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

Explore the planning, implementation and legacy of the Great Exhibition

The Exhibition

The Great Exhibition of 1851 opened on 1 May to a crowd of 20,000 people. Although there was some concern for the safety of Queen Victoria and her family, Victoria, Albert and their children all attended the opening ceremony. The Queen described the scene in her journal,

The glimpse through the iron gates of the Transept, the waving palms & flowers, the myriads of people filling the galleries & seats around, together with the flourish of trumpets, as we entered the building, gave a sensation I shall never forget, & I felt much moved.

Queen Victoria's Journal, RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ (W) 1 May 1851 Princess Beatrice's copies

DM 4026: the Swedish sculpture includes a shepherd by Molin, whilst other exhibits include Danish jewellery, porphyry vase and needlework.  Signed and dated.

The Great Exhibition: Sweden, Norway and Denmark (RCIN 919955) ©

In the 5 months the Exhibition was open, over 6 million people visited to take in the spectacle of the building and exhibits. Season tickets were available for the first month but after 26 May day tickets also went on sale. Prices varied between 1 and 5 shillings, depending on the day of the week. Once visitors entered the building they found the exhibits displayed by country and divided into one of the four divisions of Raw Materials, Machinery, Manufactures and Fine Arts, which were in turn made up of a further 30 classes. Some of the exhibits on display included the Koh-i-Noor diamond, Rodgers and Sons penknife with 80 blades, John Milton’s beehives shaped like small town houses, the crane used to build the Crystal Palace, the Folkestone locomotive, Wedgwood pottery and swords by Wilkinson & Sons of London.

A particular exhibit which Prince Albert himself commissioned was the Model Houses which stood outside the Crystal Palace in the Kensington Barracks yard. As president of the Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes, Prince Albert commanded that the Model Houses be built to display a way in which housing conditions of the working class could be improved. Prince Edward visited the Model Houses and described them in a journal entry,

I went very often to the Exhibition during the last week or two that we were in London & I went one day to see the Model Lodging House which has been built by Papa, & I went all over the rooms of it & saw all the furniture. Instead of one kitchen there was in every room a stove, that each family might have its cooking materials for itself.

RA VIC/MAIN/EVIID/1. 21 July 1851

 

A watercolour of the interior of the Crystal Palace, showing a crowded scene at the crossing, as the Prince Consort gives his closing speech. Signed and dated at bottom right: J Nash 1852.<br><br>This is one of a series of forty-nine watercolours co

Prince Albert's Closing Address (RCIN 919975) ©

The Great Exhibition closed to the public on 11 October 1851 and on 15 October, Prince Albert read an address of thanks at the final closing ceremony. In the days that followed the Jurors’ awards were published and the prizes and medals were distributed to the winning exhibits. Exhibits were packed up and returned to their country or district of origin, leaving the Crystal Palace mostly empty. Although the Exhibition had now closed it had generated a large amount of interest and excitement amongst the public, and in turn a large profit. Soon questions began to arise about what was to come next.

William Edward Kilburn (1818-91)

Jenny Lind (1820-1887)

Sir Lyon Playfair, 1st Baron Playfair of St Andrews (1818-98)

9 Jun 1851. Dr. Lyon Playfair to Mr Garrard

Claude-Marie Ferrier (1811-89)

'Model house for families'