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Hey, got any idea what I gandy dancer is or a phrenologists, what about a knocka upper? Believe it or not, these are all actual jobs from the past and the stories behind them are fascinating. I met Beat and I'm Helen Hong, and every week we take a look at a different occupation that is now jobs elite on our new podcast called, You Guessed it, Jobs the Elite.


Check it out on the I Heart radio app, Apple podcast or wherever you get your podcasts.


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Happy Saturday. This week, we talked about Andrew Cross', fascinating and eccentric electricity experiments, and toward the end we mentioned that he and his second wife took a trip to the great exposition of 1851, which was housed in Paxton's Crystal Palace. So naturally, this seemed like a good time to bring back our episode on the Crystal Palace. That episode came out all the way back on August 21st, 2013. And at the end of that episode, we mentioned a 2013 plan to rebuild it.


That effort failed, but as of twenty eighteen, the developer hoped it still might work out one day.


I can only presume a pandemic put those plans on the back burner for some time.


Yeah, I was not able to find an update more recently than twenty eighteen, so we shall see. Enjoy.


Welcome to Stuff You Missed in History Class A production of I Heart Radio. Hello and welcome to the broadcast I'm calling from and I'm Tracy Wilson, and today we're going to talk about a famous piece of architecture and some pieces of architecture seem to have nothing but bad luck in today's topic. Could probably be filed under lock karma bad, but it didn't start out that way.


It's its beginnings were quite lovely and pretty glorious and, you know, filled with success.


Yeah. The run of bad luck was definitely a later part of its history. Yes. When the building moved, which is one of those things, it doesn't happen very often, but in this case it did.


And it was a gloriously beautiful structure, which was called the Crystal Palace. And that's a name that's been attributed to many, many buildings.


But this is kind of the Crystal Palace, all capital letters. Yes.


So first, we'll talk a little bit about the architect behind it who did not actually start out as an architect. No. And this led to some concerns. Yeah. So it was Sir Joseph Paxton. He was a 19th century English botanist and then later an architect.


He designed more towers and a famous hot house, which was called the Great Stove at Chatsworth.


And he also designed Gardens.


And there is a piece called Bourgeois and Aristocratic Cultural Encounters in Garden Art, a 150 to 1850. And in that piece, Margaret Flanders Darbee says that Pexton, quote, is celebrated as the very definition of 19th century upward mobility because he started out humble.


Right. And ended up pretty celebrated. Yeah, he was born on August 3rd, 1901, in Bedfordshire to a farm family.


And when he was young, he worked for the Duke of Deringer as a gardener at Chiswick Gardens in 1826.


He had cultivated this friendship with the Duke and really impressed him with his horticultural wiles. So at that point, he was assigned to the post of Superintendent of Gardens at the Duke's estate in Derbyshire, known as Chatsworth.


Some of the elements of the garden designs that he created there in what's called the classic mixed style still exist.


And there at Chatsworth, Paxton designed and built a green house for the Duke. That's the one we referenced earlier called that, which is sometimes casually called the Great Stove because it was a hot house.


And he also created these really impressive fountains. He built a model village there. He was very busy creating a lot of structures for the garden in the grounds.


And one of his greatest accomplishments was that he was able to keep this exotic lily cutting that he got from Giana, not just alive, but thriving. The leaves were allegedly 12 feet wide.


So if you can wrap your brain around that, there is a picture of his daughter sitting on one of them. That was just this amazing accomplishment, considering that this was England, which is not really where you think about these giant sort of exotic lilies growing.


And he had built at the specialized house where the heated pool, which was quite new to the idea of gardening.


And he was obviously an extremely clever man. And he had this innate ability to solve problems in really creative ways.


But he also had an eye for the visual element because often these creative problem solving situations were also just visually stunning.


In 1849, Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, who was also the president of the Royal Society of Arts, launched this plan to host an exhibition to showcase Great Britain's industrial achievements. He managed to get funding for the project really quickly. Most of that funding came from Quick Queen Victoria, and he planned a site for the expo at Hyde Park. So designers were asked to submit their ideas for a structure for the show to the industrial exhibition executive committee. So as a little bit of a design contest and there were numerous challenges for architects to deal with if they wanted to submit to this project first, this structure had to be constructed quickly.


Second, there were concerns about the destruction of elm trees in the park.


So the hope was that the design would accommodate those elm trees in some way.


Third, the building had to be temporary. It would have to be removed from Hyde Park by a date of June 1st, 1852. And of course, it also had to be big enough to accommodate all of the exhibitors that the committee wanted to attract, as well as all the foot traffic that they wanted to come and see the visitors. So that's kind of a tall order.


It needed to be a giant temporary convention centre, basically, which even with modern tech, would be kind of tricky. I know it happens. Right.


But then when you think back to the early 50s, it's really quite something to think about. Right.


Joseph Paxton submitted his idea for a glass and iron structure on June 20th, 1850. The commission wanted him to address the concern over destroying the elm trees in the.


Park, and they requested that he revise his design to include this vaulted crosswise piece in the building, which is called a transept, and that would enclose the elm trees and prevent the need for them to be destroyed. He did this in his design, was accepted in part because his construction plan involved pieces that could be brought together in segments and installed in a modular production process. All the others submitted designs and involved this like large scale masonry. So they really were not practical for the very short time frame.


They had to build the thing or the idea that they wanted to take it down later.


Yeah, it's almost like they got this idea of they wanted to showcase their country's cultural history. So a lot of them kind of went in the castle zone. Yeah. And it's like, no, no, you're missing kind of part of the brief. We need to we need this to be quick up and down.




Well, and I think if I had been in the meeting where they came up with this whole idea in the first place, it's like let's build a really big building, but only for a very short amount of time and then we will take it down. I would have just been like, are you serious?


Is this the best use of your time and resources?


Well, but, you know, Parkson figured it out and because the most available glass dimension at the time was apparently 10 inches by 49 inches and the structure was going to need a lot of glass. That standard size was actually used as the basis for a lot of the entire design. There's actually a really, really cool site that will link to you in the show notes that breaks down how that geometry works. And they've actually built out CG models of the various elements of the structure.


So you can kind of look at them in 3D and see how it all came together and how those glass pieces were used in those dimensions to create what became the Crystal Palace.


And as a side note, I feel like I should say the name the Crystal Palace was not officially given by Paxton. It kind of came up in the press as this is being discussed during the submission and acceptance process and the the rebuild lead up to it that journalists started calling it a palace of Cristal and it kind of took the name accidentally, but then it got adopted officially. I wonder if that annoyed people who were really into glass.


I don't know. Possibly, maybe one really interesting challenge that comes with building a huge building made entirely of glass is the fact that glass just can't handle a huge water load in that configuration. So rain can be really dangerous. So they put in special gutters, which, of course, were named Paxton Gutters, and those are designed to quickly carry water a way through this big gutter system and really just keep fluid from accumulating on the roof and crushing the thing.


Yeah, it was very, very efficient. It was almost like a tributary approach in reverse, right. Where they would start very small and just lead into the progressively bigger gutter system.


Well, and if you think about like our office is pretty much a giant building walled in glass. Yeah, those are there's the vertical surfaces, like the horizontal surfaces in our building are not glass.


Yeah. Because it's too it's really, really hard to maintain at that scale, especially if it's safe. And we'll get to the scale in a little bit when we talk about construction, which will make you realize how mammoth this structure really was.


I was I was unaware during construction there was concern, as you hinted at earlier, that Paxton's lack of real architectural experience was really going to be a problem.


People were like, well, yes, it's beautiful. But this guy I know how to make buildings. He makes greenhouses in his area of expertise was hothouses.


So they were not the kind of things that would be seeing the kind of foot traffic that the expo was expected to have. And there was some very real fear.


Yeah, meeting Tracy again would be saying she.


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Take good care. So due to all these concerns, the expo was going to be housed in a structure that was designed by a gardener, even though his experience had really moved way past just gardening at that point, it was decided that all iron girders had to be tested before they could be installed.


And they also added crossbow casings that were made of wood primarily as sort of a visual reassurance for visitors.


Yeah, it just looked sturdier. Yeah, I was just kind of fun. And the building was actually put together in less than eight months by 2000 men that are sometimes referred to in some historical documents on it as unskilled laborers. Like basically these skilled workers had put together the modular pieces, but then they were shipped to the site. And it was almost like, I don't want to demean it by saying, like, click together. But you really didn't have to have like a degree in engineering to see how they went together and to assemble them in a barn raising.


It was pretty smartly designed in that regard. A barn raising or glass?


Yes. And the finished dimensions of this structure are it was 1840 eight feet long, which is about 563 metres.


It was four hundred and eight feet wide or 124 metres in a hundred and eight feet high, which is about 33 metres, and including the galleries and the ground floor, more than eight miles or 13 kilometres of display tables were housed eight miles of display tables.


This is where my mind really boggled. Well, it's one of those things where you're trying to kind of filter it through. Like my modern experience, I'm like, this is kind of like a dragon con or ComicCon was in an entirely glass building.


Let's never do that, you know, for other reasons. But when you think about it, at that scale of like a huge convention center is made entirely of glass.


You can't help but be a little one impressed at just the sheer brazenness of it and to be pretty wowed by the engineering, again, by someone who people were kind of pooh poohing as a mere gardener.


So, yeah, well, and to be fair, while the structure was definitely unique and Eye-Catching, there was one major flaw in its design. And you could attribute that flaw directly to Paxton's previous experience, being a hothouse designer rather than an architect, because the palace was designed like a giant hothouse that basically worked like a giant hothouse.


So when you went inside, it was basically an oven.


They put in this rather elegantly designed louver system that allowed for some ventilation and moved cool air from the base of the building up into the main halls.


But as you may guess, if you have ever been into a greenhouse in your life, there's not really enough.


No. And I mean, they had taken other precautions. They had the Louver system had been built in to the design from almost the beginning. And they had even placed the boiler house, which produce steam that powered all the exhibits in another building separate from the exhibit hall.


Again, he had thought about the heat.


It just wasn't enough to mitigate the problem because the sun shining through the glass still turned the whole place into an oven.


Well, and then when you fill it up with people. Exactly. I mean, even a fully modernized, air conditioned building when filled up with people as the temperature goes up very quickly.


And so to remedy these temperature issues, they put these large canvas tarps that were draped in between the roof ridges up to offer some shade. And the fabric drippings actually ended up being a benefit in a couple other ways. They cut down on glare and they created a more even softer lighting for the interior of the building. And they had to, of course, as we mentioned, glass not great at load-Bearing. There were so there were small openings designed into the seams of the drippings that let water pass through and go directly to the Paxton gutters so the tarps wouldn't get too heavy for the glass, wouldn't compromise the structure.


And again, it was a pretty elegant solution to the whole problem.


One other ingenious aspect of the structures design was small gaps in between the wooden planks in the floor. So every evening after the the crowd left, they could just sweep the accumulated dirt from the day into the gaps for quick cleanup.


Yeah, because remember, it was a temporary building.


So while it had like a column sort of base to it, like a foundation, it didn't have like a full slab foundation. So they really could just kind of return the dirt back to the earth.


And they it was very, very smart.


And it went up on schedule and opened on time. The exhibition opened to the public on May 1st of 1851.


Nearly 14000 exhibitors were at the show and they featured such items as steam engines, prosthetic legs, chewing tobacco, false teeth, guns, hydraulic presses and rubber goods made by Goodyear. Exhibitors from France, the United States, Turkey, Russia and Egypt attended. And even the Kohinoor diamond was on display at the expo ran until October 11th of 1851. And there was a big closing ceremony on October 15th. And everyone agreed that the show had been a huge success and it actually did turn a nice profit.


And more than six million visitors had attended during the time that the expo was open.


As a consequence of all of this success, Joseph Paxton was knighted in that same year for his work on the project.


Because the Crystal Palace had been such a success, it inspired other exhibitions to house their shows and glass conservatories. This included the Cork exhibition of 1852, the New York City Exposition of 1853 and the Paris Exhibition of 1855, as well as others. So having a big glass exhibit hall was a thing now.


Yeah, because it was so cool and unique and really beautiful. It was cool and unique until everyone was doing it, until it became hot and popular.


But once the expo was over, Paxton really yearned to preserve the exhibit hall, as did the public.


I think there was a sense of do they really have to take it down now? And while it did have to be moved from its spot in Hyde Park, the good news was that because of its prefab design, it could be reassembled elsewhere.


There were a whole lot of battles along the way, but Paxton managed to set up the Crystal Palace Company under a royal charter and with the help of a bunch of other wealthy gentlemen who were willing to fund the moving project and serve as its directors. In August 1852, the reconstruction started on the Crystal Palace in its new home. This was Sydenham Hill. Which was in southeast London and the rebuilt palace opened in June of 1854. There were some structural changes to it.


It didn't go together exactly the way it had been for the expo, but it was pretty close. They kind of switch some things around, I think, to match the new footprint.


It was that they got to the end. Where do you have a piece left over there? And in its new incarnation, the Crystal Palace became what many people call the world's first theme park.


It had more than two million visitors each year and they enjoyed educational exhibits. There were like museum style set ups. There was a roller coaster there. There was live entertainment. There were cricket matches. And they even put in a prehistoric dinosaur swamp, which I kind of love.


And it's worth keeping in mind that the existence of dinosaurs, while there had been some fossil record for a long time before that, they really had only kind of put together the concept of what dinosaurs were a few decades before this. So they were kind of working from very early ideas of dinosaurs.


The Crystal Palace Park was even popular with royalty, which is not so surprising.


Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited on a regular basis, and kings, Queens, Shore's sultans and all kinds of other rulers from all over the world visited as well.


And as a random and very highly specific interest aside, in 1871, the Crystal Palace was actually home to the world's first cat show, and it actually hosted many other subsequent shows of cats and other animals.


So this is a very popular place, you know, huge kind of cultural center in theme park. Right.


That actually was after the Crystal Palace started its long and unfortunate run of terrible luck.


Yeah, it had been such a great success as an exhibition hall. And everyone really lauded its beauty and its beautiful design.


But once it moved, it seemed like its luck kind of ran out. It started to have one piece of bad fortune after another. And whether you want to attribute that to actual change in luck or just this will happen when a thing is around a long time, it will accumulate bad events. It really had some really rough ones.


Yeah, it starts in 1861 when high winds damage to the structure.


And then a few years after that, five years after that, on December 30th of 1866, a fire destroyed the north end of the building and a number of the natural history displays, including the Alhambra, Assyrian Byzantine Court, Indian and Naval Galleries, as well as the tropical department. And they had sort of a small zoo happening at the time. And several of the animals housed in that Park Zoo were also killed. But due to funding issues, only a portion of the destroyed building could be rebuilt.


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In 1892, a hot air balloon accident at the park caused one fatality, and in 1890, an escaped elephant trampled a park visitor.


That's both tragic and crazy to me that there was an escaped elephant in a giant glass structure. Well, I think it wasn't in the glass structure. It was in the bigger park because the park was really quite large. The structure was the centerpiece. But there were lots of other things going out, like the dinosaur swamp was outside the the building.


But the whole thing was considered the Crystal Palace as a park.


Oh, I see.


And then in 1911, the park actually declared bankruptcy, even though it had been wildly popular and continued to be and had many visitors.


The cost of upkeep, especially when they were having to do things like repair glass that was injured or that was damaged in winds, you know, rebuild sections that had been lost in fire. They just could not keep up with the expenses of rebuilding and maintaining.


And prior to the bankruptcy and sort of a last ditch effort to drum up some cash, the palace had hosted what they called the Festival of Empire, which coincided with George the fifth coronation and the Pageonce. And the displays did give the finances of the park a slight lift, but it really was not enough to undo decades worth of fiscal strain. So on September 11th of 1911, an announcement appeared in The Times stating that the Crystal Palace would be sold at auction on November 28th of that year.


And in the weeks after the announcement, a flurry of uproar and crazy fiscal juggling started happening because people really did love it and they wanted to save it somehow on the 9th of November.


The Times ran the headline Crystal Palace Saved.


So Lord Plimoth, who was Lord Lieutenant of Glamorgan and mayor of Cardiff, had arranged to purchase the palace for 210000 pounds to try to keep the beloved park off of the auction block. The Lord Mayor of London then set up a fund to purchase the property from Lord Plimoth, and in 1913, the Crystal Palace became a national property. Yeah, Lord Plimoth sort of stepped in. He didn't actually want to become the owner of the park, but he wanted to save it in a it was one of those like, look, I will do the quick thing we have to do to save the situation and buy us some time.


And that gave the Lord Mayor of London time to be like, let's now start to build up some money so we can take this financial strain off of you and give it to the people of the country.


In 1914, a charitable trust was established under the Ministry of Education to keep the park in the historical building going, and the trustees hired Henry James Buckland as manager of the Crystal Palace.


Buckland was so completely devoted to the park and the palace and his job that he even named one of his daughters Crystal, in its honor.


It's kind of lovely, it is during World War One, the Crystal Palace was closed to the public so it could be used as a training area for the Royal Naval Division.


The property was designated as the Royal Naval Air Station HMS Victory six, but soon became known as HMS Crystal Palace.


And once that had ramped up and it got it reopened to the public for the next couple of decades, Buckland really worked tirelessly to restore the neglected park and work on continual improvements because, you know, it had been falling into some disrepair prior to the auction.


And so he was kind of making up for some lost time of care. But under his management, it even started to turn a small profit again.


So just when things seemed to be going better, we actually had seemed to be going better for a little while. This point on the night of November 30th, 1936, the Crystal Palace was almost entirely destroyed by a fire.


According to a BBC article written on the history of the Crystal Palace, there were 88 fire engines, 438 fire officers and 749 police officers called to the scene to try to fight the fire. But it wasn't enough. Only the tower survived and the cause of the blaze was never identified. Yeah, there was a lot of speculation. Some people claimed it had to have been arson.


But there are other instances where people were like, hey, it's a giant building full of delicate displays that have lots of glue and paper in them. This could have just naturally happened and it was so easy to spread as sometimes, unfortunately happened. The museum's displays are often not always made to be really fire retardant.


And by 1937, most of the iron work of the once regal and now demolished Crystal Palace had actually been removed by scrap merchants because at that point, to rebuild the whole building, they just did not have the finances for it.


During World War Two, the park, which still existed even though the Crystal Palace had been destroyed. Yeah. Was closed to the public again and used as a post for governmental war work.


For a while, the North Tower was used to test dummy bombs. Yeah, they would just drop them off the tower and test them just kind of fun, like dropping eggs.


Think kind of the south tower was dismantled over the course of the winter of 1940 and 1941. And then on April 16th of 1941, the North Tower was destroyed with explosives.


According to some accounts, the towers were continually considered too conspicuous and war strategists feared that they would be too easy for German bombers to spot.


So here's a quote from Bucklin about the state of the park following all of this. The general devastation which we have suffered would lead one to suppose that our acres had been chosen as the field for the most realistic battle of the war, all our equipment stands. Seating and furniture have either been destroyed or removed by the military. Not an inch of mahogany has been left in the contents of the buildings. Not a single shelf has been left in any cupboard.


Yeah, Bucklin was really not very delighted with how the military returned his beloved park. I mean, again, remember that this man loved his work and his job. So I think he kind of felt like it had been misused and abused a little bit.


And it should be noted that Buckland actually stayed on as manager there until he resigned in 1949.


In 1945, competition was announced for architects and town planners to submit layouts for a new crystal palace and surroundings. And while a winner was announced in May of 1946, in June of that same year, a letter to the joint committee on the part of the assessors indicated that while a prize had been awarded, the winning entry was not practical and they should have another competition.


We didn't really find any evidence that that second competition never really took place. Now it seems like there was.


I'm not sure how much of it can be chalked up to like poor planning versus they just didn't get the level of expertise in the entries that they had hoped for.


But it was sort of like we just had to pick the one that we thought was generally prettiest.


But we can't make any of these, which is a pity. And then it never really happened.


However, the Crystal Palace Park still remains. Now it's home to a concert hall.


There's a sports centre there. There's pretty much all of the other accoutrements you would expect in a park like play areas.


And the dinosaur court remains, though, and it was actually refurbished a while back, which I kind of love, even though the dinosaurs are not really we recognise now as accurate.


You know, like I said, they were originally put together and design when we didn't know as much about dinosaurs as we do now. So some of them will be a little silly. If you look at them with a Piki.


I do. They have cavemen next to them. I've seen pictures and I didn't see any cavemen, but there are like some downed animals and stuff like some snacks.


I would have a problem with cavemen, you know, and in the years since Sir Henry Buckland resign, there's been a steady ebb and flow of projects in the park, as there would be in any public space where, you know, people will make a bid to build a thing. And sometimes it even gets announced in the papers, but then it never happens or small structures are built. One building was turned into a museum for the Crystal Palace, but it, you know, continues.


However, there is a sort of new development. Yeah. In July of 2013, which is basically just before we're recording this.


Yeah. Just a few weeks ago, it was announced that a Chinese developer was working on plans to rebuild Paxton's Crystal Palace, although the mayor's office and Bromley council representatives were pretty clear that the project was still in the very, very early and theoretical stages. Yeah, there have been other discussions that it was going to get rebuilt before it didn't pan out. So we'll see what happens. It would be really neat if that could happen, but we don't know.


We'll see. We'll wait and see.


As for Sir Joseph Paxton, the architect of the original Crystal Palace, he continued to design gardens and build structures and hot houses. And he actually became a member of parliament in 1854, and he held that post until his death in 1865. So he really did, as we mentioned at the top of the podcast, kind of he's a great story of rags to riches. Upward mobility rags is a bit extreme.


I don't think it was quite that with his farm family, but he really did kind of just through his own smarts and ingenuity, rise to prominence with beautiful, gigantic glass building. Absolutely gorgeous.


We'll have lots of links in show notes, and many of them will have pictures of the Crystal Palace.


It's so amazing what a huge structure it was.


Just the sheer size of it is really pretty overwhelming.


I had imagined it as much smaller and still looking at all of these pictures.


And the people look so teeny. Yeah.


When you actually see some of the sketches and stuff of the elm trees that were encased in it and the people walking around in there and people up on the balconies on the upper levels, you it's almost startling. That can't be I hope that is to scale.


All right. It makes total sense that they would put in wooden supports that were much more to make it look sturdier, because I probably would have been scared to go in there.


Yeah, but to the best of my knowledge, no incidents related to the safety of the structure ever happened during the expo. And that was some heavy foot traffic.


Yeah. Go, Paxton, you knew what you were doing, even though everyone doubted you. Thanks so much for joining us on this Saturday. Since this episode is out of the archive, if you heard an email address or a Facebook URL or something similar over the course of the show, that could be obsolete. Now, our current email address is History podcast and I heart radio dot com. Our old HowStuffWorks email address no longer works and you can find us all over social media at MTT in history.


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