Something for the weekend?

03 April 2017

Region: London

For those who missed Monday’s trip to Crystal Palace Park, why not venture over there next weekend?

Eric Richard, of The Bill fame, is a keen photographer and an RPS London member.  We were delighted when Eric offered to show us one of his local photographic haunts, namely, Crystal Palace Park.  

Living north of the river, I hate to admit that I’ve fallen into that terrible London syndrome of rarely venturing south, so I knew very little about Crystal Palace (apart from it being the name of a football team and something to do with the Great Exhibition) before we went. Thanks to Eric’s encyclopaedic knowledge, I now know a lot more.

The Palace itself was built between 1850 and 1851 in Hyde Park.  In 1854, it was relocated to Sydenham Hill and the surrounding park was renamed Crystal Palace.  It must have been an imposing sight, dominating the skyline with its height of 41m (that’s six metres higher than the Wembley Towers) and 92,000 m2 of floor space – if my maths is correct, that is nearly fourteen times the size of the pitch at Wembley).  Sadly, the palace met a gruesome end when it was destroyed by fire in 1936.  Although there is not much left to see of the building today, the arches that formed the base are intact and do give some idea of scale – they just seem to go on and on and on.  For those wanting to know more about the history, there is a museum but it has somewhat limited opening hours.  I think what impressed me the most, though, was the way the Victorians managed to move such a large structure across London and rebuilding it using just a slide-rule, horses and the new-fangled railway.  The sheer logistics must have been terrifying.

But there’s a lot more to the park than just the memories of the palace.  First of all are the dinosaurs, or rather the sculptures of extinct species.  These were created by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins in 1854 as a celebration of the arrival of the Crystal Palace.  More evidence of the Victorian ambition and enthusiasm.  A council in a lesser age would have insisted that re-siting the palace was quite enough of a project without having to move gigantic, stone dinosaurs around the place.  I have to confess that I prefer the unscrubbed versions – the dinosaurs are currently being pampered and primped, I assume to protect them, but there is something more interesting about those in their original attire.

And if that’s not enough, there is a panoply of wild life, including some rare breed birds; there’s a maze – and an escape gate for those afraid of getting lost; an open-air stage, looking forlorn and rusty, but very photogenic,

and of course the athletics stadium, nestling between rusty turnstiles and brutal concrete architecture of the 1960s. 

Whatever your photographic bag, you’ll find something to snap in Crystal Palace park.  And big thanks to Eric, for sharing his neighbourhood with us.

The group then went on to the Horniman Museum and Gardens, but for a review of that part of the day, you’ll have to wait for the next issue of Capital Interest, and the return of Dave’s Diary.

If you have somewhere photographically interesting near you and you think it would make a good day out for London Members, drop me a line (del.barrett@rps.org) and we’ll arrange a visit.

Del Barrett ARPS

All Images (c) Del Barrett ARPS