A vision of ‘deep time’: the ‘Geological Illustrations’ of Crystal Palace Park, London
Crystal Palace Park in the London Borough of Bromley is a masterpiece of park design by the visionary Sir Joseph Paxton. Created to house the iron and glass ‘Crystal Palace’ (the temporary structure built for the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park), the park was developed on a series of themed terraces, with the palace itself at the top of Sydenham Hill. The terraces were linked by a grand central walkway, and massive fountains played in gigantic fountain bowls. Today, the palace is gone, destroyed by fire in 1936; the fountains are quiet and their bowls occupied by the stadia of the National Sports Centre; and the central walk is interrupted by intrusive twentieth century concrete architecture. But one jewel of the original remains. In the SE corner lies a remnant of Paxton's original English landscape garden, a fragment populated with ‘antediluvian monsters’ and geological cliffs. This remnant is arguably the world's first attempt at recreating, in a systematic, scientific and ordered way, the geology of the United Kingdom, and its survival and subsequent restoration in 2001 is a remarkable testimony to its constructors and originators.
This paper examines the background and achievement of this first accurate recreation of geology in a public park, a Victorian monument to the relevance of promoting awareness of the science as a foundation to effective geoconservation.