The Great Exhibition which ran from 1 May to 11 October 1851 was the idea of Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert who saw it as an opportunity to promote Britain’s image around the world.
Housed in a glass building reinforced with cast iron girders and situated in Hyde Park it resembled a giant greenhouse reflecting the background of its designer Joseph Paxton who used to make them for the Duke of Devonshire.
Advertised as an chance to witness in one place all the technological wonders of the world it was in reality an opportunity to show off Britain’s industrial might with its exhibits taking pride of place whilst those from the rest of the world were shunted into corners and piled up one upon the other.
It was to prove a great success selling more than six million tickets during its run the equivalent of a third of Britain’s population. Tickets were priced from three guineas to one shilling with around four million of the cheapest tickets being sold, and the average daily attendance was 42,831 reaching a peak of 109,915 on 7 October.
Queen Victoria was a frequent visitor being particularly taken by a mechanical bed that tipped its occupant straight into a pre-prepared bath. Other eminent Victorians who attended were Charles Dickens, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson amongst others.
Though it had its critics amongst them Karl Marx who accused it of being capitalist propaganda and commodity fetishism on a grand scale the Great Exhibition was to set the trend for other such events in other major cities and confirmed Britain’s status as the Workshop of the World.