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The Great Exhibition

On 1st May 1851, Queen Victoria opened the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, London.


The Crystal Palace 'greenhouse' was designed by Joseph Paxton and made out of iron and 300,000 panes of glass. It took less than 7 months to construct and measured 563 metres long by 139 metres wide.

Unfortunately, the building was an ideal home for sparrows, which were a nuisance. No-one could find a way to get rid of them, until the Duke of Wellington suggested sparrowhawks. This worked.


Prince Albert had helped to organise the event to show off many marvelous products and inventions of the age. It proved that Britain was the 'workshop of the world'.

Crowds of people flocked in to stare at the wonders on show, including:
  • an envelope-making machine;
  • a cast-iron fountain;
  • the first public conveniences designed by George Jennings, for which he charged one penny to use;
  • a model of Liverpool docks with 1,600 fully-rigged ships;
  • the Koh-i-Noor, the world's biggest known diamond at the time;
  • a precursor to today's fax machine, designed by Frederick Bakewell.
Crystal Palace interior

The exhibition was a huge success, with six million visitors in 140 days. Thomas Cook organised the transport of 150,000 people from Yorkshire and the Midlands down to London to go and visit it.