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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
Portion of Shawls by Roxburgh and Co. Paisley
Title Page
The Hunter fighting with the Panter, Jerichau, Copenhagen
Statuette in Ivory and Objects in Gold and Silver by Froment-Meurice, Paris
The Furniture Court (No. 2)
Specimens of Honiton Lace by Mrs. Treadwin, Exeter
Group from the Royal Manufactory at Sevres
Cupid and Panther by Rietschel, Dresden
Book-cover in carved Ivory, presented to her Majesty the Queen by the Emperor of Austria
Painted Lacquer-work, from Lahore
Group of Objects in Porcelain by Copeland, London and Stoke-upon-Trent
In the Fine Arts Court
Group of Objects by Falloise, Liege
Florentine Mosaic by Woodruff, Bakewell | Enamelled Slate by Magnus, Pimlico
The Crystal Fountain by F. & C. Osler, London & Birmingham
Group of Objects in Glass by Bacchus, Birmingham ; Green, and Apsley Pellatt, London
Godfrey of Bouillon, (East Nave)
North Transept Waiting For the Queen
Embroidery, on black cloth
Albanian Costume Embroidery
Embroidered Book-cover by French, Bolton, Lancashire
Open-work Panel by Bailey and Co., London
Part of the Stationery Court, from the West Nave
Printed Muslins by Depouilly and Co., Paris
Foreign Nave
India No. 3
Front Cover
Shield by Elkington & Mason, Birmingham
Home Stove and Fender by Stuart and Smith, Sheffield
Panel, ornamented with Buhl by Fourdinois, Paris
Group of Objects, principally enamelled
Group of Objects in Glass by Apsley Pellatt, Naylor, & Green, London
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
Front Cover
Turkey No. 2
Portions of Stoves by Hoole, Robson, & Hoole, Sheffield. Designed by A. Stevens.
Title Page
Flower-stand by Minton, Stoke-upon-Trent. Modelled by the Baron Marochetti.
Scarf-end, embroidered at Dacca, on white muslin
Pavement in Encaustic Tiles by Minton, Stoke-upon-Trent
Decoration of Metal-work, from Arms
Escrutoire in White Wood by Wettli, Berne
Terra-cotta Figure of Galatea and Majolica Garden-Vases by Minton, Stoke-upon-Trent
Austria No. 1
France No. 1
The Hunter by Gibson, R.A.
Block-printed Table-cover by Evans and Co. London
Vase, “Rimini” by Royal Manufactory at Sevres
Cradle, carved in boxwood by Rogers, London, for her Majesty the Queen
Andromeda by John Bell. Cast in Brone by the Coalbrookdale Co.
The Indian Tent
Pilaster in Carton-pierre by Cruchet, Paris
Group of Silversmiths' Work by Froment-Meurice, Paris
The Inauguration
The British Nave
Church Furniture
France No. 4
A Group in Bronze by Vittoz, Paris
Closing Ceremony
India No. 1
Pianofortes by Collard & Collard, London
Black Lace Flounce by Greasly & Horcroft, Nottingham
The Indian Court (No. 2)
Specimens of Stained Glass by Lusson, and Gerente, Paris
Enrichments from Manuscripts
Lacquer-work, from Cashmere
The Nave and Transept
The Amazon by Kiss, Berlin
Silk Brocades by Campbell, Harrison, and Lloyd, and Vanner and Son, Spitalfields. (For Howell, James and Co., London)
Cashmere Scarf-end
Sweden and Denmark
Group of Chinese Bronzes, inlaid with silver wire.
Decoration of an Apartment by John Thomas, London
Dagger and Sheath by Zoloaga, Madrid
Title Page
Paper-Hanging by Townsend and Parker, London
Decoration of Saddle-cover
Printed Table-covers by H. and T. Wood, London. From Designs by Miss A. Carly
Paper-Hanging by Woollams, London
The Turkish Court
Decoration derived from the Alhambra ; being a portion of the Cabinet of the Queen of Spain at Aranjuez
India No. 6
Back Cover
Luca della Robbia Friezes by Minton, Stoke-upon-Trent
India Court (No. 1)
Marquetry Enrichments of a Pianoforte by Broadwood, London
A Youth at a Stream by Foley, A.R.A. Cast in bronze by Hatfield
The First Step by Magni, Milan


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