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I find Bill Bryson to be a creative and elegant writer and I am presently reading At Home:  A Short History of Private Life, a book Mr. Bryson wrote about ten years ago.  It is a well researched and very creative history of the evolution of middle class life in the UK.  Mr. Bryson has alternated his home between New England and Scotland for close to 40 years.

In any event, Chapter One is a must read for any world's fair enthusiast.  Mr. Bryson focuses his attention like a laser beam on the 1851 Great Exhibition.  The entire greenhouse concept was never envisioned by those planning the exhibition.  With only two years to plan and construct the buildings, time had been wasted in angry and unproductive "committee"  meetings.  Enter Joseph Paxrton, a private gardener, a land owner and a Liberal M P representing Coventry.  Recognizing that the Exhibition planners were in trouble and that too much time had already  passed for the planners to have time to complete a suitable display building.

Paxton contacted the committee and proposed what amounted to a vastly enlarged version model of a smaller greenhouse he had built for his plants.  His glass and iron design would be called The Great Conservatory.  Paxton had created and developed a stronger prefabricated glass and he had developed techniques for construction with iron.  He promised completion in twelve months and would build a conservatory that was 1,848 feet long, 408 feet wide and 108 feet tall.  It required 4,500 tons of iron, 60,000 square feet of timber and 293.000 panes of glass.  It took 2,000 men just eight months to complete what would become the largest indoor space on earth and it came in well under budget.

To prevent too much trapped heat, Paxton designed three foot panes of glass to open and close and encourage air flow.  Vast ground level pools snd the largest fountain complex in the world, at that time, also helped to cool the temperatures in the building.  In the center of the vast structure, there was a brick paved promenade lined by dozens of full grown oak trees. Twenty-five  thousand plants and trees from across the globe were planted and on display.

Mr. Paxton saved the exhibition which was so well received that 6.5 million people paid for the thrill of exploring the inventions, machinery, artistry, food, clothing, music, dance, and science of over 60 participating nations.

Much like Seattle Century 21 planner, Edward Carlson, who sketched his concept of a tower (which became the Space Needle) on the back of a cocktail napkin while sitting in a skyline defining tower in Stuttgart, Joseph Paxton drew his plans for the mammoth Hyde Park  building on an ink blotter.  What amounted to a simple doodle became the largest single structure in the world and won the imagination and devotion nearly seven million visitors in six months.

Mr. Bryson continues his story with all sorts of additional statistics about the Crystal Palace and he describes its removal (led by Paxton) to Sydenham after the fair had ended. The fair had turned a profit and some of that money was used to pay for the preservation of the Crystal Palace.  People loved it.  I learned far more about the Great Exhibition and its spectacular Crystal Palace than I can relate here.  I urge you to explore the first chapter.  It 'is brilliant and endlessly fascinating.  You'll become a Crystal Palace expert and you will be sorely tempted to read the entire book.


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One error I see here refers to "a brick paved promenade lined by dozens of full grown oak trees". There were only a few large trees contained within the Crystal Palace - most of them being beneath the barrel-vaulted central transept. The entire floor of the Crystal Palace was constructed of wood planks, with narrow spaces between each of the boards so that the automatic sweeping machines could sweep dust and small debris to the ground below. Air was circulated throughout the building by the placement of louvered openings, as the individual glass-pane windows were stationary and did not open.


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