History: Dinosaurs and Website


1. The History of the Dinosarus

For those of you who don't already know, the Crystal Palace, built in 1851 and burned down in 1936, was the Millenium Dome of the Victorian era (with the slight difference that people actually took the Crystal Palace seriously); it was a showcase for everything that the Victorians thought was worth celebrating. One such thing was paleontology, they being as obsessed with dinosaurs as we. Consequently, the world's first full-size dinosaur models were built by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins on the site, on two artificial islands; a third island contained similar models of prehistoric mammals. They were sufficiently far from the Palace to escape the blaze, and are still in fantastic condition today (thanks to ongoing restoration efforts, the latest in 2002,) even if they are now more of historical than of scientific interest. 

To learn more about the Palace, visit the website of the Crystal Palace Foundation. To learn  more about the dinosaurs and their history, I'd recommend Martin Rudwick's Scenes From Deep Time (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992) and Steve McCarthy and Mick Gilbert's Crystal Palace Dinosaurs (London: Crystal Palace Foundation, 1994). The BBC has some wonderful Javascript-enabled panoramic tours of the park, much better than anything I can produce, which can be viewed here.

The Islands in 1853

This is a drawing Hawkins did for an 1853 lecture about his creations, giving you a rough idea of what the first and second islands looked like in the 1850s. Some of the details were changed in the final execution, and the pterodactyls in the middle vanished sometime in the intervening 150 years (although fibreglass reconstructions have now been added), but just about all the dinosaurs shown on this site are in it somewhere.

2. History of this Site

Although I'd been fascinated by the dinosaurs ever since I read about them in a Stephen Jay Gould article, I first got the idea for this website in 1999, when I visited Crystal Palace Park and brought along my camera. A friend of mine, a big dinosaur/Victoriana fan who lives in Canada and can't get over to Britain, asked if I could scan the pictures I took and send them to him. Afterwards, I got to thinking that surely there must be other people around the world, who had heard of the dinosaurs (or who hadn't, but might like to) and would like to see what they look like. And from the response I've had over the past few years, I'd say I was right. So whether you're a longtime Waterhouse Hawkins junkie, a visitor from one of the paleontology/science history sites which has linked to me over the years (thanks guys) or just someone who happened across this place by accident, welcome.

Most of the pictures on this site are from two visits to the park in 1999, in the summer and the autumn. In 2000, this site was instrumental in drumming up support for the campaign to prevent a multiplex from being built on the Crystal Palace site (can you imagine?!). In 2002, the dinosaurs underwent restoration, and the last few pictures are of the finished products, taken in 2003.

In 2006, I took a look at the site, decided it was kind of, well, nineties-looking. There's only so much you can do with a bunch of pictures, but I decided that, to modern eyes, they'd look much better as a slideshow, with the occasional intelligent link. I've left the older version up for them as wants to see it. 

All pictures are copyright Fiona Moore 1999/2003. I don't mind them being used on other sites, but if you do, please credit me, and also drop me a line, care of nydermail atte nyder dotte comme (translating the Elizabethan English), as I'd like to know where the dinosaurs go when they're not here.


Proceed to the Dinosaurs