Rare photographs show the Crystal Palace in all its Victorian splendour

The Crystal Palace represented the apex of Victorian achievement, a high temple to technology, commerce, empire and the natural world, and the odd concrete dinosaur. But it was destroyed in Britain's largest peacetime fire, three years before the outbreak of the Second World War.

The Crystal Palace represented the apex of Victorian achievement, a high temple to technology, commerce, empire and the natural world, and the odd concrete dinosaur. But it was destroyed in Britain's largest peacetime fire, three years before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Now 47 rare photographs revealing the extraordinary ingenuity of the age and its penchant for the exotic have been made available by English Heritage to mark the anniversary of the palace moving to Sydenham, south London, in 1854. Sir Joseph Paxton's original structure came from Hyde Park at the end of the Great Exhibition of 1851, then was enlarged and reopened.

Twice as much glass was used in the new permanent structure, which was set among lavish gardens and vast fountains fed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel's water towers.

Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins' dinosaur models were also constructed to tap into the Victorian craze for the recently discovered remains.

The images, taken by the pioneering photographer Philip Henry Delamotte soon after it was built, were bought by English Heritage in August with the financial help of the London Development Agency (LDA) and the Crystal Palace Foundation, and placed on English Heritage's website.

They were auctioned at Swindon, Wiltshire, by a private seller. Nigel Clubb, director of the National Monuments Record, said: "Crystal Palace is one of the most famous and important lost buildings of the 19th century.

"We wanted to make sure that this rare set of images was preserved and made available to everybody. The historical significance and architectural merits of a place with such a colourful history need to be kept alive in public memory."

Among the pictures are scenes of an extraordinary visit by 42,000 members of the Ancient Order of Foresters for a convention in 1862.

The Italianate garden, the Rosarium, and examples of classical sculpture and artefacts in the Nineveh, Egyptian and Greek courts, are all featured. But the future of today's Crystal Palace remains unclear.

Planning permission to develop the site as a multiplex cinema has lapsed and the LDA recently began a public consultation on what should become of it. London's Olympic bid would use the National Sports Centre, which is at Crystal Palace, as a training and warm-up venue.

But until then, park users must make do with the open space ... and the concrete dinosaurs.

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