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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
France No. 4
Group of Objects, principally enamelled
Jewellery by Rudolphi, Paris
Stove in White Porcelain by Hoffman, Berlin
Tunis No. 1
Decoration of Metal-work, from Arms
Title Page
India No. 1
Front Cover
Moving Machinery
Axminster Carpet by Jackson and Graham, London
Decoration of a Box of Water-Colours by Ackermann and Co., London
Part of the Stationery Court, from the West Nave
Cradle, carved in boxwood by Rogers, London, for her Majesty the Queen
Bookbinding by J. and J. Lieghton, London. Designed by W. Lieghton.
India No. 6
Portion of a Silver Shield. Presented by his Majesty the King of Prussia to H.R.H. The Princes of Wales, on the occasion of his Baptism
Group of Objects by Morel, London
Niche and Figure, carved in wood by Knecht, Paris
Vase and Dish by Morel ; for Webb, London
Portions of Stoves by Hoole, Robson, & Hoole, Sheffield. Designed by A. Stevens.
The Indian Court (No. 2)
The Houses leading forth the Horses of the Sun
Turkey No. 1
Turkey No. 2
Illustrated Title Page
Sheffield Hardware
The Inauguration
Pendant Lamp in Porcelain by the Royal Manufactory, Sevres
The Hunter fighting with the Panter, Jerichau, Copenhagen
Gold Vase, enriched with Jewels and Enamels by Watherston & Brogden, London
Embroidered Boot-front, Scindian manufacture, from his Highness Meer Ali Moorad
Greek Embroidery
Group of Objects in Glass by Apsley Pellatt, Naylor, & Green, London
Home Stove and Fender by Stuart and Smith, Sheffield
The Crystal Fountain by F. & C. Osler, London & Birmingham
Specimens of Silversmith's Work by Marrel, Freres, Paris
A Group in Bronze by Vittoz, Paris
Ornamental Gun-stand, from Tunis
Mediaeval Court
Title Page
Chinese Looking-glass in carved Wood Frame
The Christ Child (“Christ Engel”) by Rietschel, Dresden
Closing Ceremony
Front Cover
Tunis No. 3
The British Nave
Vase by Hunt and Roskell, London
Part of the Furniture Court, from the West Nave
Printed Muslins by Depouilly and Co., Paris
Sideboard and Furniture by Snell, London. Designed by the Baron Marochetti.
Standard Lamp by Winfield, Birmingham
The Transept from the South Gallery. A view, showing a tree and fountain.
Group from the Royal Manufactory at Sevres
Stove by Hoole, Robson, & Hoole, Sheffield. Designed by A. Stevens.
India No. 2
Victory by Rauch, Berlin
Group of Flowers, carved in wood by Wallis, Louth, Lincolnshire
Group of Glass by Count Harrach, Bohemia
Group of Plate by Garrard, Loudon
North Transept Waiting For the Queen
Embroidery, on black cloth
Title Page
Group of Objects by Falloise, Liege
Luca della Robbia Friezes by Minton, Stoke-upon-Trent
The China Court
Portion of a Shield in Silver by Vechte ; for Hunt & Roskell, Lond.
Group of Vases, &c. by Minton, Stoke-upon-Trent
Paper-Hanging by Townsend and Parker, London
Printed Table-covers by H. and T. Wood, London. From Designs by Miss A. Carly
Terra-cotta Figure of Galatea and Majolica Garden-Vases by Minton, Stoke-upon-Trent
Richard Coeur de Lion by The Baron Marochetti
Andromeda by John Bell. Cast in Brone by the Coalbrookdale Co.
Damask Table-covers by Beveridge, Dunfermline
North Germany
Austria No. 1
Kincob Pattern, woven at Ahmedabad
Decoration of an Apartment by John Thomas, London
Bedstead by Winfield, Birmingham
Cashmere Scarf-end
Decoration derived from the Alhambra ; being a portion of the Cabinet of the Queen of Spain at Aranjuez
The Transept
Specimens of Stained Glass by Lusson, and Gerente, Paris
A Youth at a Stream by Foley, A.R.A. Cast in bronze by Hatfield
India Court (No. 1)
Flower-stand by Minton, Stoke-upon-Trent. Modelled by the Baron Marochetti.
Renaissance Vase and Dish in Parian, Minton, Stoke-upon-Trent
The Massacre of the Innocents, carved in oak by Geerts, Louvain
Paper-Hanging by Hinchliffe & Co., Chelsea


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