THE COALBROOKDALE GATES AT THE CRYSTAL PALACE
Over the past few years I have taken an increasing interest in the Crystal Palace with its two separate existence’s in Hyde Park and South London. My interest may have been helped from attendance at the recent Exhibition Study Group Conventions at Crystal Palace. There still seems to be an atmosphere about the place which is apparent when you stroll around the terraces surrounded by crumbling remains.
Miniature sheet issued by St. Helena
However, my subscription to ‘Gibbons Stamp Monthly’ has led me to a particular aspect of the Great Exhibition. In recent months our Study Group member Derek Connell has been producing some excellent articles in the magazine describing historical sites in London and illustrating them with appropriate stamps, postmarks etc. One of his articles included a reference to the Coalbrookdale Gates shown on a miniature sheet issued by St. Helena (see illustration). This shows the gates at the entrance to the Great Exhibition inside the Crystal Palace. Although I had photographed the gates at their current site between Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, (see illustration), I was unaware of the miniature sheet until reading Derek’s article. The other surprising fact, unconnected with the gates, revealed by the stamp on the miniature sheet, was that St. Helena was awarded a prize at the Exhibition for its coffee.
The Coalbrookdale Gates in Hyde Park
With one display given to a local history society on the Crystal Palace and another in the offing, some fascinating facts and figures emerge from research, not least how the Crystal Palace was built in such a short period of time through an English winter. Since the Coalbrookdale Gates are the only surviving elements in Hyde Park from the Great Exhibition I thought some notes on them might be of interest. The pair of gates were made of bronzed cast iron by the Coalbrookdale Iron Foundry of Shropshire who were noted for high quality iron work. They measured 60 feet across and had columns mounted with gilded crowns. Inside the Crystal Palace the gates were in a very strategic position across the North Transept. Queen Victoria passed through them with Beefeaters in attendance to reach a central dais with a State Chair to open the Exhibition.
When the Exhibition was dismantled in 1852 the gates were put up for sale with other unwanted items but they did not find a buyer. Hence they were installed across the Inner Park Road between Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. It is gratifying to know that they are still there today in good condition. Stone piers have been added on each side of the gates which have laurel wreaths with the Royal Cypher V.R. with iron plaques indicating their makers and connection with the Great Exhibition.
In 1998 Lord Snowdon proposed that with the Millennium celebrations approaching the gates should be moved to the nearby Albert Memorial. Although this idea generated a number of favourable letters in the press Lord Snowdon’s proposal was never acted upon.
Acknowledgement: The Crystal Palace 1851 Exhibition by C.A. Bell Knight
© Exhibition Study Group 2010