British photographic history

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For a number of reasons the 1851 Great Exhibition and the Crystal Palace hold a particular interest for photographic historians for whom it is familiar through the photographs of T R Williams, Negretti and Zambra, P H Delamotte and others. For the first time, visitors can take a 360 tour around The Crystal Palace, the venue of the formidable 1851 Great Exhibition held in Hyde Park.  The Royal Parks, the charity which manages London’s eight Royal Parks has partnered with educational virtual reality company, Seymour & Lerhn, to create the first virtual tour of the historic building, on location in Hyde Park.

The Crystal Palace was a marvel of its time when it opened in Hyde Park on May 1st 1851. It was an enormous structure constructed from glass and cast iron, measuring around 563m by 138m, and 39m high. The giant building hosted the thousands of global exhibits of The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, the brainchild of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, to celebrate the industrial technology and design of the Victorian age, showcased to more than six million people.

Today visitors can step back in time and explore the building once again, using their phone, tablet or PC. A combination of CGI and 360 photography which overlays the historic building onto the present-day site, allows visitors to switch between then and now. Users can marvel at the huge scale of the site. People can discover intriguing stories as they navigate: you can find out about the first ever public toilets and the lady who walked from Cornwall to attend, becoming a celebrity in the process.

The building was regenerated digitally using The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851’s archive of plans and images, as well as The Royal Parks’ historical documents such as old maps.

The Royal Parks was the winning entry to a competition set by Seymour & Lerhn which invited organisations to put forward proposals for a virtual reality education resource and built the virtual reality tour of The Crystal Palace as the competition prize.

Ledy Leyssen, Head of Learning at The Royal Parks, said: “The Great Exhibition opened on 1st May 1851 in London’s Hyde Park to showcase the arts, science and technology of the day, yet nothing remains of the structure now. So, 169 years later we’ve harnessed today’s technology to bring the Royal Parks’ heritage to life, uncovering the park’s past for everyone to enjoy, especially those who aren’t able to visit in person.”

The Royal Parks will seek funding to further develop the project by populating The Crystal Palace with the artefacts of The Great Exhibition.

Charlie Power, Head Honcho, Seymour & Lerhn, said: “The Great Exhibition of 1851 'Crystal Palace' was a truly incredible feat of engineering, and we're delighted to see it brought to life on its 169th  anniversary! With the lockdown continuing, the virtual tour offers a unique way for people to ‘get out of the house’ and explore the history hidden within Hyde Park - all without actually having to leave their homes.

Click to experience the Great Exhibition Virtual Tour

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