The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 2 Hyde Park

Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park

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An event of historic importance which took place in Hyde Park was the Great Exhibition of 1851. Various sites, such as Battersea, Regent's Park, Somerset House, and Leicester Square, were suggested, and the one chosen met with some opposition, but finally the space between Rotten Row and Knightsbridge Barracks was decided on. Plans were submitted for competition, and though 245 were sent in not one satisfied the committee, so, assisted by three well-known architects, they evolved a plan of their own. This was to be carried out in brick; the labour of removing it after the Exhibition would have been stupendous. It was when this plan was under consideration that Paxton showed his idea for the building of iron and glass so well known as the Crystal Palace. It was 1851 feet long and 408 wide, with a projection on the north 936 feet by 48, and the building covered about 19 acres. One stipulation was made before the design was accepted, and that was that three great elm trees growing on the site should not be removed, but included in the building. To effect this, some alterations were made, and the trees were successfully encased in this Crystal Palace, and the old trunk of one of them is still standing in Hyde Park. There is a railing round it, but no tablet to record this strange chapter in its history. Some smaller trees were cut down, which led to a cartoon in Punch and lines on the Prince Consort, who was the prime mover in all pertaining to the Great Exhibition. " Albert! spare those trees, Mind where you fix your show; For mercy's sake, don't, please, Go spoiling Rotten Row." The Exhibition was opened by the Queen on May 1st. The enthusiasm it created in all sections of the population has known no parallel, and in the success and excitement the few small elm trees were soon forgotten by the delighted people, who raised cheers and shouted- "Huzza for the Crystal Palace, And the world's great National Fair." Hyde Park never saw more people than during the time it was open from the 1st of May to the 11th of October, as 6,063,986 persons visited the Exhibition, an average of 43,000 daily. Its success was phenomenal also from a financial point of view, as after all expenses were deducted there was a surplus of �150,000, with which the land from the Park to South Kensington was purchased, on which the Albert Hall and museums have been built. It seems to have been the complete originality of the whole structure that captivated all beholders. In his memoirs the eighth Duke of Argyll refers to the opening as the most beautiful spectacle he had ever seen, "Merely," he writes, "as a spectacle of joy and of supreme beauty, the opening of the Great Exhibition of 1851 stands in my memory as a thing unapproachable and alone. This supreme beauty was mainly in the building, not in its contents, nor even in the brilliant and happy throng that filled it. The sight was a new sensation, as if Fancy had been suddenly unveiled. Nothing like it had ever been seen before-its light-someness, its loftiness, its interminable vistas, its aisles and domes of shining and brilliant colouring."