It’s one of the most fascinating stories of world-changing ideas coming to life. It’s a piece of London’s (and Britain’s) living history – Crystal Palace Park. Even today, this amazing green space has the power to inspire and uplift everyone who comes to visit. Let’s take a look at this world-famous site and what it has become.
An Exhibition for the World – Crystal Palace Park’s Potted History
In 1851, the world witnessed a stunning display of innovation and architectural genius – the ‘Crystal Palace Great Exhibition’. This massive glass and cast-iron structure was originally built in Hyde Park. It housed an astonishing 990,000 square feet (92,000 m2) exhibition space. Over 14,000 people from all over the world came to see the exhibition. On display were over 100,000 artefacts and attractions, ranging from great works of art to novel inventions and engineering marvels.
After the Great Exhibition concluded, the Palace was carefully taken down and reconstructed in Penge Place (today’s Bromley, South London) between 1852-1854. Queen Victoria reopened the Crystal Palace in 1854, joining 40,000 guests for the inaugural event.
A Second life in South London
For nearly 40 years, the new site held a string of dazzling events. These ranged from artistic explorations of Ancient Egypt to concerts featuring its 4,500-pipe Great Organ. However, in the 1890s, the palace went into decline. Sadly, its company owners were saddled with more debt than they could realistically repay.
Despite a short-lived rallying phase in the 1920s under Sir Henry Buckland, the Crystal Palace’s best days were long gone. On 30 November 1936, a small fire in the women’s cloakroom flared up and even the arrival of 400 firemen could not tackle the resulting blaze. Over 100,000 people flocked to see the fire that engulfed the whole building, completely destroying it.
Winston Churchill was one of those in the crowd. He was heard to say: “This is the end of an age.”
Crystal Palace Park layout and main attractions
Today, Crystal Palace Park provides a beautiful green space dedicated to learning and training, health and well-being, recreation and enjoyment.
It covers 200 acres in Penge, in the southeasterly London borough of Bromley. It is easily accessible via two train stations – Crystal Palace and Penge West, as well as numerous bus stops. It’s a beloved space in the Bromley community, with a great range of things to see and do.
This is one of the most vivid historical connections with the original Crystal Palace Great Exhibition. It features 30 dino sculptures saved from the great fire and restored to their former glory. Admittedly, they are not considered scientifically accurate, since they were made according to the best available evidence in 1852. However, they do tell an incredible story of how science evolves over time.
Crystal Palace Museum
For the best retelling of the stories of both the Hyde Park and Penge sites, this is the place to come. The Crystal Palace Museum represents the only surviving building from the 1880s. It’s sizeable, well kept and shows you just how world-changing the Crystal Palace really was.
National Sports Centre
Crystal Palace NSC is part of the ongoing efforts to rejuvenate the entire site. It’s a large, ultra-modern sporting facility right at the heart of the park. It features three swimming pools, an indoor running track, stadium and gym with over 120 pieces of equipment.
This 1,100 square metre skatepark is one of the spiritual homes of UK BMXing, quad-skating, rollerblading, scootering and skateboarding. This skating heaven offers sculpted perfection for anything on wheels. It’s also home to a thriving community of likeminded ‘wheely’ enthusiasts.
Lose yourself in one of the biggest mazes in the country! At a diameter of 160 feet, this is no walk in the park! It’s free to enter, but the question is: can you find your way out again? Test your sense of direction in a maze that would make Alice wonder.
Where to live near Crystal Palace Park
One of London’s most exciting ‘up-and-comers’, Croydon has it all. Enjoying a new renaissance of urban regeneration (over £5.25 billion in recent years), it has a thriving arts scene, increasingly confident retail and bespoke foodie culture, excellent transport links and a good range of property types and price ranges. If you’re looking for a ‘real’ London lifestyle somewhere that’s on the up and up, Croydon is it.
The rest of the borough that hosts Crystal Park Palace is an exciting, intriguing and often affordable mixed bag. It’s the most southeasterly of the London boroughs, so it practically sits on Kent’s doorstep and begs you to get out into the ‘Garden of England’. It often ranks very highly in numerous ‘happiest parts of London’ lists, due to the abundance of great schools, cultural sites and, of course, green spaces.
Ever on the radar for those wanting to live in the coolest of London hotspots, Brixton is the height of new London chic. An amazing melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, it continues to rise on a wave of investment and homebuyers’ interest. While gentrification is taking some of the unique character off this storied borough, it’s also knocked off some rough edges. If you want to be in the heart of the next big London trends, Brixton is as happening as it comes.
If you want the South London living experience but want your money to stretch a bit further, look at Lewisham. Nearby Forest Hill, Brockley, Peckham and Greenwich are all experiencing explosive price rises, but Lewisham remains more affordable yet still highly appealing. It has solid commuter links to central London and the docklands, good schools and a surprisingly varied shopping and nightlife offering.
Good luck with your search to find the right home near Crystal Palace Park. Access to green spaces is one of the most important ‘quality of life’ measurements used by homebuyers when considering where to purchase. If you want to live in London, make sure you know what you’re getting in terms of green space nearby.
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