Constructing The Crystal Palace

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In 1851, without computers or modern building techniques, the Victorians completed the largest single building in the world from initial design to public opening in just eleven months.

The main contractors for the Crystal Palace were two Midland companies, Fox & Henderson and Chance Brothers. Prince Albert (1819-1861), Queen Victoria’s husband, was a major supporter. This article will attempt to explain how this building project was achieved.

The nineteenth century saw the growth of exhibitions of arts and manufactures throughout the industrial world. After a number of small exhibitions, the Royal Society of Arts held an exhibition in London in 1847 which attracted over 20,000 visitors, encouraging the Society to hold another in 1848 which brought in 70,000. The following year they attracted 100,000 while starting to plan a much larger international exhibition for 1851.

Leading lights in this plan were Prince Albert, President of the Society, and Henry Cole (1808-1882), a career civil servant active in the Society’s exhibition programme. They travelled to see that year’s exhibition in Paris. After experiencing hostility as a foreigner who married the young Queen in 1840, Albert was rapidly establishing himself in British society. Active support for a great exhibition was a means of establishing his credentials as a British patriot.

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