diamond geezer

 Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Random borough (11): Bromley (part 3)
A Crystal Palace threesome

Somewhere famous: The Crystal Palace
In the beginning this was plain old Sydenham Hill, and nobody paid it much attention. And then in 1851 the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park opened, and closed, and there was a giant iron and glass building in need of a new home. The Crystal Palace was relocated here on the ridge, high above southeast London, and a new park of entertainment and enlightenment opened up in the surrounding fields. It was a great success, attracting huge crowds by road and rail, although a gradual decline set in after a few decades. In 1936 the palace burnt to the ground in an unexpected and spectacular fire. Head to the top of Sydenham Hill today and you'll find just the artificial terraces where the Italian Gardens once stood [photo], and a few headless statues [photo], and some stone sphinxes [photo]. Be thankful that Bromley Council didn't have their way a few years ago, else there'd now be a 20-screen multiplex cinema and leisure centre on top of the hill in a building resembling an airport terminal. The only thing Londoners can see atop Sydenham Hill today is a giant 200m television mast, built on the site of John Logie Baird's TV studios. Here's hoping nothing uglier is ever slapped down beside it.

Somewhere pre-historic: Crystal Palace Dinosaur park [photo]
"Please Mummy, can we go and see the dinosaurs?"
"Yes certainly. They're over here in the corner of the park, down by the lake."
"But Mummy, that's not a dinosaur, that's a big fibreglass mammal hanging onto a tree."
"It's a Megatherium, darling, a giant sloth. And there's a family of Anoplotherium under those trees."
"But Mummy, they're not dinosaurs either. Take me over the bridge past that waterfall."
"Look dear, there are some artificial rock strata in that artificial cliff-face."
"I'm not interested in fake geology, Mummy. I want to see the dinosaurs that Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins built."
"Here they are! The Iguanodon is so big that Ben held a 20-strong dinner party inside it when the park opened."
"That's just an old wives tale, Mummy. Why has it got a thumb sticking out of its head?"
"It's not anatomically accurate, darling. These dinosaurs were designed 150 years ago before scientists knew any better."
"And the Icthyosaur has seen better days, and that Megalosaurus has pigeons sitting all down its spine, and those Labyrinthodons are just plain dull."
"OK son, I know it's not Jurassic Park, but at least it's free."
"They're brilliant, Mummy! Can we come again next weekend?"

Somewhere sporty: Crystal Palace Athletics Stadium [photo]
In the beginning there was just a park. But no park is complete without sport, and over the years this park has seen greater sport than most.
• WG Grace used to wander over from his house on Crystal Palace Road to play cricket here.
• A football ground was built in the park, and all 20 FA Cup Finals from 1895 to 1914 were played right here. More than 120000 spectators watched Aston Villa beat Sunderland in 1913.
• The England rugby team's first match against the All Blacks was held at Crystal Palace in 1905. Not atypically, England lost fifteen nil.
Crystal Palace FC was formed here in 1905, and remained until 1914 when the army took over the park.
• A race circuit for motorcycles opened around the park in 1927, and was also used for motor racing between 1953 and 1973. Parts of the circuit are still clearly visible today.
• The Crystal Palace Athletics Stadium was opened in 1964. It's capable of hosting world class events, although it doesn't get to hold many these days. You can peer down at the tracks from the grassy bank to the south. The surrounding buildings include a 10 storey accommodation block, and are a bit ugly. The sports complex houses London's only 50m swimming pool, and the whole thing will soon be utterly superseded by the new Olympic Stadium in Stratford.
by train: Crystal Palace (where else?)

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