8:59pm January 2, 2014

The Crystal Palace, England.

" If you took an omnibus along London’s Knightsbridge in the summer of 1851, you would see an astonishing sight. Glittering among the trees was a palace made of glass, like something out of the Arabian Nights. It was as tall as the trees, indeed taller, because the building arched over two of them already growing there, as if, like giant plants in a glasshouse, they had been transplanted with no disturbance to their roots. A shower of rain washed the dust from the glass, and made it glitter all the more. Nothing like this had been seen in London, ever. 

This was the ‘Crystal Palace’, home to the Great Exhibition, an idea dreamt up by Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, to display the wonders of industry and manufacturing from around the modern world. Britain was at peace.The Chartists had meekly delivered their Petition to the House of Commons in three cabs, and gone home. Albert could write to his cousin King William of Prussia, that ‘we have no fear here either of an uprising or an assassination’. England was experiencing a manufacturing boom. This was the time to show off, on the international stage.

There were some 100,000 objects, displayed along more than ten miles, by over 15,000 contributors. Britain, as host, occupied half the display space inside, with exhibits from the home country and the Empire. The biggest of all was the massive hydraulic press that had lifted the metal tubes of a bridge at Bangor invented by Stevenson. Each tube weighed 1,144 tons yet the press was operated by just one man. Next in size was a steam-hammer that could with equal accuracy forge the main bearing of a steamship or gently crack an egg. There were adding machines which might put bank clerks out of a job; a ‘stiletto or defensive umbrella’– always useful – and a ‘sportsman’s knife’ with eighty blades from Sheffield – not really so useful. One of the upstairs galleries was walled with stained glass through which the sun streamed in technicolour. Almost as brilliantly coloured were carpets from Axminster and ribbons from Coventry….”

See also,

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