The Great Exhibition of 1851
BY DAVID ROSS, EDITOR
The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations was the first international exhibition of manufactured goods, and it had an incalculable effect on the course of art and design throughout the Victorian Age and beyond. It was modelled on successful French national exhibitions, but it was the first to open its doors to the world.
The Exhibition. Amazingly, the building, dubbed the "Crystal Palace", was ready on time and on budget. In fact, due to presale of tickets, the exhibition was ensured a profit before it even opened on May 1, 1851. There were 17,000 exhibitors from as far away as China, and over 6 million visitors viewed goods ranging from silks to clocks, and furniture to farm machinery. The French were the big winners in terms of awards, a fact which did not go unnoticed by the British press.
The profit from the exhibition was used to purchase land in Kensington, where several museums were built, including the forerunner of the Victoria and Albert Museum, which carries on the spirit of the exhibition in its displays devoted to art and design. In fact, the road were several of these museums were built was called Exhibition Road.
As for the Crystal Palace itself, it was dismantled at the end of the exhibition and reassembled in Sydenham, South London. There it stayed as a tourist attraction until it burned down in 1936. If you want to get a sense of what this amazing building was like, visit the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, and take a look at the Palm House.
MORE Victorian Britain:
Back: Young Queen Victoria
Next: The Late Victorian Age
Also see "Victorian London" in our "London History" section.
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