On this day, 85 years ago, a terrible fire raged in south east London.  Throughout the evening of the 30th of November and into the night, the Crystal Palace, a beautiful glass structure which was famous for hosting a range of exhibitions of art, technogies and more had caught on fire and despite monumental efforts to put out the blaze, by the morning of the next day, the 1st December, the famous Palace was no more.

The Great Exhibition

The story of the Crystal Palace begins in 1851, when the ‘Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations’ was held in Hyde Park in London.  This exhibition was a place where countries could show off their various Victorian innovations in manufacturing and other things, and it gave every country a chance to show off how far they had come boh technologically and culturally.  It was the first of the many World’s Fairs that took place in many different cities around the world in the 19th century and early 20th.

The Great Exhibition opened its doors to the world copying similar national exhibitions that had taken place in France, which showed off french ‘products of industry’.  But this exhibition was different, it was global and took place in a massive building made of glass which itself was an amazing and impressive site.  Queen Victoria opened the Great Exhibition in 1851 which run for only a few months between 1st May to 15th October.  The original glass structure was huge, standing at 564 m long (1,850 feet) and 33m high (108 feet).

Crystal Palace original building
The original building created for the 1851 Great Exhibition

During the few months of the Great Exhibition, an amazing 6 million people visited, this was the equivalent of about a third of all of the people in Britain at the time.  But when the exhibition closed there were questions about what should be done with the palace, Hyde Park was supposed to return to its original park state, without the huge glass building, so after some discussion, the Palace made of glass and iron, was deconstructed and rebuilt in an area in Sydenham, south east London.

The new crystal Palace

When the new Palace was constructed it was built in an area known as Sydenham Hill, the larger area later being renamed Crystal Palace after the grand building.  It took time to build the Palace, and because of extra work and materials added it looked different from the original structure that was host to the 1851 exhibition.  This new building was bigger and had 5 storeys instead of the original 3.  The Palace was eventually re-opened in 1854.

Crystal Palace second palace reconstructed with park and tower
The new Crystal Palace rebuilt in south east London

It became known as the ‘Palace of the People’ and it was host to many different exhibitions and shows over the years.  There were courts built inside which showcased the beautiful art of eras past such as Greek, Egyptian and Roman.  There were events such as the daring tightrope walking by the famous Cahrles Blondin and a few years later there was a weekly fireworks show outside too.  There were restaurants, shops and the whole Palace and its surrounding park grounds was a glorious place to visit and be entertained and educated at the same time.

A great fire

Unfortunately the Palace suffered from some disrepair and neglect over the years.  The construction and maintenance of the building caused a lot of debts, but it wasn’t until the evening of 30th November 1936 that saw the final end of the beautiful Crystal Palace.

Crystal Palace on fire
Crystal Palace on fire in 1936

On that night a small fire broke out in the centre/Grand transpet of the Palace.  Two employees tried desperatedly to put out the fire but later the Fire Brigade was called when it became obvious that the fire was very serious.  Despite nearly 90 fire engines and more than 400 firemen working on the blaze, the Palace couldn’t be saved and collapsed to the ground, not visible anymore in the morning of the next day.

Though the official cause of the fire was never established, nobody was severely hurt and the two water towers that sat nearby still survived.  These were later lost, one by an explosion, another by being dismantled, both disappearing before the end of WW2.  What remains today though is the park, and Crystal Palace Park is still host to some beautiful Victorian architecture and art including the famous dinosaurs which you can see if you take a walk through the park.

Crystal Palace burnt to the ground
Crystal Palace burnt down with only water towers remaining


Today is the 85th anniversary of the tragic fire and although it is sad that the famous Palace burnt to the ground and was never rebuilt, today should mark the memory of this beautiful structure and the life it gave to the area.  The area where the palace sat is today named Crystal Palace and it’s somewhere I have lived near, and on the doorstep of, for many years of my childhood.

If you want to find out more about the Crystal Palace please do search or check out the links below where I’ve used some details for this short post.  There is much more about the Palace and this is only a brief article, but I hope you have enjoyed this look back at a beautiful time and memories of  a part of this country’s history. 🙂

Crystal Palace victorian dinosaur in park
One of the dinosaurs in Cyrstal Palace Park (Image by Alan Pottinger from Pixabay.com)

Some information sourced from:


Have you ever visited Crystal Palace area or park?  Did you know about the Palace and the Great exhibition?  Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂