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Great Exhibition

Great Exhibition Collection

History Archive - Great Exhibition Collection

The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations or The Great Exhibition (sometimes referred to as the Crystal Palace Exhibition in reference to the temporary structure in which it was held), an international exhibition, took place in Hyde Park, London, from 1 May to 15 October 1851. It was the first in a series of World's Fairs, exhibitions of culture and industry that became popular in the 19th century.

The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations was organised by Prince Albert, Henry Cole, Francis Henry, George Wallis, Charles Dilke and other members of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce as a celebration of modern industrial technology and design. It was arguably a response to the highly effective French Industrial Exposition of 1844: indeed, its prime motive was for Britain to make "clear to the world its role as industrial leader".

Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's consort, was an enthusiastic promoter of the self-financing exhibition; the government was persuaded to form the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 to establish the viability of hosting such an exhibition. Queen Victoria and her family visited three times. Although the Great Exhibition was a platform on which countries from around the world could display their achievements, Britain sought to prove its own superiority.

The British exhibits at the Great Exhibition "held the lead in almost every field where strength, durability, utility and quality were concerned, whether in iron and steel, machinery or textiles." Britain also sought to provide the world with the hope of a better future. Europe had just struggled through "two difficult decades of political and social upheaval," and now Britain hoped to show that technology, particularly its own, was the key to a better future.

Six million people—equivalent to a third of the entire population of Britain at the time—visited the Great Exhibition. The average daily attendance was 42,831 with a peak attendance of 109,915 on 7 October. The event made a surplus of £186,000 (£18,370,000 in 2015),, which was used to found the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum. They were all built in the area to the south of the exhibition, nicknamed Albertopolis, alongside the Imperial Institute. The remaining surplus was used to set up an educational trust to provide grants and scholarships for industrial research; it continues to do so today.

The Crystal Palace

The Crystal Palace was a well-known English resort, standing high up in grounds just outside the southern boundary of the county of London, in the neighbourhood of Sydenham. The building, chiefly of iron and glass, is flanked by two towers and is visible high over the metropolis. It measures 1608 ft. in length by 384 ft. across the transcripts, and was opened in its present site in 1854.

The materials, however, were mainly those of the hall set up in Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition of 1851. The designer was Sir Joseph Paxton. In the palace there are various permanent exhibitions, while special exhibitions are held from time to time, also concerts, winter pantomimes and other entertainments. In the extensive grounds there is accommodation for all kinds of games; the final tie of the Association Football Cup and other important football matches are played here, and there are also displays of fireworks and other attractions.

The Crystal Palace was designed by Joseph Paxton with support from structural engineer Charles Fox, the committee overseeing its construction including Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and went from its organisation to the grand opening in just nine months. The building was architecturally adventurous, drawing on Paxton's experience designing greenhouses for the sixth Duke of Devonshire.

It took the form of a massive glass house, 1848 feet long by 454 feet wide (about 563 metres by 138 metres) and was constructed from cast iron-frame components and glass made almost exclusively in Birmingham and Smethwick. From the interior, the building's large size was emphasized with trees and statues; this served, not only to add beauty to the spectacle, but also to demonstrate man's triumph over nature.

The Crystal Palace was an enormous success, considered an architectural marvel, but also an engineering triumph that showed the importance of the Exhibition itself. The building was later moved and re-erected in 1854 in enlarged form at Sydenham Hill in south London, an area that was renamed Crystal Palace. It was destroyed by fire on 30 November 1936.


1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 7

Available Books


Image Name
Renaissance Vase and Dish in Parian, Minton, Stoke-upon-Trent
Front Cover
Decoration of Saddle-cover
West Indies Colonies
North Transept Waiting For the Queen
Standard Lamp by Winfield, Birmingham
Candelabrum and Arabesque by Trentanove, Rome
Enamelling, from Arms
Andromeda by John Bell. Cast in Brone by the Coalbrookdale Co.
Ornamental Gun-stand, from Tunis
The Transept
India Court (No. 1)
Exterior (Coals etc.)
Home Stove and Fender by Stuart and Smith, Sheffield
India No. 3
The First Step by Magni, Milan
In the Fine Arts Court
Title Page
Embroidery, on black cloth
America from the North-West End
India No. 1
Figured Silk by Campbell, Harrison, and Lloyd, Spitalfields (For Lewis and Allenby, London)
The Massacre of the Innocents, carved in oak by Geerts, Louvain
Godfrey of Bouillon, (East Nave)
Portions of Stoves by Hoole, Robson, & Hoole, Sheffield. Designed by A. Stevens.
A Youth at a Stream by Foley, A.R.A. Cast in bronze by Hatfield
Chintz Pattern by Japuis and Son, Paris
Vase, “Rimini” by Royal Manufactory at Sevres
Figured Silk by Mathevon and Buvard, Lyons
Group of Vases in Beauvais ware by Mansard, Voisinlieu, near Paris
France No. 4
Cradle, carved in boxwood by Rogers, London, for her Majesty the Queen
Pavement in Encaustic Tiles by Minton, Stoke-upon-Trent
Black Lace Flounce by Greasly & Horcroft, Nottingham
Shield in Iron by Lepage Moutier, Paris. Designed by Vechte.
Jade-stones Vases, from China
“The Coventry Ribbon.” and Specimens of Ribbons from St. Etienne
India No. 7
Chinese Looking-glass in carved Wood Frame
Stove by Hoole, Robson, & Hoole, Sheffield. Designed by A. Stevens.
Group of Objects in Glass by Bacchus, Birmingham ; Green, and Apsley Pellatt, London
Front Cover
The Indian Tent
Axminster Carpet by Watson, Bell, and Co., London
The Crystal Fountain by F. & C. Osler, London & Birmingham
Group of Objects by Morel, London
Tunis No. 1
Window Ornament, from Tunis
Vase and Dish by Morel ; for Webb, London
Group of Vases, &c. by Minton, Stoke-upon-Trent
Jewellery in the Mediaeval Style by Hardman, Birmingham. Designed by Pugin.
Sideboard and Furniture by Snell, London. Designed by the Baron Marochetti.
North Germany
Paper-Hanging by Hinchliffe & Co., Chelsea
Florentine Mosaic by Woodruff, Bakewell | Enamelled Slate by Magnus, Pimlico
Silk Brocades by Campbell, Harrison, and Lloyd, and Vanner and Son, Spitalfields. (For Howell, James and Co., London)
Panel, ornamented with Buhl by Fourdinois, Paris
Bedstead in Zebra-wood by Leistler and Son, Vienna
Painted Arabesque by Crace ; with Decoration in Composition, by Jackson & Sons, London
Church Furniture
Back Cover
Decoration of Metal-work, from Arms
Kincob Pattern, woven at Ahmedabad
Mediaeval Court
Block-printed Table-cover by Evans and Co. London
In the West Nave
Illustrated Title Page
Specimens of Stained Glass by Lusson, and Gerente, Paris
The Furniture Court (No. 2)
Carpet, in the Mediaeval Style by Crace, London. Designed by Pugin.
Bookbinding and Inlaying by Batten, Clapham
Turkey No. 1
Group of Furniture by Snell, London
Shawl, from Delhi, the pattern worked on a Cashmere ground
Group of Chinese Bronzes, inlaid with silver wire.
Lacquer-work, from Cashmere
Scarf-end, embroidered at Dacca, on white muslin
India No. 5
Details of Home Stove and Fender by Stuart and Smith, Sheffield
Part of the Furniture Court, from the West Nave
Bookbinding by J. and J. Lieghton, London. Designed by W. Lieghton.
Marquetry Enrichments of a Pianoforte by Broadwood, London
The Transept from the South Gallery. A view, showing a tree and fountain.
Casette, or Jewel-case, carved in Ivory by Matifat, Paris
Embroidery, on crimson silk
Title Page - The Coalbrookdale Dome


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