diamond geezer

 Thursday, February 19, 2009

CLONDON A-Z
An alphabetical journey through the capital's museums
Crystal Palace Museum

Location: Anerley Hill, Crystal Palace SE19 2BA [map]
Open: Saturdays, Sundays & Bank Holidays (11am-4:30pm)
Admission: free
Guided tours: first Sunday of the month (noon, £3.50)
Brief summary: remembering Victorian spectacle
Website: www.crystalpalacemuseum.org.uk
Time to set aside: half an hour

Crystal Palace MuseumIt took me three attempts to visit the Crystal Palace Museum. I turned up on a Sunday in January and it was shut, no explanation. I turned up a couple of Saturdays ago and there was a sign on the locked door apologising for closure due to staff shortage. But I trooped out to the suburbs again last weekend and was finally rewarded by a "Museum Open" sign on the front doorstep. Thankfully my persistence was worth the repeated effort.

You're unlikely to stumble upon the Crystal Palace Museum by mistake. It's visible from the main road but not accessible, and it's accessible from the main park but only if you happen to wander into a muddy corner beside a miserable-looking brick ruin. The museum is housed in an 1880s classroom, which doesn't look like anything special but is in fact the only surviving building from the Palace's glory days. And this is very definitely an old-school exhibition.

You'll not find any buttons to press, artefacts to handle or videos to watch. Instead this is an exhibition presented within a series of glass cases... which is quite appropriate given that the original Crystal Palace was much the same only on a much larger scale. There are an awful lot of photographs on display, most of them lovingly prittsticked with an informative caption underneath. There's heritage ephemera such as tickets, programmes and chunks of roasted floor tile. There's an entire wall given over to a painted scene of what the Great Exhibition might have looked like, assuming it was frequented by cardboard cutouts in Victorian dress. And there's a big scale model of the Palace inside yet another glass case in the centre of the room. The whole place feels very much like a 1960s exhibition about the 1860s.

Crystal Palace (site)Don't knock the presentation. The photographic displays are both evocative and informative, and I learnt a heck of a lot about how important this place used to be. When the great Crystal Palace moved out from Hyde Park to Penge, a whole cross-section of Londoners followed. The main hall was the hub of popular classical music in the late 19th century, and greats such as Liszt and Sullivan performed here beneath the world's largest organ. Twenty consecutive FA Cup Finals were played in the park, and the Girl Guide movement kicked off on the site too. Brock's Fireworks used to put on spectacular themed displays, and a motor-racing circuit ran through the grounds. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury and Queen Victoria were known to pop down every now and then, and high society poured in through a long-closed station adjacent to the palace gates. Until one night in November 1936, that is, when a Great Fire destroyed the entire iron and glass cathedral in hours.

Where the museum succeeded, much to my surprise, was in changing how I viewed the park after I walked back outside. Where previously I'd seen empty terraces and and a big half-empty park, now I could picture the enormity of what had been here before. My Crystal Palace will no longer be a sports ground surrounded by dog walkers, but a living breathing Victorian theme park packed with fountains, funfair and Fairy Archipelago. And that miserable-looking brick ruin beside the museum car park turned out to be the base of a 275-foot water tower designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. This South Tower was later used by broadcasting pioneer John Logie Baird as both experimental TV studios and a giant VHF aerial. It's proper historic, that is. And I'd never have guessed if the Museum had been closed.
by train: Crystal Palace

C is also for...
» Carlyle's House (I've been)
» Cartoon Museum
» Charles Dickens Museum (I've been)
» Church Farmhouse Museum, Hendon (I'm waiting for a jamjar moment)
» Churchill Museum (I've been, it's great)
» Clink Prison Museum
» Clockmakers' Museum (I've been)
» Courtauld Institute (I've been)
» Crofton Roman Villa
» Croydon Museum (I've been, they kicked me out)
» Cuming Museum (I've been, it's tiny)


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream