Friday 7 April 2023

G is for the Great Exhibition

 Welcome to Day 7 of my April A to Z Blog Challenge!


You would be perfectly correct to say that the Great Exhibition of 1851 was not held in Scotland, so why is it appearing on this A to Z Blog Challenge? The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations was held in the newly-constructed, purpose-built building named the Crystal Palace, in Hyde Park, London. The exhibition was officially opened by Queen Victoria and her husband, Albert Prince Consort, who personally contributed to the concept of creating the exhibition along with Henry Cole and Joseph Paxton. The intention of the exhibition was to showcase industrial and scientific innovations and improvements.

It was a wonder of many technological designs and industrial machines, mostly of British origin. Between the 1st May and 15th October 1851, more than 6 million people visited the ‘temple made of glass’ during the days that it was available for viewing, it’s believed numbering to a third of the population of the United Kingdom, then about 20 million people. Many travelled from Scotland to see it. In the main, those who could afford it took a long train trip to London to view the exhibition.


The phenomenal speed of erection of the huge glazed structure was partly due to the use of steam-driven machines, mass produced components and superior and effective use of labour. The innovative and relatively-new technology used in the construction of the amazing glasshouse meant the building took shape very quickly. This would not have been possible during the earlier part of the nineteenth century since the technical means was not available. In essence, the Crystal Palace was a very early forerunner to the ‘flat-pack’ generation of construction, albeit on a very enormous scale.

Inside the airy and bright building tourists could examine moving machinery; turbines; strange boilers; steam engines. There was furniture made out of wrought iron; hydraulic pumps for filtering all sorts of goods; machines for purifying sugar; shearing machines; cotton machines. There were models of infinite variety all showcasing the most innovative technology.


Since visitors were sometimes there for hours, there were refreshments for purchase and…public conveniences, some of which were free though others had to be paid for.

This post is far too short to include the thousands of items that were available to view for those 140 days, but I know that I’d have had very sore feet by the end of the day because I’d have been wanting to not miss a thing!

It seems incredible that such a huge building was built so quickly, was used for such a short time, and then Hyde Park restored to normal relatively quickly after the building was taken down post-exhibition use. I’m delighted to say that wasn’t quite the end of such an amazing place because in an altered form, the Crystal Palace rose again in Sydenham Hill and was used for many decades for all sorts of exhibiting reasons.

Some of the profits from the exhibition went towards paying for the creation of a cultural district in London in South Kensington, the Victoria and Albert Museum being built as well as the Royal Albert Hall.

I’m toying about writing in a visit for the Duncan family, the Edinburgh employers of my main character Margaret in my Ocelot Press WIP. Margaret could never have afforded to go but her arrival in Edinburgh, to be a tutor for their invalid daughter, roughly coincides with the closing days of the exhibition in London.

But…did the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851 have any connection to Victorian Scotland? Some of the exhibits certainly came from Scotland and returned there. The exhibition’s greatest legacy for Scotland was the founding of the Industrial Museum of Scotland 1854, which is now part of National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh. The aim of the Industrial Museum in Edinburgh was to improve the quality of industrial and manufactured goods, and also to improve design education.


An item sent to the exhibition that would have enthralled my WIP character Margaret was built not too far from where she was brought up in Milnathort. Exhibit 898, The Kinross Omnibus, was exhibited at the Crystal Palace. Built by W. Kinross, Coachbuilders of Stirling, the omnibus was designed to carry 19 passengers inside, but could possibly manage to carry double the number, or more, outside! It could be drawn by two or three horses. 

Victoria Tartan

It was awarded a silver medal in the Machinery Class 5. The Kinross Omnibus was named ‘Victoria’ and the main body was painted in the Queen’s Tartan. It's not the omnibus in the carton image above but, had it been available for public use, I'm thinking it would have been very popular for conveying people to and from the exhibition! 

There may well have been other exhibits from Scotland but since time is tight in this A to Z Blog Challenge, I’ll leave further study for another day.

Till next time, enjoy!


Crystal Palace images from London 1851 -Folio society 1972

1 comment:

  1. I've always enjoyed reading about the Crystal Palace and have wondered why there are so few photographs. Fun article.


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