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The Great Exhibition was an international presentation of culture and industry held in Hyde Park, London from 1st May to the 15th October 1851.


It was also called The Crystal Palace Exhibition, referring to the magnificent building that was constructed especially for the show. It was designed by Joseph Paxton and was constructed almost entirely from cast iron and glass.


The building was based on a design for a giant greenhouse and was 563m by 138m. The impressive structure went from plans to a grand opening in just nine months and the overseeing committee for its construction included Isambard Kingdom Brunel.


The building was moved after the exhibition to Sydenham in South London, where the whole area was renamed Crystal Palace. It was used as a theatre and concert hall until it was eventually destroyed in a fire in 1936.


The exhibition was very popular and over 6 million people visited it- almost a third of Britain’s population at the time. Each person paid one shilling to enter.


It was a great financial success and the profits went toward funding buildings such as the Royal Albert Hall, the Victoria and Albert Museum, The Science Museum and The Natural History Museum, all in Kensington in London.

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There were over 14,000 exhibits, which included:




 Alfred Charles Hobbs, an American locksmith, used the exhibition to demonstrate the inadequacy of several respected locks of the day.


Frederick Bakewell demonstrated a precursor to today's Fax machine.


The Tempest Prognosticator, a barometer using leeches, was demonstrated at the Great Exhibition by George Merryweather.


George Jennings designed the first public conveniences in the Retiring Rooms of the Crystal Palace for which he charged one penny. It is from this that we get the phrase, ‘to spend a penny.’


There were displays of furniture and interior decoration from all over the world, including China, India and Turkey.


McCormick's Reaper, an early form of mechanical harvester, which could cut an astounding twenty acres in a day.

Did you know that the phrase "to spend a penny" comes from The Great Exhibition...?