A recent update on the Great Exhibition of the North piqued my interest in Liverpool's contribution to the original Great Exhibition of 1851.
I previously blogged the model of Edge Hill at the National Railway Museum that was built for the 1886 "Shipperies" exhibition; the large building housing the exhibition is also an OpenSim work-in-progress. The Shipperies was Liverpool's first foray into the major league of international exhibitions promoting trade and industry and the inspiration for this was the Great Exhibition of 1851 held in London in the immense Crystal Palace designed by Joseph Paxton and built in Hyde Park. It turns out that there was a Liverpool model there as well and many of the contractors and engineers who started out in Georgian Liverpool would meet once more in London.
The Great Exhibition of 1851
As with the Shipperies, the name was a shortened form, the full name being The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations (it was sometimes called the World's Fair as well). It was championed by the royal consort Prince Albert but nevertheless was a hard sell, not least because those local to the park were loathe to see their tranquility disrupted by an international exhibition. Finance was an issue as well and the organisers resorted to the Victorian equivalent of crowdfunding, public subscription.
The form of the exhibition hall was also problematic. A design competition was held and there were some 240 entries, including one from Liverpool-based architect William Raffles Brown. Unfortunately, none of the entries satisfied the eminent Building Committee which included both architects and engineers, most notably Stephenson and Brunel. In the absence of a clear winner, the Committee opted to create their own design based where appropriate on elements from competition entries. The end-product unsurprisingly looked as if it had indeed been designed by a committee and, being brick-based, looked more permanent than temporary, much to the dismay of locals. The project was in trouble.
Rescue came from an unexpected quarter. Noted gardener and greenhouse designer Joseph Paxton mocked up the outline for a glass-based building that would eventually become known as the Crystal Palace. Plans were completed in 8 days and were popular with the public, one benefit being that the elm trees in Hyde Park could be accommodated by the high roof in the transept (legend has it that Brunel gave Paxton the necessary measurements). Championed by Stephenson, the new design was adopted and the building completed within 9 months ready for the opening on 1st May.
Samuel Holme of Liverpool (builder for St George's Hall and part of the original Lime Street station) was invited to bid for the building contract but declined. Instead, the Birmingham firm of Fox, Henderson & Co. took on construction of the modular design (they had already done Birkenhead Market and Liverpool Exchange Station) with many of the operations semi-automated using machines devised by Paxton. William Cubitt acted as Principal Engineer. Most of the sheet glass was produced by Chance & Co. in Birmingham but some was also made in St Helens by Pilkington Brothers, presumably to help meet a tight deadline.
The finished design was based on modules comprising 24 foot squares with 36 in the west nave and 38 in the east. The two were separated by a transept running north-south. This was 3 squares wide so the final length was probably 1848 feet (563.3 m) rather than the more symbolic 1851 widely quoted. The naves were tiered such that there were additional galleries and courts running alongside the main nave with a second storey of galleries above.
Liverpool at the Exhibition
As might be expected, Liverpool was well-represented at the exhibition, not least by a large (15 x 2.5 m) model of the docks and commercial quarter. The image below comes from the exhibition catalogue (just one of three volumes). Liverpool also had a large display of the raw materials imported through its docks with copious details listed in the official catalogue (Hull had a similar display but no listing).
These displays were coordinated via the a local committee working out of the Town Hall but in common with other towns and cities, Liverpool's citizens had individual displays of manufactured goods as well as tools and raw materials. Joseph Mayer (subsequently a benefactor to the Liverpool museum) had a large and expensive display of decorative items including tableware, inkstands and jewellery, and Milner's of Smithdown Lane had a display of their fire-resisting safes in various stages of manufacture. Other artefacts with a Liverpool connection included the architect's model of St Georges's Hall, a model of the Lime Street station train shed, a model of a railway bridge in Chepstow made by the Windsor Foundry to Brunel's design and an invention by noted local artist WG Herdman to assist the novice with perspective drawing.
Fig: Case and map of the Liverpool model displayed at the Great Exhibition
The model was displayed in the West (British) Nave and can be seen on the left in the print published by Dickenson below as well as in a similar view by Joseph Nash in the Royal Collection. It is readily recognised by the model elephants supporting alternate legs of the case.
Fig: The west (British) Nave at the Great Exhibition on opening day. The case containing the Liverpool model is on the left.
Fig: Closeup of the model case in painting by Edmund Walker (c) Victoria & Albert Museum.
Details of the model and its construction
The model represented 5 miles of dock frontage and a third of the town, a total in excess of 300 acres. The scale was 8 inches to the mile. It included not only detailed models of buildings but also people, animals and vehicles. Doubtless the model would be of interest to those who already knew Liverpool as well as those who were aware of its commercial significance and wanted to know more. Of course, some would simply be impressed by the size and quality of the model. To ensure that the message got across, the model had an index map and a table reviewing the development of economic activity mediated by the docks.
The model cost £1000 to construct, about £100000 in present day terms. Its financing is a little obscure. In contrast to earlier state-sponsored events in France, the 1851 Great Exhibition was a private venture and hence neither politically partisan nor a drain on the public finances. Some Liverpool merchants were happy to contribute to the general cost of mounting the exhibition but were less enamoured of funding Liverpool's entry. In some quarters there was an expectation that the Corporation and Docks Committee would provide the bulk of the finance while others saw the whole project as ill-founded and refused to have anything to do with it. At one stage there was a shortfall in the monies required for construction of the Crystal Palace itself and hence doubt as to whether the project as a whole would come to fruition. A degree of evangelising by the central organising committee, some financial guarantees centrally plus advocacy locally by the liberal Liverpool Mercury newspaper eventually saw the Liverpool project funded.
Construction of the model was supervised on behalf of the local committee by engineer John Grantham. The designer and contractor was architect William Raffles Brown. Architectural and marine model builder David Graham was in charge of the 24-strong team doing the actual building variously in wood, cardboard and paper. Some 1500 sailing ships and 120 steam vessels were made. Water was modelled using St Helen's glass tinted green, unground on its upper surface to represent waves and silvered on the lower to permit reflection. The modellers included both men and women, the latter responsible in particular for fine detail (people in the model were the size of the very tip of a pen nib). The case was designed by Grantham and manufacture contracted to the firm of Samuel and James Holme (Samuel Holme would be elected Mayor in 1852-3).
While the major elements arrived in London in good time for assembly and last-minute modifications, construction of the model ships, including the Great Eastern, continued in a (rent-free) room on Liverpool's Lord Street above Milner's. Completion must have been close to the opening itself. This was probably not unusual as there was a general feeling among exhibitors that the opening would have to be postponed until, of course, a tremendous panic ensued when it proved not to be the case.
Visiting the Exhibition
Fig: Full-size LNWR locomotive Liverpool was also on display. It won a prestigious Council Medal in its section. The class came into service in 1847 and was credited with speeds up to 78 mph although at the cost of some damage to the track.
Railways played a prominent role in the success of the exhibition, both in terms of transport of exhibits and visitors. Unsurprisingly locomotives were among the exhibits as was ancillary railway equipment. Even the Liverpool docks model showed multiple railway stations. One limitation of the Hyde Park site, however, was the absence of a convenient railway station!
Although the Great Exhibition opened on the 1st May 1851, the doors had been temporarily opened some weeks previously to those curious to see the building before exhibits were installed; monies from this went to workers injured during construction. When it opened, the exhibition and associated events proved highly popular and attracted some 6 million visits (including multiple visits using a season ticket). Of these, probably 4 million originated from outside of London, many arriving by train. Although excursions had been an early feature of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway back in 1830, the success of the Great Exhibition was founded not only on subscription clubs mounting special excursions but also on low return fares as a result of cut-throat competition (5 shillings for a return adult fare travelling Third Class from York, equivalent to about £25 now) as well as low entry prices on selected days (1 shilling or £5 now). Enlightened employers would provide assistance to their employees to enable them to attend.
Travel agent Thomas Cook also organised visits to the Great Exhibition. Some 350,000 people travelled from Yorkshire and the Midlands on his rail excursions and he published his own newspaper, Cook's Exhibition Herald and Excursion Advertiser, which ran through to 1939 as the (recently revived) Excursionist.
The exhibition experience
The exhibits were organised in four major groups (Raw Materials, Machinery, Manufactures, Sculpture and the Fine Arts) subdivided into some 30 classes. As far as possible exhibits were arranged geographically although those from Great Britain & Ireland (as it was then) were joined in the West Nave with their colonies, supposedly according to ambient temperature.
There were some 100000 exhibits and 14000 exhibitors so a description is beyond this blog even if those numbers are subject to a degree of "interpretation". Many books were published both at the time of the exhibition and after but a partwork (incomplete) gives a good impression of the exhibits and visitor experience.
One aspect worth noting, however, is that the exhibits included the first ever photographic exhibition and, of course, many photographs and daguerrotypes were taken both of the building and exhibits. These included stereotypes that incorporated two images and hence gave a 3D effect when seen using a handheld viewer. Nevertheless, the lithographs and watercolours, some based on daguerrotypes, remain invaluable in terms of detail and colour. Despite the reference to Fine Arts, paintings themselves were excluded from the Great Exhibition and a separate private initiative, the General Exhibition, attempted to form a gallery of contemporary international art in Lichfield House.
Setting for the Liverpool exhibits
The Liverpool model was at the far end of the Nave adjacent to the west entrance and hence a good distance from the principal entrance on the southern end of the transept. The imports exhibit of some 2000 items was in the gallery above the Nave and was estimated to require five display cases each 40x5 feet. Whether this was forthcoming is unknown but there may have been constraints on floorspace in the galleries. Photographs of the vegetable product display in the Scottish gallery show a vertical case being used.
The role of the east and west entrances is unclear although they appear to have supported paid entry so were not confined to season ticket holders (there was a separate entrance queue at the main entrance for this group of visitors). Presumably the entrance would at times have provided a welcome draft in what was frequently a hothouse atmosphere. The fountains may also have contributed to a cooling effect.
Walker's painting suggests that seating adjacent to the model case was very popular. One (possibly over-enthusiastic) estimate suggests that there were some 21 miles of aisles to negotiate with daily attendances often of the order of 50000 (maxima 110000 per day, 93000 concurrently). Calico linings to some of the roof would moderate the greenhouse effect but clearly the occasional break would be welcome (there were refreshment areas to the north as well). Of interest would be the two mirrors attached to the western end of the Nave, said to be the largest in the world at that time. There was also an organ above the entrance so on occasion there was an opportunity to listen to music (each entrance was similarly equipped).
The impact of the Liverpool model is hard to gauge but its size and subject likely guaranteed a good audience with positive coverage in guidebooks and newspaper reports. The importance of the topic and city merited the model's inclusion as part of an activity for young people in an educational tour of the exhibition. On the other hand a series of lectures to accompany the exhibition petered out for lack of audience.
Did the exhibits garner further trade for Liverpool? The economic impact of the exhibition overall is frequently held to be slight. Although it made a profit (and put pressure on hotel accommodation), it drained other aspects of London's economy, the theatres being especially hard hit. Selling in the exhibition was expressly forbidden but the prints suggest exhibitors were present to answer questions. There is no record of an attendant supervising the Liverpool stands but presumably someone must have been responsible for polishing the glass on the display cases if nothing else.
Both Liverpool exhibits won Prize Medals at the end of the exhibition. Originally there had been some suggestion that monetary prizes would be awarded but this mostly fell by the wayside, presumably in the interests of economy. Companies winning medals used the information in advertisements. Doubtless the Liverpool local committee could see them as an index of a job well done.
The impact of the Exhibition in Liverpool
For those unable to attend in person, there were opportunities during the summer to see a model of the Crystal Palace (at 34 Church Street) and to experience "being there" by means of a panoramic picture of the inside of the building at the Zoological Gardens. Newspaper adverts encouraged prospective visitors to buy new clothes before going to London and exhibitors sold their display wares at the end of the run (or copies thereof).
The exhibition ends
The exhibition closed on 11th October. It subsequently opened for two further days gratis to exhibitors only and then for the formal announcement of prizes. The good news was that it had made a significant profit and this was invested in the establishment of a set of permanent museums in Kensington which continue to the present day. There was some deliberation on the fate of the Crystal Palace itself but the intention had always been that it would not stay in Hyde Park. Ultimately it relocated to Sydenham (actually Penge) where it remained in a somewhat modified albeit much larger form until 1936 when it sadly burned down. There have been suggestions that a copy of the original Crystal Palace might be built at Sydenham or as part of a national capital of culture bid at Coventry. Not everyone thought this a good idea.
The fate of the Liverpool model may have followed similar lines. Part of the rationale behind investing in its construction was that the model later be used in a museum to illustrate the commercial importance of the city. Accordingly, when it came back to Liverpool, the model was displayed in the newly opened Derby museum (pdf) at the corner of Slater Street and Parr Street. Nearby was a smaller model of Liverpool in the mid-C17. Its provenance is unclear although there were early suggestions that such a model would be a useful complement to the model displayed in London. It is possible that there was insufficient space allocated for both to be on show in London.
Fig: The former Union Newsroom by John Foster Snr (centre). The first city museum was in the building to the right behind it on the corner of Parr and Slater Streets.
The current museum opened to the public in 1861 on William Brown Street (named after the principal benefactor). The models were supposedly assigned to two rooms in the new venue but the museum history is obscure as to their eventual fate, much being lost as a result of bomb damage during the Second World War.
The present day
The excellent museums in Liverpool continue to make excellent use of models similar to that displayed in London and in many cases they are interactive. One of the most recent and engaging is the digital city model at the RIBA North.
Fig: The interactive Liverpool model at RIBA North
The OpenSim model
This simple build used a script to replicate a transverse section 35 times (there is some variation in section width to the north side that is not modelled). The result would need extensive editing to generate the courts and staircases but even without content, decoration and precise measurements (beyond the 24x24 ft unit), the model still gives some idea of the environment and adds additional context to some of the lithographs.
Fig: OpenSim model of the West Nave showing the Liverpool model in situ. The transept would be in the far distance with the nave then continuing beyond.
Clearly some of lithographs were made looking from the gallery (which extended across the nave above the west entrance). It would appear that the gaps the courts inserted into the upper floor also improved lighting in areas otherwise overshadowed. The weather vane above the model had the city's name on it.
There is a venerable VRML model of the 1851 Crystal Palace from the University of Virginia that includes downloads and some nice renderings. The University of Bristol has a model of the Sydenham Crystal Palace in Second Life(TM).