Taken from a 1905 Croydon handbook for residents and visitors:
The Crystal Palace.
As a place of amusement and entertainment there is no public resort south of the Thames which can compete with the far-famed Crystal Palace. Many people say that, as originally planned, it was on too ambitious a scale. Certainly nothing else has ever been erected by a public company which can in anyway compare with it, either in it’s intention or in its realisation. Still the fact remains that not one in a thousand who visit it probably appreciate in the slightest degree the wealth of possibilities of education which are there spread out before the public gaze. The generation that has arisen since it’s opening in 1854 knows little and cares less of the great expense which was incurred without much prospect of adequate return, and the trouble taken by many a devoted worker to make the Crystal Palace as completely representative as possible in every way of all that was best in industry, art and science.
The result of financial embarrassments in recent years is seen in the dismemberment of some of it’s more expensive and non- productive off-shoots; and the structure, which in the hands of Government or a municipal body might become a source of education for the people for ever, is compelled to depend for its measure of success upon the extent to which it successfully rivals the theatre and the music hall.
As everyone knows, the Crystal Palace had its origin in the Exhibition which was held in Hyde Park in 1851. At the conclusion of the Exhibition the building was spared the permanent demolition which awaited it, in consequence of the Government declining to purchase it for the nation, by its purchase by nine gentleman organised as a private company. The purchase took place on May 24th, 1852, the purchasers being Messrs. T.N Farquhar, F. Fuller, R. Gill, H. Grisewood, J. Leech, J.C Morice, S. Russell, Schluster and Samuel Laing. The architect of the structure in Hyde Park, Sir J. Paxton, was appointed to superintend its re-erection and the laying-out of the park. A colossal bust of him is still to be seen on the terrace, surmounting a plain but massive pillar.
The site chosen was situated between the Brighton Railway at Penge and the road now known as Crystal Palace Parade, but which then formed the boundary of Dulwich Wood, the fall from which to the railway is 200 feet. What was at that time a site surrounded by trees and distinctly of a rural nature, has now become covered with streets and roads, most of which contain mansions of no mean order. It was at this time that the Brighton Railway Company, whose only terminus was at London Bridge, undertook to build their West End branch line to the Palace, and on the other hand to construct a branch from Sydenham.
A walk through the courts, which still retain so much of their pristine beauty, will reveal to the thoughtful person the tremendous amount of care and attention which must have been bestowed upon the internal decoration from the outset. Architecture of all periods was faithfully reproduced: Egyptian, Grecian, Saxon, Norman, Gothic, Perpendicular, and all the various interminglings of these styles. The great works of sculpture were reproduced. The most beautiful carving in the world found a place on the walls. Assyrian work was made apparent to the casual beholder. The Alhambra of Spain, with its million and one wall-figures, was allotted its place, whilst the latest of Pompeian discoveries was shown in a court devoted specifically to the purpose. This is not the place to describe in detail the beautiful statues which greet the eye on every hand. We leave it to “The Story of the Statues” by — Robinson. Science and discovery were allotted their specific places under the care of Prof. E. Forbes, Prof. Ansted, Mr. Waterhouse, Prof. Owen, Dr. Latham and others, whilst in the lake are to be seen representations of prehistoric creatures, all in their allotted places, and resting upon artificially-formed strata, themselves representatives of geological formations in their due order.
The Assyrian Court, arranged with the assistance of Mr. Layard, M.P., deserves special mention, in that it is but a name to the present generation, having unfortunately been burnt down. It formerly covered part of the present North Tower Gardens.
The palace as built was 1608 feet long, the greatest width being 384 feet. The height of the Central Transept is 174 feet from the ground floor. The total length of columns employed would extend in a straight line to a distance of 16 and a quarter miles. There is a total area of glass of 25 acres. The building was declared open by the Queen on the 10th of June, 1854.
Through all the vicissitudes which have awaited the Palace Company, there has been no neglect in the matter of regarding it as a huge conservatory. Flowering plants, tropical and sub-tropical trees and creepers which almost reach the roof, are always found in the freshest of the verdure, and have worthily retained the reputation which they early enjoyed.
During recent years the Crystal Palace has become more and more an institution for the amusement, as well as the education, of the people at large. High class dramas are produced at the Theatre; great concerts, amongst which may be reckoned the Triennial Handel Festival, in the Handel Orchestra or in the Concert Room; open air concerts in the North Tower Gardens; cinematograph shows, cafe chantants on the Terrace; monster firework displays, balloon ascents; carnation society’s shows; rose and flower shows; cage bird shows; Hollyhock Society’s shows and many others of a similar nature.
The strictly educational side is not neglected. The Crystal Palace School of Practical Engineering now holds a very high position, while the Crystal Palace school is devoted to the highest education in art, science and literature.
You can read about the history of Croydon in our magazine by visiting the link at the top of the page. We are hoping to relaunch this in the near future.