Paxton's Palace

In July 1851, as the Great Exhibition drew to a close, Joseph Paxton called for his Crystal Palace to become a permanent garden under glass to improve Londoners' health. As part of Horticulture Week's 175th birthday celebrations, we republish Paxton's call from our forerunner, The Gardeners' Chronicle.

"The time is approaching when the World's Fair will terminate, and the vast roof under which it is held, being no longer required for that purpose, must according to the terms of agreement with the Commissioner of Woods and Forests, be removed. Now, if I can show - as I believe I can - good reasons why the structure should remain standing, I trust the Royal Commissioners will do all in their power to further that object. The Building, I would suggest, should be allowed to remain standing, on account of its peculiar fitness to supply a great public want, which London, with its two and a half millions of inhabitants, stands most essentially in need of - namely, a Winter Park and Garden under glass.

Within the last 20 years, the physiology, economy, and requirements of animated nature, with the effects which climate, locality, and various contingencies have upon their health and habits, have been studied and examined, with the best results. Geology, has, in its wondrous discoveries, unfolded to our view the mysteries of ages long gone by. By the aid of Chemistry and Botany many useful discoveries have been made, which practical Horticulture has rendered subservient to the comforts and happiness of man; and the removal of the duty on glass has given an impetus to this science which only a short time ago no efforts could possibly have called into action; without an extensive use of glass, to equally admit and diffuse a subdued light, no such display as at present could have been secured.

The achievements of Horticulture do not stop here, or merely consist in what has been accomplished within the Great Exhibition Building, where dry and polished articles and the most tender fabrics may be safely preserved; but it leads onwards to the formation of climates, which even under opposite influences are rendered healthy, and suited to the wants and requirements of man. Formerly, wherever plants were congregated beneath a glass structure, the atmosphere was invariably deteriorated, and rendered unfit for being more than transiently inhaled; the usual method with visitors being to take a hurried view of the chief beauties within, and then retire to a more genial air. But now Plant-structures are no longer unhealthy, pent-up ovens; although the immense variety of objects they contain form a remarkable contrast with the meagre appearance of former collections, yet these objects are seen growing with an ease and natural vigour which, with the limited knowledge and means we possessed formerly, was impossible to imitate.

The ventilation and climate of our dwelling-houses have also been considered, and many additions to our comfort have in this respect been made. The perfection of these internal arrangements, contrasted with the atmosphere without, renders it still more desirable that something on a large scale should be done to counteract the effects of the outer air, which, in this country, and in the neighbourhood of London especially, is often during many months in the year impure, murky, and unfit for healthy recreation and enjoyment; and it is to meet this want that I offer the present recommendation. All hitherto erected structures, however great and noble some of them are, fall far short of answering this end, and I cannot but recommend, now that we do possess a building like the Crystal Palace, which in its dimensions is the best adapted for such a purpose of anything that has been hitherto attempted, that it should be so appropriated.

A building like this, if properly laid out, will open a wide field of intellectual and healthful enjoyment; it will likewise I hope, stimulate the wealthy in large manufacturing towns to a similar adoption of what may now be raised so cheaply; and when judiciously furnished with vegetation, ornamented with sculpture and fountains, and illustrated with the beautiful works of Nature how pure, elevating, and beneficial would its studies and exercises be. At present England furnishes no such place of public resort, for although Kew has a splendid Palm-house, where daily are congregated a great number of individuals, yet its warm and humid atmosphere is only calculated to admit of visitors taking a hasty view of the wonders of the tropics as they pass in their walks through the gardens.

On the contrary, in the Winter Park and Garden I proposed, climate would be the principal thing studied, all the furnishing and fitting up would have special reference to that end, so that the pleasure found in it would be of a character which all who visit could share; here would be supplied the climate of Southern Italy where multitudes might ride, walk, or recline amidst groves of fragrant trees, and here they might leisurely examine the works of Nature and Art, regardless of the biting east winds or the drifting snow. Here vegetation in much of its beauty might be studied with unusual advantages and the singular properties examined of those great filters of Nature, which during the night season, when the bulk of animal life are in a quiescent state, inhale the oxygen of the air, whilst in the day, when the mass of animal existence have started in to activity, they drink in the carbonic supply, given out by man and animals, which goes to form their solid substance, at the same time poring forth streams of oxygen, which mingling with the surrounding atmosphere gives vigour to man's body and cheerfulness to his spirits.

In this Winter Park and Garden, the trees and plants might be so arranged as to give great diversity of views and picturesque effect. Fountains, statuary, and every description of park and garden ornament, would greatly heighten the effect and beauty of the scene. Beautiful creeping plants might be planted against the columns, and trailed along the girders, so as to give shade in summer, while the effect they would produce by festooning in every diversity of form over the Building, would give the whole a most enchanting and gorgeous finish. Besides these, there might be introduced a collection of living birds from all temperate climates, and the science of Geology, so closely connected with the study of plants, might be illustrated on a large and natural scale, thus making practical Botany, Ornithology and Geology, familiar to every visitor.

The advantages derivable from such an appropriation of the Crystal Palace would be many, and may be thus summed up. In a sanitary point of view its benefits would be incalculable. By its various objects it would produce a new and soothing pleasure to the mind. The great truths of Nature and Art would be constantly exemplified. Peculiar facilities would especially be given for the development on a large scale of the sciences of Botany, Geology, and Ornithology. A temperate climate would be supplied at all seasons. Taste would be improved by individuals becoming familiar with objects of the highest order of Art, and by viewing the more beautiful parts of Nature without its deformities. Exercise could be taken at all times, and in every variety of weather. It would serve as a drive for equestrian exercise, for a promenade or lounge, and as a place which could, at all seasons, be resorted to with advantage by the most delicate.

These things all considered, I cannot help expressing an earnest hope that the Building will be allowed to stand, and be converted to so laudable a use."

Edited version from The Gardeners' Chronicle, 5 July 1851.

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus

Read These Next

IoG Saltex 2016 - show preview

IoG Saltex 2016 - show preview

This year's Saltex will be looking to build on the success of last year by packing in a multitude of exhibitors and sessions over the two days, Sally Drury reports.



These tidy evergreen trees are not just for Christmas and come in a range of shapes and sizes, writes Miranda Kimberley.

Tree lifting, moving  and planting

Tree lifting, moving and planting

Successful relocations can see even big trees flourish while costing less than buying new stock, says Sally Drury.

Horticulture Jobs
More Horticulture Jobs

Are you a landscape supplier?

Horticulture Week Landscape Project Leads

If so, you should be receiving our new service for Horticulture Week subscribers delivering landscape project leads from live, approved, planning applications across the UK.

Landscape Contracts & Tenders

Industry Data

New: We have pooled the wealth of data from the past six months' worth of Landscape Project Leads to create an exclusive report for subscribers looking at the key development trends, clients and locations for 2016.