Crystal Palace: Reflections of Empire

Glittering monument to Britain’s colonial achievement or fragile symbol of a fragmenting imperial dream? Jan Piggott charts the efforts to make Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace flourish as an ‘Acropolis of Empire’.

Aerial photo of Crystal Palace

In November 1911 the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, the world’s largest building, was for sale, bankrupt after decades of financial troubles. The Crystal Palace Company declared with a heavy pun in their Sale Catalogue  that: ‘The idea of Empire might be crystallised at the Sydenham Palace.’ Although an ambitious Festival of Empire had been staged there during the summer the idea went back 60 years.

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