Crystal Palace Dinosaurs
The Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, also known as Dinosaur Court, are a series of sculptures of extinct reptiles (including dinosaurs) and mammals located in Crystal Palace Park, London. Commissioned in 1852 and unveiled in 1854, they were the first dinosaur sculptures in the world, pre-dating the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species by six years. While to varying degrees inaccurate by modern standards, the models were designed and sculpted by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins under the scientific direction of Sir Richard Owen, representing the latest scientific knowledge at the time. The models were classed as Grade II listed buildings from 1973, extensively restored in 2002, and upgraded to Grade I listed in 2007.
Following the closure of the Great Exhibition in October 1851, Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace was bought and moved to Sydenham Hill, South London by the newly formed Crystal Palace Company. The grounds that surrounded it were then extensively renovated and turned into a public park with ornamental gardens, replicas of statues and two new man-made lakes. As part of this renovation Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins was commissioned to build the first ever life-sized models of extinct animals. He had originally planned to just re-create extinct mammals before deciding on building dinosaurs as well, which he did with advice from Sir Richard Owen, a celebrated biologist and palaeontologist of the time. Hawkins set up a workshop on site at the park and built the models there. The models were displayed on three islands acting as a rough time-line, the first island for the Paleozoic era, a second for the Mesozoic, and a third for the Cenozoic. The models' realism was aided by the lake at the time being 'tidal' and rising and falling, revealing different amounts of the dinosaurs. To mark the 'launch' of the models Hawkins held a dinner on New Year's Eve 1853 inside the mould of one of the Iguanodon models.
Hawkins benefited greatly from the public's reaction to the dinosaurs, which was so strong it allowed for the sale of sets of small versions of the dinosaur models, priced at £30 for educational use. But the building of the models was costly (having cost around £13,729) and in 1855 the Crystal Palace Company cut Hawkins's funding. Several planned models were never made, while those half finished were scrapped, despite protest from sources including the Sunday newspaper, The Observer.
With progress in palaeontology, the reputation of the models declined, and as early as 1895 experts looked on them with scorn and ridicule. The American fossil hunter Othniel Charles Marsh scorned the dinosaurs' 'friends' as doing them a great injustice and spoke angrily of the models. The models and indeed the park fell into disrepair as the years went by, a process aided by the fire that destroyed the Crystal Palace itself in 1936, and the models became obscured by overgrown foliage. A full restoration of the animals was carried out in the 1950s by Victor H.C. Martin, at which time the mammals on the third island were moved to less well-protected locations in the park, where they were exposed to wear and tear. At one time, a guided tour of the dinosaurs was the only opportunity for the public to view the park. The limestone cliff was blown up in the 1960s.
In 2002 the Institute of Historic Building Conservation totally renovated the display. The destroyed limestone cliff was completely replaced using 130 large blocks of Derbyshire limestone, many weighing over one tonne, rebuilt according to a small model made from the same number of polystyrene blocks. The Institute had fibreglass replacements created for the missing sculptures, and recast badly damaged parts of the surviving sculptures. For example, some of the animals' legs had been modelled in lead, fixed to the bodies with iron rods; the iron had rusted, splitting the lead open. The setting was restored by cutting away the foliage and restoring the original display of plant life that had accompanied the models in the 1850s.
Fifteen species of extinct creatures currently reside in the park. At least three other genera (Dinornis, a mastodon, and Glyptodons) were planned, and if contemporary reports are accurate, Hawkins began to build at least the mastodon before the Crystal Palace Company cut his funding in 1855. An inaccurate map of the time gives the planned locations of the Dinornis and mastodon.
The fifteen genera that were completed were:
Anoplotherium An extinct mammal: Hawkins's models draw very much on speculation about its camel-like appearance, and they resemble camels a great deal (it is now believed they look more like hippopotamus or pigs). Three models were originally made, but one, with its head raised, went missing in unknown circumstances but is now back with the other two on display.
Dicynodon Crystal Palace's Dicynodon, of which there are two, are based on incomplete fossils found in South Africa, and the models are based heavily on turtles or tortoises complete with shells and turtle stance. There is no evidence of any shelled Dicynodon, and recent more complete fossils have revealed they looked more like Hippopotamus.
Hylaeosaurus Curiously, it is Hylaeosaurus, not Iguanodon, that most resembles the giant iguana stereotype of early ideas of dinosaurs. Today Hylaeosaurus is depicted much like Ankylosaurus; Hawkins's depiction is of a large Iguana-like beast with long sharp spines along its back. The head of the Hylaeosaurus model is not the original but a fiberglass replica; the original head is on the ground, on a hill above the ichthyosaur end of the lake.
Ichthyosaurus Though a portion of the three Ichthyosaurus are submerged by water (though early shots show that unlike the Mosasaurus most of the model was completed) they are implausibly shown basking on land as Seals or Walrus do today. At the time of the Crystal Palace dinosaurs' production, the beasts were considered more along the lines of crocodiles or the Plesiosaurus; recently it has been shown that they have more in common with sharks and dolphins with a dorsal fin and fish-like tail, neither of which are present in Hawkins's models. Instead the tails are a flat protuberance from a straight backbone. A further discrepancy is that the models' eyes have exposed bony sclerotic plates. However as a whole the ichthyosaurs are among the more accurately modelled species. They became one of the three 'mascot dinosaurs' along with the Iguanodon and Megalosaurus (although ichthyosaurs are not dinosaurs at all). The models more closely resemble more basic ichthyosaurs such as Cymbospondylus.
Iguanodon Easily the most recognizable and most commonly shown of Hawkins's models are the pair of Iguanodon. The inaccuracy of having thumb spikes mistaken for horns is used repeatedly on documentaries about dinosaurs and their history when talking about Victorian ideas of the beasts. Aside from this the Iguanodon, like the Megalosaurus, were depicted as quadrupeds (walking on all fours) and look as though they are inspired by modern day dogs.
Labyrinthodon Three Labyrinthodon models were made for Crystal Palace, heavily based on frogs. One is smooth skinned and is based on the species Labyrinthodon salamandroides. Two were based on Labyrinthodon pachygnathus (both have since been re-classified). Casts of the animal's real footprints were included in the ground around the models (one of which had survived by the time The Crystal Palace Dinosaurs was written).
Megaloceros Hawkins built a whole family unit of male, female and fawn; the adults bore antlers made from actual fossil antlers, though these have since been replaced. Moved from the third island, they had fallen into disrepair as they were in a place easily accessible by vandals. Until their antlers were replaced, the Elks were the most accurate of the models, though given that they are only large deer and stag anyway, there was much more reference for them in 1852.
Megalosaurus Giant and visually impressive even by today's standards, the Megalosaurus became one of the park's three 'mascot dinosaurs' along with the Iguanodon and (less so) the Ichthyosaurs. Yet it is arguably the most inaccurate of all of Hawkins's models, depicted as a quadruped that looks like an elephant with a lizard's head and paws.
Megatherium Wholly more accurate than most of the dinosaur species, the Megatherium was part of the park's children's zoo for many years with its tail in the goats and guinea pigs enclosure. Once the zoo was closed, it became totally inaccessible, only to be seen through the railings that kept visitors out of the derelict area. Recent renovations demolished the zoo, and a walkway allows visitors to come close to the Megatherium.
Mosasaurus At the time the models were built, only skulls of Mosasaurus had been discovered. To disguise this lack of information, Hawkins only built the head and back of the animal. He submerged the model deep in the lake so the water hid this fact, leaving little room for inaccuracy. Despite this it does look noticeably different from modern reconstructions of the beast. The Mosasaurus at Crystal Palace is positioned in an odd place near the secondary island that was originally a waterfall, and much of it is obscured if viewed from the lakeside path.
Palaeotherium The models of Palaeotherium, an extinct tapir-like mammal, have suffered the most wear and tear of all of the models, and the standing model no longer looked much like the original model by Hawkins; prior to the 2002 restoration they were in such bad shape they were removed and put into store. Some sources state that these models were added at a later date, but a London News illustration of Hawkins's workshop clearly shows them in the background, appearing to prove these sources inaccurate.
Plesiosaurus Each of the three plesiosaur models are intended to represent a different genus, and generally are fairly accurate to today's standards with the exception of two models' incredibly flexible necks, which twist in nearly impossible ways.
Pterodactyl Hawkins's pterodactyls are some of his more accurate models (again despite their pipe-cleaner style necks). At some point the two models that stood beside the Iguanodon on the central island went missing; they have since been restored in the recent 2002 renovations.
Teleosaurus Arguably Hawkins's most accurate model, the two Teleosaurs are depicted virtually in line with modern scientific understanding, as slender crocodiles with very long thin jaws and small eyes.
In literature and popular culture
In H G Wells's 1906 novel Kipps, Kipps and Ann visit Crystal Palace and sit "in the presence of the green and gold Labyrinthodon that looms so splendidly above the lake" to discuss their future. There is a brief description of the dinosaurs and their surroundings and the impact they have on the characters. In Ann Coates's children's book Dinosaurs Don't Die, illustrated by John Vernon Lord, a young boy who lives near Crystal Palace Park discovers that Hawkins' models come to life; he befriends one of the Iguanodon and names it 'Rock' and they visit the Natural History Museum. The title story in Penelope Lively's Fanny and the Monsters is about a Victorian girl who visits the Crystal Palace dinosaurs and becomes fascinated by prehistoric creatures. In Have His Carcase, by Dorothy Sayers, character Lord Peter Wimsey makes reference to the "antediluvian monsters" of the Crystal Palace. In Paul Theroux's 1989 novel My Secret History, the novel's narrator, Andre Parent, accidentally learns of his wife's infidelity when his young son, Jack, reveals to his father that he has visited the dinosaurs in the company of his mother's 'friend' during Andre's prolonged absence gathering material for a travel book.
The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins: An Illuminating History of Mr. Waterhouse Hawkins, Artist and Lecturer, by Barbara Kerley and illustrated by Brian Selznick, was published in 2001.
- Smith, Dan (26-February-2001). "A site for saur eyes". New Statesman. Retrieved 2009-06-21. [dead link]
- Natural History Museum biographies Richard Owen
- McCarthy, 1994. pp. 13–17
- McCarthy, 1994. pp. 19–24
- McCarthy, 1994. pp. 25–31
- McCarthy, 1994. pp. 32–33
- McCarthy and Gilbert, 1994.[page needed]
- Mayor of London (July 2008). http://www.gigl.org.uk/Portals/0/Downloads/LondonGAP_Feb%202011%20update.pdf. Retrieved 2009-07-01. Missing or empty
- Morton, Edward (July 2002). "Supporting Columns: Dinosaurs at Crystal Palace Park". Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC). Retrieved 3 December 2013.
- McCarthy and Gilbert, 1994.[page needed]
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Crystal Palace Dinosaurs.|
- McCarthy, Steve; Gilbert, Mick (1994). The Crystal Palace Dinosaurs. Crystal Palace Foundation.
- Nyder's Diner's Crystal Palace Dinosaurs Page
- IHBC's archive on their 2002 restoration of the models
- BBC feature