Our President, Joan Jarvis, welcomed members and one visitor. She thanked Sally Taylor for the beautiful rose bouquet on the table.
Joan then introduced the speaker, David Hill, who had stepped in with one hour’s notice. With the aid of slides, he spoke of Crystal Palace and the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Prince Albert was a great innovator and organiser, and he got together with civil engineer John Scott-Russell and entrepreneur Henry Cole to organise an exhibition showing the best of manufactured products from around the world.
Eventually, Joseph Paxton was chosen as the designer of the building that became known as the Crystal Palace, because of all the glass used in its construction. It was twice the width of the Houses of Parliament, and there were elm trees in the way. So that they did not have to be removed, a dome was added to the design to accommodate them. The inside was big enough to hold eight Titanics.
People came from all over Britain to see the exhibits, which included machinery never seen before, and a howdah from India. To show this off properly, a stuffed elephant was found in Birmingham. No-one pointed out that it was in fact an African elephant! There was also a hydraulic press made in Warrington. Season tickets were 3 guineas, and a day pass was 1 shilling, so thousands of people could afford to go.
A great innovation was the public toilets at one penny a time, hence the term “spend a penny”.
When the exhibition closed after five months, £180,000 had been made. This money was used to build the Natural History Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum and Royal Colleges.
The whole building was then moved to Sydenham and re-built even larger. It was used for sporting events, Scout Jamborees and concerts until it burned down in 1936. This was because of the very dry wooden flooring, so the fire spread quickly.
A sad end to a wonderful building.
Members are looking forward to seeing Guys and Dolls in May. The annual Day Trip will be to Anglesey, where the very first WI in Britain was formed in 1915.
The next meeting is Tuesday 16th May, 2pm in the Parish Hall. Visitors and new members are very welcome.