Owen Jones and the Crystal Palace Water Temples

by

Fred Peskett

 

            Owen Jones was a remarkable architect and designer, he was responsible for the interior decoration of both the Hyde Park and Penge Park Crystal Palaces, he was also very much involved with the design work in the grounds of the Crystal Palace in particular the two Water Temples situated at the top of the twelve stepped cascades. These two identical octagonal Water Temples were some sixty feet high, each had a statue of the Messenger God Mercury on top, with nude female forms inside, although some engravings show these forms, they cannot be seen in contemporary photographs, which gives rise to it being suspect that they were not actually installed due to Victorian modesty? The metal-work of the Temples was painted purple and red.-

            Water was pumped up through the hollow cast iron supports of the Temples, then cascading from a bulbous ring supporting the statue of Mercury, eight cast bronze cupid heads decorated the apex of the domes of the Temples with water gushing from their mouths, this gave the effect of a water curtain around the Temples, which may be the reason the nude statues could not be seen in photographs? Eight lions decorated the base of the octagonal structures, each had water gushing from their mouths into a large four leafed clover shaped pond before tumbling down the twelve stepped cascades ending in two waterfalls falling into the lower basins before being pumped back to the top of the Water Temples by four forty horse-power pumping engines.

            The Water Temples and Cascades were first used during the afternoon of June 18th 1856 in front of Queen Victoria and 20,000 visitors. The Water Temples were still active in 1875, but by 1895 it would seem that they had been dismantled, a photographic view of the water features dated June 1895 does not feature the Water Temples, and the clover leaf pond had been filled in.

 

Based on a wood engraving from The Builder 21 June 1856