UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences


Crystal Palace Park or Jurassic Park?

2 December 2013

Megalosaurus in Crystal Palace Park. Credit: O. Usher

Following the Great Exhibition of 1851, the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park was taken down and shipped in pieces to Sydenham. Enlarged and rebuilt in suburban parkland, the palace reopened in 1854 as visitor attraction. While the palace is long gone, destroyed by fire in 1936, and the exhibits long forgotten, one curious element of the period remains.

Tucked away by the lake in the southern corner of Crystal Palace Park is a collection of life-sized concrete dinosaurs, dating back to the opening of the attraction. They are the first life-sized models of dinosaurs ever to be built anywhere.

Designed before the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species, and without access to the countless dinosaur skeletons unearthed since then, the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs are an archaic but fascinating insight into the dominant theories of zoology of the time.

The Megalosaurus pictured here is a case in point. Depicted at Crystal Palace as a lumbering, four-legged beast not unlike a rhino, modern reconstructions show a much more agile and lightweight animal. Standing upright on its hind legs, with small arms, and a long tail extending back for balance, Megalosaurus as scientists see it today is a totally different animal.

On 4 June 2013, Prof Joe Cain (UCL Science and Technology Studies) will give a public lecture on the Crystal Palace dinosaurs at the Museum of London. The lecture, which will be broadcast live online, begins at 1.15pm and will last around 40 minutes.

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Seen from high above, the Crystal Palace dinosaurs look alarmingly lifelike, wallowing in the duck pond in a sleepy suburban park.

Photo credit: O. Usher


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