Spectators at the Crystal Palace Fire.


Fred Peskett.


            My latest visit to the Midhurst Grange Flea Market has yielded a bag full of newspaper cuttings from December 1st, 2nd and 5th 1936, all about the fire which destroyed the Crystal Palace. One interesting area found in the cuttings is about the crowds watching the blaze, here are a few “snippets”.

What no ice creams?

            One enterprising young man went round the crowd selling peanuts and bars of chocolate, some people thought it was like being at the pictures.

Over the wall and up the hill, or Over the hill and up the wall!

            Many of the spectators found they could get a grandstand view of the blaze by climbing the seven foot high wall around the goods yard adjoining the High Level Railway Station, they could then stand on the mounds of coal or climb on to the loaded goods trucks in the siding, fearing a calamity the station staff opened the gates of the goods yard and allowed crowds in without the seven foot climb.

The case of the strange light.

            Sightseers at the Tram Terminus near the South Tower were amazed to see a series of extremely bright lights passing up and down inside the South Tower, it was revealed later that they were powerful arc lamps carried by firemen damping down sparks on the spiral staircase of the tower.

Let there be light.

            The newly installed street lights along the Crystal Palace Parade proved to be very effective, they were automatic, coming on at dusk and going off at dawn. They remained working throughout the duration of the fire, finally going off at day-break. All of the lights continued to work despite the intense heat, falling debris and thousands of gallons of water being sprayed over them.

Any old iron?

            When morning came extra trolley-buses had to be deployed along the routes to the Crystal Palace to cater for the thousands of spectators and souvenir hunters, extra police were also on duty. One passenger was refused entry to a bus because he tried to get a six foot high chunk of iron on board!

Be prepared!

            Another enterprising salesman wandered through the crowd trying to sell Fire Insurance Policies, it is doubtful if he managed to find any takers unless he came across Sir Henry Buckland!

A suggestion that came true.

            An article in the Croydon Advertiser suggested that the now vacant site of the Crystal Palace could be used to build a National Physical Training Centre with sports fields, athletic tracks, swimming pools and a college for Physical Training. It said “the youth of today wants grass, not glass”.