Crystal Palace Park
Case study: Bromley, Greater London SE19 2GA (London)
Background and history
The 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park was a huge success. The centrepiece was Sir Joseph Paxton's magnificent 'Crystal Palace'.
Following the exhibition there was public pressure to find a new home for the 'palace'. The chosen site was on Sydenham Hill in south London, with panoramic views of the city. In August 1852 work began to move the huge structure to its new location. Paxton also supervised the creation of an ambitious landscape setting for the 'palace'.
Crystal Palace Park was created around a grand central axis which ran the length of the park. There were large terraces with statuary and sphinxes, stepped cascades, fountains and areas of formal planting. The famous dinosaur sculptures, now grade I listed, also date from the mid-19th century. Paxton's vision was a place of entertainment and education.
The fortunes of the park turned in 1936 when the 'Crystal Palace' was destroyed by fire. The park lost its focal point and a period of under investment followed.
Today Crystal Palace Park is perhaps best known for its sporting facilities. The National Sports Centre and Athletics Stadium were constructed in the 1960s. These facilities helped to revive the park, but also brought their own challenges. Large parts of the historic landscape were remodelled and pockets of the park lost to new development.
The park is now owned and managed by the London Borough of Bromley, together with the Greater London Authority.
Is it at risk?
Crystal Palace Park is a large and complex park. Its 19th and 20th century legacies have for many years been in competition with each other. Many of the built features associated with the original 'Crystal Palace' are now in a deteriorating condition. The legibility of the historic designed landscape has also been compromised.
Crystal Palace Park was added to the London Heritage at Risk Register in 2009. The grade II listed terraces, the railings along Crystal Palace Parade and the pedestrian subway are also at risk.
What's the current situation?
In 2014 the London Borough of Bromley and the Mayor of London committed £2.4 million to improve the park.
Informed by a condition survey funded by Historic England, the six sphinxes which flank the terrace steps will be repaired. The dinosaur sculptures most in need of conservation will also be prioritised for repair. And visitors will be able to view and better appreciate them from a new café terrace. These projects will help to recreate the grandeur of Paxton's original design.
The next challenge is to think imaginatively about the long-term management of the park. This work is already underway and will ensure that Crystal Palace Park is enjoyed for many more years.