Archive for Victorians

The Dinosaurs, Crystal Palace Park

Posted in London with tags , , , on April 7, 2013 by mysearchformagic

Wandering around Crystal Palace Park, it’s hard to believe that it was once home to one of the wonders of the Victorian age. The world-famous glass and metal construction which gave the area its name is just a memory, destroyed in a huge inferno in 1936, with only some overgrown stone terraces remaining at the top of Sydenham Hill to show where it once stood. The pleasure gardens which surrounded it have now disappeared too, their elaborate fountains and grand canals replaced by a brutalist concrete sports centre. The maze survives, but the exotic trees and fully-working replica of a Derbyshire lead mine are all long gone, leaving a pretty, well-used and much-loved suburban London park.

The Lower Lake, Crystal Palace Park

The Lower Lake, Crystal Palace Park

But in the south east corner of Crystal Palace Park lurk some strange remnants of those heady days. Around the edges of the Lower Lake stand the Crystal Palace dinosaurs, huge concrete and metal recreations of prehistoric beasts seen as one of the highlights of the Pleasure Gardens when they opened in 1854. Described as ‘antidiluvian wonders’ in the press, to the Victorians these dinosaurs represented the cutting edge of palaeontological science.

A dinosaur emerges from the trees,  Crystal Palace Park

A dinosaur emerges from the trees, Crystal Palace Park

The Dicynodons loiter by the water’s edge, with their chubby feet and goggle eyes. The Plesiosauri have long, elegantly curved necks, but rather fearsome looking teeth. Most striking are the Megalosaurus, the Hylaeosaurus and Iguanadons, which bestride the top of the small island. In the distance, two pterodactyls perch precariously at the top of a craggy cliff.

The Iguanadons,  Crystal Palace Park

The Iguanadons, Crystal Palace Park

Despite restoration work a few years back, the dinosaurs now look rather weather-worn. Palaeontology has moved on of course, and our understanding of what these animals looked like has proved these recreations to be largely inaccurate. Some are cracked, some are broken, most of them are covered in moss and lichen. For me, their rather sad state only adds to their aura of magic. On a quiet, overcast morning when there is nobody else around, their presence is strange and unsettling, as they sit by the still water, silently watching, and waiting.

A mighty Megaloceros, Crystal Palace Park

A mighty Megaloceros, Crystal Palace Park