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Great Exhibition of 1851

Explore the planning, implementation and legacy of the Great Exhibition

The Great Exhibition of 1851: the British Nave dated 1851 by Joseph Nash
The Great Exhibition of 1851: the British Nave dated 1851 by Joseph Nash ©

On 1 May 1851 over 20,000 spectators gathered in the building dubbed the Crystal Palace to witness the opening of the Great Exhibition of 1851. Queen Victoria wrote in her journal,

This day is one of the greatest & most glorious days of our lives, with which, to my pride & joy the name of my dearly beloved Albert is for ever associated! It is a day which makes my heart swell with thankfulness...

Queen Victoria's Journal, RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ (w). 1 May 1851 (Princess Beatrice's copes)

Prince Albert took a leading role in the organisation of the Exhibition and became a unifying force in its creation and legacy. Albert and the Royal Commissioners brought together 13,937 British and international exhibitors to create an exhibition that lasted five months and hosted over 6 million visitors. It later inspired a series of international exhibitions and became the building block for the South Kensington museums, known as ‘Albertopolis’.

photograph of Prince Albert
The beginning

Prince Albert and Henry Cole were instrumental in the Exhibition planning

Photograph of an external view of the south transept of the Crystal Palace, Hyde Park during the Great Exhibition. Flags fly along the building and top of the arched roof. 

This photograph is from Volume II (RCIN 2800001) of ' Exhibi

Commissioners established committees to organise distinct aspects of the Exhibition

A watercolour depicting the royal party on the dais under the baldacchino, at the crossing of the Crystal Palace, with Prince Albert standing at the head of the Commissioners, reading their report to the Queen. The verso is inscribed with the title, date
The Exhibition

The Great Exhibition of 1851 opened on 1 May to a crowd of 20,000 people

Photograph of the interior of Crystal Palace. There is a tree in the centre of the composition and a cart in the foreground. A man, wearing a dark colour suit and top hat, stands on the far right side of the photograph.
A legacy

The Great Exhibition has had a lasting legacy