One of Crystal Palace Park’s claims to fame, aside from what’s left of the Crystal Palace itself, is Dinosaur Court’s collection of weird and wonderful dinosaurs, which may be much older than you might think.

Among the dinosaurs on display are classics everyone has heard of like the Iguanodon, as well as the Ichthyosaur which you’ll recognize as the creature that’s always been touted as the Loch Ness Monster.

But the dinosaurs would never have seen the light of day if the Crystal Palace itself had not been moved to the top of Sydenham Hill after the Great Exhibition of 1851.

When the palace was moved, the grounds around his new home were completely renovated and turned into the public park that we see today, with two man-made lakes.



The colossal sculptures are much larger than they look in the photos

As part of this renovation, over 150 years ago now, in 1853, sculptor and artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins was commissioned to build a collection of life-size extinct animals.

Initially this was intended to include only extinct mammals, but in the spirit of the Great Exhibition and with the guidance and guidance of the leading paleontologist of the time Sir Richard Owen, Hawkins ended up building dinosaurs for increase the show.

To build the massive creatures, Hawkins set up an on-site workshop, creating 15 different species of animals, with several species of dinosaurs, each divided into one of three eras, Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic.

He built them entirely out of clay before taking a mold for pouring sections of cement, with the larger of the creatures hollowed out inside with brick interiors.

Some of the sculptures, like the Iguanodon, were so large that on New Year’s Eve in 1853, to celebrate the start of construction, Hawkins hosted a strange banquet inside the hollow model, famously immortalized in a woodcut.



The famous dinner at the Iguanodon on New Years Eve 1953
The famous dinner at the Iguanodon on New Years Eve 1953

Unfortunately, despite their public popularity, the sculptures were both expensive and time consuming to build, and in 1855 the Crystal Palace Park company cut Hawkins’ funding, leaving a number of other dinosaurs he had wanted to build unfinished. and discarded.

While at the time they were considered state of the art, by the late 1800s, shortly after their construction, the sculptures were angrily despised by experts and the dinosaurs became a funny figure. bizarre for their odd proportions falling into disrepair.

They received renovations in 1952 and 2001, however, with the latter offering a complete overhaul and new look, removing the previous paint job.

In fact, dinosaurs are so beloved today because of their age and usefulness as a window into the past that they have been classified as Grade I listed buildings since 2007.

If you want to go find them, most of them are clustered in the southeast corner of Crystal Palace Park in Bromley, and they’re a lot bigger than they look in the pictures!



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