"If you took an omnibus along Knightsbridge, in the summer of 1851, you would see an astonishing sight. Glittering among the trees was a palace made of glass, like something out of the Arabian Nights. This was the ‘Crystal Palace’, home to the Great Exhibition, an idea dreamt up by Prince Albert to flaunt the wonders of industry and manufacturing from around the modern world. There were some 100,000 objects, displayed along more than 10 miles, by over 15,000 contributors. Each country displayed its finest achievements: there were steam engines and hydraulic machines that could add, print and build at unprecedented rates; there were fabrics, carriages, musical instruments and jewels; there were foldable pianos, 80-blade penknives and dioramas of stuffed kittens. Queen Victoria opened the Exhibition, and became a frequent visitor. Over six million people visited the exhibition, and they came from all over the country and all walks of life: from aristocrats to factory workers, country villagers to schoolchildren." (quote from this cool site for British History)
>>read Prince Albert's speech announcing the Exhibition in 1849
Charlotte Bronte describes the Exhibition:
Yesterday I went for the second time to the Crystal Palace. We remained in it about three hours, and I must say I was more struck with it on this occasion than at my first visit. It is a wonderful place – vast, strange, new and impossible to describe. Its grandeur does not consist in one thing, but in the unique assemblage of all things. Whatever human industry has created you find there, from the great compartments filled with railway engines and boilers, with mill machinery in full work, with splendid carriages of all kinds, with harness of every description, to the glass-covered and velvet-spread stands loaded with the most gorgeous work of the goldsmith and silversmith, and the carefully guarded caskets full of real diamonds and pearls worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. It may be called a bazaar or a fair, but it is such a bazaar or fair as Eastern genii might have created. It seems as if only magic could have gathered this mass of wealth from all the ends of the earth – as if none but supernatural hands could have arranged it this, with such a blaze and contrast of colours and marvellous power of effect. The multitude filling the great aisles seems ruled and subdued by some invisible influence. Amongst the thirty thousand souls that peopled it the day I was there not one loud noise was to be heard, not one irregular movement seen; the living tide rolls on quietly, with a deep hum like the sea heard from the distance.
Quote from: The Brontes' Life and Letters, by Clement Shorter (1907)
Other famous visitors included Charles Darwin, Lewis Carroll, George Eliot and Charles Dickens. Wouldn't minded having a chat with them and the royal couple of course!
The Exhibition has been featured in various period dramas. I'm sure I recall seeing it in more than one but right now the only ones that I recall are 'North and South', 'The First Great Train Robbery' and in 'Victoria & Albert', the miniseries starring Victoria Hamilton.