Hyde Park, London, Summer 1851— Atop the grassy plains stands a quite remarkable structure; a regimented iron skeleton adorned with glass of bewildering grandeur. Catching the sun, the Crystal Palace lords over Knightsbridge. A greenhouse of unimaginable proportions, the building stretches almost 40 metres into the sky, engulfing the tallest trees, and stands upon 90,000 square metres of earth.
Within, the forefront of human endeavour in industry and manufacturing is housed. Nation’s flags and canvas awnings add a shock of colour to the engineered interior. Items from all around the modern world are paraded to the tens of thousands of astonished visitors that mill by every day, their echoes hovering amongst the rafters.
Organised by Prince Albert and Henry Cole, The Great Exhibition celebrated Britain’s and the world’s advances in various industries. Rapid printing machines, carriages and intricate French tapestries are just a fraction of some of the sights that were on offer. It was an unmitigated success. Opening in May 1851, the 5-month exhibit saw 6 million people pay entry, raising a profit of £186,000. This money would not be squandered. Prince Albert’s ambition was to use it to “increase the means of industrial education and extend the influence of science and art upon productive industry”.
An area of London’s prime real estate, totalling 87-acres and stretching from Kensington Gore to Cromwell Road, was bought up and developed. The area became, first satirically then more affectionately, known as ‘Albertopolis’. Today, it is more commonly referred to as London’s Museum Quarter and is the home of world-leading institutions for art, music, design, science and engineering.