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The Great Exhibition 1851
The Great Exhibition of 1851
Max Cashback

Most of Godmanchester’s residents and visitors will have been to the Exhibition pub, or at the very least be aware of its existence. However, how many people actually know much about the origin of its name? There will be those who do, but for the rest like me who knew little about the Great Exhibition other than its date, the following may be of interest.

With the full title ‘The Great Exhibition of the Industry of all Nations, 1851’ the idea was said to be first formulated by Prince Albert, and was seen as a celebration of the industrial and economic might of Great Britain and her many colonies. Invitations to exhibit were also extended to the rest of the colonized world. The exhibition reflected the feeling of many britains in that period, one of contentment in the knowledge that Great Britain stood in a position of ‘industrial supremacy’.

The exhibition itself was held in the specially constructed Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London. The building’s design, which was originally rejected by the government, was designed by Sir Joseph Paxton in just 10 days, and was a vast cast-iron structure (4000 tons) covered by nearly one million feet of glass. The plan used pre-fabricated identical, and therefore interchangeable, pieces which kept the material and manufacturing costs low. The
main building was 1848 feet long and 408 wide, enclosing 772,784 square feet (19 acres), an area six times that of St. Paul's Cathedral. The finished construction had the appearance of a large conservatory. It was even designed to incorporate and house trees which stood in Hyde Park. It is said that the Palm House at the Royal Botanical Gardens of Kew bear resemblance to this amazing structure.


* The picture insert here shows an original painting by George Baxter, published in May 1851, depicting the south side and east end of the building. This painting was itself on show and sold at the exhibition. It also gained mention in The Illustrated London News on May 17th 1851, as being ‘an effective view of the Great Palace of Industry, …and the picture is altogether a pleasing memorial of the World's Wonder’. Remarkably, the building was ready on time and on budget and was opened to the public on 1st May 1851. During the first month the ticket prices were aimed quite high
to ensure the right calibre of visitor, however in subsequent months the ticket price was dropped to one shilling, which opened it up to a wider audience. During its five months and 15 days of being open to the public, more than 13,000 exhibits from all over the world were displayed. The exhibition was visited by more than 6,200,000 visitors many of whom came to London from European cities.

Numbered among the exhibitions on show were kitchen appliances, the jacquard loom, an envelope machine, farm machinery, clocks and toys. There was a good balance of both decorative arts and scientific instruments on show. Much of the machinery was displayed in working order and was powered by the exhibition’s own steam engines. The mechanical and clockwork toys on display often imitated the movement of animals, both domestic and exotic, and reflected the influx of new species of animals to Great Britain that were being shipped in to British zoos from the ever-widening empire. There were also demonstrations of many electrical applications, despite the fact that the full potential of many of these applications was
not yet known.

The profits from the event were subsequently used to fund new projects of public interest in London, such as the Science Museum and the fore-runner to the Victoria and Albert Museum, both of which are situated on land bought in Kensington following the exhibition - now known as Exhibition Road.
As for the fate of Crystal Palace itself, it was dismantled at the end of the exhibition and re-erected in Sydenham, South London. It was re-opened by the Queen and Prince Albert on June 10th, 1854. The reconstructed building was in fact nearly twice as long as the original, with one and a half times its capacity, and became a tourist attraction in its own right. However, the building burned down in 1936, and now the grounds remain as a venue for sporting events, rock concerts, and other recreational purposes.

Today’s strong connection with sport is not purely a modern development though. In 1857 part of the park was set aside as a cricket ground.
This short history of the Great Exhibition of 1851 will hopefully achieve its goal of enlightening those inhabitants that knew little about it and had found themselves wondering where the pub obtained its name - The Exhibition is said to have been built in the same year as the exhibition itself.

Bridget Gaskill

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