Thursday, 26 September 2019

Crystal Palace Dinosaurs

An unexpected pleasure in a South London park is to encounter these replica dinosaurs posing on their island enclosure. When Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace migrated from Hyde Park to Sydenham Hill, the area was greatly remodelled and the dinosaur display was one of many new ancillary attractions in what would become Crystal Palace Park. It was a great mid-Victorian project that rested on the popularity of palaeontology and the discovery of ever more exotic fossil records. At the same time it was conceived to meet the Victorian public appetite for bizarre attractions, making for a perfect combination of high mindedness and sensationalist entertainment.

The task of design and construction fell to Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. Drawings were produced in consultation with scientific experts and manufacture took place in Hawkins’s Sydenham workshop illustrated here. The figures were cast in concrete using moulds derived from original clay models. When complete they were installed on a string of three islands and following a celebratory dinner hosted by Hawkins in the interior of the Iguanadon, opened to the public in 1854. The public imagination was instantly captured and has remained so to the present day.

Conservation is a massive challenge and the most recent efforts in 2003 and 2016 brought much needed improvements. Since 2007 the site has been protected by a Grade I listing from Historic England. A community-led charitable trust (Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs) has brought fresh energy to ensuring long term survival since its formation in 2013. Their latest project is the construction of a bridge which will enable guided visits much closer access (under supervision). It seems the funding is in place to achieve this in the near future.

Crystal palace iguanodon

The "Crystal Palace" from the Great Exhibition, installed at Wellcome V0013783

Monday, 16 September 2019

DB Museum Nürnberg

These photos were taken on a visit to the German railway museum in Nürnberg where the social and technological aspects of railway history are given equal attention. Founded in 1882, it was the first railway museum in the world. There are historic locomotives and rolling stock and a superb display of 2,000 beautifully made models with staggering levels of detail, most of them built by railway workshop apprentices. Displays are thoughtfully arranged and intelligently lit to allow full scrutiny. And there’s a refreshing absence of interactive exhibits reflecting an institutional confidence about curation and interpretation. A separate section for children doesn’t impact on the rest of the collection. The work of engineers, designers and manufacturers is examined alongside the contribution of a highly trained and disciplined workforce. The vital importance of railways in the expansion of industry is explained together with the impact on leisure activities. Marketing and publicity are represented by posters, brochures, guide books and examples of advertising. Railway architecture from the signal box to the engine shed and the great 19th. century palaces of steam are well covered.

Given the importance of Nürnberg in the development of Nazi mythology it’s appropriate that the role of the Reichsbahn in the Holocaust is not evaded. The display of file drawers stacked with records of each Jewish victim of deportation tells the grim story of a dispassionate and mechanistic approach to the business of extermination. The museum is on two sites – an indoor collection of mostly small scale exhibits and a nearby outdoor site where full size exhibits can be seen. Torrential rain on the day deterred us from visiting the latter. An event which is not commemorated is the 2005 fire that swept through the museum roundhouse destroying a total of 24 historic locomotives.