The prehistoric creatures of Crystal Palace

It’s my strong suspicion that most readers are generally aware of the dinosaur models at the former site of London’s Crystal Palace (and for those that are not, it’s not worth me simply adding another poor rehash to the large number of good ones available – in short Richard Owen managed to get the funds to have some models of his new ‘dinosaurs’ build for public exhibition and they are still standing). Obviously these are of great historical interest as they catch a moment in time when dinosaurs first hit the public’s imagination and of course the early interpretations that went with this – waddling behemoths and giant lizards.

Despite being a Londoner (well, from the edges) and my career, I’d never actually seen these things. My parents apparently tried to take me when I was young but couldn’t find them. So having a little time and unseasonally nice weather, we went over last week to take a look. They were rather more impressive than I’d expected being in generally great condition and there being rather more animals over a bigger area than I had expected. As a result I took a ton of photos and my intended single post will now probably stretch to a whole week’s worth of posts on the subject, and I’ll keep this as a general overview.

There are some nice notices dotted around which give a guide to what the animals are (or less charitably in some cases, supposed to be) and shows their changing interpretations and the basic information about them. The original plan was rather nicely done with most of the animals being on and around a series of small islands next to a large lake (though the water was a bit shallow and some extra land bridges had formed). Some of the trees were rather overgrown too meaning some animals could not really be seen very easily which was rather a shame despite the otherwise nice landscaping and use of ‘scene-setting’ plants like cycads. Some nice details of the original plan had survived too (if in imperfect condition) such as the crafted geological sequence complete with a fault and shifted beds, a great example for the layman.

I’ll leave it here as we have a number of dinosaurs, pterosaurs, marine reptiles, and fossil mammals to get through over the next week and I don’t want to give it all away. More to come.

13 Responses to “The prehistoric creatures of Crystal Palace”


  1. 1 David 10/10/2011 at 9:05 am

    I grew up in Sutton, Surrey and saw these when I was 13 or 14 years old. My Dad used to work near Crystal Palace.

  2. 2 Mike Taylor 10/10/2011 at 10:44 am

    That first image looks TOTALLY PhotoShopped.

  3. 6 mattvr 10/10/2011 at 12:43 pm

    These things are fantastic.
    They really reminded me of the monsters from movies set in the 1800′s/early 20th Century, ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’, ‘Warlords of Atlantis’ and the like.
    Makes me wonder if the film makers decided to use 19th Century concepts of dinosaurs for a tale set in the 19th Century world.

    • 7 David Hone 10/10/2011 at 12:53 pm

      I think they just couldn’t afford anything more expensive than an iguana with a spike stuck to it once they’d paid Rex Harrison’s bar tab.

      • 8 mattvr 10/10/2011 at 1:53 pm

        You’re missing the ones with fantastic rubber suits that look like chunky upright Crystal Palace beasties.
        Rex Harrison deserved a big bar tab, the guy was awesome.

      • 9 Mark Robinson 11/10/2011 at 5:30 am

        Ha-ha! (It’s not libel if it’s true or the person is dead).

        Looking fwd to more posts on this, hopefully not just Iguanodon and Megalosaurus (altho’ hi-res pix of these would still be welcome).

        The “photoshop effect” is quite common with modern mid-range digital SLRs now. I think it’s a combination of the much-improved lenses (greater depth of field and clarity) with multiple points-of-focus such that the camera automatically adjusts to have everything in focus.

        The effect is enhanced in the above-mentioned photo because of the use of the flash which gives a differing lighting quality to the foreground object.

  4. 10 Zombie Leah 10/10/2011 at 1:11 pm

    I’d love to visit Crystal Palace someday. Thanks for stretching yours out – it may just be the closest I get to it!

  5. 11 Heinrich Mallison 10/10/2011 at 6:55 pm

    Many thanks for this, and please do show more! I’ve been fascinated by these models for a long time but never had a chance to see them.


  1. 1 May 1, 1851: The First Dinomania (and Dinosaur Nightmares) | bygonelondon.com Trackback on 01/05/2013 at 7:42 pm

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