The Great Exhibition, 1851
The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations ran from 1 May to 15 October 1851 in the specially constructed Crystal Palace, designed by Joseph Paxton and built at Hyde Park in central London.
Serving as a showcase for British inventions and manufactures, it has become a symbol of the Victorian age, and the £ 186,000 profit it made was used to found the Victoria and Albert Museum, Science Museum and Natural History Museum.
This account was given by the writer Charlotte Bronte (1816-55), pictured above in a painting by George Richmond in 1850.
A visit to the Crystal Palace, 1851
Yesterday I went for the second time to the Crystal Palace. We remained in it about three hours, and I must say I was more struck with it on this occasion than at my first visit. It is a wonderful place – vast, strange, new and impossible to describe. Its grandeur does not consist in one thing, but in the unique assemblage of all things. Whatever human industry has created you find there, from the great compartments filled with railway engines and boilers, with mill machinery in full work, with splendid carriages of all kinds, with harness of every description, to the glass-covered and velvet-spread stands loaded with the most gorgeous work of the goldsmith and silversmith, and the carefully guarded caskets full of real diamonds and pearls worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. It may be called a bazaar or a fair, but it is such a bazaar or fair as Eastern genii might have created. It seems as if only magic could have gathered this mass of wealth from all the ends of the earth – as if none but supernatural hands could have arranged it this, with such a blaze and contrast of colours and marvellous power of effect. The multitude filling the great aisles seems ruled and subdued by some invisible influence. Amongst the thirty thousand souls that peopled it the day I was there not one loud noise was to be heard, not one irregular movement seen; the living tide rolls on quietly, with a deep hum like the sea heard from the distance.
Source: The Brontes' Life and Letters, by Clement Shorter (1907)
The Crystal Palace from the northeast, from Dickinson 's Comprehensive Pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851, published 1854.
Go to the Contents page to find more eyewitness history, or see our Eyewitness accounts of 19th century history.