Page 8 - History 2020
P. 8

Pugin at the Crystal Palace

            The Crystal Palace was the venue for the 1851 Great Exhibition, or to give it its full
            name, the ‘The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations’. This was
            principally designed to celebrate Britain as the “Workshop of the World” – a phrase
            coined by a young and up-an-coming Tory politician and novelist, Benjamin Disraeli.
            One if its driving forces was Queen Victorian’s husband Prince Albert, who had a
            passion, unusual for his class, for industry and invention. About half the exhibits were
            British. To encourage variety, areas called “courts” were allocated where
            manufacturers could display their own exhibits as they chose. August Pugin, who

            hated the whole idea of the exhibition and ridiculed its custom-built venue, the
            Crystal Palace, nonetheless saw an opportunity to promote his Gothic Revival
            message.

            Nonetheless he saw an opportunity to promote his enthusiasm for hand-made
            medieval stuff rather than machine-made modern stuff. He was the brains behind
            the so-called “Gothic Revival” and is the reason our towns and cities are full of mock-

            medieval Victorian churches and public buildings. He got permission from the
            Exhibition organisers to create a “Medieval Court” in which he assembled a host of
            items in the Gothic style: hand-crafted furniture, church ornaments, a giant cross, an
            ecclesiastical stove (ideal for heating cathedrals), pots and furniture.

            It split opinion. Many criticised it as backward-looking and outdated. Critics used
            words like “theatrical”, “pious” and “lifeless”. One compared it unfavourably to a
            steam locomotive, whose function determined its “eloquent and harmonious” form,

            far superior aesthetically to Pugin’s “meretricious make-believe” with its “false
            outlines and incongruous ornament.”
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