The Crystal Palace and Park were built by Sir Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace Company between 1852 and 1854.
The park was created to be the magnificent setting for the relocated and enlarged Crystal Palace, which Paxton had designed for the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. The site was designed to impress, educate, entertain and inspire, eventually becoming an international attraction.
The main educational themes for the park were discovery and invention. The geological illustrations and the full scale models of the dinosaurs were pioneering and the technical engineering of the Palace itself was sophisticated.
Crystal Palace’s large glass and iron structure was situated on Sydenham Ridge which provided views across London and the Palace could be seen from many locations across the city.
The park was an ambitious project designed to display Victorian grandeur and innovation. It was financed by visitors who paid at a turnstile to enter the park.
A number of displays, events and sporting activities were introduced to the park to increase visitor numbers following the park’s official opened on 10th June 1854 by Queen Victoria.
The park was transformed for the 1911 Festival of the Empire. A railway was installed and many buildings designed to represent the Empire remained until the 1940s.
The Crystal Palace itself was destroyed by fire in 1936. This was followed by a period of dereliction and decay at the park. Although soon after there followed a number of plans for rebuilding the Palace and redeveloping the park, none were fully implemented.
In 1937, a motor racing circuit was opened at the park, which remained in use until 1972.
During the Second World War, Crystal Palace became a place for military vehicle dismantling and later as a site for bomb damage rubble.
The biggest change came to the park in the 1960s when the National Sports Centre and Athletics Stadium were completed which re-modelled large parts of the centre of the park. The ‘sports park’ concept was the first of its kind in the UK, and the multi-use nature of the area is still unique in London.
In 1986, the London Borough of Bromley took ownership of the site. A first phase of restoration work of approximately one third of the site, including the geological illustrations and dinosaurs, took place between 2001 and 2003