The Crystal Palace

Crowds outside the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London, 1851.    Designed by: Sir Joseph Paxton for "The Great Exhibition of 1851", drawing and lithograph by Augustus Butler.

Crowds outside the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London, 1851.
Designed by: Sir Joseph Paxton for "The Great Exhibition of 1851", drawing and lithograph by Augustus Butler.

“We hardly exchanged a word during breakfast, and immediately afterwards I went out for a walk that I might think the matter out in the fresh morning air.  I went as far as the Crystal Palace, spent an hour on the grounds, and was back in Norbury by one o’clock.”

-Grant (Jack) Munro in “The Adventure of the Yellow Face”

The Crystal Palace figures in another Sherlockian adventure, The Sign of the Four”.  Jack Tracey writes in “The Encyclopedia Sherlockiana” that “Watson believed the heard the “Palace” clock strike three but there is no chiming clock here”.  But the fact that The Crystal Palace is mentioned in two of Dr. Watson’s accounts indicates the need to take a closer look at this edifice.

It is said that the name “The Crystal Palace” was coined by playwright Douglas Gerald, who in an article in “Punch” magazine, described the magnificent plate glass and cast iron structure that housed The Great Exhibition of 1851 as “a palace of very crystal”. The exhibition was also known as “The Great Exhibition of the Works of All Nations” or “The Crystal Palace Exhibition” and ran from May through October in Hyde Park of 1851.  The building itself was a remarkable attraction.

"The Grand Entrance, Souvenir of the Great Exhibition", 1851.   Artwork and drafting by J. McNeven, lithography by William Simpson, published by Ackermann & Co.

"The Grand Entrance, Souvenir of the Great Exhibition", 1851.
Artwork and drafting by J. McNeven, lithography by William Simpson, published by Ackermann & Co.


The Crystal Palace in the Canon refers to the structure that was adapted and moved almost in its entirety from its original Hyde Park location in 1853-4 to an affluent suburb, Sydenham Hill, (now in the borough of Bromley).  It was opened by Queen Victoria. In its new location The Crystal Palace featured exhibits such as a dinosaur swamp reconstruction a mere 30 years after fossils were first discovered. The Crystal Palace became an ongoing centre for the display of fine arts, a concert hall seating 4,000 for annual Handel festivals, and The Shakespeare Tercentenary Festival. Over the years it housed a large and diverse group of events including a Festival of the Empire to honour the coronation of George V and Queen Mary, the first aviation museum, animal shows, and the Australasian Collection. During the First World War it was used as a naval training establishment known informally as the HMS Crystal Palace.  Later in its life it began to be known as “The Peoples Palace”. Sadly a fire completely destroyed it in November, 1936 and it became a greatly missed landmark.  

The Great Exhibition of 1851 was the brainchild of Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria, and Sir Henry Cole, a British civil servant and inventor who facilitated many innovations in commerce and education and who is all so credited as the creator of the first Christmas card.  Their mission was to create a “World’s Fair” to showcase Britain’s technical and cultural advancements due to the Industrial Revolution during a time of peace and prosperity. It not only showcased British manufactured products and equipment but also advances in art, design, education, international exhibits, and tourism, including many more.  Whilst British exhibits dominated half of the displays, many other countries participated including Canada, India, France, Russia, Chile and Switzerland.  Of particular note was the attraction of the as yet uncut Koh-I-Noor diamond.  (It was not until the diamond was actually cut and polished that it became 105 karats and its true beauty was revealed.  It became part of the crown jewels.) Other luxury goods such as fine silks, Sevres porcelain, and a lump of gold weighing 50 kilograms were also on display. As the Queen entered into her diary, “every conceivable invention” was represented. Cutting edge technology of the time including electric telegraphs, microscopes, a prototype facsimile machine and an early submarine were exhibited.

Source: Artist: Louis Haghe (1806–1885)

Source: Artist: Louis Haghe (1806–1885)

The structure that housed this ambitious undertaking had to be as advanced as the exhibition itself.  245 architects competed for the project but it was Joseph Paxton, architect and head gardener for the 6th Duke of Devonshire, who at that time was considered to have the finest landscaping in all of Britain.  Paxton pioneered the design of greenhouses and conservatories built from newly improved and cheaper plate glass and cast iron.  The Crystal Palace was a huge undertaking – it dimensions were 1,851 feet (over ½ a kilometer) long and 128 feet high – large enough to house more than 15,000 exhibitors.  In fact it was larger than 3 St. Paul Cathedrals. Paxton produced a breathtaking and innovative design that was the first of its kind. Large, mature trees and stunning fountains graced the indoor space. Visitors were awed by the natural light pouring in that illuminated the exhibits. And the first public lavatories for men and rest rooms for women were provided. Due to innovative building techniques and over 2,000 labourers, the vast structure was completed on time and on budget.

Over 6 million people passed through the building – the equivalent of one third of the population of Great Britain at the time. More than 100,000 objects were displayed.  Queen Victoria and Prince Albert presided over the opening ceremonies on 1 May 1851.  Charles Darwin, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bonte were among the luminaries who attended the Exhibition. Many thought the Exhibition would be a losing proposition but it netted over £186,000 (the equivalent of ₤18,370,000 in 2015).  Proceeds and land area around the Crystal Palace were used to found the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum and an educational trust to provide scholarships and grants for industrial research that continues to present day.

There was at the time a huge growth in imported food, not just for the upper classes but for everyone. Global representations of tinned and preserved foods were well represented. Visitors expected to be able to eat and drink and the organizers were careful to provide refreshments for all budgets.  They rightly assumed that sit-down restaurants would spring up around the exhibition and therefore concentrated on foods that could be made in large quantities at affordable prices.  Schweppes won the contract and provided over 2 million Bath buns, 1.1 million bottles of carbonated water and 1,000 gallons of pickles in a central tea room.  Other food outlets provided bread, cheese and ginger beer.  Unfortunately, there were many complaints about the catering so people often brought along picnics or ate at Alexis Soyer’s Symposium of All Nations.  It was the gastronomic version of the main exhibit hall and could seat 1500 people. The clientele were able to visit the kitchens and to see foods from many countries being prepared such as Italian, French and Chinese as well as British.

Here are recipes for the famous Bath buns served at the Crystal Palace and pork pies that are perfect for a picnic.

image of buns


Bath Buns

One of the best known of England’s buns originated in the resort town of Bath. These buns are lovely eaten warm, cut and spread with a salty butter

Makes 12



For the Buns: 

  • ½ cup butter (unsalted, at room temperature)

  • 3 1/3 cups flour

  • 1 1/4 tsp. instant yeast

  • 1 pinch salt

  • 4 Tbsp. caster (superfine) sugar

  • 1 cup luke-warm milk

  • 2 large eggs lightly whisked

  • 1 heaping Tbsp. Caraway seeds

For the Glaze: 

  • 1 Tbsp. milk

  • 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar

For the Topping:



  1. In a large mixing bowl, rub the butter into the flour. Once you have created a crumbly mixture, add the yeast on one side of the bowl, the salt and sugar on the opposite side (it is not good for the yeast to come into direct contact with the salt). Stir thoroughly.

  2. Add the milk to the eggs, and pour this into the bowl with the caraway seeds. Then, using either your hand or a wooden spoon, mix really well to create a sticky dough. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 6 – 8 minutes (you can do this part in a mixer with a dough hook if you have one).

  3. Put the dough to rise in a large, covered bowl until doubled in size (about 2 hours). Once the dough has doubled, tip back onto the floured surface and flatten lightly into a round. Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces, roll each into a ball and place onto a baking sheet covered with greaseproof paper or a non-stick mat. Cover the tray with a damp tea towel and leave to rise again for 30-45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350F.

  4. Generously brush the risen buns with the glaze, then bake in the preheated oven for 20 – 25 minutes. The buns should be golden brown and light and hollow-sounding when tapped on the bottom.

  5. Remove from the oven and then place the buns onto a cooling rack. Brush on the milk and sugar coating while still warm and immediately sprinkle on the Caraway seeds–you may want to gently press them into the glaze to prevent them slipping off. Repeat with the sugar bits.


Source: "Picnic Supper on the Sand Dunes Charles". Artist: Courtney Curran, 1890.

Source: "Picnic Supper on the Sand Dunes Charles". Artist: Courtney Curran, 1890.



"Perfect for a Picnic" Pork and Bacon Pies

Makes 12



For the Filling:

  • 2 tsp. oil

  • 1 finely chopped onion

  • 8 oz. pork coarsely chopped

  • 4 oz. cooked bacon chopped

  • 3 Tbsp. chopped mixed herbs like sage, parsley and oregano

  • 6 hard-boiled eggs halved

  • 1 ½ Tbsp. powdered gelatin

  • 1 ¼ cups boiling water

  • salt and ground pepper to taste

For the Pastry:

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour

  • ½ cup lard or vegetable shortening

  • 1 generous cup of water

  • 1 egg yolk.



  1. Preheat oven to 400F.

  2. Sift flour into a bowl and make a well in the centre. Heat the lard or shortening and water until melted, then bring to a boil and pour in the flour, stirring. Press the mixture into a smooth ball of dough using back of a spoon. Cover bowl and set aside.

  3. Heat the oil and cook onion until soft. Add the pork and bacon and stir until browned. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper.

  4. Roll out two thirds of the pastry on a slightly floured work surface. Using a 4 ½ inch round cutter, stamp out rounds and line a muffin tin that has 12 regular-sized cups. Place a little of the meat mixture in each cup, then add ½ an egg and top with remaining meat. Roll out remaining pastry and use a 3 inch round cutter to stamp out lids.

  5. Dampen rims of the bases and press tops in place. Seal edges and crimp. Brush with egg yolk and make a small hole in the top of each pie.

  6. Bake 30-35 minutes.

  7. Cool for 15 minutes then transfer to a rack to cool completely. Meanwhile, stir the gelatin into the boiling water until dissolved. Using a small funnel pour a little gelatin into the hole on top of each pie.

  8. Leave the pies to cool and set, then chill for 24 hours before serving.


Find more recipes like this in "Memoirs from Mrs. Hudson's Kitchen" Amazon USABarnes and Noble USAAmazon UK, and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository. Available now in Audio format and in ebook Kindle.