STREETS | CRYSTAL
PALACE PARK |
MUSEUM | SYDENHAM
HILL WOOD | TRANSPORT
part of the relocation of The Crystal Palace
to Sydenham, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins was
commissioned the first ever life-size models
of dinosaurs and other extinct animals, launched
on New Years Eve 1853. They are one of the strangest
pieces of Victoriana in London, built around
a lake in the park.
The Dinosaurs sparked a huge controversy at
the time, and their anticipation of Darwinism
outraged the educated and the religious. The
study of dinosaurs was in its infancy; the word
‘dinosaur’ was only coined in 1842 by Richard
Owen, curator of the Hunterian Museum, who acted
as an advisor to Hawkins.
What must have seemed like a white-hot fusion
between art and science now looks a bit silly
– especially the idea that these animals could
have been domesticated around a duck pond. As
further and fuller discoveries of the species
were made, experts looked at them suspiciously
as early as 1895. The dinosaurs are lumpy and
improbable; although in fairness to Hawkins,
working with concrete must have been problematic.
The Victorian pre-historic theme park fell into
disrepair as the years went by, a process aided
by the fire that destroyed the Crystal Palace
itself in 1936. The visibility of the models
became obscured by overgrown foliage, and walking
around the lake, concrete heads would loom suddenly
out of darkness. The installation has since
been restored in the 1950s and again in 2002,
with the original colours re-applied as closely
as possible and the addition of two new pterodactyls.
You will also find several ratty missives posted
on the internet from disappointed Americans
who were expecting some sort of Disneyland.
Tough, the dinosaurs are brilliant and the sculptures
now join the exclusive 2.5 per cent of total
entries listed Grade I.