Sunday 30 November 2014

Crystal Palace fire + 78

On this day……………….78 years ago, London’s Crystal Palace burned down. It was an extraordinary place – more than 600 yards long and more than 120 feet high, containing more glass than had ever before been seen in a single building. Originally built for the Great Exhibition of 1851, it was then moved to Penge Common.

The fire began in a ladies’ lavatory while the general manager, Sir Henry Buckland, was walking in the grounds with his daughter named (what else?) Chrystal. Encouraged by a fierce wind and the acres of timber flooring, the flames took hold in no time, and when the fire brigade arrived, the cause was already lost, and the efforts of more than 400 firemen came to nothing.

An estimated 100,000 people turned out to watch one of the most spectacular fires in London’s history. It could be seen from 8 counties. In Streatham, they hired out binoculars at 2d a look, while the better heeled chartered aeroplanes from Croydon Aerodrome.

Controversy now surrounds a plan to rebuild the landmark as part of a major redevelopment of the area, with complaints that local people are being kept in the dark.  For the full story of the fire, see my book London’s Disasters.

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