct Animals, the Iguanodon. This photograph is undated but is early Spring 1854 judging by the amount of work completed and underway. Note some of the smaller sculptures in the background right of the image. (British Library Shelfmark: Tab.442.a.5, Item number: 66. From LL/40201.)

In summary, I doubt the artist would risk damage to their sculpture with such direct exposure to visitors and such additional loading. Both the The Illustrated London News engraving and the 1872 Waterhouse Hawkins drawing show cast still in place under the model, implying work-in-progress.

Clay Model? Yes

Instead, it was the clay model or mould that was used for the New Year’s Eve dinner. Evidence comes from several sources.

First, let’s take the language used in the sources seriously. The famous 1854 engraving is titled, “Dinner in the Iguanodon Model, at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham”. The Bill of Fare for the evening (written by Waterhouse Hawkins) describes the location as “…in the Mould of the Iguanodon”. The 1872 drawing made by BHW described it as “in the Mould”.

As noted above, in the lower right corner of the scene is a piece of cast (by shape, possibly from one of the legs), possibly in the frame to illustrate the process of casting. Part of the cast also is shown in a rough sketch by Waterhouse Hawkins showing Richard Owen sitting at the head of the space inside Iguanodon (Bramwell 2008, page 24, figure 27). This shows the cast in place from approximately the jawline and down through the neckline.

Artist’s working shed in Crystal Palace Park used by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins during construction of the famous statues. From Illustrated London News 1853 Dec 31.
“The Extinct Animals Model-Room at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham” The Illustrated London News, volume 23, issue 661, page 600. Published 31 December 1853. Used by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins and craftsmen to create models, casts, and some sculptures for Crystal Palace dinosaurs.

Second, on the day of the dinner, The Illustrated London News published an image of the studio Waterhouse Hawkins used at Crystal Palace. The image is captioned, “‘The Extinct Animals’ Model-Room, at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham”. Included in the scene is the model of standing Iguanodon. Its lower half is surrounded by cast. (Though published 31 December 1853, “’The Extinct Animals’ Model-Room” likely recreates a scene from early November 1853, at the time of a Royal visit.) This scene of the The Illustrated London News engraving on 07 January shows Iguanodon considerably more exposed, with feet and undercarriage in view. Detailing is sparse, but there appears to be no casing or supports for the casing, The lack of detail likely is a matter of economy by the illustrator.

The space inside the Model-Room certainly was large enough to house a dinner for two dozen guests and service. There also is space and ready-to-hand materials for building the surrounding platform and extension.

Third, although Waterhouse Hawkins later reflected on the difficulties accessing the Model-Room on a daily basis, that studio offered far easier and far more genteel access than Secondary Island. Guests could arrive by transfer carriage from the rail station, or walk the short distance, without need for additional protective gear. No new path-making was required. The studio had conveniences for the guests, and it had space for logistics associated with the event. No press report comments on arrival or exit. This suggests it was mundane and trivial, so not over the mud and water of the landscape to reach Secondary Island.

Finally, the tent might be an artistic addition for the illustration. If the tent truly was present on the day, it would be useful for obscuring the working scene of the studio. Alternatively, the tent might simply have provided some insulation from late-December temperatures in an unusually cold winter. (This is suggested by The Ipswich Journal, 07  January 1854.) Waterhouse Hawkins later complained about working conditions in the Model-Room, so some accommodation would be predicted for the guests. We can expect Waterhouse Hawkins to offer viewings of ongoing work on site, too.

Interior of standing Iguanodon in Crystal Palace Park following restoration work in 2014
Interior of standing Iguanodon in Crystal Palace Park following restoration work in 2014. Forward facing. Teeth are visible in background. The original engineering used a brick and cement interior, with iron bar for structural load. This was covered by poured Portland cement into the casting to form scale-like exterior. Photo: ProfJoeCain

Was the New Year’s Eve dinner an annual event?

No. It was a unique event on 31 December 1853. 

Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle reported on 31 December 1854, the first anniversary of the original dinner, that Waterhouse Hawkins gave “his annual dinner to his staff in his workshops, where opportunity was presented of seeing that gentleman’s designs for keeping up the educational pretensions so valiantly put for by the Crystal Palace Company, and which at least in this department, do not seem likely to fall short of the truly original ideas with which they were commenced.” (31 December 1854, page 8)

This would have been a Boxing Day supper (26th) for the craftsmen. Even this was not to last. In 1855, the Crystal Palace Company terminated the Extinct Animals project and ended Waterhouse Hawkins’s contract. He said he had not complete his original plan. For a short time, he campaigned to have the works reinstated, even attempting a public subscription to pay for the creation of a mammoth sculpture. However, the company did not relent. The project ended in 1855.

What’s It Like Inside the Iguanodon Today?

Many of the original statues remain in the scheme designed by Waterhouse Hawkins. You can visit them today. The scene inside the standing Iguanodon today is nothing like what it was in 1854. The interior today is a network of supports and reinforcements. The statue’s foundations were not engineered to support the weight for so long a time. The forelimbs push down on the hill’s ledge to cause a forward pull. Recent emergency conservation stabilise the statue, but it did not secure the hillside.

Today, access to the Island is supervised. Because the sculptures are fragile and unstable, public access to the interior is not allowed.


Written by Professor Joe Cain.