The following has been a draft for some time...let me tell you that I sent a package to my father-in-law for Father's Day. I sent him a book -"A Thing Disguised" by Kate Colquhoun, which is a biography of Joseph Paxton. I was thrilled to discover this book for him because during our chats I had asked him what was his earliest memory. He told me that in 1936 when he was 5 years old, he saw the burning of the Crystal Palace from his grandfather's upstairs window. He saw the actual flames! If you read this book you can understand why this would have made such an impression. The smoke could be seen for miles, across seven counties. Peter would have only been 3 or 4 miles away in Spurgeon's Bridge, Croydon.) This book is so well written and goes into such incredible detail. I can't begin to tell you how pleased I was to find a book that my father-in-law enjoyed so very much. I think he liked it almost as much as the ginger biscuits from Scotland that also came as a gift! My idea, send a book along with something to have with a cuppa tea. Okay, now I will let you read what I had written about this subject...please forgive me if my writing is a bit scattered. The state of Georgia is one of those that is very high in the rates of the virus and let's just say that high anxiety is not good for writing, not for me anyway. Take care, all of you...now here is my story on Joseph Paxton. Hope you enjoy learning about him as much as I did. You know I had to get myself the same exact book, "A Thing Disguised-The Visionary Life of Joseph Paxton" by Kate Colquhoun.
Hello, my friends! Look at these lovely flowers! I have shown you these before...it is a picture of the beautiful "carpet gardens" along the seafront in Eastbourne in England, which is where my father-in-law lives. Now, here is the thing...these gardens have been carefully planted and tended and it has been this way since Victorian times! (Except during the times of the world wars, I imagine. I think I read that they planted vegetables there during WW2.) Did any of you see the marvelous TV series "Victoria"? If so, I hope you remember the episode about the Crystal Palace. What, you didn't see it? And when you hear Crystal Palace, you only think of a football (soccer) team from England? Well, read on...
The Crystal Palace was a marvel of architecture by Joseph Paxton. You might think he was from a wealthy family and was highly educated. There, you would be wrong! Born to a poor family in 1803 on a farm 50 miles from London, most of his knowledge came from his time at Chiswick Gardens where he lied about his age in order to attend a study program there. When the truth of his age came out, they must not have minded since they hired him as a gardener, when he was still a teenager. Chiswick Gardens were close to the gardens of William Cavendish, the 6th Duke of Devonshire, who one day happened upon Joseph Paxton working in the gardens. He must have been quite impressed by the young man, he offered him the position of head gardener at his estate at Chatsworth. Joseph Paxton would have been only 20 years of age. (Now, I have to tell you, I have never seen Chatsworth but do you have any idea of how much I LONG to see the gardens there? I sincerely do! Look, I have a link to them...Chatsworth!)
Joseph Paxton was only 23 years old when he went to work for William Cavendish, the 6th Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth. Would you like to read the letter that Joseph Paxton wrote about his first day on the job? After reading it, see why Charles Dickens (no slouch himself) called him "the busiest man in England."
"I left London by the Comet Coach for Chesterfield, and arrived at Chatsworth at half past four o'clock in the morning of the ninth of May 1826. As no person was to be seen at that early hour, I got over the greenhouse gate by the old covered way, explored the pleasure grounds, and looked round the outside of the house. I then went down to the kitchen gardens, scaled the outside wall and saw the whole place, set the men to work there at six o'clock; then returned to Chatsworth and got Thomas Weldon to play me the waterworks, and afterwards went to breakfast with poor dear Mrs. Gregory and her niece. The latter fell in love with me and I with her, and thus completed my first morning's work at Chatsworth before nine o'clock."
There...isn't that an incredible letter? And reader, of course he married the young woman mentioned! Sarah Bown became Mrs. Joseph Paxton on 20 February, 1827. As you learn of everything that he accomplished in his life, it is good to remember that his wife worked very much "behind the scenes" and therefore enabled him to do as much as he did. I am not negating anything about the man, mind you, just wanted to point out that little fact.
While Joseph Paxton was working at Chatsworth, he began having an interest in greenhouses.( Now, let me inject myself into this narrative and tell you that I was astonished to learn that the modern way of heating homes in Britain actually came from the design of greenhouses where hot water was first circulated through pipes! As an American, I think this is a genius way to heat a home...and it means you have hot pipes on which to place your towels...and to finish drying your socks! Okay, back to the story of the great man...)
You can see from my title post that I mentioned orchids and bananas...orchids were cultivated in the greenhouses at Chatsworth and so were bananas! In fact, the bananas we eat today are called the Cavendish variety! Joseph Paxton named it after his employer.
Now, back to the Crystal Palace. If you saw the Victoria TV series, you might remember Prince Albert working on the idea behind the "Great Exhibition of the Industries of All Nations". Joseph Paxton's design was chosen for the building to house this great exhibition. His idea, a building made of glass and iron and the internal supports inspired by the giant water lily from Brazil, the Victoriana amazonica. (He actually had his young daughter stand upon one of these lily pads. If you look it up, you can see a photo of this. Quite astounding, I think.)
The Crystal Palace was 1851 feet long (built in 1851, don't you know), 408 feet wide and was 108 feet high at the entrance. 60,000 people could be inside at one time and it held 104,000 exhibits. So, all iron supports and glass. Can you imagine it? You don't have to, you can look up photos of it!
Just over five months after opening, it had welcomed more than 6 million people! Here is a great thing about it, it was entirely funded by fundraising and admission fees. Not one penny from the government went toward the building of the Crystal Palace. (This was at Prince Albert's insistence.) It must have been a wonderful sight to see! It amused me to see that many flocked to see a very large diamond on display there but something else was equally astonishing to the crowds...a flushing toilet! (I can just hear the people..."Did you see that diamond?" With the reply, "Forget that diamond, give me that FLUSHING TOILET!")
After the exhibition, the Crystal Palace was relocated to Sydenham Hill in South London. The surrounding area was renamed Crystal Palace which is where the modern day Crystal Palace Football Club gets it name. The Crystal Palace stood from June 1854 until the destruction by fire on November 1936. As the abdication of King Edward VIII was to occur in early December of 1936, it must have seemed that bad news was never ending...and you must remember that the British still had World War II on the horizon.
Let me just finish by saying that the 7th Duke of Devonshire (son of the 6th, of course who was also named William Cavendish) is the man behind the development of Eastbourne, where the hotels were built ACROSS the street from the beach so as not to block the lovely sea views! Remember Eastbourne is where Peter, my dear father-in-law lives, if you can think back to the beginning of this post!