It was 80 years ago today, on 30 November 1936, that the Crystal Palace in London was destroyed by a fire. Originally built as the centrepiece of the Great Exhibition of 1851 – the first ever World Expo – the historic building enjoyed a second life in Sydenham for 82 years before succumbing to its fate.
Designed by Joseph Paxton, the Crystal Palace was erected in Hyde Park in only five months, an amazing feat given its dimensions (563 metres long and 139 metres wide). With 84,000 m2 of plate glass used as the structure’s walls and ceilings, the Crystal Palace was an architectural marvel of its time and a symbol of the progress achieved under Queen Victoria’s reign.
During the Great Exhibition, the Crystal Palace showcased over 100,000 objects from 15,000 exhibitors, British and international. By the time the Expo closed on 11 October, over 6 million visitors had passed through its doors.
Between 1852 and 1854 the iconic structure was dismantled and rebuilt in Sydenham Hill, on the outskirts of London, where it continued to attract visitors until 1936. Tragedy struck on the night of 30 November, although the cause of the fire remains a mystery. Despite the best efforts of 89 fire engines and over 400 firemen, the Crystal Palace was devoured by the flames in a matter of hours.