Exit through the Gift Shop

Exit through the Gift Shop

As far as I know there wasn’t a gift shop in the original Crystal Palace, thought there may well have been one in its successor in Sydenham. But if there wasn’t a souvenir shop, there was no shortage of souvenirs. My great grandfather, who was an exhibitor, brought home a paperweight. This object, which lived for many years on my grandparents’ mantel piece, first kindled […]

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Tales from the Cutting Room Floor

Tales from the Cutting Room Floor

In the course of my researches for the book in the London Library I came across many wonderful  historical details which I would have loved to have included, but was self-disciplined enough to reject.  I had to keep reminding myself that what mattered was the tale I was trying to tell and that I must not let it be impeded by historical clutter. Here are […]

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A Theatrical Comet

A Theatrical Comet

Edmund Kean was the greatest Shakespearean actor of his day. His performance as Shylock at the Drury Lane Theatre in January 1814 – he was then twenty-seven – is said to have roused the audience to almost uncontrollable enthusiasm. The poet Coleridge famously said, “Seeing him act was like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightning.” Successive appearances as Richard III, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth and Lear […]

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George Measom’s Guide to the South-Eastern Railway

George Measom’s Guide to the South-Eastern Railway

Whilst writing Mr Blackwood I was able to visualise a good deal of the train journey with the help of George Measom’s Guide to the South Eastern Railway, which was published in 1853, two years after the Great Exhibition. It is a typical Victorian travel guide, similar to the ones published by George Bradshaw. It doesn’t, unfortunately, say much about the railway itself, but concentrates […]

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What Else Happened in 1851?

What Else Happened in 1851?

Lord John Russell was Prime Minister – Lord Palmerston resigned as Foreign Secretary in December – The window tax was repealed – Lajos Kossuth, hero of the 1848 revolution in Hungary, arrived in England – The first submarine cable to Calais was laid – Landseer painted The Monarch of the Glen and Millais Mariana – Ruskin championed the Pre-Raphaelites – Macready played Macbeth for the […]

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Building the Crystal Palace

Building the Crystal Palace

I was going to write a post on the design and building of the Crystal Palace, Joseph Paxton’s masterpiece, but then I discovered this wonderful sequence on Youtube. In a future post I will describe how the Hyde Park version of the Crystal Palace was dismantled after the Great Exhibition and taken to Sydenham where it was re-assembled and, I’m sad to say, ruined. In […]

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Lost houses reveal intriguing stories

Lost houses reveal intriguing stories

Whilst I was nearing the end of Mr Blackwood’s Fabularium in early 2016, I had to take time out to write the text for Lost Houses of the South Pennines, the booklet (later a book) which accompanied my artist daughter Kate’s exhibition at Bankfield Museum in Halifax. The houses in question – there were ten of them – have disappeared, in some cases without trace, […]

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The Thames in 1851 – an elongated cesspool!

The Thames in 1851 – an elongated cesspool!

As a thoroughfare, the Victorian Thames was much busier than the modern one. Engravings from the mid-century show the river so packed with steamers that it is remarkable that they did not collide more often.  Steamers were designated above or below bridge depending on whether they operated upstream or downstream of London Bridge. The above-bridge boats, all of them paddle steamers, belonged either to the […]

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Why 8 October 1851?

Why 8 October 1851?

Mr Blackwood and his party visit the Great Exhibition on 8 October. I chose the date for two reasons: one is that it was the day of peak attendance, when 109,915 people went through the turnstiles; the second is that it was the day that the Duke of Wellington paid his last visit to the Crystal Palace. (Tennyson and Lord Palmerston certainly visited the Exhibition, […]

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The Koh-I-Noor diamond – a Victorian disappointment

The Koh-I-Noor diamond – a Victorian disappointment

In 1849 the ruler of the Punjab, the 10-year-old Duleep Singh, was forced to sign over his kingdom along with the Koh-I-Noor diamond to the British. Five years later he travelled to England, where he spent the rest of his life in exile, but not before giving Queen Victoria permission to re-cut the diamond, a permission he later came to regret and which led to […]

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