November 30th, 1936 – The Crystal Palace in Flames


The magnificent Crystal Palace in London, England was destroyed by fire on November 30th, 1936.


The Crystal Palace was a cast-iron and plate-glass structure erected in Hyde Park, London, England, to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. More than 14,000 exhibitors from around the world gathered in its 990,000 square feet (92,000 m2) of exhibition space to display examples of the technology developed during the Industrial Revolution. Designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, the Great Exhibition building was 1,851 feet (564 m) long, with an interior height of 128 feet (39 m). The invention of the cast plate glass method in 1848 made possible the production of large sheets of cheap but strong glass, and its use in the Crystal Palace created a structure with the greatest area of glass ever seen in a building and astonished visitors with its clear walls and ceilings that did not require interior lights.

Crystal Palace Front PageThe Palace had suffered many mishaps since its opening, but it was on November 30th, 1936 that it was hit with its the final catastrophe – fire. Within hours the Palace was destroyed: the glow was visible across eight counties. That night, Buckland was walking his dog near the palace, with his daughter (Crystal Buckland, named after the palace) when they noticed a red glow within. Inside, he found two of his employees fighting a small office fire, that had started after an explosion in the women’s cloakroom. Realizing that it was a serious fire, they called the Penge fire brigade. But, even though 89 fire engines and over 400 firemen arrived they were unable to extinguish it. (The fire spread quickly in the high winds that night, because it could consume the dry old timber flooring, and the huge quantity of flammable materials in the building.) Buckland said, “In a few hours we have seen the end of the Crystal Palace. Yet it will live in the memories not only of Englishmen, but the whole world”. 100,000 people came to Sydenham Hill to watch the blaze, among them Winston Churchill, who said, “This is the end of an age”.

Just as in 1866, when the north transept burnt down, the building was not adequately insured to cover the cost of rebuilding (at least two million pounds).

The South Tower had been used for tests by television pioneer John Logie Baird for his mechanical television experiments, and much of his work was destroyed in the fire.

The last singer to perform there before the fire was the Australian ballad contralto Essie Ackland.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


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