The History of World Expositions

The London World Exposition 1862
A major error - the exhibition buildings

Year: 1862
City: London
Country: Great Britain
Duration: 1st May - 1st November 1862







Copyright: The Pratical Mechanic's Journal, 1862, T 5

With the Exhibition Palace of 1862, the Commissioners wanted to put the Crystal Palace of 1851 in the shade in every respect. As it was intended to use the building after the Exhibition for trade fairs and industrial exhibitions, there was no question of erecting a purely steel and glass construction such as had been designed by Joseph Paxton for 1851. In accordance with the tastes of the time, the facades and entrances had to be solid and embellished with sculptural decorations. Responsible for the plan was Captain Francis Fowke, engineer and architect in the government’s Department for Science and Art, who had already supervised the construction of the Crystal Palace and had obtained further experience at the Paris World Exhibition of 1855 as secretary of the British section. Building contractors Kelk and Lucas received the contract for the construction of the building, as they submitted the lowest bid in an invitation to tender. They undertook to accept full responsibility for the construction of the building, with their remuneration being based on receipts at the Exhibition. After construction began on 9th March 1861, Kelk and Lucas were left with only eleven months to complete the project, but, against all expectations, the exhibition building was handed over within the deadline on 12th February 1862.

The Exhibition Palace covered about 6.5 hectares, and took up the entire southern part of the gardens; the building had been designed too large for the limited space available. In the north, the gardens adjoined the Royal Horticultural Society, which could also be visited free of charge by holders of season tickets to the Exhibition. The building consisted of a main structure and two adjoining wings set at right angles for machinery and agricultural equipment, though these wings were demolished after the Exhibition. The 350-metre-long main façade on the Cromwell Road consisted of an almost endless row of high arched windows, corner pavilions, and a main entrance decorated with columns and flags. From here, one entered a spacious and highly decorated entrance hall. The nave formed a central axis right through the Palace from east to west, 26 metres wide and 35 metres high. In similar style to the Crystal Palace, it was covered by a filigree glass and iron construction. At each end of the nave, a large octagonal room opened up, and above each of these rooms soared enormous domes. From here transepts, which were shorter but still 35 metres in height, stretched to the north and south. This created an H-shaped layout. The courtyards between the nave and the transepts leading to the main façade and to the gardens were roofed over with glass, and also made usable as exhibition space by means of built-in galleries.

The domes, made of iron and glass, were intended to be the main attraction of the architecture, but to a contemporary critic they appeared to be “neither attractive nor imposing”. It is true that, with a diameter of 49 metres, they exceeded by a few metres the domes of St. Paul’s in London and St. Peter’s in Rome but, at 79 metres, they were not as high as these cathedrals. For this reason, one could only gain a view of both domes simultaneously by viewing them from the higher terrace in the gardens. The cost of their construction was out of all proportion to their extremely limited benefit. The national press was most unflattering, calling them “colossal soup bowls” and “a national disgrace”. Nevertheless, the interior fittings received praise from some foreign commentators, as it was possible to view almost the entire exhibition from the dome rooms, the floor having been raised here somewhat.

The nave and the two transepts were adjoined by lower subsidiary aisles and galleries. This made it possible to increase the size of the exhibition area substantially, although, as had been the case in 1851, the exhibitors forced into these spaces complained of restricted access to their audience.

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