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Episode
59

The Great Exhibition

Jun 2, 2020
History
-
19
minutes
London
The Queen
The Victorian Era

In 1851, in London's Hyde Park, an immense glass structure towered above the trees.

Inside was an exhibition of the latest technologies, available for all to see.

It was so impressive that 1/3 of the British population came to see it, and Queen Victoria even visited 41 times.

In this episode, we tell the story of The Great Exhibition, and the mark it left on Britain, and the world.

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[00:00:04] Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories and learn interesting things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about The Great Exhibition.

[00:00:29] In 1851, in London's Hyde Park, at the height of the British empire, there was an exhibition the likes of which the world had never seen before. 

[00:00:42] It was a way for countries, and Britain in particular, to show themselves off to the world - a sort of grand announcement to the world of, look at us, this is how amazing we are.

[00:00:58] It is quite an interesting story and is relatively unknown outside the UK. 

[00:01:06] So let's get cracking and start by painting a picture of what was going on in Britain and the world just before 1851. 

[00:01:18] Firstly, it was the height of British colonialism. 

[00:01:23] We will save judgment on this for another episode, but the British empire stretched from Canada to Australia.

[00:01:32] There was a saying that the sun never sets on the British empire, and in 1851 this was certainly true. 

[00:01:41] Secondly, from a technological point of view, the world had been experiencing some exciting and revolutionary changes. 

[00:01:53] The Industrial Revolution had seen the invention of things like the steam engine and the sewing machine.

[00:02:02] And of course, this was before true mass media, especially on a global scale, and although people may have heard of some of these new marvellous inventions, they knew very little about them, and most probably had never seen any of them. 

[00:02:23] And coming to Britain, Britain had just defeated the French in the Napoleonic War 35 years beforehand, but there was still some serious rivalry between these two neighbours.

[00:02:39] In Britain, Queen Victoria was on the throne, and her husband, Albert, was keen for there to be a way for Britain to show itself off to the world, to show off the great industrial inventions, but also to show off the variety of jewels that he had acquired through its empire building - the most important of course, was India. 

[00:03:09] The French had actually held an event in 1844 called the Industrial Exposition, but of course the British had to do something bigger, better, and more impressive than what their rivals across the channel had done a few years before.

[00:03:29] Otherwise, what was the point? 

[00:03:32] So it was decided that an event would be held in London in 1851. 

[00:03:40] The venue was suggested by Lord Wellington, the man famous for defeating the French at the battle of Waterloo in 1815.

[00:03:50] It was to take place in Hyde Park, which was at this time, a park to the west of the city. 

[00:03:57] Now, regular listeners to this podcast will remember that Harrods, the famous department store moved its location partly to be next to where the exhibition was to be held in order to capitalise on the passing traffic.

[00:04:16] There was also a competition to design the building in which the exhibition was to be held. 

[00:04:24] Firstly, the building had to be sufficiently large. 

[00:04:28] If the French were to be outdone, this exhibition had to be not only the best, but also the biggest - this space had to be huge. 

[00:04:40] And naturally it had to be luxurious and opulent, it had to be huge, but it also had to be incredibly stylish. 

[00:04:51] It would just be embarrassing to be outdone by the French on style. 

[00:04:58] The contract for designing the structure was won by a company called Fox and Henderson, and they proposed a huge glass building, a bit like a glass conservatory.

[00:05:13] And when I say it was huge, it really was huge, both for a building of its era and also even now. 

[00:05:24] It took around 5,000 men to erect, and it was 564 metres long and 33 metres high - that's about the length of five football pitches. 

[00:05:39] And it was all made out of glass and metal. 

[00:05:43] It really was quite a spectacle to behold, and it was named The Crystal Palace. 

[00:05:51] Battling against the clock, it was finished just on time, and The Great Exhibition was opened by Queen Victoria on the 1st of May, 1851. 

[00:06:04] The stated aim, the objective of The Great Exhibition was as a celebration of art in industry for the benefit of all nations. 

[00:06:18] In reality, though, it was mainly a way for Britain to show off - both show off its developments in manufacturing and industry and show off its empire.

[00:06:32] And while this was Britain's way to show itself off to the world, the main attendees of the exhibition, the main people who actually went to the exhibition were British people - Britain was showing itself off to itself, to its own people. 

[00:06:53] International travel was of course, practically non-existent and only accessible to the most wealthy, but domestic travel in Great Britain had just started to become possible en masse with the arrival of the railways. 

[00:07:12] And people came from all over Britain to marvel at the items on display. 

[00:07:20] A total of 6 million people visited The Great Exhibition, which was about a third of the population of Britain at the time. 

[00:07:32] It said that there was even a woman in her eighties who walked all the way from Cornwall to attend.

[00:07:41] That's over 400 kilometres. 

[00:07:44] I should say though, that this story appears to have been slightly exaggerated

[00:07:51] If you are familiar yet with British history, or even if you have listened to some of our earlier episodes where we talk about Britain in the 19th century, you will remember that life in Victorian Britain for the majority of people was pretty tough.

[00:08:11] Poverty was widespread, living conditions were pretty terrible, and generally it wasn't a great time to be alive. 

[00:08:21] Albert, Queen Victoria's husband was acutely aware of this situation and wanted to keep the cost of tickets low so that anyone in society could attend. 

[00:08:36] Cheap day tickets were sold for today's equivalent of about five pounds, which is about $7, so they were affordable even for the poorest in society. 

[00:08:49] And of course it wasn't just for society's poorest - Queen Victoria opened the exhibition, of course, but she actually came back and visited a total of 41 times over the five and a half months that the exhibition went on for, so she came back twice a week. 

[00:09:12] But what actually was on display at The Great Exhibition in The Crystal Palace? That's what you're probably thinking. 

[00:09:20] Well, there was certainly enough to see to keep Queen Victoria coming back for more. 

[00:09:26] There were around 100,000 different objects from over 15,000 different contributors.

[00:09:35] Britain, being the host, took up half of the space and the remainder was left for other countries. 

[00:09:45] And going through the list of different things that were on display is absolutely fascinating. 

[00:09:51] There was a printing press that could print 5,000 copies of a newspaper in an hour. 

[00:09:58] There was a machine for making cigarettes on an industrial scale.

[00:10:04] There was a new kind of counting machine that, it was said, would put accountants out of business. 

[00:10:12] Queen Victoria reportedly wrote in her diary that the event contained 'every conceivable invention', every invention that you could think about. 

[00:10:24] And for most people visiting, this must have been the most amazing experience.

[00:10:30] They were looking into the future, seeing all of these fantastic things that might make their lives better, make things faster, easier, cheaper. 

[00:10:41] It must have just been such an incredible feeling. 

[00:10:46] One invention that was first shown at The Great Exhibition that you will most certainly be aware of and I imagine you may have already used today, is quite an interesting one.

[00:11:01] It is the flushing toilet. 

[00:11:05] The first flushing toilet was created by a man called George Jennings, who was a plumber from Brighton, to the South of London. 

[00:11:16] But instead of just having this flushing toilet as an item at the exhibition for people to look at, he created the first what were called public waiting rooms, so visitors to the exhibition could use this new invention for themselves, they could use the toilets. 

[00:11:38] But they couldn't use them for free. 

[00:11:40] It cost one penny to use the public toilets, but you got, at least in my opinion, pretty good service for that. 

[00:11:50] For one penny, you got a clean seat, a towel, a comb, and a shoe shine, someone to shine your shoes. 

[00:12:00] Over the course of the exhibition, 827,280 visitors paid one penny to use them, and this has actually left a mark on the English language. 

[00:12:14] To spend a penny in case you weren't aware, is a polite expression in English for to go to the bathroom and it comes from The Great Exhibition, it comes from the 827,280 visitors in 1851 who spent a penny to visit the bathroom.

[00:12:36] Other than the evidently great invention of the flushing toilet, the exhibition was viewed as a huge success, a great way to showcase the developments in manufacturing and industry. 

[00:12:51] So, of course, other countries wanted to do their own ones. 

[00:12:55] Napoleon III decided to have the second World's Fair in 1855 in Paris, and obviously the French got quite a taste for these, holding eight expositions between the years of 1855 and 1937 each of which left its own mark on the city.

[00:13:18] The most famous landmark left by one of these French expositions is the Eiffel tower, which was created to celebrate the 1899 exposition. 

[00:13:31] But if you are wondering what happened to The Crystal Palace though, where that is now and why you don't seem to see that in London's travel guides, I have some unfortunate news for you.

[00:13:46] After The Great Exhibition, the structure was moved out of Hyde Park and to an area to the South of London called Sydenham. 

[00:13:57] The Crystal Palace had been built specially so that it was easy to be moved and it was taken down and put back up in what was, at the time, a sleepy little village outside London.

[00:14:14] After it was transported to Sydenham, it was used for a variety of different purposes for the next 50 years or so, but tragically, it was burned down in a fire in 1936 and unfortunately it didn't have the right insurance. 

[00:14:35] So when it burned down, that was it, there was no money left to rebuild it. 

[00:14:43] As London grew though, the little village of Sydenham gradually was swallowed up by the city and Sydenham now is part of London. 

[00:14:55] The legacy of that building, The Crystal Palace, is that the area that it is in is now called Crystal Palace. 

[00:15:04] The football fans among you may recognise the name from the football club of the same name, Crystal Palace. 

[00:15:14] But the football club and the name for the area aren't the biggest legacies that it has left behind. 

[00:15:23] There is, of course, the more symbolic legacy of The Great Exhibition as a concept, of countries even now wanting to show themselves off to the world, but that's not actually what I'm talking about.

[00:15:40] I'm talking about a more solid, a more concrete legacy

[00:15:48] Contrary to what many people thought when they had the idea, the exhibition actually turned a profit. It ended up with a pile of money from all the ticket sales, about 18 million pounds in today's money.

[00:16:05] It had made so much money through ticket sales, even though the tickets were pretty cheap that it was left with a pile of cash. 

[00:16:16] So, what happened to this money? 

[00:16:19] Well, it all went back into the education of the masses, you can say, and of creating an area of museums just south of Hyde Park in an area called South Kensington.

[00:16:35] These museums are still around today, and if you have been to London, then there's probably a good chance that you have been to one of them, and you have benefited from the legacy of The Great Exhibition. 

[00:16:51] I know that I certainly have. 

[00:16:54] These museums are the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, as well as the Imperial College of Science, the Royal College of Arts, Music and Organists, and of course the Royal Albert Hall.

[00:17:13] So all of these fantastic museums that are now free for anyone to enter were all made possible by this Great Exhibition. 

[00:17:24] Of course, this story has been forgotten by most people, but it's an amazing thing that the creation of all of these great museums comes from this one event over 150 years ago, which was attended by a third of the entire country's population.

[00:17:47] We didn't get an Eiffel Tower out of it, but we did get a fantastic collection of museums and the flushing toilet. 

[00:17:56] I think I know which of those I prefer. 

[00:18:00] Okay then, that is it for today's episode. 

[00:18:04] I hope that it's been an interesting one, and if you didn't know about The Great Exhibition before, well you know a lot more about it now.

[00:18:14] As always, I would love to know what you thought of the show. 

[00:18:17] You can email hi Hi@leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:18:22] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:18:28] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF PODCAST]


Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:04] Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories and learn interesting things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about The Great Exhibition.

[00:00:29] In 1851, in London's Hyde Park, at the height of the British empire, there was an exhibition the likes of which the world had never seen before. 

[00:00:42] It was a way for countries, and Britain in particular, to show themselves off to the world - a sort of grand announcement to the world of, look at us, this is how amazing we are.

[00:00:58] It is quite an interesting story and is relatively unknown outside the UK. 

[00:01:06] So let's get cracking and start by painting a picture of what was going on in Britain and the world just before 1851. 

[00:01:18] Firstly, it was the height of British colonialism. 

[00:01:23] We will save judgment on this for another episode, but the British empire stretched from Canada to Australia.

[00:01:32] There was a saying that the sun never sets on the British empire, and in 1851 this was certainly true. 

[00:01:41] Secondly, from a technological point of view, the world had been experiencing some exciting and revolutionary changes. 

[00:01:53] The Industrial Revolution had seen the invention of things like the steam engine and the sewing machine.

[00:02:02] And of course, this was before true mass media, especially on a global scale, and although people may have heard of some of these new marvellous inventions, they knew very little about them, and most probably had never seen any of them. 

[00:02:23] And coming to Britain, Britain had just defeated the French in the Napoleonic War 35 years beforehand, but there was still some serious rivalry between these two neighbours.

[00:02:39] In Britain, Queen Victoria was on the throne, and her husband, Albert, was keen for there to be a way for Britain to show itself off to the world, to show off the great industrial inventions, but also to show off the variety of jewels that he had acquired through its empire building - the most important of course, was India. 

[00:03:09] The French had actually held an event in 1844 called the Industrial Exposition, but of course the British had to do something bigger, better, and more impressive than what their rivals across the channel had done a few years before.

[00:03:29] Otherwise, what was the point? 

[00:03:32] So it was decided that an event would be held in London in 1851. 

[00:03:40] The venue was suggested by Lord Wellington, the man famous for defeating the French at the battle of Waterloo in 1815.

[00:03:50] It was to take place in Hyde Park, which was at this time, a park to the west of the city. 

[00:03:57] Now, regular listeners to this podcast will remember that Harrods, the famous department store moved its location partly to be next to where the exhibition was to be held in order to capitalise on the passing traffic.

[00:04:16] There was also a competition to design the building in which the exhibition was to be held. 

[00:04:24] Firstly, the building had to be sufficiently large. 

[00:04:28] If the French were to be outdone, this exhibition had to be not only the best, but also the biggest - this space had to be huge. 

[00:04:40] And naturally it had to be luxurious and opulent, it had to be huge, but it also had to be incredibly stylish. 

[00:04:51] It would just be embarrassing to be outdone by the French on style. 

[00:04:58] The contract for designing the structure was won by a company called Fox and Henderson, and they proposed a huge glass building, a bit like a glass conservatory.

[00:05:13] And when I say it was huge, it really was huge, both for a building of its era and also even now. 

[00:05:24] It took around 5,000 men to erect, and it was 564 metres long and 33 metres high - that's about the length of five football pitches. 

[00:05:39] And it was all made out of glass and metal. 

[00:05:43] It really was quite a spectacle to behold, and it was named The Crystal Palace. 

[00:05:51] Battling against the clock, it was finished just on time, and The Great Exhibition was opened by Queen Victoria on the 1st of May, 1851. 

[00:06:04] The stated aim, the objective of The Great Exhibition was as a celebration of art in industry for the benefit of all nations. 

[00:06:18] In reality, though, it was mainly a way for Britain to show off - both show off its developments in manufacturing and industry and show off its empire.

[00:06:32] And while this was Britain's way to show itself off to the world, the main attendees of the exhibition, the main people who actually went to the exhibition were British people - Britain was showing itself off to itself, to its own people. 

[00:06:53] International travel was of course, practically non-existent and only accessible to the most wealthy, but domestic travel in Great Britain had just started to become possible en masse with the arrival of the railways. 

[00:07:12] And people came from all over Britain to marvel at the items on display. 

[00:07:20] A total of 6 million people visited The Great Exhibition, which was about a third of the population of Britain at the time. 

[00:07:32] It said that there was even a woman in her eighties who walked all the way from Cornwall to attend.

[00:07:41] That's over 400 kilometres. 

[00:07:44] I should say though, that this story appears to have been slightly exaggerated

[00:07:51] If you are familiar yet with British history, or even if you have listened to some of our earlier episodes where we talk about Britain in the 19th century, you will remember that life in Victorian Britain for the majority of people was pretty tough.

[00:08:11] Poverty was widespread, living conditions were pretty terrible, and generally it wasn't a great time to be alive. 

[00:08:21] Albert, Queen Victoria's husband was acutely aware of this situation and wanted to keep the cost of tickets low so that anyone in society could attend. 

[00:08:36] Cheap day tickets were sold for today's equivalent of about five pounds, which is about $7, so they were affordable even for the poorest in society. 

[00:08:49] And of course it wasn't just for society's poorest - Queen Victoria opened the exhibition, of course, but she actually came back and visited a total of 41 times over the five and a half months that the exhibition went on for, so she came back twice a week. 

[00:09:12] But what actually was on display at The Great Exhibition in The Crystal Palace? That's what you're probably thinking. 

[00:09:20] Well, there was certainly enough to see to keep Queen Victoria coming back for more. 

[00:09:26] There were around 100,000 different objects from over 15,000 different contributors.

[00:09:35] Britain, being the host, took up half of the space and the remainder was left for other countries. 

[00:09:45] And going through the list of different things that were on display is absolutely fascinating. 

[00:09:51] There was a printing press that could print 5,000 copies of a newspaper in an hour. 

[00:09:58] There was a machine for making cigarettes on an industrial scale.

[00:10:04] There was a new kind of counting machine that, it was said, would put accountants out of business. 

[00:10:12] Queen Victoria reportedly wrote in her diary that the event contained 'every conceivable invention', every invention that you could think about. 

[00:10:24] And for most people visiting, this must have been the most amazing experience.

[00:10:30] They were looking into the future, seeing all of these fantastic things that might make their lives better, make things faster, easier, cheaper. 

[00:10:41] It must have just been such an incredible feeling. 

[00:10:46] One invention that was first shown at The Great Exhibition that you will most certainly be aware of and I imagine you may have already used today, is quite an interesting one.

[00:11:01] It is the flushing toilet. 

[00:11:05] The first flushing toilet was created by a man called George Jennings, who was a plumber from Brighton, to the South of London. 

[00:11:16] But instead of just having this flushing toilet as an item at the exhibition for people to look at, he created the first what were called public waiting rooms, so visitors to the exhibition could use this new invention for themselves, they could use the toilets. 

[00:11:38] But they couldn't use them for free. 

[00:11:40] It cost one penny to use the public toilets, but you got, at least in my opinion, pretty good service for that. 

[00:11:50] For one penny, you got a clean seat, a towel, a comb, and a shoe shine, someone to shine your shoes. 

[00:12:00] Over the course of the exhibition, 827,280 visitors paid one penny to use them, and this has actually left a mark on the English language. 

[00:12:14] To spend a penny in case you weren't aware, is a polite expression in English for to go to the bathroom and it comes from The Great Exhibition, it comes from the 827,280 visitors in 1851 who spent a penny to visit the bathroom.

[00:12:36] Other than the evidently great invention of the flushing toilet, the exhibition was viewed as a huge success, a great way to showcase the developments in manufacturing and industry. 

[00:12:51] So, of course, other countries wanted to do their own ones. 

[00:12:55] Napoleon III decided to have the second World's Fair in 1855 in Paris, and obviously the French got quite a taste for these, holding eight expositions between the years of 1855 and 1937 each of which left its own mark on the city.

[00:13:18] The most famous landmark left by one of these French expositions is the Eiffel tower, which was created to celebrate the 1899 exposition. 

[00:13:31] But if you are wondering what happened to The Crystal Palace though, where that is now and why you don't seem to see that in London's travel guides, I have some unfortunate news for you.

[00:13:46] After The Great Exhibition, the structure was moved out of Hyde Park and to an area to the South of London called Sydenham. 

[00:13:57] The Crystal Palace had been built specially so that it was easy to be moved and it was taken down and put back up in what was, at the time, a sleepy little village outside London.

[00:14:14] After it was transported to Sydenham, it was used for a variety of different purposes for the next 50 years or so, but tragically, it was burned down in a fire in 1936 and unfortunately it didn't have the right insurance. 

[00:14:35] So when it burned down, that was it, there was no money left to rebuild it. 

[00:14:43] As London grew though, the little village of Sydenham gradually was swallowed up by the city and Sydenham now is part of London. 

[00:14:55] The legacy of that building, The Crystal Palace, is that the area that it is in is now called Crystal Palace. 

[00:15:04] The football fans among you may recognise the name from the football club of the same name, Crystal Palace. 

[00:15:14] But the football club and the name for the area aren't the biggest legacies that it has left behind. 

[00:15:23] There is, of course, the more symbolic legacy of The Great Exhibition as a concept, of countries even now wanting to show themselves off to the world, but that's not actually what I'm talking about.

[00:15:40] I'm talking about a more solid, a more concrete legacy

[00:15:48] Contrary to what many people thought when they had the idea, the exhibition actually turned a profit. It ended up with a pile of money from all the ticket sales, about 18 million pounds in today's money.

[00:16:05] It had made so much money through ticket sales, even though the tickets were pretty cheap that it was left with a pile of cash. 

[00:16:16] So, what happened to this money? 

[00:16:19] Well, it all went back into the education of the masses, you can say, and of creating an area of museums just south of Hyde Park in an area called South Kensington.

[00:16:35] These museums are still around today, and if you have been to London, then there's probably a good chance that you have been to one of them, and you have benefited from the legacy of The Great Exhibition. 

[00:16:51] I know that I certainly have. 

[00:16:54] These museums are the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, as well as the Imperial College of Science, the Royal College of Arts, Music and Organists, and of course the Royal Albert Hall.

[00:17:13] So all of these fantastic museums that are now free for anyone to enter were all made possible by this Great Exhibition. 

[00:17:24] Of course, this story has been forgotten by most people, but it's an amazing thing that the creation of all of these great museums comes from this one event over 150 years ago, which was attended by a third of the entire country's population.

[00:17:47] We didn't get an Eiffel Tower out of it, but we did get a fantastic collection of museums and the flushing toilet. 

[00:17:56] I think I know which of those I prefer. 

[00:18:00] Okay then, that is it for today's episode. 

[00:18:04] I hope that it's been an interesting one, and if you didn't know about The Great Exhibition before, well you know a lot more about it now.

[00:18:14] As always, I would love to know what you thought of the show. 

[00:18:17] You can email hi Hi@leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:18:22] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:18:28] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF PODCAST]


[00:00:04] Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories and learn interesting things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about The Great Exhibition.

[00:00:29] In 1851, in London's Hyde Park, at the height of the British empire, there was an exhibition the likes of which the world had never seen before. 

[00:00:42] It was a way for countries, and Britain in particular, to show themselves off to the world - a sort of grand announcement to the world of, look at us, this is how amazing we are.

[00:00:58] It is quite an interesting story and is relatively unknown outside the UK. 

[00:01:06] So let's get cracking and start by painting a picture of what was going on in Britain and the world just before 1851. 

[00:01:18] Firstly, it was the height of British colonialism. 

[00:01:23] We will save judgment on this for another episode, but the British empire stretched from Canada to Australia.

[00:01:32] There was a saying that the sun never sets on the British empire, and in 1851 this was certainly true. 

[00:01:41] Secondly, from a technological point of view, the world had been experiencing some exciting and revolutionary changes. 

[00:01:53] The Industrial Revolution had seen the invention of things like the steam engine and the sewing machine.

[00:02:02] And of course, this was before true mass media, especially on a global scale, and although people may have heard of some of these new marvellous inventions, they knew very little about them, and most probably had never seen any of them. 

[00:02:23] And coming to Britain, Britain had just defeated the French in the Napoleonic War 35 years beforehand, but there was still some serious rivalry between these two neighbours.

[00:02:39] In Britain, Queen Victoria was on the throne, and her husband, Albert, was keen for there to be a way for Britain to show itself off to the world, to show off the great industrial inventions, but also to show off the variety of jewels that he had acquired through its empire building - the most important of course, was India. 

[00:03:09] The French had actually held an event in 1844 called the Industrial Exposition, but of course the British had to do something bigger, better, and more impressive than what their rivals across the channel had done a few years before.

[00:03:29] Otherwise, what was the point? 

[00:03:32] So it was decided that an event would be held in London in 1851. 

[00:03:40] The venue was suggested by Lord Wellington, the man famous for defeating the French at the battle of Waterloo in 1815.

[00:03:50] It was to take place in Hyde Park, which was at this time, a park to the west of the city. 

[00:03:57] Now, regular listeners to this podcast will remember that Harrods, the famous department store moved its location partly to be next to where the exhibition was to be held in order to capitalise on the passing traffic.

[00:04:16] There was also a competition to design the building in which the exhibition was to be held. 

[00:04:24] Firstly, the building had to be sufficiently large. 

[00:04:28] If the French were to be outdone, this exhibition had to be not only the best, but also the biggest - this space had to be huge. 

[00:04:40] And naturally it had to be luxurious and opulent, it had to be huge, but it also had to be incredibly stylish. 

[00:04:51] It would just be embarrassing to be outdone by the French on style. 

[00:04:58] The contract for designing the structure was won by a company called Fox and Henderson, and they proposed a huge glass building, a bit like a glass conservatory.

[00:05:13] And when I say it was huge, it really was huge, both for a building of its era and also even now. 

[00:05:24] It took around 5,000 men to erect, and it was 564 metres long and 33 metres high - that's about the length of five football pitches. 

[00:05:39] And it was all made out of glass and metal. 

[00:05:43] It really was quite a spectacle to behold, and it was named The Crystal Palace. 

[00:05:51] Battling against the clock, it was finished just on time, and The Great Exhibition was opened by Queen Victoria on the 1st of May, 1851. 

[00:06:04] The stated aim, the objective of The Great Exhibition was as a celebration of art in industry for the benefit of all nations. 

[00:06:18] In reality, though, it was mainly a way for Britain to show off - both show off its developments in manufacturing and industry and show off its empire.

[00:06:32] And while this was Britain's way to show itself off to the world, the main attendees of the exhibition, the main people who actually went to the exhibition were British people - Britain was showing itself off to itself, to its own people. 

[00:06:53] International travel was of course, practically non-existent and only accessible to the most wealthy, but domestic travel in Great Britain had just started to become possible en masse with the arrival of the railways. 

[00:07:12] And people came from all over Britain to marvel at the items on display. 

[00:07:20] A total of 6 million people visited The Great Exhibition, which was about a third of the population of Britain at the time. 

[00:07:32] It said that there was even a woman in her eighties who walked all the way from Cornwall to attend.

[00:07:41] That's over 400 kilometres. 

[00:07:44] I should say though, that this story appears to have been slightly exaggerated

[00:07:51] If you are familiar yet with British history, or even if you have listened to some of our earlier episodes where we talk about Britain in the 19th century, you will remember that life in Victorian Britain for the majority of people was pretty tough.

[00:08:11] Poverty was widespread, living conditions were pretty terrible, and generally it wasn't a great time to be alive. 

[00:08:21] Albert, Queen Victoria's husband was acutely aware of this situation and wanted to keep the cost of tickets low so that anyone in society could attend. 

[00:08:36] Cheap day tickets were sold for today's equivalent of about five pounds, which is about $7, so they were affordable even for the poorest in society. 

[00:08:49] And of course it wasn't just for society's poorest - Queen Victoria opened the exhibition, of course, but she actually came back and visited a total of 41 times over the five and a half months that the exhibition went on for, so she came back twice a week. 

[00:09:12] But what actually was on display at The Great Exhibition in The Crystal Palace? That's what you're probably thinking. 

[00:09:20] Well, there was certainly enough to see to keep Queen Victoria coming back for more. 

[00:09:26] There were around 100,000 different objects from over 15,000 different contributors.

[00:09:35] Britain, being the host, took up half of the space and the remainder was left for other countries. 

[00:09:45] And going through the list of different things that were on display is absolutely fascinating. 

[00:09:51] There was a printing press that could print 5,000 copies of a newspaper in an hour. 

[00:09:58] There was a machine for making cigarettes on an industrial scale.

[00:10:04] There was a new kind of counting machine that, it was said, would put accountants out of business. 

[00:10:12] Queen Victoria reportedly wrote in her diary that the event contained 'every conceivable invention', every invention that you could think about. 

[00:10:24] And for most people visiting, this must have been the most amazing experience.

[00:10:30] They were looking into the future, seeing all of these fantastic things that might make their lives better, make things faster, easier, cheaper. 

[00:10:41] It must have just been such an incredible feeling. 

[00:10:46] One invention that was first shown at The Great Exhibition that you will most certainly be aware of and I imagine you may have already used today, is quite an interesting one.

[00:11:01] It is the flushing toilet. 

[00:11:05] The first flushing toilet was created by a man called George Jennings, who was a plumber from Brighton, to the South of London. 

[00:11:16] But instead of just having this flushing toilet as an item at the exhibition for people to look at, he created the first what were called public waiting rooms, so visitors to the exhibition could use this new invention for themselves, they could use the toilets. 

[00:11:38] But they couldn't use them for free. 

[00:11:40] It cost one penny to use the public toilets, but you got, at least in my opinion, pretty good service for that. 

[00:11:50] For one penny, you got a clean seat, a towel, a comb, and a shoe shine, someone to shine your shoes. 

[00:12:00] Over the course of the exhibition, 827,280 visitors paid one penny to use them, and this has actually left a mark on the English language. 

[00:12:14] To spend a penny in case you weren't aware, is a polite expression in English for to go to the bathroom and it comes from The Great Exhibition, it comes from the 827,280 visitors in 1851 who spent a penny to visit the bathroom.

[00:12:36] Other than the evidently great invention of the flushing toilet, the exhibition was viewed as a huge success, a great way to showcase the developments in manufacturing and industry. 

[00:12:51] So, of course, other countries wanted to do their own ones. 

[00:12:55] Napoleon III decided to have the second World's Fair in 1855 in Paris, and obviously the French got quite a taste for these, holding eight expositions between the years of 1855 and 1937 each of which left its own mark on the city.

[00:13:18] The most famous landmark left by one of these French expositions is the Eiffel tower, which was created to celebrate the 1899 exposition. 

[00:13:31] But if you are wondering what happened to The Crystal Palace though, where that is now and why you don't seem to see that in London's travel guides, I have some unfortunate news for you.

[00:13:46] After The Great Exhibition, the structure was moved out of Hyde Park and to an area to the South of London called Sydenham. 

[00:13:57] The Crystal Palace had been built specially so that it was easy to be moved and it was taken down and put back up in what was, at the time, a sleepy little village outside London.

[00:14:14] After it was transported to Sydenham, it was used for a variety of different purposes for the next 50 years or so, but tragically, it was burned down in a fire in 1936 and unfortunately it didn't have the right insurance. 

[00:14:35] So when it burned down, that was it, there was no money left to rebuild it. 

[00:14:43] As London grew though, the little village of Sydenham gradually was swallowed up by the city and Sydenham now is part of London. 

[00:14:55] The legacy of that building, The Crystal Palace, is that the area that it is in is now called Crystal Palace. 

[00:15:04] The football fans among you may recognise the name from the football club of the same name, Crystal Palace. 

[00:15:14] But the football club and the name for the area aren't the biggest legacies that it has left behind. 

[00:15:23] There is, of course, the more symbolic legacy of The Great Exhibition as a concept, of countries even now wanting to show themselves off to the world, but that's not actually what I'm talking about.

[00:15:40] I'm talking about a more solid, a more concrete legacy

[00:15:48] Contrary to what many people thought when they had the idea, the exhibition actually turned a profit. It ended up with a pile of money from all the ticket sales, about 18 million pounds in today's money.

[00:16:05] It had made so much money through ticket sales, even though the tickets were pretty cheap that it was left with a pile of cash. 

[00:16:16] So, what happened to this money? 

[00:16:19] Well, it all went back into the education of the masses, you can say, and of creating an area of museums just south of Hyde Park in an area called South Kensington.

[00:16:35] These museums are still around today, and if you have been to London, then there's probably a good chance that you have been to one of them, and you have benefited from the legacy of The Great Exhibition. 

[00:16:51] I know that I certainly have. 

[00:16:54] These museums are the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, as well as the Imperial College of Science, the Royal College of Arts, Music and Organists, and of course the Royal Albert Hall.

[00:17:13] So all of these fantastic museums that are now free for anyone to enter were all made possible by this Great Exhibition. 

[00:17:24] Of course, this story has been forgotten by most people, but it's an amazing thing that the creation of all of these great museums comes from this one event over 150 years ago, which was attended by a third of the entire country's population.

[00:17:47] We didn't get an Eiffel Tower out of it, but we did get a fantastic collection of museums and the flushing toilet. 

[00:17:56] I think I know which of those I prefer. 

[00:18:00] Okay then, that is it for today's episode. 

[00:18:04] I hope that it's been an interesting one, and if you didn't know about The Great Exhibition before, well you know a lot more about it now.

[00:18:14] As always, I would love to know what you thought of the show. 

[00:18:17] You can email hi Hi@leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:18:22] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:18:28] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe and I'll catch you in the next episode.

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