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Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The International Exhibition of 1862

After the success of the international exhibition of 1851 established London as the most important city in the world, it was keen to host the event once more. The following exhibition was hosted by Paris in 1855, and, seven years later, in 1862, London got its wish…

For London’s second international exhibition, the nation expected a bigger, better and more triumphant event.
With the Prince Consort, Albert, once again to be the figurehead, the 1862 London exhibition would surely eclipse its predecessor of 1851, and more importantly, out-do the event organised by Paris.

So, why then, when the words ‘International Exhibition’ are spoken today, do we all think of The Crystal Palace and 1851, and not the 1862 exhibition?

To start with, let us read what the press were saying about the exhibition of 1862 in the months leading up to the opening of the event:

First, The London Journal;

“Ten years ago, the small world of Great Britain was startled from its propriety by the Great Industrial Exhibition of 1851, which created a most extraordinary sensation.
…Next year (1862) in the sunny spring-time of May, we are to have a repetition of the display, as heretofore, under the immediate patronage of Queen Victoria and the illustrious Prince-Consort, which, aided by powerful collateral influences, will, no doubt, as the previous one, wind up with the most successful and satisfactory results.

…As originating in the first instance from the Exhibition of 1851, which may be styled the great parent of similar manifestations, many others have arisen, amongst which may be enumerated that held in Paris in 1855, the Dublin Exhibition, and that of New York (America), to which may be added the one now in progress at Amsterdam, which, externally, may be pronounced, as yet, the most picturesque-planned one of the whole family of international exhibitions.

The building that crowns the hill at Sydenham, although we do not include it in the category of International Exhibitions, strictly speaking, we cannot consistently omit to name, although it is the property of a private company; but yet, like the others, it owes its origin to the first building of the kind in Hyde Park, and to it, we ever look with feelings of esteem, as containing within its crystal walls by far the largest and finest collection of architectural and sculptural art to be seen under one roof in any edifice in Europe, and as such commands our admiration and deserves the patronage of the public, although its educational purposes have in a great measure been perverted by the exhibition of poultry shows and other things of an undignified character.

In describing the new building which is destined to receive within its walls such a multitudinous collection of the products of the earth, and examples of human ingenuity and skill, we may state that in the gross it will be considerably larger than its forerunner in Hyde Park, and in plan is not drawn out cathedral fashion, in extreme length, as that memorable structure was."
- London Journal May 4th 1861

Many fond memories of 1851 and optimism for 1862 and the new building. What did The Times have to say?

“International Exhibition.
Every day now develops new wonders and rarities arrived or expected for this great display. Goods of every kind and from every country are now pouring in from morning till night, and every one -Commissioners, contractors, and superintendents -has to manage somehow to get through about 18 hours' work a day.
The labour all have to undergo is now really severe, but it is done with a will and with an earnest purpose to do the best for the Exhibition. The show of foreign goods from remote countries will on this occasion, be something really wonderful. China and Japan will both be splendidly represented in all their varied branches of arts and art-manufactures… from their rare lacker ware, straw basket, and bamboo work down to the massive quadrangular coins of the realm, almost as curious as the money of Siam. Their wonderful egg-shell porcelain-the astonishment and envy of all European manufacturers- will be amply represented, as we might expect, but we were not prepared to find among their goods a Japanese encyclepadia, with illuminated works on natural history and chymistry, a quadrant and sun-dial, a compass, a pedometer, a thermo- meter, and a telescope.
There will also be a fine collection of arms and armour, scent bottles, exquisite ivory carvings, Japanese metal work, wiith paper, silk, crape, and cotton tapestry, a thick cable of human hair, lava from Fusigama, coal from Fezin, and minerals from all parts of that strangest of kingdoms.

The Chinese exhibition, from the similarity of the peoples, will much resemble that of the Japanese in its lackered ware, its porcelain, its carvings, and its metal works in bronze…There is also a fine collection of medical drugs from China, with complete sets of Chinese types, rare ornaments in jade, and an exquisite wood carving, which formed the back of the Emperor's throne in his Palace of Yuen- Lin-Yuen.

Central Africa will be represented by a good exhibition of raw and native manufactures, while Western Africa contributes a very important collection, especially of strong cotton cloths and cotton pods of various kinds, of grass cloths, and even fine cloths from the jute and palm fibre.

Madagascar sends ores, cloths, and native manufactures, and King Radama II himself presents to the Commissioners a chair of native iron.

The colonial exhibition will immeasurably surpass that of 1851. On that occasion Jamaica was only represented by a few daguerreotypes, and Vancouver's island sent nothing at all. Now Jamaica occupies 600 feet with a very fine display of colonial produce and manufactures, and even Vancouver's Island has voted 1,000l sterling towards defraying the expense of setting off its show to the best advantage. It is from Vancouver's Island that the gigantic pine spar is coming, which is no less than 230 feet high. The suggestion which we threw out, that it should be reared in the Horticultural Gardens, has been adopted, and we hope, like the French fountains, that it will remain there when once established.

The Ionian Islands, even down to little Paso and Santa Maura, are all entering into the international contest with great spirit. Their chief products are olive and other oils, cereals, tobacco, wools, wine, currants, wax, sponges, &c. But from Corfu and Cephalonia-especially the former-are coming specimens of beautiful Greek caps and costume, and many fine specimens of that richest and most picturesque of all dresses, the Albanian chief's costume.
Some fine filigree gold and silver work is also to be sent, with marbles from Ithaca, and ample specimens of raw and manufactured silk from Ithaca, Santa Maura, and Zante.

Canada is to send a most extensive and valuable exhibition of all her products -raw and manufactured. From the lower provinces, New Brunswick is sending all her products, natural or preternatural, including everything, from fossil fish to the bed the Prince of Wales slept in; from cereals, coal, free- stone, and granite, to drawings of the engine that drew the Prince through the colony.

Nova Scotia is also forwarding a fine exhibition, including gold quartz, auriferous sands, and gold bars from their new "diggings," with a single column of coal, 34 feet high, from the great seam at Pictou.

All parts of Australia will, of course, send fine collections. For instance, that young though rapidly thriving colony of Queensland, which has become a colony since 1851, sends, among a host of her other native products, arrowroot, pineapples, citrons, sandal wood, wool, black marble, raw silk, beeswax, honey, maize, gold, sugar-cane, ginger, sarsaparilla, cayenie, and, above all, many specimens of the best Sea Island cotton.

Western Australia is especially rich in minerals, and sends every description of iron, copper, lead, and gold ores, with fine pearls and pearl oysters from Nicol Bay gums skins, raw silk, wool, and wheat.

From Tasmania, Victoria, and New South Wales, the collections will be equally good and extensive, and, in fact, as we have said, the whole colonial exhibition will in itself make a most important and suggestive display.”
The Times; March 29th 1862

A report containing even more optimism, waxing lyrical about the vast number of exhibitors displaying exotic goods, and even more belief that the exhibition will be bigger, better, and house more wonders than its predecessors. The mood of the nation was expectant, but, with the date of the exhibition drawing near, fate appeared to conspire against its success…

The original plan was for the exhibition to take place in 1861 – ten years after the original London exhibition – but political problems in Italy which led to the country unifying itself in 1861 meant the exhibition was delayed. If it had not been for the events in Italy, and the delay, it may have been a very different story. On 14th December 1861 – eleven months prior to the opening of the 1862 exhibition – Prince Albert died, placing doubts upon the event’s success.

Albert had been the driving force behind the whole concept of the world exhibitions and played a huge role in the planning and organization of the original in 1851 and had endeared himself to a previously unsupportive British public with its success. Now, his support, knowledge and symbolic presence were absent, and keenly felt. The exhibition missed Albert, as did the nation.

But, nevertheless, the event would go ahead as planned. So, onto the opening, with The Times reporting:

“The International Exhibition.
At 10 o’clock yesterday morning the bell of Mr. Benson's great clock began to toll, which was a signal to the exhibitors and their workmen to "knock off” work and prepare to leave the building. Shortly after, a strong body of police were drawn up in line at the east end, a rope was stretched across the building from north to south, as directly as possible, and the building was gradually cleared of all but the workmen of the contractors and the executive staff. The rest of the day was then devoted to preparing the building for the opening ceremonial of today.

At half-past 11 o'clock there was a grand rehearsal of the music which is to be performed. The effect in the immediate neighbourhood of the orchestra was remarkably grand and impressive, but it is much to be feared that little of it will be heard at the further end of the building. Notwithstanding the awning which has been spread over the orchestra, the vast dome and the east transept swallow up the sound in a marvellous manner, and the crowded state of the nave, moreover, prevents it travelling very far west. This fact has led to a considerable change in the arrangements for the ceremonial; indeed, at a late hour yesterday the programme already settled was entirely abolished, nor was sufficient progress made with the new one to enable us to furnish it to our readers. This is of less consequence, as we understand that it will be ready printed by the hour of opening, with the addresses &c., and may be bought in the building for a shilling.

There was a numerous company assembled at the rehearsal, among whom were the Duchess of Cambridge and the Princess Mary of Cambridge, the Lord Chancellor, Lord and Lady Palmerston, the Marquis of Lansdowne, Lord Llanover, Sir C. Creswell, &c. M. Meyerbeer and the Poet Laureate were also present.
Later in the day the bands of the Foot Guards rehearsed the music which has been allotted to them. The following will be the military arrangements in connection with the opening - An escort of Household Cavalry, consisting of one captain, three subalterns, and 50 non-commissioned officers and troopers, will attend at Buckingham Palace at 12 o'clock, to accompany the Royal Princes from thence to the Exhibition building.

A guard of honour of the Grenadier Guards, consisting of a regimental captain, two subalterns, and 100 rank and file, with a colour and band, will mount at the entrance in the Cromwell-road at 12 o’clock, to receive their Royal Highnesses on arrival. The bands of the Foot Guards, and trumpeters of the Household Cavalry, will be also employed within the building…A troop of Royal Horse Artillery will be stationed on the north side of the Serpentine in Hyde Park, to fire a Royal salute when the opening of the Exhibition has been declared. This troop will march from Woolwich, so as to be on the ground at 11:30 a.m.

A notice has been issued to the following effect:- "A juror presenting his juror's pass may enter by the western dome with one lady having a season ticket. "A juror's ticket will pass one lady into the reserved galleries along with the juror."
The Exeter hall offices were crowded up to a late hour last night. It was not possible to learn the exact amount taken during the day, but it was believed to be considerably over 3,000l. For the convenience of persons arriving from the country, and to prevent the inconvenience applicants for tickets will suffer from the crowds which will doubtless be congregated about the building, the Exeter hall offices will be opened from 8 o'clock in the morning until 12.”
- The Times, May 1st 1862.

On the eve of opening, it appeared that everything was going to plan – the building was perhaps a bit too large, which required some ceremonial processes to require alteration – but other than that, there was huge demand for tickets, sales of which had supposedly exceeded £3,000, the building had been finished on time and was a grand, massive affair, there were more exciting exhibits from more places around the globe than ever before, the public was enthusiastic, the event was to be the greatest show ever seen…

So what happened? 

Despite the death of Albert, and a subsequent lack of the same kind of planning and public enthusiasm that had surrounded the 1851 event, the second great London Industrial Exhibition opened on schedule on Thursday, May 1st, 1862, situated beside the gardens of the Royal Horticultural Society in South Kensington, (where the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum are now)

The building itself, (pictured below) designed by Captain Francis Fowke, cost £300,000. The profits from the Great Exhibition of 1851 covered the cost of this. It consisted of a main structure with two adjoining wings set at right angles for machinery and agricultural equipment.

Queen Victoria, who had opened the 1851 exhibition, and attended on many occasions in support of her husband – garnering much publicity for the event – did not attend the opening of the 1862 exhibition as she was in mourning for Albert. An empty throne surrounded by busts of Victoria and Albert replaced her, underlining the emptiness felt after the loss of the father of the exhibition.

Nevertheless, the exhibition was opened, featuring over 28,000 exhibitors from 36 countries, representing a wide range of industry, technology, and the arts which attracted over six million visitors. The exhibition cost £458,842 to put on and made £459,632 leaving a total profit of only £790, which was better than the Paris exhibition.

On 1st November 1862, the doors of the second International Industrial Exhibition in London closed. The critics were unanimous - in terms of significance and success, this exhibition was a long way behind the Great Exhibition of 1851 which, as we have seen, was remembered with great fondness still – a fondness that was sharpened by the loss of Albert.

So what was wrong with the 1862 Exhibition?

Firstly, the building itself was not taken to like the Crystal Palace was. Nobody appeared to have a fondness for it. Its main facade along Cromwell Road was 1,152 feet in length, and ornamented by two crystal domes, each of which was 260 feet high. Despite being, at the time, the two largest domes in the world, their effect was to some unimpressive, and the building was called "a wretched shed" by The Art Journal.

So nobody liked the look of the building, and they also complained about its size.
In their attempt to surpass the first London exhibition, the organizers of the 1862 exhibition had planned an event that would eclipse all others and be bigger and better. In terms of sheer scale, size and magnitude they certainly achieved this.

But, the vastness of the exhibition proved ultimately counter-productive; the press complained about the monstrous exhibits and over-ornate architecture – an attribute they blamed on the large and confusing number of people in control – a task that would, no doubt, have fallen to the Prince Consort.

The organizers had managed to bring together more exhibits by more exhibitors from more participating countries than had ever been attempted before, with 29,000 exhibitors from 37 countries participating (a number which would have been a lot higher, but for the non-participation of the USA, where there was Civil War) This statistic also more than eclipsed the 1855 Paris event. Over 9,000 of the participating exhibitors came from Britain alone, together with a further 2,600 from the British Colonies. 

Whilst this was a good thing, and deemed a great success from the point of view of the organizers, the public were united with the press with regards to the size of the exhibition and complained that it was too big, and contained too much for them to look at during one visit.

Complaints also came from the exhibitors with regards to the limited space allocated to them due to the sheer number of exhibits. They complained that whilst the building was vast, it was still not big enough, whilst the press and public continued to complain in the opposite direction.

Other problems arose due to the restricted space in which the exhibition building was situated in Kensington; there was chaos at the entrances, as thousands upon thousands of visitors turned up every day, but there being constant confusion as to the admittance fee, this being only a shilling on some days, higher on others, and different for season-ticket holders.

As a final insult to the building, Parliament declined the Government's wish to purchase it, and so it was demolished and the materials were sold and used for the construction of Alexandra Palace.

So there was a lack of leadership, the building was ugly, it was too big and too crowded, there were too many exhibits and nobody knew how much it cost to get in.

The Report of the Commissioners of the Exhibition of 1862 summed up the mood of the nation at the close of the Great Exhibition:

“The events originating in 1861, when the pillars of the American commonwealth came crashing downwards and startled the nations of Europe by their fall, entailed great suffering on masses of our own population, who would in happier circumstances have been among the firmest friends of the Exhibition. But this disaster was only of partial operation. It was the melancholy death of the Prince Consort in December, 1861, that gave the heaviest blow to the fortunes of the enterprise. The nation was suddenly plunged into mourning, and anything like gaiety or display became visibly, out of place.”

As the Queen mourned, the country felt it only right to mourn with her.

But surely something good must have come from the exhibition?

Well, in spite of all the criticism from both the media and the public, there were some positives. The exhibition allowed members of the public, as well as experts and enthusiasts to see and observe the latest advancements in technology. The demonstrations of production processes and machinery that the public could watch softened the image of technology, leading to much of it appearing in peoples homes in the form of mass-produced items and goods.

Who knows what legacy the exhibition of 1862 may have left behind it had Albert been alive to oversee it? Perhaps it would have eclipsed the 1851 exhibition and today we would not look back so fondly on the Crystal Palace, which burnt down 74 years ago today, but rather, look back on its seldom mentioned, often forgotten, little brother.


  1. Fantastic post, I had no idea about the 1862 exhibition - loved reading about it.

    Grace x

  2. Lots of people don't seem to know about the 'seldom mentioned, often forgotten, little brother' of the 1851 exhibition.
    I think in terms of modern - day knowledge of it, the 1851 exhibition has a little bit of an advantage in that the 'Crystal Palace' stood until 1936, so is within living memory - just, and also there is a place AND football team named after it, whereas the '62 exhibition has very little remaining legacy.

    It was rebuilt of sorts as the Ally-Pally, but that's not obvious.

    Thanks for reading and the comment!

  3. Great article, thanks. I too know far more about the 1851 Crystal Palace extravaganza that I do about 1862. It is as though a huge event was air brushed out of history, but not for any good reason that I can see. "The vastness of the exhibition proved ultimately counter-productive; the press complained about the monstrous exhibits and over-ornate architecture" - that sort of criticism was levelled at every single world fair ever held. If the exhibition space had been too small, even more people would have been upset.

    I have created a link to my writing on Alexandra Palace. Many thanks.

  4. Hels,

    I read your article, I never knew that much about Alexandra Palace but it certainly was, and is, a magnificent building. The more history a building has, the more character it has, I think, and Ally-Pally certainly has that, the plucky little fellow!

    Thanks for posting the link!

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  6. Thanks for providing this excellent account of the international exhibition of 1862. My great-great grandparents travelled from Nottingham to visit the exhibition - they were 'courting' at the time and my great-great grandfather bought his fiancee a silk headscarf depicting the exhibition building. I'm proud to have that headscarf framed on my living room wall

    1. Vera,

      What a wonderful piece of, not only family history, but just history, that you have upon your wall. An item to cherish - even more so because it has a life story!

      You're very lucky!

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

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